' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: When a child of surrogacy asks: Who is my mommy?

Friday, February 21, 2014

When a child of surrogacy asks: Who is my mommy?

"And Surrogacy Makes 3" reads the big headline in the New York Times yesterday under a picture that takes up half the page--two gay men and their adorable surrogate-gestated daughter, Sylvia, now 3. The story is all about the difficulty of having a child this way in New York because a 1992 state law bars surrogacy for money and equates it with baby-selling. 

But wait! Of course there is a way out. One of the fathers is Brad Holyman, state senator from Manhattan, and he is co-sponsor of a bill that would overturn the current law and make it legal to pay a surrogate in New York to carry a baby for you. The bill's sponsors argue that it makes no sense for New York, with both a large number of fertility clinics as well as gays seeking their services, not to be able to offer "commercial surrogacy" to those who want it, and can afford to pay for it. Why let places like California have all the benefits of hiring wombs?

Okay, I'm being snide. But that is what "commercial surrogacy" is all about--hiring a woman to carry an implanted egg (usually from a third party) to gestation and birth. It is a thriving business in places like India. The cost can be prohibitive to most.  An egg (depending on college attended, looks, and other credentials and qualities) can cost between $8,000 to $10,000 and up to $25,000 for say, eggs from a comely young woman at an Ivy college; the surrogacy fee is around $30,000; add in legal, medical and agency fees, and a no-frills contract can cost between $75,000 to $120,000. Holyman says that if it could be legal in New York, the cost would go down, and more people could have babies. Margaret Atwood's chilling Handmaid's Tale is mentioned, and how surrogacy lends itself to unnatural social engineering and the subjugation of women, and how that led to the unusual alliance of feminists, civil libertarians and the Catholic church opposing the creation of children via surrogacy. 

I'm reading the piece looking for when the writer, Anemona Hartocollis, will talk about the child being able to know her mother (whence came the egg?) or not. Or if that was anonymous after she filled certain criteria. Or if the couple has thought about the myriad issues of child of iffy biological parentage will face when she grows up and deals with oh, medical history every time she goes to the doctor all her life. Will she have to say, Well, this is what I know from when my egg donor was 20. Since then, I have no additional information. 

The story does say both men contributed sperm and they did not want to know who won the conception lottery.  So, again what do they do at the doctor's when a medical history is asked for? Write down both men's and say, Doc, it's a 50-50 chance you will pick the right parent? (From the photograph, I'd hazard a guess that Holyman is that biological father.) Common sense alone should dictate that they need to know--for Sylvia's own medical history--whose DNA she is carrying. If some doctor hasn't told them this already, I'd be surprised.

Alas, there is no mention of whether the egg out of which Sylvia grew was anonymous, or of the many issues involved in not knowing your biological background, ancestry and history. I think of a friend of mine who is a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, a third or fourth generation West Point graduate whose son, at 12, already knows he wants to go to West Point.  I think about how my husband Tony likes to mention that he is a descendant of Rebecca Nurse, who was executed for witchcraft in 1692 at Salem. I think of enjoying knowing my grandfather was a palace guard at St. Petersburg before the revolution. I remember my daughter Jane, in time, wanting to know about my aunts and uncles and grandparents, and how she was thrilled to get three gold rings I gave her that had once belonged to my mother--her grandmother. I remember how my granddaughter wanted more than anything else to find those rings when her mother, my daughter, died. She said she cared about them more than anything else Jane might have left her. I think about all these things and wonder how much Sylvia will know. In truth, I wonder about this every time I hear of someone who had a child with the sperm or egg of an unknown: how much is that child going to be able to know? If you think about anything beyond the immediate joy and fulfillment of the parents, your thoughts go there.

Although the piece doesn't mention this, Brad Holyman is a co-sponsor of our bill in the state senate (A2490) that would unseal the birth records of the adopted in New York, and so I know he has grappled on some level with these issues. I want to think that his daughter will have access to the true identity she will need when she grows up. The piece does mention that Helene Weinstein, assembly member and possibly our most powerful opponent, was behind the bill barring commercial surrogacy in New York, but now says it may be time to "reconsider" the law. 

When I am left wondering, will Helene Weinstein think it is time to reconsider her staunch opposition to adoptee rights? Not that we are aware of. She continues to cling to the supposed "rights" of birth mothers to stay anonymous from their children. When one of the judges at the public hearing last month was going on about how the birth mother is co-owner of the original birth certificate, someone did point out that keeping the record sealed for her sake gave her more than equal power over it. In other words, if the adoptee and birth mother are co-owners (a ridiculous conceit) of an individual's birth certificate, why does the mother's supposed right to privacy now control its release? That went unanswered.

