This video was produced for “Surrogacy: A Fresh Look at Women’s Bodily Autonomy and the Rights of Children,” an event sponsored by Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) and Civil Society for the Family. The transcript below includes links to the stories and studies referenced in the video.:
There is growing attention around how surrogacy commodifies women, but less about how this practice harms children. That’s what I want to talk to you about today
My name is Katy Faust, and I am the founder and direct of Them Before Us. We are the only organization solely devoted to defending children’s rights in family structure and that makes us ardent opponents of surrogacy. This practice, widely considered a human rights violation across much of the world, aims to satisfy the desires of those who want to become parents. Yet it achieves that goal by violating children’s fundamental rights. Justice is never served when the weak are forced to sacrifice for the strong.
Surrogacy harms children in a variety of ways, from eugenics to commodification to health risks. But because this week the UN is focused on women, I’m going to address three ways surrogacy harms children related to the loss of their mother, and the stories and studies which support these claims.
Losing a parent is always traumatic for children, even at birth. Studies show that separation from the birth mother causes “major physiological stress for the infant.” In addition, even brief maternal deprivation can permanently alter the structure of the infant brain. While there are times when adoption is necessary, adoptees have long referred to a “primal wound” resulting from maternal separation which can hinder long-term attachment, bonding, and psychological health.
One surrogate-born woman says:
“When we have children in this world who already need homes, why are we intentionally creating children to go through adoption traumas? I am one of the lucky ones who were able to heal some of my pain when I found my birth mother. However, I still deal with the other adoption issues of what makes me different in my biological mom’s eyes. How can she consider the children that she intended to have her children, and the children she had through surrogacy not equals.”
One young man born of surrogacy writes:
“I don’t care why my parents or my mother did this. It looks to me like I was bought and sold. You can dress it up with as many pretty words as you want. You can wrap it up in a silk freaking scarf. You can pretend these are not your children. You can say it is a gift or you donated your egg to the [intended mother]. But the fact is that someone has contracted you to make a child, give up your parental rights and hand over your flesh and blood. I dont care if you think I am not your child, what about what I think! Maybe I know I am your child. When you exchange something for money it is called a commodity. Babies are not commodities. Babies are human beings.”
Here’s what one woman, unknowingly trafficked in a black market adoption ring at birth, had to say about surrogacy:
“The willingness to *entirely* disregard the health and well-being of the child in [surrogacy] transactions is unconscionable. The events of my birth are now 65 years ago, but the effects of being sold are universal, because they derive from breaking the bonds formed during pregnancy between the mother, and her embryo, fetus, and ultimately, child… I’m not suggesting I remain a victim of these circumstances, but I also spent 25 years in therapy to undo the damage. It’s been a lifetime’s work.”
Regardless of the household structure of the intended parents, and even in the “best case” scenario where the intended parents are also the genetic parents, on the day of birth surrogacy always deprives children of the only parent they know- their birth mother.
Losing a biological parent.
Surrogacy arrangements often involve “donor” sperm or egg. Which for the child means the intentional loss of one biological parent. A parent to whom they have a natural right. One major study found that nearly two-thirds of children conceived from sperm donors believed that “my sperm donor is half of who I am.” Despite being “desperately wanted,” these children often struggle with genealogical bewilderment.
Ellie writes of how she felt after discovering that she was donor-conceived:
“The nose I thought had come from my dad wasn’t his. That round nose that I thought connected me to family was suddenly hideous. The shape of my fingers, so similar to my dad’s, now looked alien and terrifying. There were several years in my mid twenties when I couldn’t look at myself in a mirror without bursting into tears, so I avoided mirrors.”
The peculiar thing about donor conception is that on the one hand it privileges genetics: the fertile partner gets to be a real, biological parent. On the other hand, it says that genetics do not matter for the other half of the gametes, and that as long as a child is “wanted”, he will have everything he needs. Unfortunately, that is not true. I do not have a relationship with my [social] father, and not just because of my mother’s husband’s criminality; I do not have a father because my mother, with the help of the medical establishment (and the law) deliberately deprived me of one.
