“I’m not the mother of this baby!”: a comparison of kinship understandings among Israeli and US surrogates
Drawing on a comparison of two ethnographic research projects on surrogacy, one conducted in Israel by Elly Teman and one in the United States by Zsuzsa Berend, this paper explores surrogates’ views about motherhood and parenthood, relationships and relatedness. The paper challenges three common cultural assumptions about surrogacy: that surrogates bond with the babies they carry for intended parents, that it is immoral not to acknowledge the surrogates’ maternity, and that surrogacy upsets the moral order of society by dehumanizing and commodifying reproduction. Contrasting the similarities and differences in the voices of surrogates from these studies, the authors argue that surrogates draw on ideas about technology, genetics, and intent in order to explain that they do not bond with the child because they are not its mother. This is followed by an exploration of surrogates’ definitions of what constitutes parenthood, suggesting that in both contexts, surrogates draw clear boundaries between their own family and that of the intended parents’. Finally, it is suggested that surrogates expect a relationship, or a bond, to develop with the intended parents and view their contribution as exceptional moral work which involves nurturing, caring, friendship, and solidarity. The paper concludes that for surrogates in the US and in Israel, maternity, bonding and kin-ties are not automatic outcomes of pregnancy, but a choice. Surrogates in both contexts hold that bonding with other people’s children as if they were one’s own is wrong while bonding with their couple and creating “fictive kin” ties with them is the logical outcome of the intense and intimate process of collaborative baby-making.
Elly Teman is a senior lecturer in cultural anthropology in the Dept. of Behavioral Sciences at Ruppin Academic Center, Israel. Elly completed her PhD at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2007 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley and at the University of Pennsylvania. Elly is the author of an ethnography on gestational surrogacy in Israel entitled Birthing a Mother: the Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010). Her publications have appeared in Social Science and Medicine, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Culture Medicine and Psychiatry. These publications include articles on surrogacy policy, on the experiences of gestational surrogates and intended mothers, and on religious Jewish women’s reproductive lives.