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Million-Dollar Baby: How Much Would You Pay for a Baby If You Couldn’t Have One?

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Posted on Jul 26, 2009
Flickr / Wesley Oostvogels

By Vanessa Richmond, AlterNet

How much would you pay for a baby, if you couldn’t have one?

Given that 1 in 12 U.S. women of childbearing age are infertile and it’s a practice that’s growing in acceptance, legality and practice, surrogacy’s price tag is clearly pregnant with possibilities.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick’s recent surrogate twin birth pulled the issue into the debate ring with forceps. And whether or not you agree that surrogacy is a form of prostitution or baby selling, a way for the rich and famous to avoid disrupting their career plans or figures for progeny, or a form of exploitation, it’s indisputable that surrogacy is often about a wealthier couple hiring a poorer woman to breed for them, and not paying that woman very much.

So consider this. Even though gestational surrogacy (when a woman carries a child not made of her genetic material, versus traditional surrogacy, when the woman who carries the child is also its genetic mother, impregnated with donor sperm) is illegal in several states, in the rest of the states it’s a growing market.

Right now, unlike many medical procedures, the cost is subject to the free market. Couples pay the surrogate, the agency (when they use one), the IVF clinic and the legal fees at market value. Even though many argue that "most surrogates do it for altruistic reasons," as the practice develops, and a supply-and-demand issue inevitably emerges, the question is, should the cost be regulated to ensure that both rich and poor infertile couples can afford to have babies made of their own genetic material?

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It’s a feminist conundrum. On the one hand, why shouldn’t surrogates be able to charge as much as they want for something they provide with their bodies? No one suggests that we limit the amount men can charge for lifting heavy planks of wood on a construction site, to name a ridiculous example. And I see almost nothing written about how men should sell their sperm for bargain-basement dollars to ensure even poor women can buy a vial.

But right now, even if a surrogate makes $25,000 (plus medical expenses) for her 10-month job, that’s far less than minimum wage, and I think we can all agree that making the next generation is at least as important as making burgers. So why shouldn’t surrogates be paid more?

On the other hand, we know what happens when there is any kind of desperation. Women who have struggled with infertility for years, in a culture that still defines motherhood as a key part of female identity, will arguably pay whatever they can afford.

They would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, I’d wager, if that’s what it cost, and they had that cash. I know an infertile couple, an artist and a musician. Should we tell them that they will simply never have a baby made of their genetic material, where an investment banker can? Should the rich and famous be the only ones who can afford it?

It’s already not affordable for most, despite some claims that lots of non-celebrity, not "especially wealthy," Americans are doing it. I mean, how average can you be if you can afford the procedure?

To start with, you typically need to do at least one round of in vitro fertilization to retrieve eggs from the donor mother, fertilize them with the donor father’s sperm and transfer them to the surrogate, which is about $8,000, plus about $4,000 in medication. You need to pay the surrogate, often $12,000-$30,000 for a single child (more for twins), and pay for medical fees. There are sometimes agency fees, travel fees (if you live in a state where surrogacy is illegal and you work with a surrogate in another state), extra legal fees (like to get the biological parents’ names on the birth certificate in states where that’s not automatic, and to create a contract with the surrogate if the arrangement is not done through an agency), and maternity clothing fees and other expenses. The total cost for a single birth is often $40,000-$70,000. And that’s with the surrogate often earning far less than minimum wage.

Even if surrogates’ motives are mostly altruistic, if demand increases, more surrogates will inevitably wonder if fairer compensation for their significant effort and valuable service might is in order. While it would be fairer to them, it would make the practice unaffordable for all but the elite: a situation that bears some resemblance to Margaret Atwood’s dystopic novel The Handmaid’s Tale.

So it seems there are three options. The first is to follow Canada’s lead. In Canada, it’s illegal to pay surrogates. You can pay for expenses related to the cost of pregnancy—food, transportation to medical appointments, vitamins and so on (with receipts required for everything). It proves the altruism case, and can lead to some very meaningful experiences for both surrogate and parents. But it also means that though in theory most Canadian couples can access the service, in practice, there are almost no willing surrogates.

