The New Normal

Stupid is as Stupid Does: Another Rant on Surrogacy in the News

I generally think that media coverage of infertility and surrogacy is a good thing,  helping to raise awareness of infertility and the process of surrogacy, but sometimes I read something that is so infuriating and just wrong that I can’t let it go.  Usually this reaction is triggered by the comment section, but this time it’s the articles themselves.

Over the weekend, CNN featured a story on James and Natalie Lucich, and James’ sister Tiffany Burke who is carrying their twin boys.  At first blush, the story seems so sweet: a sister generously carrying twins for her brother and sister-in-law after Natalie had an emergency hysterectomy.  Awwww.  But there’s this comment from Tiffany on her reaction to James and Natalie telling her they were considering gestational surrogacy:

“I was pissed!” [Tiffany] Burke recalled. She was worried: What if the surrogate drank or smoked or did something to harm herself? She didn’t want the Luciches to take that chance.

That’s right.  Because every woman who carries a child for another couple is an unstable crack whore motivated only by money.  Tiffany’s comment invokes the stereotypical view of the amazing women who generously disrupt their family’s life in order to give a couple the most priceless gift in the world.  Comments like hers are so frustrating because no matter how much coverage surrogacy gets, the gestational carriers always come off as lower-class, uneducated women of dubious character who must be watched very closely.  This impression is why people think that surrogacy is exploitative; if the gestational carrier is so ignorant and poor that she cannot be trusted to take care of herself and any baby she carries for another, clearly she doesn’t know what she has gotten herself into.

Edited to Add:  I’ve received some comments stating that the above quote was made two years ago and that Tiffany feels differently now and is collaborating on a documentary with her sister-in-law in order to help people understand surrogacy.  I think that’s awesome and that documentary will fill a much-needed void.  However, if I knew nothing else about Tiffany, didn’t read her blog, didn’t dig deeper etc., I would have only that quote to go on to draw conclusions about how she perceived surrogates in general.

And then there is this gem from the Huffington Post’s coverage of the Lucich/Burke story:

Burke is troubled by online speculation that her pregnancy is a form of incest because James is her brother. As Burke explained, the twins are Natalie and James’ 100 percent genetically and were conceived before they were placed in Tiffany Burke’s uterus. It has also been noted that James and sister Tiffany were both adopted and have no biological bond.

Are you serious?  People are so ignorant of biology that they honestly think that Burke’s pregnancy is a form of incest?  OMFG.  I can’t believe Burke has had to clarify that she is not related by blood to James.  When I read shit like that, I really fear for this country and its educational standards.  It’s worse than I thought.

And then there’s the coverage in The Stir that led me to this story in the first place: Woman Pregnant with Her Brother’s Twins Must Make His Wife Feel Guilty. My interest was piqued because I wondered if it was going to be some salacious tale of a horrible gestational carrier (just as with every situation, there can be a few bad apples) who is going out of her way to torment her sister-in-law.  What I read was actually worse.  First of all, it’s poorly written.  Secondly, it’s pure speculation.  Writer Mary Fischer muses that James’ wife Natalie must feel enormous guilt for the disruption in Tiffany’s life and the extreme nausea Tiffany has been experiencing during the pregnancy:

While she’s no doubt eternally grateful to her for being willing to give her and James the gift of more children, I can’t help but wonder if she has days when digging out from under the guilt is almost unbearable. She must feel so indebted to Tiffany for the rest of her life, because there’s just no way you can ever repay something like that.

I cannot speak for all Intended Mothers, but when I think of our gestational surrogate, I feel grateful to her and in awe of her. And no, there is no way we can ever repay her in any meaningful way that matches the significance of what she has given us, but Fischer’s notion of Nicole’s indebtedness seems slavish and overwhelming. As if the twins will be always be a bittersweet reminder of her sister-in-law’s noble sacrifice.

And last but certainly not least, Fischer throws Natalie a bone:

And as much as people will applaud Tiffany for carrying these babies for her brother and sister-in-law, Natalie’s strength should be noted as well. Not many women would be able to handle a journey like this without falling apart.

Excuse me?  Why wouldn’t a woman be able to handle a gestational surrogacy journey without falling apart?  Clearly Fischer knows nothing about infertility because by the time you have decided to pursue surrogacy as a means of family building, it is imperative that you have come to terms with your inability to carry children.  Based on my experience and the women I have talked to and read about, yes, you might feel a pang as you watch another woman’s belly swell with your child, but frankly, you’re kind of over it by that point.  The focus has shifted from pregnancy to parenting.

I also detect a bit of condescension that Fischer believes Natalie is lesser than her sister-in-law because she no longer has the ability to carry children and that not being able to do so must be damaging to her perception of herself as a woman that most women could not handle watching another do it for them.  One of the first reactions to discovering you can’t have children is often to feel like less of a woman: if your body can’t have children, why are you a woman?  One positive (ha ha) from infertility is that I was forced to confront cultural and societal perceptions and expectations of women and work through them.  I am a woman and a woman of worth in spite of my inability to carry a child.  Of course I have days when I struggle with this; I’m not that enlightened, but infertility has broadened my understanding of what it means to be a woman beyond reproductive abilities.

And then we come to NBC’s The New Normal.  I’ve griped about the show in previous posts, but I don’t think I’ve laid out my concerns.  In case you don’t know, it’s a comedy about a gay couple who decide to have a child through surrogacy.  Let me be clear: I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with gay couples having children and/or using surrogacy as their route to parenthood.  I support their ability to do so.  My issue is that I wish that the show were about an infertile couple pursuing surrogacy.

There are differences in the experience of a gay couple pursuing surrogacy versus that of an infertile couple: coming to terms with infertility; the relationship of the mother to the surrogate; the IVF process; stupid comments about who the mother is.  There are some similarities: stupid comments about who the mother is, misconceptions about what a surrogate is like and legal issues.  I’m not saying The New Normal is a bad show; I guess I just wished it told the story of what it’s like for a normal couple to experience infertility and pursue surrogacy, to act as an antidote to the stereotypes perpetuated in most media coverage.  I worry that people who watch the show will think they understand surrogacy and more importantly, what it is like to go through it or really, what it was like for us to go through it.

Rant over, I guess. I just wonder if it’s fruitless to keep railing against articles like these and how surrogacy is portrayed on television in the same way we can’t seem to get reporters to stop using “implant” for “transfer.” I have to keep trying, though, because articles like these and network TV capture the public’s attention and are the ones that color their perception of infertility and surrogacy.  They color their perception of my very personal story and how that little blond boy playing with legos at day care came to be.

What one thing do you wish the media would get right about infertility?