Sunday, October 19, 2008

African-American Women, Wombs & History

While recently studying surrogate pregnancies, I was curious about what information I could find about African-American women and surrogacy. I assumed since African-American women in the United States have historically, unwillingly, but sometimes willingly in-a-Sally-Hemmings-kind-of-way, carried their master’s child, that women of color wouldn’t be interested in enslaving their bodies, again as surrogates. Professor Anita Allen comments on this historical surrogacy when she says:, "Southern black mothers were in a sense surrogate mothers because they knowingly gave birth to children understanding that those children would be owned by others." ('The Black Surrogate Mother: The Socio-Economic Struggle for Equality.' 8 Harvard Black Letter Journal. 17, Spring). Additionally, we finally got our bodies back, even from the wives of slaveholders as breast feeders of their children. So, why in the world would we in the twenty-first century, given our history, rent our bodies out for nine months to anyone? Well, this time around there IS one major difference: Compensation.

In the article, “Black Women Giving Birth to White Babies on the Rise,”, it’s reported that black women from Africa, primarily Ghana and Nigeria, are assisting infertile white couples throughout Europe in having a family of their own. These impoverished African surrogates use the money they’ve earned to provide for their own families. But what about African-American women’s participation as surrogate mothers, here in the land of plenty?

In a very well written article published April 2008 in Newsweek, authors Lorraine Ali and Raina Kelley interview an African-American woman named Gernisha Myers. Gernisha is not only an African-American, but she also represents one of the largest groups of surrogate mothers in the United States: military wives.Gernisha was looking for a job and saw an ad willing to pay at least $20,000 dollars. This was $10,000 more than what the infamous, Anna Johnson, received. Johnson was hired to be a surrogate mother in the Calvert vs. Johnson case (5 Cal.4th 84, 851 P.2d 776 (1993). Johnson agreed to carry a child for the Calverts using in vitro fertilization. Johnson wanted the courts to declare her as the baby’s mother. However, the court held that the Calverts were the legal parents of the child.

Gernisha was seeking a job that would allow her to stay at home and make money while raising her two boys. As I expected, her immediate family was appalled. Her grandmother was quoted as saying, “Gernisha! We just do not do that in our family.” And her uncle said, “He was disgusted.” However, Myers tuned her family out, believing her primary focus should be on the help she would provide the infertile couple. And of course, there’s the money: “Military wives who do decide to become surrogates can earn more with one pregnancy than their husbands' annual base pay (which ranges for new enlistees from $16,080 to $28,900).”(Ali 2008). When Myers was interviewed for the Newsweek article, she was pregnant with twins for a white couple living in Germany. I guess she got to double her price, from $20,000 to $40,000! Not bad for nine months of work.

I’ve read about a few older African-American women who were surrogates for their daughters. But I supposed as the economy continues to spiral down, there will be more African-American women who won’t be hindered by American History of black women and their bodies, but will be more influenced by, “Is the price right?”

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