US Surrogates’ Motivations and Satisfaction – A key to read the social context

The Social Context for Surrogates’ Motivations and Satisfaction” (2014) is an article written by Zsuzsa Berend, sociologist of UCLA.

Berend starts this article talking about one of the persistent surrogacy fears related to surrogacy; what about if the surrogate, who carries for the IP, regrets her decision when the process is completed? (Teman, 2008) As I’ve already shown in a previous blogpost “My Bun, Her Oven” An Anthropological Review, how Elly Teman has analyzed why the large portion of the thoughts express a sense of discomfort with surrogacy. In sum: gestational surrogacy (GS) reveals the strong cultural assumption in Western society that women “naturally” develop instinctive bonds and love with the babies in their bellies, and they won’t give the babies away unless they are desperate, forced, or out of their minds.

Berend article
Within the substantial literature on surrogacy that has analyzed this practice for over 20 years, there are just few longer-term data results on it. On the Reproductive BioMedicine Online, Imrie and Jadva (2014) have published a long-term study on surrogates ‘experiences. This research has found that most of the surrogates were satisfied with the relationship they had with the intended parents (IPs) and have shown no regrets for their journey as surrogates. (I will discuss about it in the future).

Berend has conducted a decennial research on surromomonline (SMO), one of the largest US surrogacy support website until the early 2000s. She has analyzed how US surrogates collectively defined their experience, reading which kind of expectations they had about their journey. The sociologist, noticed that there has been a change throughout the years: in the early 2000s, surrogates expressed the desired for an ongoing friendship with the intended parents. While, over time, surrogates have presented a different representation of the relationships with the IPS. In some cases, they did not have any contact after the delivery or have reported to feel abandoned by the IPs. Berend found that the surrogates constructed some social explanations to describe why the parents acted in the way the acted. Such as, the parents wanted to bond with the newborn or simply because they were new busy parents.

This paper is interesting because Berend suggests to keep separated the meaning of the relationship from the meaning of satisfaction. She explained that meanings are social, while satisfactions are personal feelings that involve individual interpretations of different experiences. In general, the degree of the satisfaction is related to our expectations. What does it mean being satisfied and how can we understand when and if we are satisfied? Berend said that we make a kind of comparison with our previous experience, referring to a range of practical expectations constructed on our prior knowledge. Following her thoughts, if these expectations are satisfied, we feel satisfied. As Berend asks: “[…] how do we know what to expect in new social relationships such as surrogacy?” (2014:399). Within surrogacy, satisfaction is harder to define, because it is the outcome of an intricate set of evaluation about what the relationship could be and what in concrete is.

US surrogates of SMO blog discussed about the relationship with the IPs, emphasizing that surrogacy doesn’t mean having new friends; it is more to help someone to create their own family. Related to that, there were a lot of advice for avoiding having high expectations about the relationship the surrogates could have with the IPs, during before and after the birth. In literature (Berend,2016; Teman, 2010), the most common way to stay in touch are: some periodical emails, some pictures exchanged through social media and, less often, some presents sent between them. What does it mean to stay in touch and how to stay in touch? I will analyze the meaning of that during my research.

Often surrogacy is a hybrid of contractual and gift relationship, and gifts and relationships are not terminated in the same way that contractual relations are.” (2014:400).

Berend continues her article paying attention to the other main question of the study: the surrogates’ motivations. What are the reasons why some women become surrogates? In their research, Imrie and Jadva found that most answers were, wanting to help a couple and the pleasure of being pregnant. These were similar answers that other researchers received in other cultural contexts. The most popular motivations find in literature are the payment, the desire to help a childless couple and the enjoyment of the pregnancy. For more information, I suggest to read this article.

Berend Z., 2016, The Online World of Surrogacy, Berghahn Books, New York – Oxford.
Carries J., 1991, Gift, commodities, and social relations: a maussian view of exchange. Sociol. Forum 6, 119 -136.

Imrie S. and Jadva V., 2014, The Long-term experiences of surrogates: relationship and contact with surrogacy families in genetic and gestational surrogacy arrangements. Reprod. Biomed.

Teman E., 2008, The Social Construction of Surrogacy research: An Anthropological critique of the psychological scholarship on surrogate motherhood. Doc Sci. Med. 67, 1104-1112.

Teman, E., 2010. Birthing a Mother. The Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self, The University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Field Notes

A month has passed since I have began working at the Western Fertility Institute. Whilst the access in the fieldwork was slow, the life within the clinic was frantic and constantly evolving, like it happens here everyday.  The people that cross the fertility clinic are different types, everyone with their own journey and story. There is the fertility staff composed by nurses, doctors, anesthesiologist and coordinators. The are patients in the clinic for various reasons: some to receive fertility treatments, whilst others offered their reproductive capabilities to  intended parents.

In this climax, the research project has been progressively revised, resized and adapted to the context in which I interact with daily. I have built a series of questionnaires designed to have an overview of people I’m interacting with: intended parents(s), egg donor and surrogates at their first experience and repeat egg donors and surrogates. The questionnaires are simply tools to understand the background of these people.

Pic of the clinic
As an anthropologist, I won’t just be using the questionnaires: indeed, I am conducting research with the ethnographic method. Doing “an ethnography” means several things. It means interviewing people, understanding their point of view, their thoughts and their reality. It also means using the so called “participant observation”. I have many occasions to observe the dynamics while I am at WFI. Since I am conducting a research within a fertility clinic, I will also interview the staff of Western Fertility Institute, because as presented in literature, the fertility staff plays an important role during the fertility treatment, not only for medical reasons. I will use the theoretical concept of hybrid technologies proposed by Laura Mamo (2007) to read the experiences of all the people who cross pathways within the fertility institute and undergo treatments.

Mamo L., 2007, Queering Reproduction. Achieving Pregnancy in the Age of Technosciences, Duke University Press.