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Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Surrogates: Another Day at the Office--- A Guest Post

My thanks to Lili Miller, a social psychologist, for contributing the following intensely practical view of what happens when a woman agrees to be a surrogate mother and have a baby for a couple to rear as their own:

In most cases when the topic of surrogacy comes up, it is first put in terms of family, growing choices that couples have when trying to have a baby, questions about adoption, and more. These topics—and most others surrounding surrogacy—tend to focus on the emotional and philosophical implications of surrogacy as an option for the couple. What is often left out of the mix are underlying discussions about the financial implications of surrogacy for the surrogate mother, and what putting a price on this type of service actually means for her. Analyzed through this viewpoint, surrogacy is only a business, much like any other type of business. The surrogate therefore simply becomes a service provider. Her role inevitably changes when money comes into the equation.
Just in the United States, surrogacy continues to be a multi-million dollar business, and while some don’t like to look at it as a question of dollars and cents, it must be treated as such by surrogates, because there are a range of financial issues that must be understood and taken care of during the process.
Many of the financial implications of surrogacy have to do with taxes. In many cases, surrogates work as independent contractors, and as independent contractors, there are a number of tax breaks that they could be entitled to. Most surrogates have a range of business expenses they have to deal with—many of which can be used towards deductions when tax time comes around.
Before even delving into taxes, costs, potential earning, and financial planning for surrogates, it helps to take a look at the process that potential surrogates can follow to ensure that they are working in a safe, organized environment.
Surrogacy Agencies
Like a number of jobs on the market, surrogacy can be made much easier with the help of a professional organization or agency. While we don’t like to think of surrogacy agencies as being exactly the same as an agent that an actor or an athlete might have, the agency does serve some of the same types of functions for the surrogate, and they can be crucial allies every step of the way.
“Surrogacy agencies choreograph the entire process, from matching of the surrogate and intended parents to administration and enforcement of contractual matters.” (from When Your Body is Your Business)

When working with an agency, the surrogate is freed up to take care of herself and to deal with the physical aspects of the process without having to worry about the minutia of the business end of the process. Surrogacy agencies are also there to ensure that both parties are suited for the process and for each other.

Not everyone is qualified to be a surrogate. There is great risk involved, as well as physical and emotional strain. Surrogacy agencies take major steps to ensure that both the surrogates and “intended” parents are uniquely qualified for the process and that they are the right match for each other. This involves good old fashioned advertising (agencies conduct searches for both surrogates and potential parents) and serious screening.

Once a connection between a surrogate and intended parents has been made, the surrogacy agency starts to truly earn its keep. Extended contracts between surrogates and intended parents can be incredibly complex, with altering payment scales, multiple disbursements, and a range of caveats. They can also help define the manner in which business will be conducted between the intended parents and the surrogate. Contracts can include types of behavior that surrogates cannot engage in, as well as rate of communication between the parties, and much more. At the end of the day, the agency is there to ensure professional behavior on the part of both parties.

Once a birth takes place, the agency continues to manage the payment process and to make sure that the surrogate’s contract is honored in full. This is key for surrogates. If financial or legal issues arise, it’s crucial that the surrogate is not taking all of this on by herself.

Financial and Tax Options for Surrogates
While payment for surrogates varies, income can be considerable. However, costs for surrogates can be considerable, too. As was said earlier, there are a number of tax options and deductibles that surrogates can qualify for.

If a surrogate is working as an independent contractor, which many do, it’s important to keep thorough records of all job-related expenses. It’s also important to work with a professional in the field who can give you a clear picture of what types of products and services surrogates can legitimately “write off” on their taxes. Some surrogates can even qualify for the earned income tax credit.

Surrogates engage in single contracts that last a long time, and for health or just plain life reasons, contracts can be few and far between. A surrogate must explore all financial options and engage in a level of serious financial planning to make sure the money earned from surrogacy goes as far as it can.

Surrogates face health risks, physical strain, and a range of emotional elements that most people will never face on a job. For some surrogates, those risks and strains are worth it to help potential parents achieve their dream of having a family. In the end, surrogacy is still viewed as a business. Surrogacy is stripped of all its expressive motivations, and honed as another service for proactive consumerism.

