Controversy



When I think about what magazine might do a story on the surrogacy issue, I’m thinking…Parenting? Maybe Family Circle? Or even Ms Mag? Nope.

How about  the trendy men’s book, Details?  Yeah, that wouldn’t have been my guess, and yet here it is.

http://tinyurl.com/y9kjr8m

Naturally they come at it from a different angle, as it’s titled “Would You Let Your Wife Have Another Man’s Baby.” And it’s not bad. I liked it for its honesty and its generally accurate portrayal of surrogacy, at least what we’ve discovered so far.

But one line pretty much ruined this article for me. Can you spot it?

Here: I’ll save you the trouble:

“Shirley Zager, director of Parenting Partners, a surrogate service in Chicago, estimates that there have been about 28,000 such births in the United States since 1976. The women who make them possible are almost always married to guys like Brent, men who are comfortable pimping out their wives’ bodies for nine months at a stretch.”

Well as the song goes, It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp. (An aside: did that song really win an Academy Award for Best Song in 2005? Wow.). But it’s even harder for those who try to educate people about surrogacy, and the reasons why a woman — or in our case, a family — decides to embark on this journey.

Did the writer — a female by the way — carelessly toss in that line without a second thought? Or was it a very conscious way of casting judgement on those of her own gender who go down this road? Either way, it’s  an unfortunate choice of words. And it shows either her carelessness or stupidity. Take your pick.

From my newly minted, but still limited,  knowledge about the world of surrogacy, I’ve come to realize that everyone seems to have a different reason for wanting to become a surrogate. On the one extreme, it can be a cold, business relationship between surrogate and IP — as depicted in the Details story.

And on the other extreme: It’s a selfless call to action, an opportunity to share a blessing and provide the miracle of life. These situations — or close facsimiles — seem a lot more prevalent I’m happy to say.

And many of them are somewhere in the middle. Maybe it’s done on the behalf of a friend or family member who can’t have children of their own. Maybe the money is needed to fund a college education. And many other reasons.

But, as the author puts it,  pimping out their wives’ bodies? That describes a husband actually pushing her to use her body in this extreme sense. To actively solicit for the arrangement. 

Unimaginable. Even if there was some bizarre couple from Dimwit, Arkansas (sorry to my AR readers) who approached a surrogacy agency with this mindset, they’d be quickly shown the door before the screening had barely begun.

Besides, I think the purple jump suit and excessive amount of gold jewelry he’d be wearing  to the screening interview would be a dead giveaway.

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Alert GuestWomb.com reader Micah spotted this above-the-fold story in today’s  New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/13/us/13surrogacy.html

Basically, it’s a series of surrogacy horror stories. And the victims are ultimately the children created in these flawed pairings of IP and surrogate.

The articles depicts the stories of three surrogacy arrangements — two that seemed fine at the beginning and then devolved. And another that was just wrong from the word go. I’ll let you read the article yourself and read these very sad stories.

(I take issue with the tone of it, insinuating that babies can be to simply ‘ordered up’ as if they’re an item on a menu. Take a look at the comments from others like us who are living in this world who rip the author.)

There’s a lot of blame to go around in these tales of woe. Begining with vague and inconsistent state laws dealing with surrogacy contracts. The real villains here in my mind are the doctors, lawyers and less-than-qualified surrogacy match makers who fail to adequately do their jobs of vetting each party.

And some blame goes to the intended parents themselves. In their emotion-filled rush to simply have babies at any cost they failed to think things through.

With all the factors in play, it was as if these surrogacies were doomed to fail.

Just like every other action you take this day, there’s a right way to do things, and plenty of wrong ways. I’ve documented before how our IPs have done everything right in preparing and executing this surrogacy, and this story just reinforces it. They chose highly regarded agency — Melissa Brissman — to find us. We were painstakingly vetted in every way so that all parties felt confident in each other. 

It was all about minimizing the risk of this arrangement. Together with our IPs, we took every step to make sure this journey would stay on the path. There is just too much at stake to do anything less. Especially for this new little life!

When I read in the article that only 750 surrogacy arrangements are made in the US every year, and that some of them go tragically wrong as described in the story, it makes me feel very fortunate to know our surrogacy was ‘done right’.

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We will return you to your usual Guestwomb.com posts, the  irreverent and semi humorous entries that both of my regular readers have come to expect, in a few paragraphs.

Today I have something heavier on my mind. Or maybe on my soul. Actually I’ve been thinking about them since September when Michelle was implanted with two embryos and the journey was underway.  The ‘them’ I refer to are the ones who didn’t make it.

