You know that’s going to be a book title someday… No, I didn’t come up with it – much as I would love to take the credit for it. Maybe it can be the slogan for a men’s movement – a man needs a woman like sperm need a rickshaw. Except in this case the sperm really did need the rickshaw. Oh wait!! Maybe it’s next summer’s B-movie hit. Can’t you just see Samuel Jackson yelling ‘ I’m sick of these m*%$#rF*&^%ing sperm on this m*%$#rF*&^%ing rickshaw!’ What? You want me to get to the point and actually tell you what I am blabbering about? Oh, all right, it’s from today’s Oprah show about infertility. A large part of the show was focused on a couple who were having trouble conceiving and used a woman in India as a surrogate. I got on the treadmill at the gym today just as Rachel Ray was giving way to Oprah and the headline ‘Wombs for Rent’ piqued my interest and there I was one hour later.

I had heard about international couples using surrogates in India through alittlepregnant and was intrigued to see the spin the Oprah show would take on it. I find Lisa Ling singularly annoying and was prepared to be cringing at regular intervals. She didn’t disappoint. Here’s a tip Lisa darling, if you’re going to continue to flit around the world pretending to be journalist, take a few minutes to learn how to pronounce the names of cities you are visiting. Ahmedabad became something garbled like am-ne-bad and Anand became uh-naaaand. I don’t think she got a single persons name right.

Of course, one of the first things she needed to point out were the slums outside her hotel. Which, don’t get me wrong, exist, are horrible and are not something we should turn a blind eye to. In fact, there are some serious questions about how poverty plays into the ethics of outsourcing surrogacy and the level of choice that the surrogates have. I’m just so sick of people from the west associating India with two things – poverty and outsourcing (and thanks Oprah, you didn’t help much). I would not have objected if there was a reasoned discussion of poverty and it’s influence on surrogacy (you know something to do with the show). Instead there was just the superficial ‘oh my god, people are really poor and oh look there are cows on the road’ which if you’ve been to India 12 times, as she claims, you should be over.

One of my favorite moments was when Lisa went to go see where the surrogates lived – there’s a shot of her daintily getting off the car and saying plaintively ‘Oh it’s so muddy.’ It didn’t really look all that muddy – I’m guessing I’m right, because the doctor didn’t miss a step and just kept going and she’s managing to do so while wearing a sari. It made my small, crusty, little heart very glad that the doc didn’t even deign to dignify her complaint with a response. Aaah Lisa, you’re no Christian Amanpour, but maybe one day if you just keep trying you’ll be a serious international journalist.

So, how do I feel about outsourcing surrogacy to India? It makes me uncomfortable. My discomfort has to do with the fact that if someone is really poor and has a very limited set of choices available to them, can we really claim that this was their choice? Do I buy their argument that this is a wonderful international bonding experience with women in India helping their sisters in the U.S. Nope, sorry not buying that. There is definitely a class/monetary component to it – we’re not seeing the kitty party crowd in India volunteering to carry a baby for that nice American couple they met on the interwebs. On the other hand, this is the sort of situation where activists get all riled up and want to tell these women they are being exploited. I find that so paternalistic – Yes, in a perfect world, women would have a plethora of choices available to them and surrogacy would be just one option out of many for them to earn money. But it’s not a perfect world, and to swoop in and tell someone that they cannot use the few means that they have available to them to better their lives is not something I can do. To me that’s limiting their choices even further, which makes me even more uncomfortable than the surrogacy does. As long as there are some steps being taken to ensure that the women have made the choice themselves and will have control over the money I think its OK.

Also, lets not forget that the monetary angle applies to the American couple too. If they were extremely rich or had a mother who was extremely rich and was desperate to have grandchildren (say, like Alexis Stewart, daughter of Martha Stewart, who was also featured on this show) they would be able to pay the $70,000 dollars required for surrogacy in the U.S. In that case, their choices would automatically be considered above board and not exploitative, and they would not be judged or questioned in any way.

Oh, the sperm on a rickshaw was in reference to the fact that the American couple, well, ‘obtained’ the man’s sperm in their hotel room and then rushed it over to the doctor in a rickshaw.

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