The only (and obvious) reason that a child who is adopted does not grow up knowing who his mother is--mother and child were both there, right?--is because he was too young to understand that he needed to keep track of her, to young to write down her name. And then the state yanked away that natural and inviolate right simply because it could. It wasn't done to protect the birth mothers; it was done for the satisfaction of the adoptive parents--not mother, not child. Birth parent and child must be considered co-owners of the information regarding the event of birth, or we will continue to have created a two-tier society: those who have that right, and those who do not. Sadly, except in a handful of states, that is where we are today.--lorraine 
Addendum: The Times piece does go on to say that the notoriety of the Baby M case in nearby New Jersey led to a court ruling on the validity of a surrogate-mother contract. Mary Beth Whitehead was a young mother (a proven brood mare) married to a sanitation worker who agreed to have a child (her egg as well as womb) for an infertile couple. Once the baby was born, Mary Beth did not want to give her up and fought for custody. On appeal the New Jersey Supreme Court restored her parental rights but gave custody of Melissa to the biological father, William Stern, and his wife. According to Wikipedia, the original judge in the Baby M case, Harvey M. Sorkow, presided over the Tarrytown, New York wedding of Melissa and a neuroscientist. They live in London and she goes by the name Melissa Clements.

Other states with the "harshest surrogacy laws" according to the Times story are Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, and the District of Columbia. 

And Surrogacy Makes 3

Lethal Secrets by Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor
"The psychology of donor insemination presents both problems and solutions. In the world of alternative means of conception, donor insemination is the parent procedure, the most available, successful and egalitarian. Breaking the bonds of silence and ending secrecy is necessary, the authors believe, to address the inherent psyhchological problems. As the world continues headlong down the road of high-tech procedures and methodologies, there is a need to maintain a strong sense of importance of the human element and historical, genetic connections."--Amazon

Sacred bond : the legacy of Baby M by Phyllis Chesler

"Chesler (Women and Madness, etc.) here emotionally addresses grave questions arising from the widely publicized struggle for custody of Baby M. Mary Beth Whitehead agreed to bear the child, in 1985, as a surrogate mother for Betsy and William Stern, but refused to give up the baby, thus precipitating lawsuits and national debate over parental rights. The author, a psychotherapist and feminist who publicly spoke in favor of Whitehead and organized a campaign against surrogacy, describes her involvement and the support of women's-rights activists in a book that is, unfortunately, so intemperate as to dilute the vital issues raised. She describes the women who attended the birth mother's trial as "blood-thirsty, pro-male, pro-middle class," Whitehead as "condemned and tormented" like a "character in a soap opera." Much relevance is buried under Chesler's vehement accusations against a woman-hating society that regards a surrogate as a "womb for hire." Nevertheless, the book serves to alert the public to the moral and social considerations of surrogacy. Appended are court briefs, verdicts and the Stern/Whitehead parenting contract."--Amazon 



  1. People just aren't thinking.

    They prize the very attractive young woman because she's attractive. They prize the intelligent young woman because she's intelligent. They know that looks are hereditary. And, they know that intelligence is also connected to heredity. They know. That's why they chose an egg donor with these particular (as well as other) genetic gifts.

    Yet, the never think that the child may want one day want to connect with the person who gave her these genetic gifts.

    Neither egg nor sperm donors should be allowed to be anonymous. A child created in this way should be able to learn of his/her biological parentage by the age of 18 (if they so choose).

  2. Thomas Beatie, the so-called "world's first pregnant man" is expecting another child. However, this time he is not the one carrying the child, his girlfriend is. When the story aired, Thomas assured viewers that the only thing that matters in raising a well-adjusted child is that the child receive unconditional love from both of his parents. I guess this means that the baby on the way will have no issues with the fact that s/he will have no genetic relationship to the woman who carried him, that the person who is acting as his father is, in fact, his genetic mother (Thomas was the egg donor for the pregnancy) and that his biological father is a sperm donor who he will probably never know. Sounds like a walk in the park to me {insert sarcasm}. And in case anyone is having trouble following this convoluted set of biological and social relationships, there will be a quiz later. lol

  3. This article was very disturbing to read. The very end of the article, where the little girl is dancing around in her ballerina outfit, the two men say "this is the best thing we've ever done". Once again, as I have said about adoption...it is a game. It is another "thing" they have done. Yippee. The little girl is sweet and cute now....but how is this going to affect her as she grows and matures? She has a gestational carrier for a mother and will not know who exactly is her father, because they decided to keep that a secret. This is VERY upsetting.