Bio: SimplyLili is a PhD student in Social Psychology, and the eccentric author of Simply Lili Blog; created to disperse knowledge on a plethora of topics in a minimalist and humorous way. She is a self-proclaimed nerd and her 3 fave things are blogging, copywriting, and pugs.
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  1. My immediate reaction is that this makes me nauseous. Also how naive to assume that surrogate agencies actually care about anyone but the paying clients, those who are buying the baby, not the "factory" that is producing it. Some things should not be commercial enterprises, this is one.

  2. I would like to follow up and say that I agree with you that the surrogates should not be treated as "commercial enterprises." Yet, we must also realize that many of these women are fine with the idea of this being a monetary transaction. I wrote this article precisely to gain feedback on this issue. Many women take the ability to be mothers for granted. I, for one, may not be able to have children. I suffered from a stroke last year at only 25 y/o and pregnancy /childbirth now puts my life in severe danger. For some of us, this might be the only way to have a child that is genetically similar to us. It is in our primal evolutionary nature to want this. Yet, in this process we have become so selfish that we have turned such a precious gift into a commodity. Thank you for your feedback! -Lili Miller

  3. Lily, I am so sorry that you have health problems that would be life-threatening in a pregnancy and sympathize with your desire to have a genetically related child. I do not take the ability to be a mother for granted, because I was in a situation where I surrendered my firstborn much loved child for adoption, due to being abandoned by my boyfriend in 1968 and severe post-partum depression. In the long run this worked out terribly for both me and my son. I was fortunate to have 3 more sons but no child replaces another.

    However, I am troubled by your statement about genetic related children that "it is our primal evolutionary nature to want this". If you are citing evolution as your motivation for wanting a child, what about the "primal evolutionary nature" of surrogates? What about the pregnancy hormones and primal drives of women carrying babies for money, babies who may be from both egg and sperm from others not related to the surrogate or the ones who are buying the finished product baby? Yes, you want a baby, and would prefer it genetically related, but don't make that sound like some kind of biological mandate.

    I would hope if you do someday use a surrogate it will be with your egg and partner's sperm, and it will be someone you know who is doing it for love of you, and whom you will stay in touch with if possible. It can work for some people, but as a large-scale commercial enterprise the potential for abuse and exploitation is huge.

    Have you ever been so poor that you would be "fine" with selling your body as either a surrogate or prostitute to survive and perhaps support children you already have? Don't be so quick to assume how "fine" some of these women are, and will be in years to come.

  4. Hi,
    Thank you for your concern on the topic. I appreciate your sympathy on my health issues. It has been a tough road to recovery. I, too, am very sorry to hear what you went through. I realize how tough that is, given that my sister went through something similar.

    This is a very controversial topic, and one that will stir up many emotions and different viewpoints, and rightfully so. It is not one that I take lightly. You commented: "Don't be so quick to assume how "fine" some of these women are, and will be in years to come." yet, in my defense I did acknowledge the health risks, physical strain, and a range of emotional elements (precisely stated in my article) that these women face.

    It is a very biased opinion on your part that only financial need compels them to be surrogates. Some may do it out of kindness and compassion, while others might do it simply for business. (I personally know a few women who have no problem going through this process, granted there is a monetary pay-off). And, surprisingly enough, it is not because they are starving. We have to be open-minded, in order to realize why this has become so popular.

    I believe that protecting surrogates should be a primary concern. If legalizing it so that they are given proper health care and insurance, rather than having surrogates undergo riskier circumstances than necessary turns this process inevitably into a business, then so be it, for their sake and well-being.

    As with any business, especially this type, the risk of exploitation is expected. It is the responsibility of regulatory bodies do control this process, and more pressure should be placed on them so that exploitation is eliminated.

    As far as your concern about me citing evolution, it is simply to state what has been found in many studies;it is part of our evolutionary makeup to want to contribute to the "gene pool" and ensure that we live on as a species, "survival of the fittest", if we wish to simplify the topic further. We cannot overlook this component, or give it full attention. Now that we are some-what logical human beings, our norms and mores, are more likely to define evolution and dictate the decisions that accompany how we accomplish that, both for surrogates and the expecting family.

    Many women do not create a bond during a pregnancy; some don't create a bond afterwards. There is so much to be said on this topic that cannot be achieved through a blog post.

    As with any new development,(e.g. In Vitro fertilization) there is bound to be collateral damage. What might seem like an outrage to you, may be a blessing for others.

    Thank you for the great discussion.

  5. I don't ordinarily publish comments that are forms of advertising, but this one is accurate and has some relevance.