Being “wanted” can sometimes feel like a curse, like I was created to make you happy, my rights be damned. I’d be lying if I said I never felt commodified. My experience as a DCP (donor conceived person) has made me realize that, sometimes, the most ethical thing to do is to not satisfy a want. When I hear how much you wanted me, I cannot also help but think about how my dad did not want me. He knew the goal of his actions was to create a child he would have nothing to do with. Do you understand how that can hurt? That your want is cancelled out by his lack of it?
Children have been conceived via sperm donation for several decades, so we don’t have to speculate about the impact that third-party reproduction has had on their lives. Donor conceived children struggle disproportionately with depression, delinquency, and substance abuse. Eighty percent of children conceived via sperm donation would like to know the identity of their donor. For some, finding their donor becomes a lifelong pursuit. Any process that intentionally severs a child’s relationship to one or both biological parents is an injustice. This brand of injustice sets children up for a lifetime of loss and struggle.
Often times surrogacy denies children a relationship with not just one mother, but two- both the mother whose voice they long for on the day or birth, and the mother who gave them their green eyes. This loss is not due to tragedy, but because the intended parents believe that mothers are optional. As these children grows, they will likely be told that “gender doesn’t matter in parenting” and “all kids need is love.” Yet motherless children often suffer incredible emotional anguish:
Rhianna says, “I never have had a mom’s love and affection… I still suffer because of that abandonment feeling. I often would wonder why every other kid had a relationship with their mom, but not me. Was I unlovable in the sight of my mom? Why did she not want to be in my life?
One boy writes, “I’m a boy of 14. I live with 2 dads. One is my biological dad and one of them isn’t. My biological mother (who gave my dads her ovum for my birth) comes my house often. She’s 38 and my dads’ long time best friend. I want to call her my mom but my dads always get mad when I try. I actually already call her mom when my dads are not around and she liked it. She and I have lots of connections.”
Samantha says, “Me, my baby brother, Dad, and [his partner] Billy [were] the only family I had ever known. [I watched] The Land Before Time. It was a traumatic experience. Littlefoot had a “Mother” and she died saving his life. Littlefoot spent the entire movie mourning the loss of his “Mother.” It was in that moment, as a 5 yr old girl, that I realized there was such a thing as a mother and that I did not have one. I spent the rest of the day crying into the arms of a teacher I would never see again for a mother that I never knew I never had.
Studies on same-sex headed homes validates these stories. One such study, the National Health Interview Study, reviewed data on 512 same-sex headed homes and found that emotional problems were over twice as prevalent for children with same-sex parents than for children with opposite-sex parents.
Endorsing motherless homes normalizes the destruction of the biological parent-child relationship. Intentionally severing the bond with mother or father denies children the two adults who are statistically the most likely to be protective of, attached to, and invested in them. Not only that, they are the only adults who can provide children with biological identity that they crave.
I want to take moment and address why adoption supports children’s rights. While surrogacy violates child rights.
- Adoption seeks to mend a wound after a child has tragically lost their parents, third-party reproduction/surrogacy creates the wound
- When adoption is done right, every child will be placed with loving parents, but not every adult will get a child. Adoption requires adult to submit to intense screening and vetting. Fertility and surrogacy clinics seek to give a child to any adult regardless of their mental/physical fitness.
- In adoption, the adult seek to support the child’s needs and longings. In surrogacy, the children must support the adult’s needs and longings.
Because of these critical differences, adopted children fare better when it comes to household stability, substance abuse, emotional problems and identity questions than donor-conceived children.
In summary, a just society cares for orphans, it doesn’t create them.
That some children suffer the tragic loss of one or both parents during childhood doesn’t justify intentionally denying children a relationship with their mother or father at conception. Just because some children are relinquished by their birth mother doesn’t justify intentionally severing the mother-child bond upon birth. Children have a right to their mother and father. Third-party reproduction and surrogacy, especially when combined with motherless homes, deliberately violate those rights.
As stated best by one donor conceived woman, “This is not a new way of creating families, it’s a new way of ripping them apart.”
I want to thank C-Fam and the Civil Society of the Family for the chance to speak with you today.
To hear more from the children themselves, or for additional resources and studies, visit ThemBeforeUs.com. We are building a movement where all adults defend the rights of all children. I hope you’ll join us.