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Contexualizing Surrogacy

Many individuals view surrogate motherhood as a positive addition to the ever-expanding range of technologies now available as remedies for infertility. Others, however, view it as symptomatic of the dissolution of the traditional/nuclear U.S. family and the sanctity of motherhood, as something structurally akin to prostitution that reduces or assigns women to a breeder class (Dworkin 1978), or as a form of commercial baby selling (Annas 1988; Neuhaus 1988).

The opinion among both scholars and the general population that surrogates are motivated primarily by financial gain has tended to result in oversimplified analyses of surrogate motivations. In surrogate mother programs surrogates receive on average between $10,000 and $15,000 (for three to four months of insemination and nine months of pregnancy), a fee that has changed only nominally since the early 1980s. Although surrogates do accept (and appreciate/value to varying degrees) monetary compensation for their reproductive work, the role of this compensation is a multifaceted one. The surrogate pregnancy, unlike a traditional pregnancy, is viewed by the surrogate and her family as work, and surrogates rarely spend the money they earn on themselves. The majority spend the money on their children, for example, as a contribution to their college education funds, whereas others spend it on home improvement, gifts for their husbands, a family vacation, or simply to pay off family debts.

One of the principal reasons that most surrogates do not spend the money they earn on themselves alone appears to stem from the fact that the money serves as a buffer against and/or reward to their families, in particular to their husbands who must make a number of compromises as a result of the surrogate arrangement. One of these compromises is obligatory abstention from sexual intercourse from the time insemination begins until a pregnancy has been confirmed (a period of time that is an average of three to four months in length, but that may be extended for as long as one year). Surrogates embrace the gift formulation, which holds particular appeal because it reinforces the idea that having a child for someone is an act that cannot be compensated monetarily (Ragoné 1994, 1996, 1999, 2000).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodSurrogacy - Contexualizing Surrogacy, Cultural/legal Implications