One of my favorite shows on TV is CBS Sunday Morning News. There are so many wonderful aspects to this 90-minute news program – the longer segments, the constant recapping, Charles Osgood, the way they can make i-Pods and the internet seem like new inventions, a la Ted Stevens.
This past Sunday, however, I thought the show tackled some racy (for the show) and thought-provoking topics.
Since Baby M hit the scene in the mid-80’s, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of surrogacy. Surrogacy, a sci-fi idea in my mind, coming true in the State of New Jersey? Amazing and riveting television, even in the mid-1980’s, what with Reagan, the Russians, and HIV. So when I saw that CBS-SMN was doing a piece on surrogacy, I was hooked.
Addressing changes in the law over the last 20-plus years, as well as the strides other states have taken through the years to make surrogacy less risky for the donors of genetic material, the piece sought to balance the value of giving a person or a couple the ultimate gift, on the one hand, and whether this is just a uterus-for-hire scenario similar to a sex-for-hire scenario, on the other.
I’m not sure I see this issue as cut and dry as either of these positions, but it sure does seem complicated. First, there is the general set of questions: What does this mean for the way we define families in the law? In our minds? In our hearts?
The next set of questions in my mind are these: Is it the “stranger”/contractual part that makes the concept of surrogacy harder? If the story was about a sister or a best friend acting as a surrogate, would we accept that the act was more altruistic? Less? In the stranger scenario, is it a strict contract deal with a stranger who provides you a service like any other service? If so, is this service more like hiring a carpenter than a sex worker? Or is it like hiring a sex worker? Or is it not like hiring a sex worker at all because, often, there’s no sex between the donors of genetic material in a surrogacy scenario? Either way, is it really that problematic for someone to “rent” their uterus for this purpose?
I can understand prostitution, working in the porn industry, posing nude, etc, on some level. In many ways I feel like, hey, you gotta eat. It’s the being forced into this work because of a lack of options that can make it tragic. In the piece, they talked to a woman who was a surrogate once before who has now decided to be a surrogate again because her husband needs a costly medical procedure. So in these tough economic times, will we see more women going this route to feed, clothe, care for their families? Does that make this scenario any more or less altruistic? Meaningful? Tragic?
The next tranche of questions, in my mind, deals with surrogacy versus adoption. Okay, so adoption can be either a beautiful thing or a shady thing. But is there something different about the inevitability of a preexisting pregnancy and the fact that a baby will be arriving on the scene who will need a home not with the birth mother that somehow makes it different from surrogacy where a person/couple has contracted for the creation of a child?
Finally (I think), is what does this mean for the women who act as surrogates? I’ve seen other documentaries and read articles about the psychology of women who act as surrogates for strangers. These women seem to run the gamut from incredibly broken, lonely women to fairly grounded women with their own families who truly believe they are merely helping another family experience that joy. But what is the toll for these women? We know there is a physical component, clearly. And then there’s the joy that comes from giving of yourself for another person, be it a stranger or a friend/family member. But is there some other emotion toll that might go on that we haven’t been able to study yet? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, if a competent adult decides to engage in this type of contracting, for whatever the reasons, why should anyone care? She’s being compensated. She knows what she’s getting into. Why not respect those decisions? Just as we should respect a woman’s decision to continue a pregnancy or terminate a pregnancy, why shouldn’t we respect a woman’s decision to enter into a pregnancy for the benefit of another party?
I don’t have any answers here, but this piece was interesting.
- Flight of the Conchords
A total surprise on the relatively sleepy CBS-SMN. This is a wacky show on HBO that just started its second season. HC L-O-V-E-S this show. I thoroughly enjoy it, but I don’t think I can find it as funny as HC does. Tune in and decide for yourself. And below is a little taste of what you can expect from the show.
- Augusten Burroughs
Then there was a piece on Augusten Burroughs and his memoirs. Specifically, they focused on Running with Scissors, which I read, and explored the reliability of recollections in memoirs.
First, Running with Scissors. There are very few things that GT and I disagree about. He loved this book and demanded I read it. I did and all I could think was, so what. Yeah, it was totally crazy at times – especially with the filth level and the housing situation and the dog-snack-eating caregiver – but I wasn’t blown away by his experience. That’s not to say that I didn’t think it was interesting; I just didn’t think it was as shocking as some others around me at the time did. It was reading this book that I realized that, if I wanted to, I could write some fairly shocking tales myself, be it from my own childhood or the early lives of some of my cousins. It was also the first time that I understood how one of my cousins – one of my mother’s contemporaries – could watch Mommie Dearest, the no-wire-hangers bit and all, and think, “I don’t think that kid had it so bad.”
[Sidebar: That movie, Mommie Dearest, messed me up. I saw it as a little kid and was messed up. I didn’t use wire hangers for years. Went so far as to change the hangers on the dry cleaning. HC refused to comply with this and so I don’t do it anymore. Still, to this day, I get uncomfortable when I use wire hangers or see them in a closet.]
Second, recollections. With the explosion of the very dark memoirs and the realization that the James Frey’s of the world may be blurring the lines between fact and fiction for the sake of a good story, the question of recollections has become interesting to me. We know that two people can experience the same event and have varying accounts, emotions, physical/emotional harms, and the like. So why is it so shocking to learn that some of these memoirs push the lines of reality?
On another level, I don’t find it all that hard to believe that someone could write something in good faith and someone else who was present at that same time could read that account and think, HELL NO! I’m not talking about the basic fact stuff like we had a dog or we didn’t. But recollections are just that – an individual’s memory of an event that might have happened decades ago. How those memories root themselves into one person’s memory versus another’s seems completely subjective. Maybe there is science out there on this, I don’t know. What I do know is that, with the prevalence of misinterpretations and miscommunications in my life, I don’t think someone has to be duplicitous to walk away from a shared experience with a completely different point of view or recollection from another person person.
Surely this doesn’t mean that I condone lying. Frey could have easily said that his book was based on true events, something that he and Burroughs ultimately had to do because of lawsuits and subsequent backlash. But I’m just not as outraged by the whole thing. Maybe this goes back to my shoddy memory issue. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s because AM has told me never to let the truth get in the way of a good story. Either way, I think most people are drama mamas who, at the very least, exaggerate. But I’m willing to be proved wrong here.