NYT surrogacy article review

Tash was kind enough to send me the link to an article about surrogacy in the New York Times. Titled "Her Body, My Baby***," the article was written by journalist Alex Kuczynski about her personal surrogacy journey as an intended mother. Most articles about surrogacy are written from an impersonal, objective perspective by reporters who are merely writing for a.) shock value or b.) a lopsided, skewed attempt to "educate" the masses. I always begin reading articles about surrogacy with my hackles slightly raised in the defensive. Though in my opinion the article started off on the wrong foot (barefoot, in fact – I slay myself), I ultimately liked it.

I don't particularly like Mrs. Kuczynski. Before I'd even read the first sentence, my impression of her was tainted. The two accompanying photos are so loaded with implied insults and stereotypes that I almost didn't want to read the article.               

Photo One                                                   Photo Two

Photo One: On her ramshackle front porch, here sits gestational surrogate Cathy, almost full-term with Alex's baby boy. Does anyone else notice the "barefoot and pregnant" statement present, as if to say that's all she's good for?

Photo Two: In front of her Tara-esque home, here stands journalist Kuczynski (in stylish designer sandals) with her baby boy Max. Her front porch is pristine and the grounds well-manicured. And Lawdy, me! She has a baby nurse who looks like she was plucked fresh off the cotton fields!

Excuse me for a moment while I go put my shoes on and sweep off my porch. 

Given the fact that Kuczynski is a writer for the Times, I'm sure she had to have some creative control over the photos used and she surely had control over whether or not to include Mammy Dearest in her photo. For the record, thought it's not my particular parenting style, I don't have a problem with baby nurses or nannies. However, if one of the purposes of the article was to cast surrogacy in a better light, these were not the photos to do the job. Though neither women fit the stereotyped (and incorrect) profiles of surrogates and intended parents, the staging of these pictures seem to underline the negative impressions that much of the general public has of surrogacy. 

Some of Kuczynski's comments about her surrogate I think were intended to be humorous, but instead bordered on condescension: "And her computer-generated essay indicated, among other things, a
certain level of competence. This gleaned morsel of information made me
glad: she must live in a house with a computer and know how to use it." Admittedly, if all other things were equal, I'd choose Profile A over Profile B if A was typed and B was handwritten. With this comment and a few others, it just seems that Kuczynski had an initial notion that women who present themselves as surrogates weren't as competent or intelligent as she expected them to be. Despite this, it seemed that Alex and Cathy (and their families) had a friendly relationship.

No – I would not be friends with, nor do I think I'd carry for a woman like Kuczynski. However, I appreciate her honesty and openness with recounting her infertility struggles. 11 IVFs, 4 miscarriages, and a diagnosis of unexplained infertility made surrogacy an appealing option for becoming a mother. Though not all intended mothers process their emotions about the journey differently, I noticed some typical feelings and concerns. She worried that she was missing out on some important bonding and mother-development because she was not the one experiencing the pregnancy. She experienced some envy of Cathy's pregnancy. She wondered if she could truly call herself a full mother. She fielded negative comments from friends:

I least expected jealousy. This from women who looked at me with tight
smiles and said, “Well, thank God you didn’t have to give birth to that
huge child!” Or, glumly: “You’re so lucky. Pregnancy is overrated.” One
announced to a table of people at a dinner party: “My God, Alex. You’ve
really gotten away with some stuff in your life. But this takes the
cake!” It was as if I had performed some slimy trick and was still able
to have my ticket stamped “Mother.”

I felt for Kuczynski. Her candor was refreshing; it's not often that you hear intended mothers openly discuss their insecurities. She is believable; even in the smoothest of situations, surrogacy (and infertility in general, for that matter) can be fraught with difficult internal and external struggles. I was pleased to see that she did not gloss over those issues, and even more pleased to know that surrogacy ended well for her. 

***If you choose to click through and read the article, you will likely have to complete a quick and free registration to NYT Online. Also, as of the time that I published this entry, there were 370 comments on the article. As with any articles written about surrogacy and/or infertility, vast majority of the comments are nasty and full of typical shit like, "Why don't you just adopt". I haven't dared to read them all (and refuse to), but my blood pressure hit DEFCON level orange by the 5th comment. Consider yourself warned. If you read the article, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. Let's discuss it in my comments.