Our IPs had four frozen embryos left from earlier surrogacy efforts. The plan was to select hopefully three to implant in Michelle to maximize the chances of at least one child produced. But when we arrived in the operating room for the procedure that morning, the count was already down to two.

I was able to look at microscopic images and it was clear even to me that two embryos came out of the thawing process in perfect condition and were starting to literally bud out, like a tiny little blossom of potential life.

And then I saw the others — just tiny little cell clusters really. There was no budding out, no bloom. No growth at all. For one reason or another that only fertility experts could tell you, these two didn’t make it. They were truly dead. Their journey was over before it started.

Of course some would argue that these two DID start the journey. That human life begins at the very joining of an egg and sperm, however it may occur. For most — 99.9% of all people on this planet — this came about through the most natural of methods. And then there are those special few who, thanks to the miracle of modern science, find themselves in this world. Probably the most anticipated and wanted children in the world, given all it took to bring about this miracle!

I’ve thought to myself that what Michelle is doing is the ultimate ‘right to life’ statement. It’s only because our IPs couldn’t bear the thought to simply destroy these embryos that a little boy or girl will be coming into the world in a few months.  There are those on both the right- and left-wing fringe of society who believe the whole concept of surrogacy as ‘playing God’ and interfering with the natural order of things. But isn’t that what medical doctors have done since the dawn of time in trying to extend human life? Breakthroughs and discoveries have promoted lifespans to record lengths. The science pioneered by clinics such as IVF are simply working on the other end of things. Just as your cardiologist, lung specialist or cancer professionals seek to prolong life, the fertility doctors help make possible life at the very start for people who, for various reasons, require the assistance of science to create life.

I’ll devote some other chapters of Guestwomb.com about these groups who oppose surrogacy and what their concerns are. Some have to do with the compensation aspect and their opposition is understandable. While I don’t have any doubts that Michelle is doing a wonderful thing, I’ve been confronted by the inconsistencies of my own personal values about issues like abortion and choice.

My own opinions on what constitutes the beginnings of life, and man’s right to intervene are getting more complex as the years go by. When I was younger and life was simple, this and many other issues seemed so clear cut, completely black and white. I grew up in a strongly Republican, Red State and Conservative place and those were pretty much my values. It was a comfortable position and I really didn’t have cause or reason to question it.

Now almost 50 years of experience and knowledge later, I see things in a different light. No. More like a diffused light. I think that each of us looks through their own window to survey life. When I was young and naive it was a clear window, where the sunlight hits and comes glaring through in a bright harsh beam. 

As the years roll by, I think our personal windows are no longer so clear. It becomes more like stained glass. It’s the same intense white light hitting the outside of the panes, but the light energy passing through the now tinted glass takes on different hues, colors and intensities. Its our personal experiences and knowledge that produce these tints. Sometimes the light is filtered by personal experience. Or the light shines in patterns brought about by knowledge and exploration. And most everybody has some panes where the tints are so dark through prejudice or hate that light is reflected off, unable to penetrate through.

And so what used to be a very stark issue of right and wrong is now bathed in a mosaic of light and opinions. Reds and blues. Lights and darks. For me, it’s the long held belief in the sanctity of life at one extreme versus the pragmatic and often cruel reality of modern life on the other.

Did God really want that little boy born this minute in the worst of the worst country on earth to come into the world, knowing that he has but weeks to live a tortured and starved stunted life? How can the Catholic Church keeps its head in the sand over basic issues such as contraception.

And on the other side, how can people be so shallow and callous as to have ‘morning after’ pills stocked and ready to go in their bathroom medicine cabinets right alongside their Tylenol and toothpaste.  

This is not the time, place or blog to settle or even explore these issues.  I’m just stating what I saw in September, and what it made me feel. 

I saw with my own eyes what was close to the very start of life for the child now growing within Michelle. When did this tiny little mass of cells go from a rapidly multiplying clot of cells to that critical mass of a human being with a soul? What is that magic line in the uterus? Is it simply the point in which this tiny little blob has the potential — all things being equal — of achieving life on its own without science’s help?

Of course all things are NOT equal in this situation. Our IPs, blessed with extraordinary resolve and resources, were determined to make this life happen. They found the perfect partner and carrier in Michelle to realize this dream. For her part, Michelle is devoting almost a year of her life to fulfill this wish. And she’s surrounded by loving, supportive people determined to help her make this happen.

This didn’t happen naturally in any sense of the words. And yet Michelle doing this wonderful deed seems as natural and right as anything I can imagine right now.

So many complex and unanswerable questions and issues. That wasn’t what I was thinking about back in September. On that blessed day, the focus was the accomplishment of Michelle’s successful implantation. Michelle and I, and our IPs, Barb and Michelle, were full of hope and joy that our journey was launched.

