Why One Woman Wants You to Say No to Surrogacy
When we think of surrogacy, we often think of a woman and a couple coming together to create a new life. We see happy faces and beautiful babies like the twins Sarah Jessica Parker welcomed via surrogate, but Jennifer Lahl says there's definitely a darker side to the process. In her new film, Breeders, the former pediatric nurse and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network explores a side to surrogacy that we don't see on TV or read about in the papers. The film features several surrogates speaking about the physical, emotional, and psychological toll that their "good deed" took on them and the child they carried. Their stories, which include abortion, legal battles, and near-death experiences, open viewers' eyes to the flaws that exist in, what appears to be, a perfect solution to a heartbreaking problem.
"I think I was really trying to point out that [surrogacy] is fraught with problems," Lahl tells us about the film. "All of the marketing is geared towards happy, smiling couples holding cute, healthy babies, but it's more than that." After viewing Breeders, we can certainly see Lahl's side of things. Here, five main messages Lahl wants viewers to take away from the film.
The Health Risks Are High
Doctors often implant multiple embryos into surrogates in order to improve the chance of a pregnancy. Too often, however, this results in the surrogate becoming pregnant with multiple babies at once. While many see this as a blessing, being pregnant with multiples puts women at risk for several conditions such as high blood pressure, anemia, hemorrhaging, and preeclampsia. Lahl adds that it also makes the delivery more difficult.
"These women end up in the hospital early, trying to keep the babies in the womb longer," she says. "The babies are then born premature and have to stay in the hospital longer."
Low-Income Women Lose
Some women may become surrogates out of the goodness of their heart, but Lahl says the driving force behind most of their decision comes down to the dollar.
"It's low-income women that are more incentivized to do this," Lahl says. "You're not going to hear wealthy women say, 'I'll be a surrogate and carry a baby for nine months.'"
Many of the surrogates featured in Breeders are in situations where they need the extra income but are unable to work because they have to take care of their own children. By becoming surrogates, they are able to make $15,000 to $25,000 a year — not including medical costs — without sacrificing their role as mothers.
It Affects the Mother-Child Connection
In addition to speaking with several surrogates, Lahl also interviewed a young girl named Jessica, who was born through a surrogate. Growing up, Jessica says she always felt something was off in her family.
"There was a lack of family dynamic," she says. "I never felt a connection to my mother." Nancy Verrier, a psychotherapist and author of The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, says Jessica's lack of connection makes complete sense, as mother-child bonding begins in the womb.
"A baby knows that's not the mother she's expecting," Verrier says of children born via surrogate.
When Jessica learned she had been born via surrogate, she was hurt and slightly insulted, saying she felt she had a "price tag [attached] to her." Verrier agrees with Jessica's sentiments, saying the act of surrogacy turns the children into a commodity that can be created and sold, rather than a human being. It can also lead to feelings of abandonment.
Contracts Don't Solve Everything
Many of the battles featured in Breeders have to do with one of the parties changing their mind. Whether it is a family deciding they no longer want the child or a partner deciding to keep the child all to himself, these emotional last-minute decisions lead to a lot of drama and hardships. Some say the solution is to sign an ironclad contract, but Lahl says it isn't that simple.
"This is baby making here," she says. "This isn't, 'I told you I'd sell you my car and then I change my mind.' Nobody owes anybody a child."
There Are Other Options
Lahl emphasizes that the point of Breeders is not to tell families who can't conceive that they need to "suck it up." Rather, it's to steer them toward other options for creating a family.
"There's many children in foster care," she says. "Unwanted children who are just waiting for somebody to adopt them." She realizes a lot of parents are attracted to surrogacy because it gives them the chance to have a child that shares their DNA, but the risks may not be worth it.
"That the desire for a child is a good desire. It's a strong desire. It's a natural desire. But this is not the way to fulfill that desire."