One Canadian woman I know, who found a volunteer surrogate on Craigslist, was afterward besieged by dozens of calls and e-mails from other women begging for her help. Very few women will volunteer to carry a baby for a relative or friend, let alone a stranger.

Alternatively, we could continue to let the free market determine the rate. Which, in my opinion, will (and should) climb, to fairly remunerate the surrogates.

Or, for the sake of debate, we could treat it more like the college-education funding model. Here’s how it could work: All couples apply through an agency and are psychologically evaluated, as they are now. Then after being either accepted or declined based on that psychological assessment, they’re given a means test.

Investment bankers pay more than teachers, but each pay, let’s say, 10 percent of their net worth—the former might pay $200,000, the latter, $10,000. And surrogates receive a standard amount that fairly remunerates them for their time and effort—maybe even one that increases with each healthy birth?

Yes, educating people about adoption is a great idea. So is working to make motherhood into more of a choice and less of a necessity for female identity. But if we want surrogacy to be an option for more than the rich and famous in the future, we might have to carry a new model to term.


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By a warren, July 28, 2009 at 11:04 am Link to this comment

“$25,000 figure you cite as “far below the minimum wage” is in fact FAR FAR FAR ABOVE the minimum wage of $13,920 per year based on a 40 hour week working for the federally mandated wage of $7.25 per hour”

Last I checked, gestation is a 24/7 propostion for a full 40 weeks.  Not even taking into account overtime pay that should kick in after 40 hours in a single week, the pay would be $48,720.00 at a rate of $7.25 an hour.

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By josephe.marshjr, July 27, 2009 at 2:08 pm Link to this comment

Says Vanessa Richmond, to my complete amazement:

“But right now, even if a surrogate makes $25,000 (plus medical expenses) for her 10-month job, that’s far less than minimum wage, and I think we can all agree that making the next generation is at least as important as making burgers.”

To which I am compelled to respond:

In what world, my dear Vanessa, do you reside, and perhaps more to the point, what burgers do YOU eat, and what kind of artisanal cheese is on them to make them so exorbitantly priced? I ask so that I might relocate to your world from mine, the one I share with 300 million other Americans where, by the way, the $25,000 figure you cite as “far below the minimum wage” is in fact FAR FAR FAR ABOVE the minimum wage of $13,920 per year based on a 40 hour week working for the federally mandated wage of $7.25 per hour. Surrogacy at 25K is well more than 100% of the $11,600 that the minimum-wage earner would make over ten months—let alone the “plus medical expenses” owed the surrogate mother, a benefit we (lower-echelon, non-artisanal cheese-topped, for mass consumption by we lumpen proles) burger makers, leaf-blower operators & mower pushers, cab drivers, waiters, and tens of millions of other schmucks can never lay claim to.

Twenty-five grand plus expenses for ten months work? But aha, this line of work is open only to women. Oh, if only I could get an artificial uterus implanted in my gut, I might be able to afford graduate school…

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By Mary Ann McNeely, July 27, 2009 at 1:09 pm Link to this comment

How Much Would You Pay for a Baby If You Couldn’t Have One?

Nothing!  I don’t want to bring an innocent child into a rapidly declining world like this one.

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By Inherit The Wind, July 27, 2009 at 1:04 pm Link to this comment

Walter:

You are speaking my language!

“It seems to me that there is a compelling social interest in encouraging adoption over other options.  One important point to make is that racism is a major factor with adoption as well as a deeply irrational notion of eugenics.  The basic point seems to be that my genes are better than any strangers and my genes are less risk.  It is total malarky.  All children are a roll of the dice.”

All I have to do is see my two playing together laughing and with big smiles on their faces.  One is via “the usual” way, the other by adoption.  The older is Caucasian, the younger Native American.  The BIGGEST difference between them is age, more than the different gene pools.  I feel like the luckiest man on Earth when I look at them.  Sometimes the younger seems to have gotten more from us than the older.  For example, my wife and I were always musical—so is the little one.  But the older one couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket (oddly, though, the older plays an instrument very well—but it’s sheer will-power and a desire to play well).