33 thoughts on “NYT surrogacy article review”

  1. My sister sent me the link, and I did read it. I have to say that I missed the things you noted about Cathy’s picture, likely because it was small in the sidebar (noticed the porch myself when I looked at the pic here, but not the lack of footwear– still not too on top of things, I guess). The other one, though? I missed the sandals, but the Black nanny in what looks like uniform rather than normal clothes and standing all military-style? The hackles stood up and refused to be seated.
    I also disliked her for that statement you highlighted and a few others. I am pretty sure there was something about “own” children in there too.
    Similarly to you, I warmed up a little towards her as the article progressed. But certainly not enough to want to be her friend. I would’ve much rather read an NYT article about you is all I am saying.

  2. That’s such a strange article. She comes across as a very unlikeable woman. So many things grated on me, those photos especially. I really can’t understand what the purpose of the article was. The photos especially scream rich white chick rents uterus + black nanny.
    It’s disappointing because I think a lot of the intelligent and insightful things she says are lost because of her lack of class in the way she chooses to represent things. Not to mention, I think the article could have been a lot more informative (and intelligent) had it been written differently.

  3. I agree with Sassy. That was a really strange article. I found myself wanting to like her. She was honest and open about what she had gone through. However, she also came across as condescending. It felt like she was only acknowledging her financial status because it was expected that she acknowledge it. Hell, I don’t know what she is like in real life but based on this article I don’t know that I would like her at all.

  4. Two friends of mine had the exact. same. reaction to the photos. Mine was, oddly, that since she had some control over them, she must have known she was walking right into a shitstorm, and I liked the one of Cathy (footwear notwithstanding) and thought the one of her was brutally honest. I could hear the hate mail, “Why are you having a child if you’re not going to raise it?” which raises a whole bucket of worms about who society thinks is worthy of ART (including surrogacy). I thought she was pretty up front about how this entailed $, and that she had it, and I think the photo gets that across. It’s meant to show there’s a difference, and yet there are similarities too.
    Could they have picked more wisely? You bet.
    I haven’t read the comments. I might wait for the edited mailbag next week to raise my blood pressure.

  5. Thanks, Julia! I don’t know if I’d want to be on the receiving end of hateful comments.
    Though I certainly don’t agree with pushing adoption on people, but I do wonder what her next move would have been if surrogacy had not been successful. Moving on to building a family without your genetics can be tough, but from a lot of her comments, it seems like it would have been especially difficult for her. I wonder if surrogacy would have been the end of the line for her (not that there would have been anything wrong with that).

  6. I don’t have a problem with acknowledging financial status. As sticky as discussion of anyone’s financial status is, it just seems like she was a lot more pretentious about it than seemed necessary to get her point across.

  7. I agree – much of what was good about the article was overshadowed by Alex’s unlikeable nature. I don’t really mind that it wasn’t completely informative, because that wasn’t Alex’s main purpose. She was recounting her personal experience with surrogacy, so I actually like the fact that she seemed to stay true to her character and not try to present herself as a perfect angel.

  8. Though she carried an air of snootiness, I also like the fact that she discussed the money aspect. She did a better job of it than countless other reporters who essentially give the idea that surrogates are uneducated, low-socioeconomic status money grubbers. She and the editors went for shock value, which to me takes some of the honesty away from the article. It takes the difference in income and elevates it from pure fact to over-exaggeration of that fact.
    In the comments about five or six pages deep, there’s a highlighted comment written by the surrogate, Cathy. She said the photographers showed up unexpectedly and that they took many different pictures. They took pics of her next to the creek behind her house and other more neutral backdrops. For the porch picture, they asked her to take off her shoes. They knew exactly what they were doing. On one hand, I do hold Cathy partially accountable for the photo. On the other, she probably didn’t read between the lines as it was happening and there was no way she’d know they would have that picture up in comparison against the photo they used of Alex.

  9. I commented. Don’t search for it though, not b/c I didn’t use my real name (wimp), but b/c I was so stinking mad when I wrote it that it comes accross as pure dribble. Anyway, the long and short of my comment was to all of you ridiculous people who respond with, “Why don’t you just adopt” comments, maybe you should get a clue because adoption isn’t exactly geared toward the masses either. While I’m choosing that road over more rounds of IVF, it costs anywhere from $25,000-$45,000. So if you think it’s such a great alternative, why don’t I send you my PO box and you can send me a put your money where your mouth is donation. Too bad nobody took me up on it 🙂
    Regarding the article, I had a lot of trouble getting past the pictures and the overwhelming feeling that they should have chosen someone like you to focus on instead of this woman. I thought she was giving surrogacy a bad name and they could have done much, much better.
    From your perspective, I guess I can see how she was admirably honest, but as a PR campaign, I think the Times may have done more good than bad.