    Surrogacy disturbs me tremendously, but that's just my own personal gut feeling and opinion. I am not thrilled about anonymous donors, either. There is a member of my extended family who tried for years to conceive. She and her husband then settled on donor eggs as the solution. They chose a donor, and were going thru the treatments. At the 11th hour, it was discovered that the donor had withheld some important info...I was not told the exact details. So, they hurriedly picked another donor. They did eventually have a daughter. And I know that they will NEVER tell her the circumstances of her birth. I know it for a fact, it disturbs me terribly, but they think it is unimportant. They are very flip about it. The child is young now....but issues are going to come up and they will not know how to handle them. But right now they have their cute little toddler and don't want to hear anything about it. It just eats away at me.

    And, on another note, if Weinstein reconsiders the surrogacy bill in NY, she had better let the adoptee rights bill come up for a vote. This really is a disgrace. My head is spinning!

  4. @ Robin: I came back to comment on the scenario you wrote about because I had to read it a few times to honestly get it straight! If it were not actually happening to an innocent child, it might almost be funny.

    You say that "Thomas assured viewers that all that matters....is that the child receive unconditional love from both parents." He is delusional. That one statement shows such disregard for the baby (who will GROW UP and become a person), and it shows selfishness the likes of which I really have never seen.

    If he really believes this, then good luck with it. I have a bridge in Brooklyn he might be interested in as well.

  5. Paid surrogacy should be against the law everywhere. There is too much room for exploitation, like our current money-based adoption system. And of course nobody should be anonymous in sperm or egg donation.

    As to the scenario described, that little girl has no "Mommy". What she has is two dads, an egg donor, and a surrogate who carried her. Neither of those qualifies as "Mom" in my opinion. Sad.

  6. From your source article in the N.Y Times.
    Darlene Pinkerton's husband, Tom, a third-party reproductive lawyer, said, “Imagine instead of just having one husband doting on you, you have three guys now sending you flowers.”

    Oh yuck. Yuckitty yuckitty YUCK.

  7. Yeah, I read that comment too--3 guys instead one one--and had a weird reaction. Same reason I found Mama Mia irritating--the girl doesn't care who her father is? Sure. Like, really?

    Same way Ronan Farrow doesn't care who his father is. Of course he has a relationship with Frank Sinatra's family, hates Woody. Who paid child support for him for decades.

  8. Maryanne's spot on as usual. This is a family constituted without a mommy. However, in this case, I don't think that is necessarily "sad" because there is no mommy here to be sad about, and these two loving fathers should be enough family for anyone. Do we really need to hear about how dire it is for "two men" to raise a child, as was recently suggested to Racilous of Adoption in the City? BS and homophobic, and the research doesn't bear that out. She chose those APs and her choice should be respected.

    What is sad and inexcusable is that the child in the article will not know her genetic heritage and the non-adopted adults don't think it's important enough to guarantee. The "two men" issue totally obscures that real issue. Keep it simple and equal, guys.

  9. Bee Hive, that was my point.

    Not that gays have children--that the story and the two fathers seem not to indicate that the "egg" mother is a non-issue and the writer seems not to notice that maybe the child is not supposed to know whose genes she carries. But take one look at the picture and everybody knows.

  10. My reaction to Darlene Pinkerton's husband Tom's comment was not because there'd be "no mommy", but because he's sending out the message that having *three doting guys* to give a woman flowers for what's described here is somehow a desirable thing.
    Just how desperate for attention would such a person have to be? Tom doesn't have much regard for women.

    I suspect Rowan Farrow does have a pretty good idea who his father is and probably does care too, at least up to a point. Could be he's just "burned out" by all the publicity and gossip and just wants for people to shut up about it. I could get with that.
    For Woody Allen I have no tears to spare.

    Maryanne is right. No money, no anonymity. Full disclosure of all parties involved.

  11. The newest trend for same sex couples is a co-parenting concept. Where one gay couple will conceive a child with one lesbian couple. Both couples have joint custody of the child. The child knows their full genetic heritage. It almost acts similar to a divorced parenting situation with a lot less drama.

    I wish I could find the article I saw to share with you but was curious about your thoughts on this concept of co-parenting.

