Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Surrogacy, Adoption and the Commodification of Children

Recently a "news" report - the kind that is more concerned with who in Hollywood is marrying, jailed or breaking up - reported on a celeb couple who had a baby "via surrogacy." It was said as if the baby was born via cesarian. This is how nonchalant we have come about the practice of paying for babies - or for the eggs, or sperm or the "rental' of one's womb.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is defined as "a dystopian novel, a work of science fiction or speculative fiction." And yet it is very much reality. The book describes a point in time when fertility rates are so low, fertile women are kept as slaves of a sort to bear children for the wealthy and infertile. 

No. Save your fingers commenting.  I am not suggesting that all infertility is a result - directly or indirectly - of delayed childbearing. While a good percentage of it is, many other causes are likewise preventable such as weight (too high or too low), smoking, abortions, STDs, environmental contaminants..... Still, I am not implying it is not  a grievous loss. I am simply stating that it is MEDICAL problem that is being treated with special solutions and that a good deal of it is very preventable. As Vanessa Grigoriadis at New York Magazine wrote:
The fact is that the Pill, while giving women control of their bodies for the first time in history, allowed them to forget about the biological realities of being female until it was, in some cases, too late. It changed the narrative of women’s lives, so that it was much easier to put off having children until all the fun had been had (or financial pressures lessened).  
Bianca Dye admits:
I’m the walking stereotype of the career gal that… I dunno…  just forgot.
I got busy, dated dickheads and didn’t realise my time was REALLY RUNNING OUT!

Too greedy looking at what else was on the menu, I suppose. I never really committed to that: “must find hot, successful guy, must marry him, must buy house, must have baby.”
These rather simplistic views of the forgetfulness of women are countered on Feminsiste, with:
...yes, it is true that many women have trouble conceiving as they age. It is something that women have to think about — fertility isn’t forever, and if you want to birth your own babies, you have to make sure you fit that in . A lot of women don’t want to be pregnant until they’re in their 30s, when their fertility is declining. That’s not nothing.
So, it's not so much 'forgetting' as 'choosing' to delay. And then one has other 'choices' one can make.  Today, we have a mega billion dollar industry to provide eggs, sperm, wombs, frozen embryos and living children...a veritable shopping mall of choices for those who were simply too busy to think about childbearing, or wanted to avoid stretch marks or whatever reason.  It's as simple as forgetting to thaw something out for dinner and calling a take-out!  You simply have to decide if you want Chinese, Ethiopian, or something you can pass off as home-made.

As in Handmaid's Tale, women are very much divided by class: Haves and have-nots. The Haves have "rights" granted them by their wealth to "have" anything they want, including the eggs, sperm, embryos or children of others. And they can play it any way they choose. They can play martyr like Sandra Bullock who after being burned by her bad-boy husband (as much of a shock as being burned by fire) went on to adopt a little Black baby alone, granting her status second only to Mother Theresa. Her one alone trumps Madonna's two and whatever number Angelina the collector is up to now.

For the most part the Haves are admired.  But what of the have-nots? They are looked at with a combination of varying and alternating amounts of pity, contempt, disgust, unselfishness, admiration (even if solicitous at best), and/or bravery (even if insincere)....not unlike what one might say aloud as stepping over a homeless person lying in a puddle in a doorway, who one might even toss soem loose change to.

It's interesting to note that women profit, or are thought to profit, from a service other women need or want and are unable or unwilling to provide it is often deemed illegal or immoral. The same service given freely - or with more subtle exchange of payment - is often highly regarded. Sex for instance is expected of a married woman and a disgrace for a "woman of the night", hooker, call-girl, prostitute or "loose woman." Cleaning one's house, shopping. walking one's dog, cooking, and "minding the children" can all be bought for a meager wage. So why not carrying the pregnancy?  Not only are women who hire women superior to their employees, but "Johns" are far less legally or morally punished for their participation in the hiring and paying for sexual favors. In many parts of the world it is considered part of male "privilege" despite the exploitation of the service provider. The celeb couple who had their baby 'via surrogacy' was simply availing themselves of a service as one might hire a limo and driver for a special night out on the town, or keep one on staff if one was in the income range to do so....despite the fact that a surrogate mother risks her life in the endeavor.

Oprah missed the boat totally on this one as she sat laughing about a petite 4foot Indian woman carrying a child for a 6foot+ American man and his wife. She thought it hysterically to think about that big baby coming out of that tiny woman, without a thought to the fact that it could literally tear her part or kill her. Nor did the fact that the indian surrogate mothers interviewed were shunned by their communities bother her one iota. She saw it as a win-win because the indian woman were able to buy homes with the money earned risking their lives - homes they may not be able to afford the upkeep of.

While the motives of the have-nots are questionable -- maybe she's doing it for the money or maybe she just really loves being pregnant and helping others have babies -- the motives of the haves are never in question. Their want of a child is normal, natural and not at all selfish (as a younger women wanting to keep her own baby is). Whatever means they choose is their choice to make and is perfectly justifiable without question.  They are looked on with total understanding, compassion, a tiny tad of pity but in a very empathetic way and many of their choices are admired, exalted, praised as altruistic and humanitarian.

All this despite the fact that surrogacy is far more about narcissism than about wanting "a child."