  10. Interestingly, one of the commenters said that this is exactly what they would expect from this author. I haven’t fact checked this yet, but the commenter wrote that to the author’s surrogacy journal, she published a book about her addiction to plastic surgery.
    For me, that adds a whole different level of curiosity to the pictures and her take on the journey.

  11. Debbie, I remember reading your comment! I actually exclaimed, “YOU GO,
    GIRL” and did a few fist pumps a la Arsenio Hall. I LOVED your comment,
    and I love it even more knowing that you were the one who wrote it. I’m
    so glad you brought up the fact that it can cost just as much money to
    adopt and there are a TON more hoops to jump through to do so. I never
    understood why people felt it was infertiles’ responsibility to “just”
    adopt, and if they knew how hard adoption was, I seriously doubt they’d
    condescend to use “just” in reference to the process.

  12. the photos do truly confuse me?? I don’t understand her purpose for them? Maybe she was trying to be funny or something?? weird. But I am glad the journey worked out for her in the end.

  13. the photos are nuts. And the article was, well like you I appreciated the honesty and candor, but in the end it was just a different tone than I would have liked to see.
    Now tell me how we can get YOU to do something for the Times.
    for serious.

  14. It was all about shock value. If people aren’t talking about it, they aren’t reading it. Sigh. I mostly wish that Alex had found it a priority to present surrogacy in the best light possible instead of going for raising a ruckus.

  15. I agree! I just wrote about this on my blog too. As an IM, I was terribly disappointed by the choice of photos and the predictable nasty comments. I felt the article w/o the photos touched on a lot of honest things about being an IM that I can relate to so I was really happy about that. But when I saw the photos I just couldn’t believe she isn’t aware of how much stereotyping there is about surrogates and women who seek fertility treatments for her not to take this into account. I feel sad that this was an opportunity to educate but it fed into a lot of people’s ridiculous needs to judge.

  16. Amen, Tabi! It’s so rare that there are completely positive surrogacy stories in the media. She had the prime position and platform to get a good one out there, but the goodness of the article was overshadowed largely by those photos.

  17. I will start with this–she probably had little to no say over the photos. Even the one she was in–her options were more likely “this is it” or “story is cut.” Truly–authors have no say over the photos that appear with their articles, the covers of their books, etc. Art team is separate from editorial team.
    That said, it’s funny because I read the first two pages, put it down because it wasn’t holding me, and only came back to the article due to the uproar. The article was neither here nor there–but what I find upsetting/interesting/nauseating are the comments and the article on Gawker.

  18. Nauseating…was my first gut reaction, I agree with Mel.
    I couldn’t read the article entirely at first and then I finished it
    I am an IM and have a son from from a GS and am currently in a sibling project with the same GS.
    I live in NYC and have a friend who knows this girl…well…
    So I feel very comfortable in judging her.
    She is not liked by many , married a supremely wealthy man and I believe she is the 3rd or 4rth wife…( he has kids from his former unios)
    That’s neither here nor there, just more info on her.
    I hated the pictures, even if you can’t have any overall say about the photo layout, you can still refuse to be shot with your baby nurse in the background , you do have some say on wardrobe and the general atmosphere you exude for the camera.
    While I do feel empathy for her struggles with infertility, I have no patience with the fact that she didn’t take this opportunity to really grow and open her heart, change her views and stop being a B@tch about everything.
    Being an IM gives you the chance to push yourself , push your boundaries on control, love , patience and trust….While no one chooses to be an IM, if you have to become one…then embrace it and let it transform you into a better more compassionate person and someone who doesn’t take pictures like that…ugh…

  19. Mama, I absolutely LOVE your last paragraph. THAT is what being an IM is all about, and I truly wish that more mindsets like yours were presented to the public. It’s warming, and I’m glad that you posted here to offer your words as an experienced IM.
    I wish you and your GS much luck on your current endeavor! I hope you’ll come back to let me know how things are progressing!

  20. I must be under a rock, because I had no idea what Gawker was. I had to Google it. I’m not quite as annoyed at the article and comments on Gawker. It seems clear that the intent of that site is to put a somewhat of a sensationalist spin on celebrinews and news in general. I mean, if we visit the houses of idiots, we can’t be too surprised of the conversation reeks of idiocy. I’m always cautiously wary of surrogacy in the media, but I guess I expected more from The Times.
    And even if Alex was given an ultimatum, she still had a choice not to publish the article in the first place. I don’t know – no matter who was responsible, the photos were just plain tasteless.

