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Birthing a Mother

Birthing a Mother: The Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self

Elly Teman
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Birthing a Mother
    Book Description:

    Birthing a Motheris the first ethnography to probe the intimate experience of gestational surrogate motherhood. In this beautifully written and insightful book, Elly Teman shows how surrogates and intended mothers carefully negotiate their cooperative endeavor. Drawing on anthropological fieldwork among Jewish Israeli women, interspersed with cross-cultural perspectives of surrogacy in the global context, Teman traces the processes by which surrogates relinquish any maternal claim to the baby even as intended mothers accomplish a complicated transition to motherhood. Teman's groundbreaking analysis reveals that as surrogates psychologically and emotionally disengage from the fetus they carry, they develop a profound and lasting bond with the intended mother.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94585-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Prologue: Yael
    (pp. xvii-xx)

    This work took me into the lives of surrogates and intended mothers alike, forging close anthropologist-informant relationships with each, yet the person who seeped into my consciousness the most was my first informant, Yael, an intended mother. Perhaps this is because she faced so many obstacles on her route to motherhood; perhaps it is because hers was the first surrogacy story I was exposed to. What is clear to me now is that Yael’s story initiated me into the frame of mind necessary to undertake this study—a frame of mind in which I was conscious of the mental, physical,...

  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    In early 2008, surrogacy became the hot topic of the moment, grabbing cover stories inThe New York TimesandNewsweek.¹ Though it would seem that this relatively rare mode of reproduction has become the latest trend in reproduction, it is not new. In fact, the roots of surrogacy can be traced to the book of Genesis.² Despite the media frenzy that accompanied the heatedly debated Baby M case two decades ago,³ the practice of surrogacy has quietly continued, staying out of the limelight until its recent resurgence in the headlines. Indeed, since the late 1970s, tens of thousands of...

  7. PART ONE Dividing

    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 27-30)

      The dominant ideologies surrounding maternity in many countries focus on the “natural” role of women as mothers with special bonds to the children they bear.¹ Through their contractual relationships with childless couples, for whom they carry children to term in exchange for payment, surrogates risk doing something popularly believed to be “against their maternal nature” and a violation of the natural order. With this in mind, psychosocial studies have hypothesized that women who choose to become surrogates may be nontraditional thinkers or somehow different from the majority of the population.² However, most studies have found that surrogates subscribe to conventional...

    • CHAPTER 1 Surrogate Selves and Embodied Others
      (pp. 31-53)

      There are a number of metaphors that I observed surrogates using to describe their bodies during the process. These metaphors could easily be considered most feminists’ worst nightmare: woman as technovessel, implanted with the seed of the patriarchy and lacking control over her body, which is nothing more than a vehicle serving wider systems. They could also be interpreted as mere reflections of the mind/body separation that goes hand-in-hand with the body-as-machine metaphor that is so central to the mechanical model of pregnancy and birth in postindustrial, capitalist societies.¹ However, paradoxically, these kinds of images were often conjured up by...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Body Map
      (pp. 54-74)

      To this point, I have explored how surrogates conceptualize their bodies as composed of a personalized nature that carries their emotional bonds to their own children but remains dormant during surrogacy; an artificial presence that subdues their personal nature and makes sure that their wombs remain separate, neutral spaces; and the intended parents’ nature, which they temporarily warm inside their wombs. Although surrogates viewed technology as a necessary tool for creating these separations, they did not see it as sufficient to maintain them throughout the pregnancy. Surrogates imagined the unwanted effects that might result if the personalized nature and the...

    • CHAPTER 3 Operationalizing the Body Map
      (pp. 75-104)

      In this chapter, I suggest two ways in which the body map is activated by surrogates as a boundary-policing tool to deal with the tangible challenges of surrogacy: it is used, first, to maintain an emotionally distant relationship with the fetus, and second, to maintain interpersonal boundaries with their couples. Surrogates employed several means for emotionally distancing themselves from the fetus. One was to react to any movement emanating from the belly area nonemotionally. The need to engage in such “emotion work”¹ stemmed from a surrogate’s perception that the fetal movements she sensed had the potential to create emotional ties...