  12. Anon wrote:
    "The newest trend for same sex couples is a co-parenting concept. Where one gay couple will conceive a child with one lesbian couple. Both couples have joint custody of the child. The child knows their full genetic heritage. It almost acts similar to a divorced parenting situation with a lot less drama."

    I think this is definitely the right way to go for gays and lesbians who want children. Better for the child who will know her roots, better for those involved in the conception. No exploitation.

    And of course much cheaper which means that the money not spent for adoption or creating a child artificially can be saved for the child's college education.

  13. Jane,

    There is no sex in the conception and there is still money spent on the artificial insemenation and court proceeding to work out custody arrangement. So it's still costly and not that much cheaper in the big picture than surrogacy and adoption.

  14. Anon,
    I have to disagree with your. In adoption, there is the fee to the agency, first mother medical and other expenses and attorney fees, altogether $30,000+

    In the case of gay men using artificial means, there is the cost of the egg, the surrogate's fee and medical expenses, and the attorney fees, together from $75,000 to $120,000.

    The cost for lesbians using AI would be higher than the cost of a cooperative agreement because of the fee to the sperm donor.

    If people are paying anywhere close to $30,000 for cooperative child bearing and rearing, they need to find another doctor and lawyer.

    1. Jane, some day, if I'm lucky, I'll find a yellowed clipping in my attic from the mid-'70s, cut from the San Francisco Chronicle. It shows a beaming trio comprising a pregnant lesbian, the gay friend who donated his semen (administered by turkey baster), and in the middle, the bicycle messenger who sped the "packages" from the man's office to the woman's in the Financial District for the month or two it took to achieve a successful conception.

      Low-tech! Full genetic disclosure! Four loving parents, as well as the bike messenger, who was named one of the godparents! This blew my college-student mind... it all seemed so simple, loving, and, yes, natural.

  15. Jane, you said " I think this is definitely the right way to go for gays and lesbians who want children."

    Does this mean you think adoption is the wrong way to go for gays and lesbians who want children?
    Because that is what it sounds like.

  16. "Two loving fathers should be enough family for anyone." Really? Perhaps try "loving parents." The "two" and "enough" is very dismissive of a situation far more complicated. Some of us have four parents, some even more.

  17. Anonymous:

    Re gay adoption: If adoption must happen, let it be with open and full disclosure of all parents. We have seen stories that gays are more likely to adopt children with obvious and known problems, and from foster care, and of course we are behind that. However, if the number of people looking for babies to "complete" their family now adds pressure to find more "adoptable" babies--obviously we are not behind that.

  18. The Center for Bioethics and Culture presents "Breeders:A subclass of Women?"


  19. Gay couples having children with other gay couples and raising them together is definitely preferable to gays adopting healthy infants--a win-win all the way around.

    Children are raised with people who look and think like them and they know their heritage. Mothers and fathers are not grieving over a lost child. By creating their own child, gays(and (anyone else) are not putting pressure on the adoption market to take short cuts to deliver the goods.

    Of course adopting children from foster care is also positive both for the child, the adoptive parents, and often for the natural parents.

  20. The "healthy infant" label/criteria is both too rigid and too vague to be really helpful. Despite all one would wish, healthy infants *are* sometimes placed in circumstances where adoption or the opportunity to be placed in foster care with potential adopters is warranted. Infancy is normally considered to last until around twelve months Those infants who have no chance of being raised within their original family deserve to have permanency, ideally at least before they reach the age of six months.
    So long as potential adoptive parents are empathetic, stable and honest, it makes no difference that they are gay or lesbian. They are qualified to raise a child.

    Like others have said, the crucial thing is that there are no secrets. The same is true of surrogacy, no matter how complicated. The ethical thing to do is to make the identities of those who have contributed physically, in this case the genetic mother, the gestational mother and the genetic father, legally available to the person who is brought into being as a consequence of these adult decisions.
    The financial aspect is another matter, and I heartily agree that paid surrogacy should be against the law. Of course removing the financial incentive would hurt the industry. Too bad - although unfortunately I don't see it happening any time soon. It's a juggernaut that shows no sign of running out of steam. All the more reason to try and set guidelines.


  21. If I may take this one step further, I have just recently read about potential laws being passed both in the UK and US for IVF where "faulty" eggs can have donor DNA inserted into them... aka the egg combines the nuclear DNA from one mother and the mitrochondrial DNA from a donor mother. I'm not sure the exact process I'm not a scientist. Again I have to ask, will the child that results from this be aware of their 3 distinct DNA lineages and backgrounds (2 mothers and father)? is it becoming a case of being one step away from Dr. Moreau?

