Analysis

Not ‘mothers’ but ‘egg donors’: Why are surrogates treated as if they don’t exist?

abortion rate, pregnancy

Lance Bass and his partner (Bass is best known for his role as a member of boy band NSYNC) have been trying to start a family. Like many celebrities and wealthy individuals, they turned to surrogacy. Unfortunately, in this case and in many others, the women who actually carry babies as surrogates are treated as practically invisible.

Bass recently told Entertainment Tonight that in an attempt to build a family, he and his partner have tried surrogacy an incredible total of nine times, and have plans to make a 10th attempt soon. Last summer, the surrogate they hired successfully became pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage. But for Bass and the media, it was presented as if Bass himself had a miscarriage, and not the biological mother of the child.

Lance Bass, surrogacy

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JANUARY 31: Lance Bass and Michael Turchin attend Bootsy On The Water Miami Takeover 2020 on January 31, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for In The Know Experiences)

HuffPost reported that the couple “lost a baby boy via miscarriage.” Good Morning America ran an article talking about how Bass wasn’t giving up on his dream of children, after his ninth “egg donor” suffered a miscarriage. The New York Daily News likewise referred to the child’s mother as the “egg donor.” Not a word was dedicated to the actual mother of the child; it was as if no mother was involved at all; yet all nine surrogates — biological mothers — lost children. To the media, however, it’s as if these women didn’t exist. Their humanity was erased completely.

Numerous surrogates have unfortunately had similar experiences.

The BBC, for example, interviewed a woman named Annie, who participated in altruistic surrogacy, a process in which the surrogate carries the child without being paid for it. Yet even in that situation, Annie still felt used. “Altruistic surrogacy can be deeply exploitative and abusive, as I learned to my cost,” she told the BBC. “We never hear about the dark underside of surrogacy, only the romanticised version in the media, and well-meaning women like me sign up not knowing the real risks and costs, then get used up and spat out.”

Annie said that she suffered complications during the pregnancy and delivery — but that the couple did not care about her health or well-being at all, only of the babies she was carrying.

READ: Surrogacy does nothing to protect children. Little Bridget in Ukraine is proof.

Lindsay Curtis was another surrogate, who donated her own egg — meaning the child was biologically hers. In an op-ed for HuffPost, she explained how painful it was for her. “In the throes of my grief after Natalie was born, I turned to online forums to seek comfort and camaraderie from other surrogate mothers,” she said. “Through the message boards, I found a small group of women who shared my experience and feelings, most of whom had their own children but still struggled with feelings of loss after the births of their surrogate babies.”

Perhaps the most famous controversial celebrity surrogacy agreement is that of Sherri Shepherd, who entered into a surrogacy agreement with her then-husband, only to decide halfway through that she had changed her mind, and refused to sign the agreement. The surrogate mother, Jessica Bartholomew, felt betrayed.

Sherri Shepherd (via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

“I will never help another mother have a baby,” Bartholomew told the Daily Mail. “Sherri put me and my family through so much emotionally and almost ruined me financially so I will never trust anyone to go through that again.”

Shepherd has since said she agreed to surrogacy to save her marriage, but Bartholomew claims she was never told this information. “If I had known this was Sherri’s attempt to save her marriage, there is no way I would have agreed to this surrogacy. Since when has a baby saved a marriage? Never.”

And as Shepherd refused to put the baby on her health insurance, or assume responsibility at all, that meant the state saw Bartholomew as the legal mother. “I couldn’t believe it. Sherri knew I was a waitress and a single mother but she didn’t care; she just walked away and let them demand support from me when she was the one who wanted this child,” she said. “I was helping her and this is how she repaid me. I will never, ever go through this again.”

Shepherd was eventually forced by a judge to pay child support for her son, but her disturbing attitude towards Bartholomew was still clear.

The surrogacy industry treats women like breeders who are valuable for nothing but their wombs, which should be available for rent whenever someone offers enough money for their use. And whatever heartbreak or pain it causes the surrogates is generally kept quiet, because helping a couple have a child is seen as positive. But children are not a right, and no woman should be reduced to a body part to be used for someone else’s gain.

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