Thursday, December 04, 2008

What did I just say about stepping the fuck off!

Sigh. Here we muthafucking go again.
Let me bring you up to speed if you don't run in the same online circles as I do.
Alex Kuczynski, a writer and somewhat popular target for online snark, wrote an article about her experience with infertility and her eventual use of a gestational surrogate in last week's New York Times Magazine. And then the shit hit the fan.
Kuczynski has since been criticized by everyone for everything. No, really. She's been taken to task for (of course) being vain enough not to adopt, not accepting her "fate" as a woman who can't have children, being rich, writing a past book on plastic sugery, and allegedly being rude to the woman carrying her child. Of course the thornier issues that surround surrogacy have been brought up, and while these issues are valid and make for interesting discussion, Kuczinsky has been crucified as if she's the only woman ever to take part in such a strange arrangement.
Now i'm not really familiar with Kuczynski and her body of work and the various things she's done to incite this type of ire. I've read about her in passing on Gawker, but that's about it. So I admit that I came to read her article with an open mind about her as a person. I also came to it as someone who has been following a few infertility blogs for the past few years and has nothing but sympathy for the people who deal with this problem and acceptance of however they want to deal with it. So i'm not the best person to read this thing and look for things to criticize.
But should we be looking for things to criticize at all? I don't think so.
Let's start with the most obvious and frequently thrown egg. She should have adopted. There are lots of kids who need homes. How selfish and vain for her to go to such lengths to have a biological child when there are kids out there who need her.
Ok, now I'm all for adoption. If you want to adopt knock yourself out. But there are a lot of complications and moral gray areas that people who push adoption ignore. First of all, adoption is expensive. Granted Kucsinski could afford to adopt the same way she could afford to undergo several IVF cyles and then to compensate a surrogate, however, a lot of people out there find that they have a hard time concieving and once they look into adoption realize that they are financially better off to start on Clomid and see where it takes them.
There is also the matter of being allowed to adopt. Home studies prior to adoption are brutal. They can be just as, if not more, emotionally draining as enduring ART. At least if you're cycling with ART you can keep it to yourself or only share with trusted freinds and family. With a home study you have a stranger going through your life with a fine tooth comb looking for cracks all while you hold your breath and hope they judge you worthy of a child. We've also heard more stories recently about people being denied the chance to adopt for reasons that are out of this world. Things like obesity or past health problems have kept people who really want to give a child a home from doing that. I don't think I could stand it and I don't blame people for feeling the same way and choosing another option.
Another problem with adoption is that so many of the children needing homes are older children or children of a different race or ethnic background of those who are looking to adopt. People who wait years to adopt infants and very young children are often criticized for not adopting an older child. Yes, even when you adopt, you can do it wrong. I understand the concern for the older children who are waiting for homes. It is truley heartbreaking. However an older child presents obstacles that not everyone is ready to deal with. They may have health problems or behavioral issues that need extensive therapy or may never get better. The race and ethnicity issue is puzzling as well. How do you raise a child to know their heritage if you have never experienced it? Do they even need to be raised to know their heritage? That's a loaded question right there. People who pass on the opportunity to adopt an older child are often said to be too self-centered or wanting a perfect baby too much to take on the challenge. Well that's crap. I think it's vital that people know their limits, especially when considering something as monumental as raising a child. I think most people's reluctance to adopt an older child comes from a fear not of failing as parents, but of failing the child who needed them most.
Another question I always ask myself when reading these things is "Why is it up to them to adopt? How many kids have you adopted? Oh, none. Because you could have your own kids. I see. " There is so very much wrong with people telling others what their lot in life is but so often we can't keep ourselves from doing just that. A large part of what bothers me about the hoopla surrounding Kucynski's article is the amount of criticism that is coming from the feminist community when so many of their comments smack of the paternalism they claim to despise and that we all are working hard to overcome.
I also think that it's fucked up to criticize and discount the desire to have a biological child. The urge to spread our genes around has been ingrained in us through millions of years of evolution. We like to think that we've overcome these base desires but really we haven't. It's why the family of an addict enables, why we eat more when more is given to us, why our blood boils when someone threatens our home and why people spend years and thousands of dollars trying to concieve with ART. We are to spread our genes and then protect them to the bitter end.
On a slightly higher mental level I also understand the desire to make a baby with your spouse. Kucynski brings this up in her article. She wants the love between her and her husband to be embodied in a child. I can't blame her for that. I've thought many times about the translucent baby Josh and I will have, maybe with my blue eyes and his naturally curly hair. Or maybe little Evelyn will have my will not hold a curl hair and her dad's brown eyes and big head. I'm still amazed at how much my father in law looks like his mom, and how I sound like my mom on the phone. These are the things baby dreams are made of and I don't think it's fair to rip someone to shreds for holding on to these dreams month after month of negative pregnancy tests, disapointment, sadness, feeling like you're broken, and then through the injections, doctor visits, and failed cycles that come with ART. When the hope of having a baby with mom's nose and his dad's eyes is the only thing that gets someone up in the morning I think the selfish people are the ones who stomp on that dream because they feel uncomfortable with all the medical intervention, the money being spent, the kids in foster care, or the conviction that this person just wasn't meant to have kids.