She (or he) who is "deserving" to be a mother (or father) is she (or he) who can afford to choose her time, and means of doing so. If you can afford a Rolls Royce it is your privilege to own one. If all you cna afford is a used Ford, so be it. others, take the bus or walk. Children are status symbols. If you are in a class with Jay Leno then being a collector is perfectly acceptable as are Jolie's children. It's also OK if you flaunt religion as your reason, as for instance the Duggars do. But don't try to compete with the big boys if you are poor or unwed like in infamous "OctoMom." 

DESERVING to be a parent in the US today is judged by one and only one standard is all about what you can AFFORD and doing it without being a "burden" on society.

Yet here's the big IRONY to that argument:  Adoption in the U.S. is subsidized by your tax dollars.  And not just adoptiosn that woudl remove children from foster care and thus decrease tax payers burdenes. No, ALL adoptions are entitled to a tax credit of $13,360 (http://www.nacac.org/taxcredit/taxcredit.html). This tax credit is payable to the adoptive family if they have no other tax burden, which essentially means they get PAID to adopt a baby. Additionally, they are then able to claim the child as a dependent, EIC, and deduct child care expenses, if incurred.

Two corrections to the comparison chart above. regarding "fees" - while it is illegal to pay a mother directly in an adoption, the massive loophole is calling it paying he medical expenses despite the fact that any expectant mother would be entitle to Medicare.  The second correction is that while NJ challenged surrogacy and put some limitations on it, it is not illegal in the state.
The major difference between surrogacy and adoption, from the standpoint of the natural/original mother, is intent.  For the adopting parents the intent is the same. they want a child. But for the mother bearing the child the intent is extremely different and important to bear in mind.

Only a paid surrogate conceives a child with the INTENT to let it go to others. It is a conscious CHOICE she makes, though financial pressures are likely involved, especially for foreign surrogates. The word "choice" is erroniously used to describe a woman who finds herself uninentionally pregnant and conidered adoption.  It was not her chpoice to become pregnant nor was it her choice to have a child she is unable to care for and MUST let go to another. She is not giving someone a 'gift" - she is entrusting them with the care of her child, which unfortunately means forever under current US law. It means forever and it requires the eradication of the original mother and father and all connections to the child. Even so-called open-adoption begins with relinquishment of ALL rights and a falsified birth certificate listing the adopters as the parents of birth. State committed fraud.

And the biggest problem with both is inadequate informed information about the consequences to the woman and her child.

Why is it, I wonder, that it's "a baby, not a choice" when pr-lifers are talking about the possibility of terminating a pregnancy - ending the "life" of an unsustainable fetus...but it's a "choice" to buy ovum and sperm...the basis of human life, and it's a "choice" to rent a womb and contract - pre-birth - to buy the baby?  Why are these simple "choices" that we report as if someone chose a blue car over a red one? 


Anonymous said...

Your characterization of the adoption tax credit is incorrect. It does not pay anyone to adopt. It reimburses expenses occurred in adopting, and those expenses must be documented.

The only case where the credit will exceed the actual cost of adopting is if a family adopts a "special needs" child out of the foster system. In that case the entire credit is given without documentation of actual expenses. Special needs children are usually older children, often with physical or emotional problems, and are difficult to find adoptive families for. In no case are they perfect little infants that anyone would be happy to adopt.

Mirah Riben said...

1. Adoptions of "special needs' children come with subsidies in addition to the tax credit.

2. While the tax credit is predicated on helping move children from foster care into "permanent" homes, the reality is that the vast majority of tax credits are awarded to those NOT adopting from foster care but rather adopting privately, either domestic healthy infants or internationally.

Anonymous said...

FYI The adoption tax credit can only be claimed by lower income taxpayers. It complete phases out at an AGI of $222,180. Also it only covers around $13,000 of adoption expenses. Foreign or domestic infant adoptions are far more expensive.

Mirah Riben said...

You re right that domestic infant and international adoptions are far ore expensive. We are WELL AWARE that they cost tens of thousands of dollars. But you are NOT right that the credit is only for "lower income" taxpayers. Nor is there is a cap on income.

The "phase out" range you mention refers to the ability to CARRY OVER the tax credit!

*****"The carry-forward is applicable for future tax years even if the taxpayer’s modified AGI in those years exceeds the amount allowable or extends into the phaseout range. The carry-forward credit must be used within four subsequent years of the taxable year in which the adoption occurred."*****

"for tax years 2010 and 2011, the tax credit was made refundable by The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of March 2010, meaning that regardless of the taxes paid, families will be able to receive the maximum allowed benefit in the year of finalization."


Mirah Riben said...

If, in fact the law does limit the credit to people earning less than $222K - OH WELL!! People in that category don;t need gvt help!

Anonymous said...

From the IRS website:
"The income limit on the adoption credit or exclusion is based on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). If your MAGI is below the beginning phase out amount ($185,210 for tax year 2011), the income limit will not affect your credit or exclusion. If your MAGI is more than the beginning phase out amount your credit or exclusion will be reduced. If your MAGI is above the maximum phase out amount ($225,210 for tax year 2011), your credit or exclusion will be eliminated."

I guess its now $225,000.

RussiaToday Apr 29, 2010 on Russian Adoption Freeze

Russi Today: America television Interview 4/16/10 Regarding the Return of Artyem, 7, to Russia alone

RT: Russia-America TV Interview 3/10

Korean Birthmothers Protest to End Adoption

Motherhood, Adoption, Surrender, & Loss

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Bitter Winds

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