Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Surrogacy Altruism's Public Cost

"One thing we encourage all our surrogates to do -- who are in a marriage or a partnership -- is to write a letter to their partner to thank them for being that support."
"Having support is so vital to this process. We talk to all our intended parents about how vital it is to support the surrogate's entire family."
Lela Swanberg, founder, Canadian Fertility Consulting, B.C.
CTV News Channel

"It's [childbirth surrogacy] something that she has always wanted to do and continues to want to do until she can't do it any more. Her thinking is that there are a lot of people out there who can't experience what it's like to have a child, and she is in a position to give them that gift. It's a very selfless act on her part, and I just thought: What a great thing."
"The only thing that's ever crossed my mind is if she had an issue giving birth and it cost her her life, because that can happen. And that's the only thing that's ever crossed my mind."
"I was in charge of everything [partner-pregnancy-duty]: The kids, the cooking, the housekeeping. My job was just to make sure she was staying healthy for the surrogacy because it was high-risk ... It was just my job to make sure that she was OK and the babies were OK."
"I've never felt resentment. It's something she wants. She supports me. So I support her."
"There are the days when the hormones kick in. We've had our disagreements about stuff. But just like any other issue that comes up in a marriage, you deal with it. When that stuff starts to happen, I just tend to walk away and let her have her space and I have my space. We discuss it later."
"We couldn't have our own [children, together], but we could have them for other people."
"After almost every surrogacy [she says], 'I'm not doing that again'. And then somebody asks her and she feels she has to, and we start again She will do it for as long as her body allows her to do it, and I'll support her every time."
"Meeting families and seeing how happy they are when they have a child is pretty amazing."
Steve Berkeley, 50, police officer, Woodstock, Ontario

"It's been happening for so long it's just kind of normal. Like, when she said she was pregnant again we were just like, 'Oh, OK'. I never think of it as 'Oh, we are getting a new brother or sister'."
"It's just Mom having a baby for someone else."
"For us, it's just been happening so long. It doesn't really change our lives other than we have to clean a bit more when she can't any more. [We] just have to remember that someone else is really benefiting from us having to put up with our mum being pregnant"
Chelsey, 20, eldest daughter of Christine Berkeley

"When I get the couples' profiles I always take a look and then we share and go through them together, because it's a journey -- a joint journey."
"There's never been anything but 100 percent support from Steve, from the kids I'm lucky that way."
Christine Berkeley, surrogate childbirth volunteer
Pregnancy surrogate Paula Capa talks to the Star while on a retreat for surrogates at the BenMiller Inn in Goderich, Ont. in July.
 (J.P. MOCZULSKI / The Toronto Star

So far in her surrogacy career, Christine Berkeley -- the mother of two girls, 20 and 14, and an eight-year-old son and a stepson -- there have been four pregnancies more, giving birth children; one set of twins; for utter strangers. People who want to have children of their own but who for some reason or another have been unable to conceive. That would include same-sex couples. So Christine, out of the goodness of her heart, is willing to do so for them; go through in vitro fertilization and everything associated with carrying a pregnancy to term, and finally giving birth and surrendering the result to a grateful couple.

She is far from the only woman in Canada doing this. And since under Canadian law no one can charge 'clients' for the surrogacy role they undertake on their behalf, only expenses related to the pregnancy can be charged to the expectant parents awaiting childbirth by way of a surrogate. These are women who appear to respond to the plight of other women (or men) whose child-bearing potential has been negatively impacted for whatever physical reason. And their clients, those awaiting the chance to have a child through surrogacy are grateful.

They are also in many instances, not Canadians. People from the United States, from Australia, from Spain, for example, working through a Canadian agency that connects willing surrogates with would-be parents from abroad. The commitment on the part of the women facing pregnancy, bearing someone else's child for a nine-month period of their lives, including the impact it has on their personal lives and the lives of those around them, is considerable. But these women are answering a call, and they gain satisfaction from responding to that call.

It does sound a bit sanctimonious to hear the founder of the B.C-based consulting clinic, urging notice of the sacrifices made by family members of surrogate mothers. By Mr. Berkeley's account of his personal aid to his wife, his patient understanding is in no need of praise; his relationship with his wife surviving each of these impositions is all the reward he seems to need. He views his wife, and perhaps she views herself as a kind of fairy godmother with an endearingly admirable gifting complex. His own pathology, in a sense matches hers; his being a martyr complex.

But human relationships are complex, and clearly what works for some would never pass the grade for others. Mrs. Berkeley has thus far undergone, in a ten-year-span of her life, a total of four extra pregnancies beside carrying her very own children to birth. And these acts give her a profound sense of accomplishment. Christine recounts how accepting her own children were with the information that Mummy was pregnant again: "The children were very like, 'OK, What's for supper?' and that was that." How else do children respond other than matter-of-factly with such issues, honing in on what is more immediately important in their lives?

Mrs. Berkeley and her family appear well prepared to bear the personal cost of their mother's fixation on being a bearer of children for other people. What none of them appear to find necessary to give second thought to, is the cost and the burden on the Canadian health care system. This is a user-pay plan of universal health care provision, and the cost of these pregnancies is not borne by the parents from abroad but by Canadian citizens paying their various forms of taxation to ensure the health plan can be kept afloat.

It is, and it is a very good system, but it is burdened and it is costing provincial and federal governments more and more as time progresses to be able to offer complete health care needs to Canadian citizens. It's all very well for Mrs. Berkeley to confer with her family over which of the many applicants for surrogacy she will end up favouring with her offer to carry their baby. But she has not consulted with other Canadians over how they feel about paying for the medical costs of bearing children for people abroad, and that's a shame.

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