The Burden of the Bondwoman

Broken Bonds Jennifer Lahl, Melinda Tankard Reist, and Renate Klein (eds.)Spinifex, 2019; 140 pages, $24.95 Charlie Sheen gained fame as an actor, but notoriety as a john. When a judge asked him why a man of his status would have any need for commercial coitus, Sheen is reported to have explained that he wasn’t paying the hookers for sex. He was paying them to leave. The governance of Sheen’s principle in the realm of gestational surrogacy is wrenchingly demonstrated in Broken Bonds, a collection of testimonies from surrogate mothers. Their stories reveal that the popular narrative of surrogacy does not reflect the experiences of all women who carry other people’s children for love or money. Surrogacy is rhetorically packaged as a win-win for infertile couples and “Happy Breeders,” those altruistic and/or enterprising women with functioning, available wombs. The couple gets a baby; the womb-person gets a check and the feminine satisfaction of having helped. Except, the surrogates tell us, when she doesn’t. Failed Fundraising Checks are easier to assess than satisfaction, or it seems like they should be. But women who are supposed to have received them report that surrogacy transactions get buggy. Numerous surrogates in Broken Bonds end up in debt, even with contracts in place. One of them, Michelle, explains, “Once the baby or babies are born, it is very hard to collect already paid out monies, or ask extra fees to be paid. The intending parents literally don’t care. I have carried more than one of these children on my health insurance for a time, despite no reimbursement, when legally the fees were not mine to pay.” Surrogates often incur expenses that contracts (whether by accident or design) fail to anticipate. The hormonal manipulation required for surrogacy makes high demands on the mother’s health. Twin or triplet pregnancies common to IVF bring more risk than singletons, and selective abortions in such cases are both comm
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