So adoption isn't the panacea that it's often made out to be. It's not like in old cartoons and movies where you drive to the orphanage one Saturday and come home with a kid. If it were that easy i'm sure more people would adopt, but it's not and I can't sit in judgement of someone for taking a different route that felt right to them.
So now that i've dealt with all THAT...
Another complaint about Kucynski's arrangement and surrogacy in general is the fianacial incentives involved and that women who are surrogates are often in lower income brackets than the people who hire her. (Because there's nothing at all like this going on in adoption. All those kids came from upper middle class people and no one needed to consider their financial situation before making the heart rending choice to give up their child. Nope. Nothing like that going on at all.)
I actually call bullshit on the hang-wringing over the financial situation of Kucynski's surrogate and all the other surrogates out there. The concern is that these women aren't really making an informed and clear headed choice about being a surrogate because the money offered to them is too much to pass up. I'm not so sure about that.
In the case of Kucynski's surrogate she was very open and upfront about how the money from her surrogate pregnancy would help her and her family. As in, she was putting it towards her kid's college funds. So what's the problem? This woman has a home, a stable life, happy kids. I'm not getting that the money offered to her was coercive.
In fact Kucynski states in her article that surrogate agencies make a point of not accepting poor women as surrogates for many reasons, mainly that the money would be coercive to someone in dire straights. (Other reasons were a lack of health insurance and general poor health, and less life stability i.e. job, home, stable relationship.)
Mostly I think that what it comes down to is that surrogates choose to be surrogates. They are compensated for the amazing feat they are doing as they should be, but I don't think that there are many surrogates out there who are carrying another person's child just for the money. In the same way I could never be a stripper because it is just too much outside of my personality and I couldn't handle it no matter how good the money is, I don't think that we have to worry about women being surrogates for the money because if they don't want to do it everything involved will keep them from signing up. Pregnancy is 24/7 for nine whole months. It carries some pretty big health risks and giving birth is a huge ordeal. This isn't like a job where you're exploited for eight hours and then you go home. I have a very hard time believing that someone would sign up for all that pregnancy and birth entail with out being ok with all that and desiring an experience that goes beyond the money they are paid. (Keep in mind i'm only talking about America here. The booming rates of surrogacy in India are a different matter.) Again i'm puzzled by the vitrol spouted by feminist writers on this subject that assume that surrogates are being taken advantage of, a position that ignores the choice they had in the matter.
As for her being rude to the woman who was doing her an enormous service, I didn't see it. Sure some of the things she said in the article come off bad, but after 11 IVF cycles, four miscarriages and now one former stranger carrying a baby made of your egg and your husband's sperm things get complicated. Feelings get complicated. It's not always sunshine and lollipops. Sometimes it's envy, jelousy, anger, failure and loss. I admire Kucynski for writing openly about all those feelings knowing that they wouldn't be looked on kindly.
Finally the photos. Kucynski is pictured on her manicured lawn holding the product of this adventure, her son, with her baby nurse in the back ground. Her surrogate Cathy is pictured very pregnant and barefoot (yes, barefoot) sitting on her porch which needs to be repainted. These photos are anything but subtle. However the ire they stir up should be directed at the photo editior and the photographer who took these pictures and decided that it was a good idea to publish them with the story, not Kucynski who I am certain did not have any say in which photos were used with the story.
In a nutshell I don't hate Alex Kucynski. I don't judge her. I don't think anyone should. It's easy to live in our heads and wonder about the larger implications of ART and surrogates. It's easy to sit at your computer and type mean comments about all the kids in foster care. It's easy to go for the low blow and call someone a rich bitch who wanted the latest accessory, a baby.
What isn't easy is looking into someone's life and trying to understand their pain. It's hard to put yourself in the postion of spending five years trying to get pregnant. It's hard to fathom enduring four miscarriages. It's hard to think about how you would feel seeing another person carrying your baby. But what really seems to be hard, nearly impossible, for us as a society is too look at other people's choices and realize that they don't reflect on us. That how one person finds their way to parenthood is just that. One person and their journey. One family doing what is right for them.
We all need to stop fretting over what choices others make and get on with our own lives.
Julie beat me to posting but her perspective is worth a read as always. She's said what i'm thinking much more succinctly. But I think this post from Slate's XX Factor sums it up nicely: So what?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My biggest problem with this article is that we're expected to care about this one person's experience with surrogacy and IVF. I'm so sick of hearing about these women who have IVF and go through all this stuff to have a kid. Yeah, it's their business. So let's keep it their business. I may be wrong, but I cannot help but feel as though these stories and "John and Kate Plus Eight" and "18 Kids and Counting" are just another way that our patriarchal society tries to institutionalize motherhood as being a woman's ultimate purpose, duty and joy. It's just this latent argument against a woman having the right to have an abortion, and that's what pisses me off.

What pisses me off even more than that is that the New York Times would waste space on a story like this when there are so many more important things going on. There's a war going on. Our country is in the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. We have a lame duck president who's using his last few weeks in office trying to obliterate the Endangered Species Act, take away a woman's right to choose what's best for her body, and giving tax cuts to the rich. Her baby, that other chick's body, but it isn't news.