SurrogacyIndia’s focus is in fertility, not infertility. Making babies, is possible. ‘Possible’ is what we believe in.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Radio: The old-fashioned worries of modern parenting

She needs a mother for life, not just for nine months. As an argument against same-sex marriage, the poster that so described surrogacy during the referendum campaign was a particularly spurious red herring. But as a slogan it was undeniably memorable, playing on the misapprehensions that surround the practice of surrogacy, albeit egregiously. It’s a shame, then, that Documentary on One: Seven Years and Nine Months (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday) is being broadcast only now.

Mary-Elaine Tynan’s portrait of an Irish couple’s efforts to have a child with a surrogate mother has an empathetic clarity that dispels much of the confusion about the practice, not least the specious notion that surrogacy is an exclusive lifestyle choice for same-sex partnerships – the documentary’s subjects, Rachel and Daniel, are heterosexual. The programme also punctures the idea that surrogacy is a path taken on a whim. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about surrogacy, if not the ones posited by the No campaign.

With Rachel unable to get pregnant, and having tried IVF and the adoption system for seven years, to no avail, she and her husband decide to pay another woman to carry their child. (The total fee for the procedure is about €80,000.) Far from being the surrogate stereotype of a desperate third-world woman, Carolyn is a married mother of three from Boston, “educated and comfortable”, who has no genetic link to the baby, with the egg coming from another donor. (The sperm is Daniel’s.)

But these ethical and clinical safeguards offer little insulation from emotional and physical turmoil. Carolyn frets that she has let down Rachel and Daniel when the first attempt at fertilisation fails. When the second attempt ends in miscarriage Carolyn is, to use Rachel’s phrase, borderline hysterical. After Carolyn becomes pregnant again the uncertainty is increased by her lapses in communication, ensuring that an already sensitive transatlantic arrangement becomes even trickier.

Tynan nicely captures these tensions. Seeing pregnant women in a maternity shop, Rachel says she feels like a fraud. Carolyn, meanwhile, expresses regret that she won’t see the baby grow up. The birth itself is, as Tynan comments, “a strange situation”, with the couple joining Carolyn in her Boston hospital room to give encouragement.

When Carolyn has to finally hand over the baby – a girl named Zoe – she clearly struggles. “She held her just that little bit too tight for a little bit too long,” remarks Rachel, who finds herself upset but also a bit cross at the sight. The couple then have to obtain a US passport for Zoe’s journey back rather than risk possibly awkward questions from the Irish Embassy about the baby’s birth mother, underling the legal ambivalence surrounding surrogacy here.

Even back home, Rachel says, it was three months before she bonded fully with Zoe, adding that she can still feel a twang of panic. Having two mothers clearly isn’t without problems, if not in the way opponents of same-sex marriage would have it.

For all that, it’s a compelling story, and timely too. In an age when fewer and fewer families follow traditional lines, the documentary highlights the challenges faced by all parents, whatever their biological connections to their children, or indeed their gender or sexuality. It also reveals the anxiety involved in such parental arrangements, in contrast to the impulsive behaviour that can kick-start so-called natural families.

Even so, women who want a family should surrender to those primal urges, ideally at an early age. That at least seems to be the opinion of Prof Fionnuala McAuliffe, of the National Maternity Hospital, who tells Breakfast (Newstalk, weekdays) that women should “avoid starting a family too late” to avoid problems of infertility. Whatever the appropriateness of this advice for would-be mothers, it’s a godsend for sixtysomething talkshow hosts in search of readymade controversy, as proved by Tuesday’s edition of The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays). Kenny invites the columnist Brenda Power to discuss the matter, with predictable but entertaining results. The message such advice sends to young women, Power says, is to “forget your brain . . . you’re basically a uterus on legs”. Meanwhile, men are effectively being told that women over 30 are “past their sell-by date”.

While McAuliffe is worried about the potential difficulties faced by older women who have to seek pregnancy by IVF, Power sees such procedures as paths to freedom. The freezing of eggs, she says, is on a par with formula milk and the contraceptive pill as a “liberator of women”.

It’s such a stirring call to arms that Kenny also gets into the swing of it. With characteristically leaden wit he imagines an encounter between thirtysomethings in a nightclub of the future. “ ‘Do you have frozen eggs?’ ‘Do you have frozen sperm?’ ‘Let’s do it, baby,’ ” chuckles the host, who clearly missed his calling as a smooth-talking Casanova.

Kenny later talks to Prof Robert Harrison, formerly of the Rotunda Hospital, who says that Power’s views trivialise the difficult process of freezing eggs. Kenny dutifully listens, but it’s a much less sparky exchange. The discussion may not resolve when or how it is best to have a child, but it proves that, as with starting a family, hatching on-air controversy often needs careful planning.

Moment of the Week: Tactful Tubridy
In the wake of the disaster in Berkeley that ended so many young Irish lives, Ryan Tubridy (2FM, weekdays) tries to comprehend its enormity. As a huge fan of the US, he imagines being a student having the whole “J-1 experience”, enjoying the promise and freedom of “being in that great country . . . Then you have a party, and you go on the balcony . . . and it all goes black.” Musing about the injured survivors, Tubridy tells listeners that “if you’re the praying sort, now’s the time”. It’s emotive, even a bit embarrassing. But in contrast to the mean-minded coverage in the likes of the New York Times, it’s also utterly right.


No comments: