How many surrogate babies are too many?
Multi-millionaires Kristina and Galip Ozturk have attracted media attention with their answer to that question.
In the past year, they’ve paid for 20 babies born to surrogates, and have made plans for up to 100.
Photographs of 23-year-old Kristina and 57-year-old Galip – a Georgian bus baron – surrounded by their 20 babies are intended to shock; any parent who has struggled to care for one baby at a time cannot comprehend having 20 at once.
Kristina gave birth to their first child when she was 17, with the rest being supplied by surrogates from a local clinic at a total cost of £138,000. The couple now spend £68,000 a year on 16 live-in nannies who work around the clock to care for their babies.
The couple engaged the services of a surrogacy clinic in Batumi in Georgia, where (unlike in Australia) the practice of commercial surrogacy is legal. According to Kristina:
The clinic in Batumi chooses surrogate mothers for us and takes full responsibility for the process.
We are not personally acquainted with surrogate mothers and do not have direct contacts with them in order to avoid problems after the pregnancy.
She does however exercise a level of control over what the surrogates eat, providing them with diet and nutrition plans during their pregnancies.
UK academics Dr Marilyn Crawshaw and Professor Olga van den Akker have raised concerns over this unorthodox arrangement, describing this news story as ‘disturbing reading’:
The majority of these babies were born in the space of one year, and need to develop ongoing attachments with a constant caregiver. The 16 nannies are unlikely to stay in the job for the duration of these children’s childhood into adulthood, leaving them with the difficulties of developing repeated new attachments.
None of these children will benefit from sufficient one-to-one care from the parent(s).
How will these parents manage the individual needs of these children, including helping them understand their story?
And we know nothing about the experiences or the circumstances of the women whose wombs were rented for nine months in order to bring life to these children. We know the agency that engages them is paid for their efforts. But we don’t know how these women came to be working for a surrogacy clinic, and we don’t know the physical, psychological or emotional toll it has taken on them.
At birth, the baby is most often removed by caesarean section, with the birth mother frequently not given the chance to see her child. What is left is a woman with milk in her breasts but nothing in her arms. The attention that for nine months had been lavished on the woman – who is called a hero, an angel, a giver of life by the commissioning couple in an altruistic surrogacy arrangement – in the great majority of cases disappears very quickly. Once the job is done, and the baby handed over, the birth mother, in whose body remain cells of her child for decades, is left to her own devices.
While we know nothing about the twenty birth mothers who supplied the Ozturks with their babies, we do have the stories of many others, who are speaking out about their regret and trauma. Oxana, a young woman in Georgia, tells her story in Broken Bonds: Surrogate Mothers Speak Out:
My pregnancy is supervised by an agency in Georgia, but it is me who is solely responsible for the baby. If the child is ill, I have to return the money for the tests I had. If it is born with a disability, they will not pay me any money. In this way there are no risks for the agency, and none at all for the commissioning parents.
Oxana’s story ends in tragedy:
When the girl is born, the father does not arrive. He does not turn up for five weeks. Now that the baby is here, I have totally fallen in love with her. But I have to give her away. This is a terrible time for me. The surrogacy was the biggest mistake of my life. I thought I could do it. I will never ever do this again.
Even in altruistic surrogacy, the process can and does leave deep scars. The testimony of a former surrogate highlights what impact such a process can have:
I was an altruistic surrogate for some friends, carrying and giving birth to twins. It was an incredibly traumatic experience, and afterwards I had to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I never talk to anyone about my experience as I still find it utterly devastating.
The woman had previously given birth to her own children and assumed it would similarly go well when carrying the child of her friends. Her experience however, was completely different and unexpectedly traumatic:
…I agreed to go ahead before I knew enough about the extremely intrusive and harmful medical procedures I would need to go through. I naively thought I would simply have the embryos implanted in line with my own menstrual cycle. I did not realise my own natural cycle would have to be chemically halted, and the amount of harmful and synthetic hormones I would have to take to create an artificial cycle that was in line with egg donor’s. Once I discovered the amount of hormones I would have to take, I felt like I could not back out and devastate my friends.
Looking back, I see that I subjugated my own health and safety to prioritise the desires of the intended parents.
Throughout the pregnancy I experienced unexpected jealousy and anger from the intended mother who was upset that I could fall pregnant so easily. Both parents put pressure on me about how and where I would give birth. … I felt that they believed that to some extent they owned me and my uterus, and that they ‘deserved’ to direct the birth because they saw the babies as ‘theirs’.
We agree with Renate Klein. Let’s end surrogacy in all its forms:
Children are not commodities to be bought and sold, and women are not containers to be used as baby makers and then discarded. Let’s stop surrogacy now.