Photo: MIKI Yoshihito

Women We Read This Week

Abby Rabinowitz’s “The Surrogacy Cycle” in Virginia Quarterly Review

One of my areas of expertise in my own writing is reproductive ethics—IVF, surrogacy, gamete donation, embryo preservation, reduction of multiples, prenatal testing. I find these issues both infinitely fascinating and wildly complex. There are rarely easy answers or win-win scenarios, and always more questions and viewpoints to consider, which is why I found Abby Rabinowitz’s reporting on transnational surrogacy in India so refreshing. So much reporting on these topics is oversimplified or one-sided, and Rabinowitz not only shows this complexity; she points out the lack of complexity in other reporting. The piece is gripping, sensitive, and chock full of extensive first-hand reporting—something that is particularly notable because of its increasing rarity.

On the surface, the crux of the issue is whether transnational surrogacy should be legal or not. The bigger problem is the surrogates’ lack of agency in the process, and the disconnect between the parents’ intentions and the surrogate’s experience. Western couples think the money their Indian surrogate receives is a “life-changing sum” when in fact it’s far from it. Using an international surrogate is significantly cheaper than a domestic one for Americans. How can childless couples resist the thought of saving money AND helping a family in need across the globe? It’s this dichotomy of privileged preconceptions versus reality that really disturbs me. While the couples in this article found the thought of these women being a surrogate multiple times comforting because that meant it must not have been that bad, the reality is that repeat surrogacy is dangerous and most women only do it because they didn’t earn enough money to make a difference in their circumstances the first time.

…Padma bore a son for a couple from Bihar. Giving up the baby, she felt sad: “You have kept the child inside of you and given it the same kind of care as your own child.” She tried calling the family on the child’s first birthday, but they had changed their number. For the work, Padma was paid 1.25 lakhs, or about $2,900. “It was not enough money,” she told me.

Kayla Whaley’s “More Than Enough: On Swimming, Walking, and Forgotten Sensations” in The Toast

This honest, beautifully rendered essay tells the story of what it was like to slowly lose the ability to walk as a young child. Interspersed with the fragmented memories of what it felt like to run down the hallway and the crystal-clear memory of the moment she realized her ability to walk would eventually be gone, is a scene of swimming in a pool. The pool is a place where the author enjoys some level of freedom—a place where she is able to move: hover and float, flex and propel her body. But it is also a place of great potential danger. One wrong move and she will lose her balance, tip over, and not be able to right herself from being fully underwater. What’s most touching about the piece is how innocently she approached the use of a wheelchair as a child. It didn’t even occur to her that other people would assume walking to be a superior form of transportation. If only adults could channel a similarly child-like assumption of equality.

I didn’t miss walking, and I was oblivious to the fact that other people thought I should. That blessed lack of awareness didn’t—couldn’t—last, though. Here, too, there was no one event that triggered it, that taught me walking was better than not. No one said, “Kayla, you’d be a more complete person if you could hop out of that chair,” but they didn’t have to. Sometimes a half-concealed stare, a hastily hushed room, a careless phrase, a subtle implication is more than heavy enough to get the job done.

Anjali Enjeti’s “Thoughts of Home: Blueprint for a Baby” in Atlanta Magazine

A short, sweet, and thoughtful essay, this piece is about the author, her husband, and their two young daughters moving from Philadelphia to Atlanta. They have a home custom-built for them there, which takes many months. All of this is going on while the author is experiencing repeated miscarriages. At first she feigns interest in all of the choices that must be made about the home—from the biggest choices of layout and floor stain to the smallest details of sofas and rugs—and then she begins to use it as an important distraction. The beginning of the essay is dedicated to describing how the miscarriages are but one heartbreak she and her family have endured in a series of tragedies:

I’d had two miscarriages in three months, and those losses were merely the halfway point in a streak of tragedies and disappointments. My husband’s good friend, a father of two very young children, had died suddenly in his sleep. My grandmother in India had passed away before getting to meet our daughters, then ages five and three. Our youngest had suffered a life-threatening reaction to medication, and we had made a poor investment at the peak of the recession. During nine horrific months—a gestation of catastrophe—my soul felt as if it had been razed to the ground, jackhammered into pieces, and dumped in a far-off landfill.

The building of a new house is a hopeful act, but the author can’t help but think about what that home may never house: “… the dream of having another child was slipping away, and I worried that the nursery I’d envisioned in our new home might only ever serve as an office.”

–- Olivia


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