Gestational surrogacy is a controversial issue, period. While many view it as an extraordinary act, there are those who say turning a woman’s womb into a “commodity” is unethical. Now add religion to the mix, and try convincing people that selecting your gestational surrogate by her religion is both ethically moral, and necessary for you to have a child. You can imagine the typical response. Backlash aside, the emotional struggles of the surrogacy process are multiplied exponentially when your already slim options are made that much slimmer—yet thousands of infertile Jewish couples are choosing to embark on that journey.
Jewish law is highly complex. For any concern regarding adherence to Jewish law, there are multiple possible right answers. Not only does each denomination abide by its own set of laws and customs, but even within one denomination you are likely to find conflicting answers from different rabbis. This is proven when doing just a quick Google search on surrogacy in abidance with Halakha.
Two years ago, Caren Chesler wrote an article for the New York Times where she discussed the varying rabbinical opinions on Jewish egg donation. Caren and her husband used a non-Jewish egg donor to conceive their son, thinking that as long as the woman carrying the child was Jewish, in this case Caren, the child would be too. A few years after her son was born, Caren heard otherwise. Despite her initial shock and anger, Caren surmised that because she was Jewish, her son was too, and that was all that mattered to her. Personally, I agree with her. But there are people who don’t.
Some rabbis will tell you that as long as the carrier and birthing mother is Jewish, then the baby is considered a Jew. Others claim that conception and DNA is where it counts—meaning that the woman who provides the egg must be Jewish. Then there are reform rabbis who say that as long as a child is raised Jewish in a Jewish home by Jewish parents, its religion should not be called into question. You get the picture. It’s complicated.
To avoid such complications, Kveller author and Jewish woman Alissa Butterfass had her child converted. Even though Alissa and her husband used their own gametes, they used a non-Jewish surrogate to bear and deliver their child. Alissa was told by a rabbi that Jewish law on surrogacy had recently adapted to consider genetics as the basis for Jewish identity, but she wanted to be 100% sure that no possible future changes or conflicting opinions could ever call into question her son’s status as a Jew. So, at 4 years old, Alissa’s son was immersed into a mikveh and officially declared a Jewish boy.
Infertile couples wishing to ensure their child is considered wholly Jewish by all means must be able to find either a Jewish egg donor, gestational surrogate, or both, depending on their needs. This is where organizations that match infertile Jewish couples (or individuals) with Jewish egg donors and Jewish gestational surrogates come into play.
While demand for these incredibly generous Jewish women is high, the number of Jewish women offering to become a gestational surrogate is extremely low. Additionally, there are certain requirements that must be met. Gestational surrogates, who have no genetic relation to the child, must still be between the ages of 21 and 43(ish), and must reside in a state where surrogacy is legal. Judy Weiss, a nurse, says she was able to find just three Jewish carriers for her families in the last ten years.
“I have a waiting list of infertile hopeful parents that grows each week,” says Judy. “Couples needing a Jewish egg donor are usually matched within a few months, but couples seeking a Jewish surrogate are faced with a much, much longer wait. I had one couple that waited ten years. Thank God they now have twins! But there are many who may not receive such a blessing.”
It makes sense. Egg donation usually requires no more than a three-month time commitment, and can be done without any notice or involvement from friends and family. A gestational surrogate, although typically paid much more than an egg donor, must go through a full pregnancy, only to then hand off the child she has just bared. It’s easy to see why many women would need to think it over seriously.
And yet, there are those who do. Marcy G., mother of three, wrote a beautiful post detailing her reasoning behind choosing to be a surrogate for a family in need. Marcy had been through fertility struggles herself, and wanted to bestow the gift of life to a couple in the way she wished someone would have done the same for her had she needed it.
“I now have three healthy, beautiful and amazing children that I was told I would never have,” writes Marcy. “I’m blessed, so very blessed. And if there is a family out there experiencing the sadness, stress and hopelessness that I became familiar with over many years, I want to reach out and hug them. I want to ease their pain.”
Jewish women like Marcy who enjoy the experience of pregnancy and the miracle of birth are out there, but many aren’t aware of the sheer amount of Jewish infertile couples who need their help.
It is with this in mind that I ask you to please share this. Share this among your sisters, your friends, and the women of your community. Please spread the word so that we can raise awareness for the families in need of help. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to give one of the many infertile Jewish couples worldwide the gift of a child.