After speaking with Zoe Daniels on Radio National’s Life Matters program yesterday, I wanted to repeat a point that Zoe made and that I had hoped to mention myself.
Zoe very eloquently mentioned that we should not make presumptions on the thoughts and feelings of the Indian surrogates based on our own assumptions and situations. The stigma that surrounds the topic in Australia does not really resonate with them. Their culture and ways are so different to ours, it is perhaps naïve and prejudicial to impose our views of their experience on them and to assume that because we are comparatively wealthier then there must therefore be exploitation and coercion. Are American surrogates, who are also paid comparatively large amounts of money, therefore exploited too? We do not view this as exploitation because we see them as on an equal footing to us – but how demeaning and judgmental is that? Does it not in itself take away the autonomy and power that these women have and suggest that they are worse off than us? I am sure many Indian women are a lot happier within themselves than you or I. They are people who can make decisions and do not always need or want your pity.
From what I could see these women felt empowered and motivated to improve their position and their families. Without sounding naive and vain, how many of us do things for money? How many of us would seriously consider taking his path and becoming a surrogate for the equivalent of three years’ salary (indeed many do it for free…)? I would. Having a baby is not gratuitous or sordid. It brings joy and love and many of the surrogates do have some altruistic interest and do appreciate the enormity of what they are doing and the amazing gift that they can give. There is mutual benefit and financial benefit. The involvement of money does not always make something ‘wrong’ and there are additional, personal, reasons that people become surrogates. The scenes that we see and are ‘horrified’ by (perhaps of surrogates lazing about on beds in rows…) are commonplace in India and reflect differences in culture and lifestyle. It is so difficult to explain his in the right way. If it were me over there, I can honestly see that this choice would be preferable to many others and not as horrific as people might presume. I would not wish to be doing many of the other jobs that these women would otherwise be doing. I am not perfect and this is not a perfect world. You might argue that it doesn’t make it any better just because it is the best option from a long list of worse options, then you are being naive. Will you stop wearing clothes made by women and children in sweat houses around the world? Would you live in the conditions they would otherwise live in whilst steadfastly sticking to some moral high ground? You need to meet these women. They are happy, healthy and beautiful and do not generally understand what all the fuss is about.
I know I am at risk of huge criticism, but I believe when done conscientiously and sensitively, intending parents commissioning surrogates are not the soul-less, heartless, selfish people that others might take us for. Of course scrutiny and regulation are both important – and sometimes it is the unscrupulous practices of greedy clinics that ought to be the target – but it isn’t always like that and it isn’t always ‘bad’. Regulation and care for the surrogates is paramount – that was part of our own checklist and research.
There is no easy answer. Our surrogate was loved and appreciated and she knew that. Our child would have had an ongoing relationship with our surrogate and we would always have cared for her welfare and that of her family. Often there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than the media opinion or the knee-jerk opinions that this topic stirs in people.
What things do you do in your lives and in your attitudes or approaches that could be equally abhorrent to others? Discussion and debate are important in all areas of life which is one reason we agreed to be public in our journey – but there is a reciprocal duty and a duty to be reasonable and open-minded when you decide to criticise or judge.