It is very much in ALL societies’ interest to further adoption and to make sure we stop seeing adopted children as “different” than biologically related children.

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By Walter, July 27, 2009 at 11:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am a parent of two wonderful children who my wife and I adopted from Guatemala.  They are the joy of my life.  I would like to see a study of the way surrogacy and other fertility measures affect health care costs in this country.  That is the first thing. Second, and much more difficult in our individualistic and pluralistic society, I would like to see a meaningful public debate about the relative value of adoption versus surrogacy and ivf etc.  I give the author credit for wading into these delicate waters.  It seems to me that there is a compelling social interest in encouraging adoption over other options.  One important point to make is that racism is a major factor with adoption as well as a deeply irrational notion of eugenics.  The basic point seems to be that my genes are better than any strangers and my genes are less risk.  It is total malarky.  All children are a roll of the dice.  My brother-in-law has downs and his sister - my wife - went to Vassar.  There are many, many children of color in our country waiting for adoption.  So lets reverse the question.  Shouldn’t their interests be given priority in public policy?

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By Cecil, July 27, 2009 at 9:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Name one unselfish reason to have a child.

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By blah blah, July 27, 2009 at 8:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Women who have struggled with infertility for years, in a culture that still defines motherhood as a key part of female identity, will arguably pay whatever they can afford.”


Yeah!  You’re right - those silly women who want a baby!  What dupes!  They’re too dumb to know that society is dictating how they feel!  Creating this sensless “need” to reproduce.  Laughable!  They’re merely pawns of societal pressure.  Sheep, all of them! 

If only they could evolve to the intellectual and emotional level attained by Ms. Richmond…

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By Stella, July 27, 2009 at 2:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

alert!!

http://ivf-newborns-at-risk.blogspot.com

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By Inherit The Wind, July 26, 2009 at 7:25 pm Link to this comment

This writer is SO good at using value-laden terms, and pre-judging before presenting facts, that the so-called “Pro-Life” anti-abortionist would surely die (or kill) to get their hands on her skills!

She’s already decided that either we ALL need to subsidize surrogacy for poorer couples, or make it illegal for EVERYONE.

Apply the same standard to adoptions and what do you get?  A decline in adoptions in America and an increase in international adoptions.

We’ve seen lots of lip-service about making adoptions easier, by BOTH parties, yet what has happened is just the opposite.  And, in the nations that NEED international adoptions the most, like Romania and Guatemala, international adoptions have been SHUT DOWN completely.

I suppose the need for surrogacy and even things like donated eggs are based on a need for children that are biologically related to at least one parent. 

From experience I can tell you that a good parent has equal love for every child.  I have two: our elder is carries our genes, our younger does not and was adopted.  Yet the moment the younger was laid in my arms as an infant, the feelings that swept through me of love and the awful responsibility ahead was EXACTLY the same as when the elder one was born.  The same feelings.  I love them equally as does my wife, and they are as much the same as any siblings and as different as any siblings as well.  They are our kids.

We adopt dogs and cats and love them, sometimes to insanity (such as Leona Helmsley).  Why can’t we expect to love an adopted child a thousand times more intensely than a pet?

Make adoptions far easier and educate people that if they can’t love an adopted child like a biological child, they don’t understand being a parent!

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By Jenn, July 26, 2009 at 5:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

She put her real phone and e-mail on Craigslist? Crazy!

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By RAE, July 26, 2009 at 4:00 pm Link to this comment

Wouldn’t it be far less expensive to GET SOME COUNSELLING to rid yourself of the IMAGINARY “NEED” to have a baby?

Tens of thousands of infants the world over hunger for even one loving parent. But, oh no… that’s not good enough for these folk who, for reasons that completely escape me, are willing to go to the most extraordinary extremes and expenses TO PROVE THEY CAN HAVE A BABY!

There’s something seriously wrong with their heads.

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