Yet at the same time I felt a profound and deep feeling of sadness about the two that didn’t bloom. I came face to face with a true life and death situation in that operating room, and I came away from with new found feelings and thoughts about the absolutely amazing mystery of life.

And every once in awhile, I’ll think about the two who didn’t blossom.


Cousins, uncles, sisters and more gathering from near and far. The aroma of roasting turkey wafting from the oven. A noisy throng crowding the TV, cheering or booing each football exploit. The table fairly groaning under the weight of serving dishes and platters. And then come the choices: White or dark. Mashed or sweet. Pumpkin or apple.

Ah, the traditional all-American Thanksgiving scene. Just the kind of warm, comforting images that come to life on a Norman Rockwell canvas. As for my own holiday experiences? Well, they’ve been more suited to Norman Lear .

For starters: Growing up we seldom spent the holiday at home. My small family was scattered all over Oregon, so we gathered to celebrate in the middle of the state. “Over the hills and through the woods to Grandma’s house… ” was replaced by exit  174 on Interstate 5 for the Village Green Motor Hotel, where we were about the only guests. Substitute the grandparents’ table and fine china with eating our meal in a nearly deserted dining room, and you get the idea.

I’m not complaining, mind you. You can have your same-ol, same-ol long-standing traditions, thank you. Every one of my holidays has been unique and memorable in its own way. Like the year a momma cat and a batch of her kittens found refuge under the bed in one of our room. Or the year my drunken uncle kept calling our room in the middle of the night, trying to continue a silly family word game.

Fast forward to today and Turkey days are still far from the norm. As the only family members on both sides who live in the east, we exchange holiday greetings via cell phones, trying to match up the time zones and dinner times. 

One year I tried to light a seldom-used fireplace to bring a little warmth into the dining room — and proceeded to fill the house with billowing smoke. By the time the fire alarms had turned off the food was ice cold and the story of our  “Year of the Smoked Turkey’ was born.

Then there was the Thanksgiving dining at a historic Inn on the Delaware River. Three of us enjoyed an incredible meal….while I spent the next 12 hours learning the ins and outs of food poisoning. Mostly out, FYI.

All of this is just a long lead in to describe this year’s observance. Because in some ways it was more Rockwell and much less Lear. Unexpectedly, we enjoyed one of the warmest, family-oriented Thanksgiving I’ve ever spent. And in the company of near-strangers to boot.

As you’ve probably guessed, we spent the evening with Barb and Michelle, the IPs, and their family. I won’t go into a lot of detail about who, where and more out of respect for their privacy. But I don’t think they’ll mind me sharing our reactions and feeling before, during and after.

Honestly I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. Michelle has had a lot more contact with the IPs during this process. I’m not sure this is a blessing or a curse but: My wife has the ability to establish and forge friendships quickly and easily. Her warm, open and friendly manner seems to almost attract like-minded people.

And I’m quite the opposite. (See the Ted Kaczynski reference earlier in this blog!)  Keeping my guard up is my default. I don’t open up and even feel comfortable around new folks. So this holiday invite was going to be a stretch for me.

Yet it was an assignment  that was looking forward to. Because, honestly, I’m still so very curious about our new friends — their history, their choices and their lives today.  Hopefully I’ll learn for the purposes of sharing more in this blog — but that’s their call, and in their timeframe.

Really it’s more about my own personal understanding of their world. I’ve been wrestling with an often-revised GuestWomb draft entry on my feelings about this unconventional arrangement.  A lot of my long held viewpoints are really breaking down from this self examination. I have a hard time explaining how I came to own these old attitudes and beliefs. My own lack of knowledge, experience and understanding to this lifestyle choice is quite telling. And yet I find myself more open — dare I say, more liberal — in my outlook these days. (Sorry, Dad.)

But Thanksgiving isn’t the time or place for a probing interviews, so I put my list of questions away.  Yet in a few short hours, I learned so much by just quietly observing and soaking up the atmosphere in Barb and Michelle’s new home.

End of Part 1

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swine-flu-baconrevenge

I don’t intend GuestWomb to turn into a poltical battlefield. But last week I fired this off to the Philadelphia Inquirer Letters section.

H1N1 is Obama’s “Katrina”

A deadly storm takes aim at our nation. Monitoring systems provided adequate warning, yet our government is woefully unprepared. Best case plans give way to worst case scenarios.  Mass confusion ensues as the first waves sweep in with conflicting information that changes by the day. When help finally does arrive, some in the privileged class get special treatment while the less fortunate get left behind. We shake our heads in amazement and ask: Why did our leaders fail us?

