Conrad Cean, an American doctor, decided to take his reproductive options into his own hands and have babies via a surrogate. After recognizing he may not find “Miss Right” to settle down with, Cean traveled between countries to find women to carry his children for him and after spending about $300,000 in total to do so, had two beautiful twins — a boy and a girl. Cean lost tens of thousands of dollars on multiple surrogate pregnancies that failed, until one woman made his dreams of fatherhood come true.
There are many favorable elements to this tale. All people have the right to their own reproduction and society is making it easier to make more options available to individuals who don’t find themselves in the “perfect predicament” to exercise those rights. Not to mention, it is really nice to see press coverage of a Black man who sacrificed finances to become a single father, a counter narrative to the “dead beat Black father” narrative that is often pervasive in American society.
Suffice it to say, I am really all for this man’s choice and his happiness.
There is only one particular element of this story that really rubs me the wrong way. The fact that surrogacy seems exploitative of poor third world women of color. When explaining why Cean didn’t use an American surrogacy agency, he said:
“I contacted a few surrogacy agencies in the US to start, but hated how lawyer-driven it was. I wanted to be able to talk to the OB-GYNs directly about the surrogate’s pregnancy and the birth. Having lawyers as middlemen seemed like an expensive inconvenience.
I found that overseas doctors were more amenable to this, so I started looking outside the country. I also knew that if I paid a woman $30,000 to carry a baby for me in a place like India or Colombia, that kind of money could really change her life. I liked the idea of helping someone buy a house and maybe putting her kids through school.”
Many people go overseas to escape American bureaucracy and get all sorts of medical procedures done for cheaper — that isn’t what I take issue with at all. It is that $30,000 to carry a baby number that really gets me. What the hell kind of wage is that for carrying a baby 24hrs a day for 9 months out of a year? That is roughly $4.63/hour. And in the case of Conrad Cean, his surrogate was a college-educated Panamanian woman. Although the minimum wage in Panama is exceptionally low, about $416 a month, the minimum wage for college-educated Panamanians exceeds that starting at $700 a month and with experience, such an individual can make an upwards of $1,500-$2,000 depending on the industry.
This means that Conrad Cean paid a woman below the wage she should have been expecting with a college education. A wage almost on par with the minimum wage that is pretty ridiculously low. And I can’t really see that as empowering or life changing. Especially when one considers how invasive something like pregnancy is and the emotional impact of having a baby taken away from you, after carrying it for months on end.
Though I am all for individuals having the freedom to make their own reproductive decisions without restrictions, it is important that, that freedom does not exploit another. As first-world people, it is far too easy to become complicit in such exploitation of those from less economically advantaged countries. We have to talk about and explore these realities if we are committed to empowering all women of the world.