Why We Are Right to be Troubled by Commercial Surrogacy

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“Birth tourism is so passé!” said Juan “Qiqi” Qi, who was running a “maternity hotel” in her family’s home in Southern California. (A “maternity hotel” is a place where pregnant women from other countries come to stay until giving birth so their children can be American citizens.) “I’m getting into surrogacy,” she told Leslie Tai, a filmmaker friend she’d met through her hotel business. And she started Good IVF. 

Through Good IVF, Qiqi matches IPs in China (IPs are “Intended Parents”) with doctors and surrogates in America. With the Chinese economy transitioning (sort of) from communism to capitalism, some Chinese are coming into new wealth. Combined with the loosening of China’s one-child policy and liberal California state laws regarding surrogacy (illegal in most countries, including China, but fully protected in California), Qiqi found her adopted home state to be the prime location from which to operate an IP-surrogate agency. Fees for IPs can run upwards of $200,000, but Qiqi’s sales pitch reassures clients. “American bodies are big and strong, better suited for childbirth. And if you choose a dark-skinned surrogate, don’t worry — your baby’s skin will still be white as snow.” (If social justice warriors want evidence of actual racism, Qiqi might qualify, but that’s another matter.)

Qiqi’s business is booming, but she decided to go beyond just facilitating transactions.  She hired a surrogate herself and chronicled the whole process online. Her husband Michael was “flabbergasted” by the idea, but Qiqi maintains she’s a “badass.” 

She livestreamed parts of the journey and posted photos to her 420,000 social media followers in China while Leslie captured everything on film – interviewing and choosing a surrogate; fertility shots for both Qiqi and Kelsee, the surrogate; egg retrieval, transfer, and implantation; all the way up to the child’s birth eight months later. “Make me look beautiful,” Qiqi chirped to Michael as he filmed her first doctor visit. 

The journey culminated when Qiqi and family traveled to Iowa for the birth. “Wow, this hospital is so pretty,” she said, narrating her arrival for viewers. “I’ll take a picture of the hospital name. This is where my son was born.”

Interestingly, the carefree, narcissistic persona fell away after she witnessed, third person, the birth of her IVF-generated son. She wept as he was placed, crying those first little cries, in Kelsee’s arms. He quieted down but started back up when he was transferred to Qiqi. “Don’t cry, baby, Mama’s here. Mama loves you the most, my baby,” she said. Then continued, “I’m so sorry, my good boy. Mama didn’t love you enough.” 

What Qiqi meant by, “Mama didn’t love you enough” is anybody’s guess. Leslie’s film, which was featured in a New York Times Opinion documentary (Op-Doc), skips from the hospital to Qiqi showing a photo album to prospective clients. “This is our surrogate who looks like a superstar.”

Leslie said she made the film to present China’s ravenous consumer appetite as a parody of American capitalist consumerism. She said Americans feel a “deep unease” with newfound Chinese spending power. Maybe she’s right about that, maybe not. But what we should all feel a deep unease about is the crass, commercial production, buying, and selling of human life. If life is sacred, that’s abhorrent on its own, but Qiqi’s turning it into an online marketing drama catapults the unease factor into the stratosphere. Or, at least it should.

As a mom myself, I’ve no doubt Qiqi loves her new son. But people who intend to be parents will always love their children best by keeping the child production in house. Love never commercializes children into commodities to serve the interests of adults.

is a freelance writer and blogger on apologetics and matters of faith.
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