I never thought that my email to a journalist of a Belgian paper would cause so much of a stir or attract so much media attention. A week upfront I informed her about the Surrogacy Conference that was going to take place in Brussels on the 3rd of May. It was not just any conference, but one where Europeans gay’s could get all the information they need to fulfil their desire of becoming a parent.
The American organization Men Having Babies landed on our soil with numerous of their sponsors. On offer: everything you could possibly need, if you have money to spend and you’re short of an uterus, eggs or a surrogacy law in your own country. We were also there.
We = an old school version of an outsourcing when an infertile heterosexual couple couldn’t reproduce themselves. Joined by Géraldine Mathieu, professor family law in Namur and active for Defence for Children Belgium, we looked for a seat in the audience. Always with an open mind, but forever sceptical, surely when more of my kind are ordered and conceived.
In the lead-up of the conference I had read an interview with two Dutch gay-couples. The headlines were ‘allow commercial surrogacy in the Netherlands and ‘It costed us 150 000 dollars, but I couldn’t imagine a better outsourcing than this’. In the interview one of the dads told about the difficulties they experienced in fulfilling their desire of having a family. At first they wanted to go for co-parenting with a single woman. But when she decided to retrieve herself from the equation, adoption seemed an option.
But when they realized that waiting list was too long and the chance of getting a healthy child to look after very small, they decided to walk the path of commercial surrogacy in the States. A next city trip was booked with a stopover where they would meet Stacey, a surrogate mother. Eggs were bought, embryo’s were created and placed in Stacey’s womb. She would happily, with love and great friendship carry the twins for them.
Personally we found it a shame, and a bit peculiar, that no end product aka the children, were offered a spot at the witness table at the conference. Only surrogate mothers and parents took place at that table, where they all would read their pre-written success story out loud. After their testimonials one of the organizers kept asking very specific questions, seemingly to put the potential clientele at ease. The donor-conceived persons that were there were too small and above all very cute so that the promises that reflected in the handed out brochures seemed retrievable/achievable.
I want that one
In the morning we got an enormous amount of information about terminology, possibilities, agencies, legal steps, package deals, membership, discounts, refund-options and even budgeting was addressed. I kid you not, but we were given a list with the minimum-maximum rang of all possible costs: from expenses regarding lawyers, compensation, insurance, egg donor costs, medical screening cost, even the price tag of gender selection was mentioned. For the small price of 5000 dollars, you can order – just like Ricky Martin did – to have a boy or a girl.
But let’s be fair – although we truly hope and wish that all intended parents will love their children unconditionally – from the moment contracts are being drafted and money exchanged, there is a possibility that the ordered child doesn’t meet up to the expectations or conditions. What then? We are all aware of the stories from all over the world where parents who would have loved to have a money back guarantee added as a clause to their contract. And how do you tell a child that he or she is a result of negotiations, money transfer, breaching of own laws, small print, just so that against all odds and biological restrictions a pure personal desire could be fulfilled?
Some speakers seemed genuine, but others were as slick as salespeople can be. Let’s all not be naive. They were all in numerous amount there so they could attract new customers by promising them parenthood in exchange for a lot of money. An audition as the dying Wicked Witch of the West seemed possible when one of the salespersons tried to sell the story about a gay man who fell into his arms after he had held his firstborn. He told him that when he came out as a gay, at the age of 17, he mourned the most because he assumed he would never become a father. He then said then to us: ‚I am here to make your dreams come true’ and declared: ‚I can make the impossible possible’. I imagined that he had cape behind his back. And if he had any hair on his head, it would wave backwards like the hair of Hans Klok always does.
But how sweet, caring and slick the sales pitches were given: there can’t be any justification that laws of own countries are being dodged and juridical framework is build just so that someone can have or claim a child. A lot of these outsourced children are denied access to fundamental and even existential information about themselves, because they were created with anonymous sperm or eggs. A child is not a product that can be ordered, bought, created, obtained and who’s ancestry-label can be cut off.
But it is the same for each pregnancy where donor gametes or surrogacy was needed. It is remarkable how some Belgian politicians projected their dismay about this conference, seizing every opportunity to comment in news bulletins on radio and TV to let everyone know that surrogacy is a form of child traffic. But I didn’t see any of them actually present at the conference.
It is hypocrite of them to condemn this fair, whilst in my own country we have the legal policy where a form child traficing is executed when own utterers are filled with donor sperm, eggs or embryos. In Belgium children are conceived with anonymous genetic material on a daily basis. Such ‘fertility treatments’ are offered to heterosexual couples, single women and lesbians. We even generated an export business by attracting other nationalities crossing our borders to undergo a treatment that is forbidden in their country.
This is not ‘journey’ anymore: it is a business. Parents already go online to compare success rates of clinics with the price tags and waiting lists. Belgian clinics already import 60% of their sperm from for foreign sperm banks, some doctors even import eggs. If commercial surrogacy is branded as child trafficking , we should label our reproductive treatments with donor gametes as generic brand-child trafficking.
If politicians think there should be a policy where children are being conceived with the genetic material of a third person or through surrogacy, this policy should not go at the expense of the fundamental rights of the conceived child – which is the case nowadays.
Every child – and surely those who were ‘legally’ consciously created – should have access to information about its ancestry. Secondly policymakers should be consequent and not discriminate in offering treatments to all types of indented parents. In this I can understand the gay-community.
Good parenthood is free of sexual orientation. If I can give the gay-communities 1 big compliment is the licentious way of raising their children: with openness and a wider perspective. My message to them, and all other intended parents is: do not get blinded by the quick fixes and magical promises that commercial companies and clinics are offering.
Know that the story does not finish when the child is conceived: it is just the beginning. A child is not a possession. Parenthood is acknowledging the privilege to be part in a child’s life, to nurture and cherish it. Offering all the things he or she needs to be able to define itself in life, but also in the society. The eggs, sperm or surrogate mother contribute in the life story of your child. But it can never be justified that just because you felt discriminated, it is by any means ok to violate actual human rights of the child you are so longing for.
(All pictures and quotes were collected from brochures dispatched at the conference)