Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban announced yesterday the birth of their biological daughter — through gestational carrier. Incidentally, surrogacy is illegal in their native Australia, and New South Wales has already banned the practice for Australians overseas too.
Kidman, 43, gave birth to her daughter Sunday Rose, but had also suffered a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy. She also has two children she adopted with ex-husband Tom Cruise. (It was a particular PR coup to clear the red carpet questioning — no hard-hitting interrogation, to be sure — without this news. The harassment by the paparazzi and law enforcement that Sarah Jessica Parker's surrogate endured could be reason enough.)
"Altruistic surrogacy," in which no money changes hands, is allowed in Australia but seldom happens. The new overseas surrogacy ban in New South Wales (Australia's most populous state, containing Sydney, where Kidman grew up and where her parents live) has already been passed, but has not yet gone into effect. It would "impose penalties of two years' jail, a $110,000 fine, or both on parents who pay for a surrogate here or abroad to carry their child," according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Here's how the Minister for Community Services, Linda Burney, explained it:
"I believe the message this Parliament needs to send to all citizens is that commercial surrogacy - an act that commodifies women and children - is wrong, whether it takes place in Australia or another State or another country."
One medical director told the Herald that about 30 couples annually seek overseas surrogacy in countries like the U.S., India, and Thailand. (The article doesn't address whether Kidman will be arrested if she returns home, but somehow we doubt it.) Surrogacy is also far more restricted throughout Europe than it is here in the States.
The issue of "commodifying" women and children was addressed here in the U.S. in Melanie Thernstom's recent Times magazine piece about having two children through two gestational carriers and an egg donor. (Kidman used her own egg.):
Many people talked as if the mere fact of being compensated negated the generosity of the gestational carriers and the egg donor and asked if they were doing it "for the money," as if they couldn't want to help and want to be paid. Would you be less grateful to a beloved teacher, nanny or fertility doctor because they were paid? We wanted to pay, because it made the relationship feel more reciprocal. There was one woman who responded to my surrogacy listing who said she didn't want any financial compensation. Although it sounded as if she really didn't need money - she was an affluent divorcée in Sonoma County - I felt that we would need to pay her. "That's our contribution," I said, flummoxed - "one of the things we can give back."
She expanded on that view in a followup responding to Times commenters:
Several readers express the belief that surrogacy is "rich women exploiting lower-class women." The notion of surrogates as lower-class women relies on a faulty stereotype and is offensive to surrogates in several ways. Many surrogates, like Melissa and Fie, are middle-class professional women with families who want to help someone experience the joy that they take in their own children. Surrogates, regardless of their income and occupation, are proud of what they do and of the happiness they help bring into the world - you have only to read postings on Web sites like surromomsonline.com to see how true this is. To insist they are being exploited is to discount their own will and their self-reported feelings about the process. Melissa's and Fie's perspectives on their experience can be heard in the audio interviews on the Web site (and Melissa has posted here in the comments).
We'll give Thernstrom the benefit of the doubt on that wording — should being called lower-income really be accepted as an insult, regardless of the negative connotations others put on it? But she's right about the condescension inherent in the assumption that these women couldn't possibly understand their choices to be pregnant for someone else, or the risks thereof. Still, the gestational surrogacy sounds a lot less joyful and non-exploitative when you read about its practice in India, with women who have far fewer economic options and who are often shunned by — or segregated by doctors from — their families. On the other hand, don't those women deserve the respect for their own choices to help pull themselves out of their dire circumstances?
Meanwhile, on Surromomsonline.com's message board, members reacted to Kidman and Urban's news with congratulations. "I love that some celebrities out there are willing to share that they used surrogacy— I think it is so important to the surrogacy community to have positive media," wrote one. Their post signatures alone are fascinating and tell their own stories:
Already, an op-ed in The Australian has criticized Kidman and Urban and their use of the term "gestational carrier":
The detached language views women as disposable uteruses. This dismantling of motherhood denies the psychological and physiological bonds at the heart of pregnancy.
The euphemisms soothe: don't worry, there is no mother whose voice the baby hears, no mother whose blood carries nutrients to the developing child, whose heart the child hears. No mother feeling first kicks, whose breasts swell, whose entire body and mind prepare for her arrival.
There's no evidence that Urban and Kidman viewed their carrier as a "disposable uterus." The natural extension of this thinking, which assumes that all women consider pregnancy the same way, is that even adoption is dehumanizing. While ensuring there are legal controls against actual exploitation, we should stick to letting these women define their body's experiences for themselves.
How What Nicole Kidman Has Done Will Soon Be A Crime In NSW [SMH]
More On The Twiblings [NYT]
Meet The Twiblings [NYT]
Hiring A Surrogate In India [WSJ]
Gestational Carrier Is An Ugly Term [The Australian]