Did you see the cover of The New York Times Magazine this weekend? The woman on the right is Alex Kuczynski, the Times style writer who, in her book Beauty Junkies, chronicled her addiction to youth-enhancing medical treatments and beauty products, which supposedly ended when she nearly missed a friend's funeral because she was having Restylane injected into her lips. The pregnant woman is Cathy Hilling, a mother of three and substitute teacher from Harleysville, Pa. Hilling carried to term the fetus of Kuczynski, 39, and her investor husband, Charles Stevenson, 59, after Kuczynski suffered from years of infertility and two miscarriages.
I don't exactly know what to make of Kuczynski's first person account of her experience with surrogacy. The fetus — now her son Max — was biologically hers and her husband's. Hilling carried the baby for $25,000, which she said she needed to help pay her kids' college tuition. Hilling's 20-year old daughter had actually already been an egg donor to raise tuition money, and this was Hilling's second surrogate pregnancy. Kuczynski is frank about the emotional strangeness of the situation, and the socioeconomics involved. She is relieved to learn, for example, that the attorney she worked with to plan the surrogate pregnancy — which is illegal in many states — does not accept women in poverty as surrogates.
Indeed, Kuczynski chooses Hilling because she and her husband are college educated, with white collar jobs. Yet there's no mistaking that Hilling and Kuczynski come from vastly different worlds. Hilling is small town America to Kuczynski's Manhattan; she is pink fleece to Kuczynski's little black dress. The divide between them is brought home by an accompanying photo of Kuczynski standing in the yard of her lavish colonial in Southampton, New York, holding her son. Behind her, standing at attention and wearing a uniform, is Margo Clements, whom the caption tells us is Kuczynski's "baby nurse."
Hilling, I'm sure, had no baby nurse to help raise her three kids. And while, at least according to Kuczynski's narrative, Hilling enters into surrogacy cheerfully, happy to help an infertile couple, it's hard to miss the underside to this story. Inequality and trouble paying for basics — like a college education — push some women to carry other women's pregnancies. Unless this inequality is addressed, bearing wealthy women's children (and the children of wealthy gay couples) will become some of the most financially rewarding work available to low and middle-income women, further cementing their identity as primarily reproductive. I believe surrogacy should be regulated and legal. But I don't want to live in a country where women turn to surrogacy in order to pay their own children's college bills.
cross-posted at TAPPED