“Don’t have a yard sale in your uterus.”
So goes Roseanne Conner’s advice to her daughter, Becky, in the reboot of “Roseanne” (now on ABC).
In the 21 years since the original series went off the air, Becky is now a widowed waitress. With mounting bills to pay, she decides to become a surrogate. Her approach to selling her eggs and her uterus is nothing short of cavalier. To her, it’s strictly a for-profit enterprise.
Yes, the show is using surrogacy as a way to talk about ethics in the fertility game – Dad Dan is upset because he feels that she is “selling off his grandbabies.” He throws stuff and goes off to the garage to drown his sorrows in beer after he finds out Becky’s get-rich scheme.
It is also a poignant way to talk about class dynamics, a central theme in the beloved show. Andrea, the intended parent, is a clueless snob who brings “ionized” water in glass bottles to the Conners and offers a monthly delivery of fresh organic pears. Prior to Andrea’s visit, Becky runs around hiding all the pictures of Rosanne looking “fat” — since she doesn’t want her to think that obesity runs in the family — and cleans the furniture trying to “get 10 years of Cheetos dust off the table.”
“Please put away anything you got free with a tank of gas,” she implores.
Using this scenario as a metaphor, I suppose I am Andrea. After all, I used a gestational carrier to give birth to my twins. But I’m nothing like Andrea — I don’t think I’ve ever tasted ionized water — and the experience was nothing like it’s portrayed on TV.
First of all, “traditional” surrogacy — in which the surrogate uses her own eggs — is not as common these days. The Baby M case from the 1980s, when a surrogate decided keep the baby, is a good example of what happens when the surrogate is biologically connected with the child she is carrying.
More common today is gestational surrogacy, in which the gestational carrier uses an embryo created by the intended parents, either with their own eggs and sperm, or with those from third-party donors. This usually isn’t done on a whim or to maintain a beach body. Surrogates should be used only “when a true medical condition precludes the intended parent from carrying a pregnancy or would pose a significant risk of death or harm to the woman or the fetus,” according to the guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Another major inaccuracy of the show: that Becky would become a surrogate without any formal legal arrangements or medical review. A doctor’s visit would be necessary to be sure that she would be a viable donor and carrier for the baby. Because, if “Roseanne” were real life, Becky would not be. She’s lying about her age — saying she is 32 when, in fact, she is 43. This is way too old to be an egg donor or carrier, a role that usually tops out at 30. (And, as we learned in this week’s episode, this fact comes back to bite her.)
But perhaps most egregious is the portrayal of surrogacy as strictly transactional. It’s a common myth that surrogates are in it for the money. My gestational carrier, for example, was not cash starved. She was a full-time professional and a married mother of three kids. When we first met, I was struck by her commitment to helping us complete our family, something she felt a deep calling to do from a young age, she said.
In fact, prior to our meeting, she had helped another couple have a baby. From our first Skype conversation to the birth, there was never any pretense or hiding — she was someone who cared deeply about family and thought carefully about her role.
Yes, there was money involved. But nothing could repay my gestational carrier for the months that she carried my twins — feeling their kicks, feeding them with healthy food, and caring for them as they grew larger and larger.
Our lives became very close. Over many meals, I got to know her mom and her wonderful kids over the course of the nine months. We attended the important medical visits together and texted a lot, especially when there was a little kick or a craving.
In fact, from the minute we agreed to this arrangement, there was nothing but love and care.
The night of the birth was a family affair: my husband and I were there when the babies were born, her husband made videos, and her mom watched her grandkids (and she also made colorful bibs for the babies). We were a team, joined in this incredible effort to create new lives.
Recently, during spring break, our families got together. Our gestational carrier showered my girls, Now four years old with presents: sequined tutu dresses, sparkly purses, fruit-flavored lip glosses, and their first taste of bubble gum.
There is a deep bond between us that will never be erased. My kids lived in her tummy, after all. They are just starting to learn about minds this unique story since mommy has a “broken belly.” They will know at the bottom of their hearts that they were truly wanted and cared for by everyone involved in their birth.
One thing “Roseanne” gets right: Surrogacy is legal in Illinois, where the fictional Conner family lives. Because the reality is, surrogacy is illegal in five states and unwise in many others, due to unclear laws that make it a risky practice. And yet, the series presents surrogacy as if it was an everyday thing – a viable if ethically icky option for a wayward daughter.
We all know by now that Roseanne Barr, who is Jewish, is a Trump supporter. Presumably she’s a Mike Pence supporter, too — and Pence would not support IVF, the most common technique for making a baby with a gestational carrier. While he was in Congress, Pence cosponsored legislation that conferred “personhood” to embryos — a move that could limit access to fertility treatments This is surprising given that his wife, Karen, struggled with infertility and was unable to get pregnant for the first 6 years of their marriage.
People might disagree about whether surrogacy is the “right” way to have children. But for my family, it was the best way. We are extremely fortunate to have a generous and loving gestational carrier. And while “Rosanne” is fictional, the series should nonetheless be honest with their viewers about all surrogacy entails.