    Where oh where are the children in any of these situations - closed adoptions/surrogacy/whatever. Can't anyone see beyond their own selfish needs to think of the psychological impact on the children they purport to want and love so much?

    I'm a closed adoption and my life has been a complete trainwreck as a direct result of it combined with my mother's cruelty. I have been reduced to repeated suicide attempts and I'm scarred from head to toe as she led me to believe and has treated me as if my life was meaningless and I am worthless and she told me point blank so what she doesn't care.

    PUT THE CHILDREN FIRST!! what happened to us was bad enough and mothers and children continue to suffer. To think that it continues just in different formats makes me ill. This madness needs to end.

    p.s. not to nitpick Julia because I get what you mean, but that baby will not grow up and become a person... s/he already is one and I agree with you... deserves to know who s/he TRULY is.

  22. @ Anon, March 2, 2014 at 9:28 PM
    What is under public discussion in the U.K is not cosmetic genetic engineering to create designer babies. It is genetic therapy to replace the broken genes that cause children to be born with terrible diseases. So in that sense it is very much about putting the children first.
    I do understand the "slippery slope" argument. It is why it is so important to differentiate between treatment and enhancement, and to enact laws and treaties to make cosmetic engineering illegal.


  23. to JMO: who said anything about cosmetics? This is still a case of playing god with nature and causing these children to have DNA that is "tampered with" and anonymous donor DNA. That is my point - these children's identities and right to know who they are. I believe you missed the intention of my post.

  24. @ Anon, March 5, 2014 at 9:20 PM
    By "cosmetically enhanced" I mean altering DNA to create designer "super-babies" (Baby Einteins, Baby Clone of Most-Hyped-up-Beautiful-Celebrity-of-the-Moment). The procedure under discussion in the U.K is not for that. It is to prevent life-crippling hereditary diseases from being passed on to a child via the mother.
    As far as I can make out (I am not a scientist either) the percentage of donor mitochondrial DNA would be extremely minimal, A child born as a result of this procedure would indeed have the genetic material of three people, but almost all of it would still be from the mother and father and no more than 1% from the donor - and the child would not have to suffer from a devastating disease.

    I agree there are still issues that need to be resolved, such as whether the donor should remain anonymous. My personal opinion is that that the child has the right to know the donor's identity, and I am not aware of any reason why a donor should remain anonymous anyway, since, presumably they donated for altruistic reasons. There is also the possibility of long-term "unintended consequences" to be considered. It is uncharted territory, and we don't know what will happen down the road. However it is a way of preventing people being born with incurable diseases which would destroy their lives.
    Then of course there is the argument that an unborn child is unable to agree to a procedure that modifies its genetic make-up, but it is hard to imagine that, given a choice between being born with a devastating disease and being born healthy, anyone would chose the former.


  25. JMO - why do you insist on arguing with me about designer babies? I never said anything remotely about that. As far as babies being born without this illness, how would they anyway as this is an IVF treatment?

    I said I am concerned with these children's IDENTITES... which is something we agree on.

    Stop putting words in my mouth and fighting me about something I'm not even talking about please and thank you.

  26. @ Anon, March 6, 8:25 PM
    I'm not arguing with you. I am trying to explain - and evidently not doing a very good job of it - why the three lineages and background argument that *you* made in your earlier comment (two mothers and a father) is wrong. !% of DNA does not a mommy make.
    That is not to say that a person shouldn't have access to the identity of the donor whose DNA enabled them to be born healthy. Like yourself, I believe they should.

    If you or anyone else is interested, this blog explains it much better than I ever could:


  27. JMO: I really am trying very hard not to be rude but you are consistently taking my posts out of context or misunderstanding them or something and putting words in my mouth and I ask you to stop.

    By definition, a biological parent is a person who has contributed DNA to an offspring. Therefore IMO, yes indeed, the donor is a mommy whether 1%, 50% or somewhere in between. My argument if you would please go back and read carefully says:

    will the child that results from this be aware of their 3 distinct DNA lineages and backgrounds.

    Then I went on to say that having my family and identity stolen from me and my mother's callous attitude towards it has ruined my life. Why should any other child have to suffer in the same way.

    I am finished commenting on this topic and trying to explain and re-explain what I think is fairly fundamental.

    If you have something more to say, perhaps state it as your own opinion and not in answer to my posts.

    And kudos to the new post about identities and birth certificates being papers of ownership. Well done Jane and Lorraine!! I for one, appreciate your championing the importance of things like this for people like me.





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