Until You’re in Their Place, Don't Judge the Women Who Turn to Surrogacy

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Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli speaks at a conference in Sde Boker, in July.

Two or three years ago I was still a kind of Merav Michaeli. I described myself as a non-parent and I was vehemently opposed to surrogacy. At the time it was still possible to undergo the process in developing nations, and the thought that a poverty-stricken woman would carry the baby of a Western couple in her womb for nine months seemed totally wrong to me. Since then, the number of countries where one can bring a child into the world through surrogacy has shrunk, and the process has become expensive and exclusive.

This week Michaeli and her partner Lior Schleien revealed the fact that they had brought a child into the world with the help of an American surrogate named Kelsey, and were harshly criticized, with the claim that Michaeli had betrayed her values. Surrogacy is a complex issue that certainly contains a certain element of exploitation. But most of those who are criticizing her are ignoring the fact that every component of the contemporary consumer world – shoes, clothing, electrical appliances, cellphones and some of our food – includes an element of exploitation.

It’s almost impossible to have a discussion with an opponent of surrogacy because you will be immediately be accused of “support for trafficking in organs.” But most of the women who are criticizing Michaeli already have children that they gave birth to themselves, or their ability to conceive has not been extremely compromised, and they forget that women who choose surrogacy are unfortunate women. In the best case, they missed the boat, decided to have children at a late age and had no success after several rounds of egg retrieval.

Did those who claim that surrogacy is organ trafficking undergo egg retrieval? And if so, how many rounds? Ten? Twenty? Years of hormone injections? In the worst case, these are women who cannot bring children into the world for health reasons – from congenital infertility to cancer treatments – and are unable to give birth because of past or ongoing treatments. Treatments for leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer and cancers of the digestive tract suppress and even destroy the reproductive system, temporarily or permanently.

Many women today undergo a process of fertility preservation before the treatments, but the process is not always successful, and a woman cannot always conceive after cancer.

Half a year ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After the diagnosis I was sent for a consultation with a fertility expert at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer (something that wasn’t done in the past). When I came in, I claimed that I don’t want children, but I left with a prescription for hormone injections, and even before the surgery to remove the tumor, I underwent a fertility preservation process that would ensure my option of being a mother in the future, if I so desire. I will note that this process was one of the most traumatic stages in the treatment of cancer.

One of the treatments I started on after my recovery was preventive hormone therapy. As long as I am on it, I can’t conceive. It’s not clear at the moment whether I’ll ever be pregnant, nor have I decided yet if I want to be a mother, but I joined a Facebook group that includes hundreds of women who are suffering from cancer or have recovered, and dream of bringing children into the world. Some will never be able to conceive – because they had uterine cancer, because their fertility was permanently damaged, because they have cancerous tumors in their digestive system, and the list goes on.

In light of all the accusations against women who turn to surrogacy – even altruistic surrogates – and first and foremost, the accusation that they are trafficking in organs or in women, I wonder: Does someone who has undergone chemotherapy, difficult operations, someone who has lost her breasts, her uterus, her femininity – have to absorb such accusations?

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