Editor’s Note: With news that President Trump has signed an executive order encouraging federal agencies to hire more military spouses, this guest post by our friend K. is even more relevant. It helps provide context to the situation in which many military spouses find themselves, a situation that leads a great number of military wives to become surrogate mothers.
Hello friends! I’ve read another wonderful article and I am back to challenge you to consider it and become more enlightened. As you may have guessed, there are certain qualifications one must possess in order to become a surrogate in the United States.
A woman wanting to become a surrogate must be within a certain age (generally 21-40 years old), be in good health, pass screening exams such as psychological tests, and she must have birthed and raised her own children. Of course, there are other attributes that make a “good” surrogate such as access to health insurance, transportation, the time to gestate a baby for nine months, and family support.
When you consider the population of the United States, what group of women do you think are more likely to possess these desirable attributes? Well, if you’re only slightly intuitive, you can guess the answer to that question by just looking at the title of this blog post. If not, the answer is ‘military wives.’ According to sociology Professor Elizabeth Ziff, military wives are the “all-American surrogate.”
Research has shown that “military spouses constitute a disproportionate percentage of the surrogate population.” These women, considered to be “ideal surrogates,” have been the target of surrogacy marketing for quite some time. Thirty-three of these ladies, located across the United States, agreed to let Professor Ziff interview them.
It was Ziff’s goal to better understand the parallels between life as a military wife and life as a surrogate. She published her findings in article titled “‘The Mommy Deployment’: Military Spouses and Surrogacy in the United States, (Sociological Forum, Vol. 32 No. 2).” Her interviews show “how women who are part of a highly masculinized and institutional community make sense of this uniquely feminine practice precisely by drawing on the masculine tropes they know so intimately.” In other words, the women use their military mindset to guide them through the sacrifice of surrogacy.
I think that everyone can agree that serving in the military is intense and demanding. This type of service requires immense dedication and bravery. However, how many of us have stopped to think of the impact of this sort of rigor and dedication on the spouses of those who serve? Ziff does just that. She takes the time to show how these women transpose “responsibilities and knowledge from the institutionalized realm of the military spouse to their new role as a surrogate.”
Here is some food for thought drawn from her interviews and article that help to demonstrate ways in which the military narrative influences a new surrogate narrative for these women.
Military spouses are expected to participate in military life. They have a role and must be just as dedicated to military life as their deployed partner. For many spouses this equates to involvement in social activities and volunteerism. Surrogacy is a way for military spouses to “serve” their peers, just as the spouse serves the country. “I think military wives are always putting others first because their husbands are gone all the time. You’ve got the kids, you’ve got the house, you’ve got everything to take care of before yourself, so I think it just goes into surrogacy as far as they’re always trying to help other people.”
Surrogacy, like military life, is also very demanding. Surrogacy mirrors the demand of total devotion of military life. “Many women point out that each surrogacy is a twenty-four-hour-a-day task that lasts anywhere from a year, if all goes according to plan, to much longer.”
Both the military and surrogacy invoke the ideals and rhetoric of valor and sacrifice—for the whole family. One wife stated, “you can end up losing a year of your life and your family goes though it with you. I’m sorry, but there are things that between husband and wife are put on hold and for long periods of time especially if there are [medical] issues.” Another stated, “I think being a military spouse helped me to be more independent and strong, and I think it really helped me to be a surrogate. I think there is a lot of sacrifice with both.” “For this group of surrogates, the common notion of ‘military first’ becomes ‘surrogacy first’ and the specific military experience of deployment is easily transposed onto the surrogacy experience.” One surrogate spent three months on bed rest in a hospital; she considered this time as “mommy deployment.”
Military spouses must also remain flexible; military families migrate frequently from base to base and state to state. Therefore, many military wives are underemployed or chose to stay at home. The $20,000-$40,000 that a military wife could earn for her “pain and suffering” for surrogacy could certainly help any financial strain caused by any underemployment.
With this lens to judge surrogacy through, here are a few questions to consider: Do you think military wives are being exploited? Are we using the mental framework and hard-wired dedication they possess for monetary, fertility gain? Are we playing on the service strings of their hearts?
It is critical that we evaluate each angle of surrogacy and the motives of the industry that is #BigFertility.
- Kallie Fell, MS, BSN, RN, started her professional career as a scientist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center utilizing a Master of Science degree in Animal Sciences with an emphasis on Reproductive Physiology and Molecular Biology from Purdue University. While assisting in the investigation of endometriosis and pre-term birth, Kallie simultaneously pursued a degree in nursing with hopes of working with women as a perinatal nurse. After meeting Jennifer at a conference, Kallie became interested in the work of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and started volunteering with the organization. It is obvious that Kallie is passionate about women’s health. She continues to work, as she has for the past 6 years, as a perinatal nurse and has worked with the CBC since 2018, first as a volunteer writer, then as our staff Research Associate, and now as the Executive Director. In 2021, Kallie co-directed the CBC’s newest documentary, Trans Mission: What’s the Rush to Reassign Gender? Kallie also hosts the popular podcast Venus Rising and is the Program Director for the Paul Ramsey Institute.