As with the topic of infertility, how the media portrays surrogacy has long been a point of contention amonth those involved in the respective communities. The media has a knack for latching on to either Wow, that’s freakin’ AWESOME! or What the flying flip were they thinking? surrogacy stories, such as the 51-year old who delivered her grandchildren or the recent whacked out Florida traditional surrogacy custody battle. Because of the narrow window through which the media portrays surrogacy, the general population is often left with negative or somewhat warped impressions. Therefore, I am somewhat concerned about how surrogacy will be portrayed in the TV series The Return of Jezebel James (which premieres tonight on FOX at 8pm) and this Spring’s big screen movie Baby Mama (which opens in April and features Tina Fey).
My hackles have already been raised by the synopses of both the show and the movie. In both, the intended mothers are single, successful, career-driven women who are met with unfamiliar failure when they finally attempt to check Have a baby off of their Great Things to Do lists. The polar opposite surrogates are younger, spirited, somewhat unsettled, and are more than a few rungs below the IMs on the socioeconomic status ladder. I fear that because both the series and the movie perpetuate these stereotypes, the unwitting public will be left with the subconsious ideas that women who "do that IVF thing" are mostly older, affluent, Type-A personality singles and that most surrogates are flighty ditzes who "do it for the money."
The synopsis of Jezebel James alone has major Cringe Factor:
When Sarah’s father… and mother…remind Sarah that her life is not complete, she’s irritated. This is a tune she’s heard before. Where are the grandchildren? Does she think her parents are going to live forever? Does she think she’s going to live forever?
There’s nothing like a little "where’s the baby?" nagging to get your day started off right.
Enter COCO TOMPKINS. Coco is Sarah’s younger and, let’s say, way less focused, sister. Coco is Sarah’s polar opposite, down to her living situation, which is currently crashing on a couch in a friend’s apartment next to a sick dog. Sarah tracks Coco down and makes her a proposition. She will hire Coco to carry her child. It would be like a job. A good one. With benefits… like a bed.
Yup, we surrogates are unemployed, distracted dingbats, so why not have someone else’s baby? It’s like, such a totally friggin’ perfect job! All we have to do is gestate and we get paid stacks of fat cash for it, leaving us with plenty of time to like, I don’t know…be distracted and dingbatty! It’s like, totally cool! There was recently a huge debate on SMO about surrogates being equated with being employees and overwhelmingly, it is considered insulting and demeaning for anyone, especially IPs, to view surrogacy as being "a job".
At first, Coco thinks Sarah is crazy. They have nothing in common; they don’t understand each other. This idea is insane. Then Coco finds out about Jezebel James. The book that Sarah published, that she nurtured, is based on Coco’s imaginary childhood friend. Surprised that Sarah even remembered, touched that she thought enough of it to make it a book, and stunned that anyone has come to her and asked her for anything, Coco agrees to the insane proposal. She will move in with Sarah, and she’ll carry her baby. And off we go.
Okay, so the unexpected show of sisterly love and devotion is a little cute. I’ll give ’em that one. Obviously, Sarah shows her love for and connects with her younger sister with whom she’s been at odds through her literary creation Jezebel James. Jezebel? I have an affinity for alliteration so the name has an appealing ring, but really – Jezebel? I won’t discuss the fact that Biblically speaking, Jezebel was a murderous, baby-burning, blasphemeing harlot who was eventually thrown from a high window, trampled by horses, and eaten by dogs. I’m just sayin’. The underlying negative connotation of linking surrogacy to the most reviled woman of the Bible is a bit unnerving, to say the least. And Coco? Kinda close to cuckoo, wouldn’t you say? And why, WHY would asking your sister to be your surrogate be considered an "insane propsal"?
Despite the defensive hairs being raised on the back of my neck, from what I have seen of the preview trailers, I expect that both the TV show and the film will be funny with sprinkles of warm and fuzzies and overall, I will probably enjoy both for what they are at face value. But on the other hand, I am in the surrogacy community and I will be able to clearly discern when aspects of the storyline veer too far from the norms of surrogacy; the general public likely won’t know any better, and I will probably end up feeling somewhat irked.
The Return of Jezebel James. Tonight at 8pm on FOX. Watch. Weigh. Come back to comment.
If you missed it, you can watch full episodes on FOX on Demand.