  8. PART TWO Connecting

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 105-109)

      Contrary to one popular assumption that women hire surrogates as a luxury, to avoid pregnancy and birth, the intended mothers in my study arrived at the decision to pursue surrogacy only after they had explored every other option possible to become pregnant and give birth themselves. This was usually after they had made motherhood the central goal of their adult lives. Similarly to Paxson’s observations among infertile women in Athens, Greece,¹ the intended mothers in this study were as focused or more focused on becoming mothers as they were on having children in their lives. The majority of intended mothers...

    • CHAPTER 4 Intended Mothers and Maternal Intentions
      (pp. 110-133)

      In this chapter, I look at the experiences of intended mothers during the surrogacy process, with a particular focus on their “parental claiming practices.” Sandelowski, Harris, and Holditch-Davis employ this concept to refer to the strategies used by those preparing themselves to adopt as they wait for that fateful phone call notifying them that they have become parents.¹ Unlike adoptive mothers, intended mothers through surrogacy have access to the time frame of conventional pregnancy and know their child’s history from the moment of conception. I examine two claiming practices that intended mothers in this study employed while awaiting the birth...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Shifting Body
      (pp. 134-180)

      It is now clear that the intended mother’s experience of surrogacy cannot be separated from her relationship with the surrogate. Surrogates play a central role in fostering the intended mother’s goals, whether by allowing her to assume control of the medical aspects of the pregnancy or by actively trying to bond her to the baby. The story behind the surrogacy agreement, then, becomes less about the surrogate giving birth to a baby and more about how surrogates, like midwives, actively help other women give birth to themselves as mothers. In the following discussion, I address the surrogate–intended mother relationship...

  9. PART THREE Separating

    • CHAPTER 6 Rites of Classification
      (pp. 184-204)

      To this point, women’s personal experiences have taken center stage; the state, as noted in the introduction, does not actively pursue an interventionist role after screening applicants and sanctioning the agreement. Once the contract has been approved, the surrogacy approvals committee’s job is completed; no state representatives have any contact with the contracting parties during the conception process or during the early months of the pregnancy. Following brief contact in the fifth month, when the couple phones a state welfare officer to notify the state of the pregnancy and the anticipated due date, the parties do not interact with state...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Surrogate’s Gift
      (pp. 205-234)

      Whereas intended mothers often felt the need to distance themselves from their surrogate after the birth, surrogates often viewed a couple’s abrupt change of attitude toward them as insulting. When I visited Belle in her hospital room two days after she had given birth, her couple arrived to say good-bye to her before they were discharged home with the baby. The intended mother initially entered the room, and the intended father remained at the door holding the baby seat with the baby in it. The room was filled with visitors from the surrogacy Internet forum, and we all excitedly urged...

  10. PART FOUR Redefining

    • CHAPTER 8 The Surrogate’s Mission
      (pp. 238-262)

      The institutional management of surrogacy until the contract is approved by the state may be likened to a test; prospective surrogates undergo comprehensive institutional screening that is consistent across all cases. The surrogacy law specifies strict criteria governing who can become a surrogate; candidates must provide medical records showing they comply with a long checklist of selection criteria in terms of their physical, mental, and emotional health. They must pass a general medical exam and a gynecological exam, including a pelvic ultrasound, and undergo a battery of blood tests.¹ They must be between the ages of twenty-two and thirty-eight, be...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Hero’s Quest
      (pp. 263-282)

      The surrogate’s portrayal of herself as a courageous heroine is a key to understanding an elemental difference between surrogates and intended mothers. It illuminates the surrogacy experience as an initiation for surrogates and intended mothers alike. For both, it involves many of the classic elements of initiation, such as giving and receiving gifts, making sacrifices, overcoming pain or fear, keeping secrets, marking the body symbolically, and so on.¹ However, whereas intended mothers told me about theirinitiation ritualsand their rite of passage into their new status, role, and maternal identity, surrogates told me aninitiation story. Their initiations take...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 283-296)

      Birthing a Mother has taken us into the world through which Israeli surrogates and intended mothers navigate in their cooperative, but by no means equivalently experienced, endeavor to create both new humans and new kin relations. The women carefully and continuously claim or abdicate the title of mother through individual and interactive cognitive and embodied practices. Through serial moves of embodiment and disembodiment, distancing and appending, giving and reciprocating, the women resolve the anomalies of surrogacy in and among themselves.

      Throughout the chapters that make up this volume, we have witnessed a process involving sequential moves of division, connection, and...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 297-334)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 335-352)
  13. Index
    (pp. 353-361)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 362-362)