Men Selling and Buying Babies 

In the beginning of November the circus of Men Having Babies came back to the capital of my country, Brussels. As previous years the ‘non-profit’ organization was accompanied by a huge sales team of (inter)national surrogacy providers who all sponsored the event. For those who browses in the brochure, may notice that half of the sales people either obtained a child through surrogacy or earned money by renting their wombs out. 

By offering as many options as possible, the demand automatically rises. On this occasion 250 hopeful and wealthy candidates came to listen on what was on offer to get their hands on a perfect personalized and certified baby. 

As location for the big mousetrap they chose The Hotel. It was a bit strange realizing that besides the hand bags on display in the foyer, a couple floors higher you could actually go and shop for a baby.

There on offer was everything one could possibly need if you are lacking eggs, wombs, insurance, fertility treatments or adjustable legal documents. You could even play out different vendors against each other to get even more better deals. The newest option in the catalogue was the ‘sibling discount’ where if two surrogates are made pregnant at the same time, you didn’t need to pay the full amount. Talk about a commercial gesture, right?

They kicked off  with a debate and information session about prejudices and stigmas surrounding surrogacy among gay couples. The fictional short film Tristan was shown in which a co-father is done great injustice when the kindergarten manager refuses to hand over his daughter because he cannot legally prove he is also her father. When she takes out the toddler’s birth certificate and asks where the mother on the birth certificate is, he replies: “That’s the surrogate, she has got nothing to do with us anymore.”

With the words ‘You all God willing one day are going to be all gay parents and surrogacy parents’, Ron Poole-Dayan (Executive Director MHB) started the rest of the evening. It’s almost comical that Ron uses the word God, as all weekend this Almighty was nowhere to be found. A lot of people with God complexes and financial interests, on the other hand, were. For example, you could also choose the Baby Guarantee Program. This program gives you unlimited shots for a baby at a fixed price. If you however do have to return home without child there is a full refund and even any additional complications are covered.

Playing with rights and words
With some pride and some name & place dropping, Ron showed the PowerPoint presentation he uses to convince policymakers that commercial – or as he calls it: compensated – surrogacy not to regard as child trafficking and exploitation of women. For example, he argues that surrogacy is only a means for gay-people to exercise their right to family life and procreation. Not allowing is allegedly harming individual rights and therefore also the rights of an entire group. And I quote: it about balancing rights and find the right formula to have our rights and everybody’s rights to live in harmony. The only thing missing was a unicorn, but don’t panic, it will appear soon.

He conveniently left out the part that meeting these rights comes at the expense of fundamental human rights of children and women. For example, children have the fundamental right not only to know their origins, they also have the right to know and grow up with their (entire) biological family. Unless there is no other option, but this implies a necessity, not a premeditated intention.

In addition, women have the right not to endanger their lives because of pregnancy or to be forced to have an abortion. These loss in rights comes with a pricetag on their website. 

I want what the fertile hetero couple is having
Starting from the right of straight people to marry, it was implied that an automatic right to have children arises from this. As far as I could determine, the right to a child does not exist. And it’s not because you can’t procreate within your relationship – just because you lack eggs and a uterus – that all of this has to be made available.

It even went as far as Ron argued that surrogacy is used to demonize gay rights, but also vice versa: according to him gay people are being  used to demonize surrogacy. I quote Ron: “Because gays can’t hide—heterosexual couples can—only gays bear the burden of advocating surrogacy. And if surrogacy rights and acceptance are advocated, there must be allies throughout the gay community.” Dixit Ron again: ‘They (other gay people) need to understand that if they allow us to be demonized it has to do with an entire community.’

Isn’t it then disappointing that Lorin Parys, a Belgian politician and gay man, has filed a official complaint against this surrogacy fair? He didn’t do this out of anti-gay sentiments, but because he believes that children can never or should never be reduced or treated as commodities.

Don’t punish the children
Ron ended with the slogan ‘Don’t punish the children’, pointing a finger at the governments that make it difficult to grant children citizenship because their 2 fathers circumvented legislation in their own country to go shopping for a child abroad. The number of fait accompli’s in different countries is almost impossible to count on one hand.

Above all, it shows that these kind of adults are primarily self-serving and do not shy away from using a newborn baby to put judges in the stocks so personal desires can be fulfilled. Children should indeed not be punished, but the responsible parties who put the child in that position should.

Surrogacy Boot Camp: Ready, Set and Go
You have to hand it to them that the organizers of this event carefully thought about their strategies to lure in potential customers and policy makers. With a tight schedule and an overload of information, the map of the surrogacy ‘journey’ is being drafted. They start by asking those present to visualize their future: when do you see yourself with children, how many, what gender, with or without a large age gap between them, …

Once this individual dream is projected, they work pragmatically and with a range of providers to accomplish it. Subtly yet manipulative, they direct the sheep in a certain direction. In most cases, it includes a multi-year plan that allows the providers to dig even deeper into their pockets. These are the tricks of the trade, which our own Belgian fertility industry knows all to well.

Surrogates as superhero’s
It’s not the first time an industry has leveled a contributor to hero status. In the past, that were the egg and sperm donors, at least when recruited. In several sessions at this fair, they even referred to surrogate mothers as the Captain Marvel and WonderWomen of our society. The woman who only longs for a bond with the intended parents, not with the child because she doesn’t want to keep it. She does want to receive photos and an annual Christmas card.

Both industry and  commissioning parents prefer that the child is not conceived with an egg from the surrogate mother. That biological link seems rather threatening. What they do want is that the child certainly descends from one of the fathers. A mini-me or mini-us when working with a semen cocktail from both fathers, but above all because legal parentage is much more easily granted by descent. Second-hand children are considered as side options, they definitely prefer a baby of their own DNA.

And then the information session about egg donors still had to take place. The mask of the commercial bastard fell of when admitted that the most important selection criteria was the attractiveness and height of the egg donor. For example, you pay 50,000 dollars for the eggs of a model. They are called  the ‘unicorns’ in the catalog, specifically scouted. 

For the eggs from girls next door – which are also quite attractive – you only have 8.000 to pay. An absolute low point was when a provider admitted that most egg donors do it mainly for the money: to pay for their studies but also to travel and yes, to have breast enlargements.

One would think that rooms filled with people, who despite all the uncertainties, are willing to invest a lot of time and money, feel their desire to have children burning deep inside. A longing that becomes visible when a real child appears. 

The funny thing is that when the sample models to demonstrate the successfulness of the concept were released among the attendees during the social drinks, you couldn’t preserve a greater disinterest towards them. 

Which makes us ask the question: does the desire for a child really comes from a deep longing within or does that sentiment spurs from the notion you should have kids to fit in Western society?

Legal frameworks and blunders
I would like to present the following reflection to Belgian and European politicians who are thinking about making a legal framework for surrogacy: How did the legal framework in regards donor conception turn out for donor conceived? Same for adoption btw: how’s is that going? 

Maybe you should consider evaluate those practices first, and putting the actual interests and rights of the children/people first, before you start thinking about expanding the catalogue of the fertility industry and its users. 

The task of a government is not to facilitate and supply adults with children. Protecting the rights, interests and well-being of those children, on the other hand, is.

Steph, president of Donorkinderen vzw

P.S. Here some links so some quotes out of the degrading sales pitches at the fair

2 gedachten over “Men Selling and Buying Babies 

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