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Motherhood deals risk deeper anguish

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Thursday, 30 November 2006

How do you critique Australia’s latest surrogacy case without looking heartless?  A politician and his wife are now the happy parents of a baby girl, born on November 6. Of course, no one begrudges her birth.

But the surrogacy arrangements raise serious questions which have to be faced.

The first is the fragmentation of motherhood, with a genetic mother supplying the egg that was fertilised, the gestational mother who carried the baby in her womb and the parental mother who will raise the child.


Children born this way can suffer genealogical bewilderment and the confusion of not being raised by their birth mother, of having been conceived to be relinquished.

Surrogacy views women as disposable uteruses, merely containers, suitcases or public utilities for someone else’s babies.

On the Australia Talks Back program on ABC Radio National, November 9, Canberra IVF specialist Martyn Stafford-Bell, who facilitates up to nine surrogacy arrangements a year, said “gestational carrier pregnancy” was the preferred term to describe a surrogate mother.

Stafford-Bell said surrogacy was a good solution for women “unable to house a pregnancy”. He said that a woman carrying a child with no genetic connection understood, “this is not her child, that she is, in fact, an incubator”.

This dismantling of motherhood sees no essential bond between a woman and the baby she carries under her heart for nine months. There is nothing of significance in the fact that the baby knows his or her mother’s voice, that it is her blood and the nutrients it carries that causes the baby’s body to grow, that it is her body which experiences the movements of the baby and which eventually delivers it to the world.

As Australia Talks Back caller “Suzanne” from the Blue Mountains said, “You can’t just erase the mother”.


Many surrogate mothers have described the strain of having to distance themselves from their child. Canberra surrogate mother Donna Hill, who experienced a toxaemic pregnancy followed by a traumatic induced labour which she hoped to forget, said, “ I told myself I was just an incubator … I was just going into an operation and not giving birth.”

Sydney surrogate mother Shona Ryan told a conference in Canberra: “I had to forget I was pregnant. There was not the same joy and wonderment.

“In some ways I felt sorry for this baby that it didn’t receive the same attention [as my others]. I had to deny the pleasures of pregnancy.”

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This is an expanded version of an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, November 8, 2006.

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About the Author

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation ( Melinda blogs at

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