This isn’t a recap of the horrors of Katrina. I’m describing what is shaping to be a much bigger disaster — the H1N1 Flu Vaccine crisis. The Swine Flu storm track threatens every single family in this country, including my own. As we watched this pandemic gather force and roar into the Flu season, our national health care system – a consortium of profit motivated pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies together with inept public health departments — has put our nation at risk.  

While my pregnant wife frantically calls every doctor, pharmacy and clinic she can to find this vital medicine, we read about H1N1 dosage sent to the Wall Street elite firms. Even Gitmo detainees are scheduled to be immunized ahead of the people who urgently need help. I don’t think even “Brownie” would approve.

George Bush had his Katrina. Will the H1N1 Flu Debacle be President Obama’s legacy? 

Reading between the lines — the angry ones — you can no doubt sense I’m a little nervous. Michelle should be one of the first in line for the H1N1 vaccine, along with our asthmatic teenage daughter. After burning up the phone lines this week, Michelle finally got the attention of her primary doctor and will be called when they receive vaccine next week. Or so we hope. Our kids are getting the shots the following week.

But for now I’m still out in the cold. 

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3935289816_bd6696c439

The first of a series of posts examining the law and surrogacy. 

In America’s Oven Mitt, the great state of Michigan, it’s the law:

A woman isn’t allowed to cut her own hair without her husband’s permission.

It is illegal for a man to scowl at his wife on Sunday.

No person shall throw an abandoned hoop skirt into any street or on any sidewalk, under penalty of a five- dollar fine for each offense.

It is illegal to paint sparrows to sell them as parakeets.

And finally in Rochester, MI:

All bathing suits must have been inspected by the head of police.

Not quite as pervy, but every bit as ridiculous: Michigan’s view on Gestational Surrogacy. The contractual arrangement that Michelle has with the IPs is expressly outlawed in this backward state. In fact, if we lived in the Wolverine State, Michelle could be sitting in a jail cell. (Orange maternity wear?)

While the half abandoned cities of Detroit, Flint, Pontiac and others smoulder in economic ruin, the state government has been very busy inserting itself into surrogacy arrangement. Michigan has one of the strictest laws prohibiting surrogacy contracts, not only holding them unenforceable, but also imposing fines and jail time on anyone who enters into such a contract (up to five years and $50,000 for some).

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After inviting a tiny piece of the planet to learn about our little secret, I took a much-needed break from the blog.

The last couple of weeks has reminded me of buying our first house. Before we could even take a deep breath and relax…we were eager to show it off to friends and family.  Sure, lets add some more stress on top of stress. A lot of cleaning, some touch up paint, making sure that everything looks just right. And then you throw open the doors and invite everybody in.

And you wonder what people think. Did they really like the place? Were they just being polite? Even more stress on top of stress.

I’m not sure what kind of reaction I was looking for. A round of applause? A huge influx of traffic to the site? Angry emails from pissed off family members? A call from Barack Obama?

Well I got most of the above. Alas, the President was unavailable; must have been playing a lot of pick up hoop games lately.

But the comments were nice. Surprisingly so and I’m thankful to those of you who have gone out of their way to discuss the blog with me. And a huge thank you to the dozens that have already subscribed to it! I hope I’ll be able to continue to earn your attention, and to entertain and educate.

Speaking of educate: that’s what we’ve been doing with our own families in the past week. I burned through a cell phone battery trying to explain to my Mom why it was important to share the news. Electronic publishing…blogs…RSS feeds…it’s not part of her world. And neither is an open discussion of the subject of surrogacy. I think that’s what bothers my parents the most. It’s not that they object to what Michelle is doing. It’s our willingness to let other people in and experience this with us via GuestWomb. It’s a completely foreign concept to them, and it’s probably an area where we’ll agree to disagree.

As for Michelle’s family, well I’ve certainly given them something for them all to talk about! I drew some pretty sharp protests from a couple of them who insisted they did not share what I perceived to be a family-held view — she’s doing it for the $$. Lesson learned, I made some bad assumptions and edits have been made.

And it triggered a lot of phone calls and emails, back and forth between Michelle and the rest of her family. And frankly, I’m glad. Not that I may have caused some hurt feelings — that’s not my intent. But that it allowed Michelle yet another opportunity to explain the ‘why’ in her decision.

This flurry of communication even extended to our IPs. Michelle shared some of her family’s lack of understanding about her motives. And B and M responded with a moving, emotion-laden note for Michelle to send back to her family.

Will her family ever really get it? Will my own family feel comfortable with sharing this amazing journey with the rest of the world?

Will Obama ever bookmark this blog?

Stay tuned, please.

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