Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Wombs for rent

  • 05 September 2014

There is a celebrity rumour I like to indulge. A woman named Tina Seals filed a lawsuit against Beyoncé and Jay Z for custody of their two year-old baby, Blue Ivy Carter. Seals claims to have been the surrogate mother of Blue Ivy. Surrogacy is illegal in New York, except where it is altruistic, so if the alleged surrogate received payment for her services, whatever contract she signed would be rendered null, or so I am led to believe by the ultra-worthy celebrity gossip sites I frequent.

I used to think the rumours about Beyoncé using a surrogate mother for her baby were interesting because they pointed to a culture where it is utterly taboo to talk about surrogacy, but it is completely acceptable to expect that a celebrity mother will look as unchanged by childbirth as Beyoncé does. She lost 30 kg after the pregnancy! She has successfully reversed the effects of childbirth and breastfeeding!

I am beginning to think that rumour points more to an insidious culture of motherhood that locks women into narratives about their femininity, a condition which is either confirmed or denied based on their ability to conceive and parent children.

The complicated and sensitive issues around surrogacy have arisen in the past weeks, highlighting the states' inconsistent laws surrounding the issue. Baby Gammy, biologically fathered by a registered child sex offender, born with Down Syndrome, was left by his parents in Thailand with his surrogate mother because of his illness. This led to the discovery that the paedophile father used the channel of overseas surrogacy to assume custody of children.

In another case, the father of children born of a Thai surrogate (and using her eggs) has been charged with molesting them, sparking another difficult custody case. Will the children be repatriated to Thailand, despite barely knowing that they are Thai? Under these circumstances, the Thai military are now considering banning surrogacy from its borders.

When Bill Heffernan said that Julia Gillard was unfit for leadership because she was 'deliberately barren', he didn't really err. He just named our preoccupation with motherhood. Mark Latham said it too, in another configuration: 'Anyone who chooses a life without children, as Gillard has, cannot have much love in them,' and David Farley described Gillard as an 'old non-productive cow.' Easy for fathers to say, because it is mothers who bear the primary responsibility for infants' earliest needs. But I heard women around