  21. Those photos, without even reading your post, had me going WTF? They’re total crap. And then reading what it’s all about… while she hit some decent points, the photos just totally put me off and I think could make some people think this is what surrogacy is all about. F*.

  22. Overall, I think that Alex’s story is what most IMs go through. For me though nothing can be further from the truth. What was most jarring for me was that it did not seem to me that she had worked through her own feelings about surrogacy before starting her journey. I have seen this in a lot of IMs journeys, and it makes for some really miserable times. Choosing to use surrogacy means that you have to give up a lot, but none of these things really matter in the end. For me choosing to use surrogacy meant that I wanted to be a mother and that I did not feel the need to be pregnant. I am fine with giving up that control. To me, being pregnant has nothing to do with being a mother, being a mother is getting up at night, kissing boo-boos, and helping your child to grow up to be a competent adult. I am perfectly fine with letting another woman take care of my child when I am unable to myself. Being in a place where I do not feel the need to control, means that I will be able to really enjoy this whole experience, which I do not think that Alex was really able to do during her journey.
    The part of the article that really bothered me was the comment made by Sherrie Smith, “It is one thing to tell your child that Mommy’s tummy was broken; it is another thing to have to explain why they do not look like you.” Well my child is not going to look like me because we are using an egg donor. So does that make me a sub-par IM or mother? NO, it makes me like many other women who use surrogacy. I have never cared it my child looked like me, I am just not that vain. What does matter to me is that I have a child who is mine from the moment they take their first breath. As an adopted child and after a ton of research on open adoption, we decided that surrogacy was our best option.
    I also do not think that the whole altruistic side of surrogacy is phony. Sure the money helps people do things that they might not have been able to, but really break it down sometime. For all that surrogates go through it is a small amount of money. For me it would never feel right to be given such an amazing gift without giving something in return. Surrogates go through IVF, which I did not see pointed out in the article, they also give up time with their own families, and most importantly they are giving us the gift of a lifetime. I think that it is really sad that as a society we believe that no one ever gives freely of themselves to others. Instead we have to assume that money is the only motivation.

  23. Thanks Moxie and all your awesome commenters. I would never have thought about this article from so many different angles. It’s funny that adoption articles often piss me off and you don’t often get a chance to understand that most articles about families get things wrong from others’ perspectives.
    The pictures are offensive and I think you are right that they are meant to be.
    Now I’ll get off subject a little, but I am always shocked when people make those hateful, horrid, ‘just adopt’ comments. Really? Adoption is a difficult, expensive process. It is fraught with sensitive moral and ethical issues of different sorts. But, more importantly, it is very, very difficult, sometimes bordering on impossible, to adopt a newborn baby. Here is what I think people in the midst of these decisions feel too judged and brow beaten to say: It is okay to want a newborn baby.
    I have adopted passed infancy and it’s wonderful. But, it’s not the same as bringing a tiny newborn home for the first time. That experience and the experience of having a child be a part of your family from his or her very first breath is … there aren’t any words except that it is beyond acceptable and legitimate and understandable to want that experience as you build your family.
    So to the judgmental bitches of the ‘just adopt’ comments, I suspect you haven’t ‘just adopted’ or you could never, ever use a phrase like ‘just adopt.’

  24. I liked some of the article but overall, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Why must the media publish only extreme articles about surrogacy? Where are the articles about normal people?

  25. Like many others, I had the same reaction to the photos, then found her article surprisingly honest and compelling, though I did shout at the ceiling when “implant” was misused early on.
    I thought it was right for her to bring up that they had the $ and could do this, but that photo of her on the sculpted lawn in Southampton with the baby nurse — UGH.

  26. I was impressed that my husband actually read the article after I was done. His first comment had to do with the pics and the condescension toward the surrogates.

  27. Hmmm, I blogged about it too.
    I had absolutely no problems with her – it’s her money, she could have 10 baby nurses for all I care. I don’t get how doing everything yourself makes you a better mother.
    Yes, she is filthy rich and we would probably not be friends but we have not walked in her shoes.
    Here I am on IVF 2 and I never thought I’d ever do one!

  28. Pingback: Surrogacy in the News – Written by ME

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