A British man living in the United States who has recently begun a romantic relationship with his daughter’s ex-boyfriend bought a baby and is being praised by media for it. Barrie Drewitt-Barlow paid about $100,000 for his new daughter, Valentina Willow. He is most proud of the baby girl’s looks.
“Every parent thinks their baby is the best-looking baby in the world, but the truth is Valentina Willow is the best-looking baby in the world,” Drewitt-Barlow said.
“We couldn’t be happier with the way she looks. In all fairness, we expected nothing else. After all, we scoured the planet for the best-looking egg donor we could find and $100,000 later (£77,000) we got the donor we wanted and the best-looking baby anyone could ever want.”
Drewitt-Barlow, a 50-year-old multi-millionaire who made headlines in 1999 for becoming, along with his then-partner Tony, their nation’s first gay dads to be listed as the sole parents on their child’s birth certificate, has now paid an exorbitant sum for his new surrogate-born child. A legal battle ensued wherein they fought to become registered as the nation’s first same-sex parents. The pair went on to employ more women to carry babies for them.
Now, Drewitt-Barlow is at it again. His new beau, a 25-year-old who was his personal assistant as well as his daughter’s boyfriend, is his intended husband. The two decided to become fathers together, and this time, Drewitt-Barlow’s goals were quite clear. It was the resulting child’s looks that were prime in his mind.
The media praises this as courage, instead of calling it out for what it truly is, the manufacturing and sale of human persons. Commercial surrogacy is routinely touted as a triumph for gay families who can use women to gestate the children they need to become parents. The United States is one of the only western countries where the practice is legal.
But commercial surrogacy isn’t a triumph of human engineering to enable gay families, it is a scourge on women who end up renting their bodies at significantly more physical and emotional cost than the monetary compensation they receive.
The Downsides of Surrogacy
In her film “Big Fertility,” Jennifer Lahl, documentary filmmaker and president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, followed the story of a South Dakota woman who was a surrogate three times. Her health was greatly affected by carrying and birthing children who were then not her own.
“I’m opposed to surrogacy for many reasons,” Lahl said. “The economic injustices, poor women have to sell their bodies to the wealthy, and as a long-time pediatric nurse, I’ve seen that surrogacy treats women and children as commodities.”
“Surrogacy,” she said, “ignores medical evidence about maternal-child bonding. Children know their mothers at birth.”
Medical surrogacy raises many risks. Women’s bodies have a high risk of rejecting the eggs that are implanted, and “foreign embryos can cause an immunological reaction,” Lahl said. Surrogate moms take steroids to prevent egg rejection, and they tend to carry multiples, which brings even higher risk. Often, a woman’s body will reject the implantation of another woman’s eggs, something like organ rejection from a transplant.
Surrogate moms carry multiples by design, because it’s an expensive process, and would-be parents would rather not pay more for additional pregnancies when they could try for more babies at once. As a result of the multiples, and because parents want control over the logistics of when they get their babies, surrogates tend to deliver via Cesarean section.
In many ways, surrogates are treated like machines — sub-humans facilitating the convenience of the purchasing parents. Women will often go into commercial surrogacy for the money, believing their most valuable resource is their own body.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists calls it “an increasingly common form of family building that can allow individuals or a couple to become parents despite circumstances in which carrying a pregnancy is biologically impossible or medically contraindicated.”
A Potentially Perilous ‘Journey’
Lahl said that surrogates are programmed to say that they are not pregnant, but “on a journey.” Circle Surrogacy calls it a “journey” as well. This is to prevent surrogates from bonding with the baby inside their bodies.
In the cases of either gay dads or single dads who rent surrogates, the intention is for women to birth motherless orphans. One case, Lahl said, was of a woman who was carrying multiples for a single dad who lived with his parents, and demanded that she terminate some of the babies because he didn’t want them.
Women who are rented to gestate babies waive their maternal rights, which in many cases results in women being emotionally wounded and ending up with post-traumatic stress disorder. Lahl said that this is common, although hardly advertised. Post-traumatic stress disorder can even result in women who go through with surrogacy for altruistic reasons.
A woman in the United Kingdom undertook surrogacy to help her friends, but from the hormones required, to the birth, to being blamed for birth problems, to not being invited to the twins’ christening, trauma from being the sacrificial mother took over her life.
Through in-depth interviews, The Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine found, “Surrogacy pregnancy should be considered as high-risk emotional experience because many of surrogate mothers may face negative experiences.” They then “recommended that surrogates should receive professional counseling prior to, during, and following pregnancy.”
Families of women who rent their bodies also suffer trauma, as shown in “Big Fertility.” And while women undertake the process believing that the parents will pay their medical bills, there have been plenty of cases where, because the parents were not satisfied with the product, they refused to pay the full medical costs.
Kelly Martinez, who was profiled in Lahl’s film, was left with $11,000 in medical bills when the parents, who had paid extra for a boy and a girl, were unhappy when the girl embryo didn’t implant and the boy embryo naturally twinned.
Despite the probable trauma surrogate mothers experience, women might choose surrogacy for financial incentives. The cost to surrogates is not the only issue. Their choices, however, affect not only themselves but the children they incubate. Lahl said that there haven’t been many studies on the children who result from gestational surrogacy, but anecdotally, there have been emotional problems.
Those who are the product of surrogacy, and never know either their genetic mother or father, or have no relationship to the woman who bore them, have a different story to tell about surrogacy and its effects on them personally. In 2013, the Daily Mail reported that children born of surrogates are “more likely to suffer depression” than those carried by their actual mothers.
One woman in her 20’s wrote an anonymous blog post about her experience being the child of a sperm donor. The mother she was raised with was her biological mother, and that same woman carried her to term and raised her. For this poster, it was her father that was unknown to her, as she was the product of sperm donation.
It wasn’t until she did an online genetic test that she got the information back that the man she thought was her father wasn’t really her father. She was devastated. She wrote about how difficult it was for her to not know her background, or where her family came from, even their race. Now take that feeling and multiply it by three.
In surrogacy, the woman who is your gestational mother is different from the woman who is your genetic mother, and in some cases, you could also have a sperm donor for a father. This is a wholly different scenario from adoption because it is the intentional manufacture of orphans. And the women who give up their maternal resources don’t fare well either.
With his money and resources, Drewitt-Barlow was able to buy the components of a child, then rent space in a woman’s body to put it all together. He wanted a beautiful baby girl, and he made sure he got one. He is celebrated for effectively commodifying human life, cheapening parenthood, and the outright degrading practice of trafficking in women and children.
The surrogacy industry, which harvests eggs from women and then rents wombs to carry children who are born without a mother, should be forbidden, as it is in much of Europe and the global south. No country should allow the intentional subjugation of women, the sale of children, or the intentional creation of orphans. Make no mistake, this is exactly what is happening with surrogacy.