Last week, 51-year-old Naomi Campbell announced to the world that a beautiful blessing had chosen Campbell to be her mother. Rumors of everything from adoption to IVF to surrogacy (as if it is any of our business) are swirling, but bring back into the spotlight a bigger issue surrounding surrogate motherhood. Is it giving the gift of life to another mother or is it modern-day human trafficking and baby-selling? The line between the two camps is thin but firm.

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When Naomi Campbell announced on Instagram that she was a mom to a beautiful little blessing that chose her, the world went wild with reports of Campbell carrying herself (?) to adoption to surrogacy. All signs, including those by 'friends' of hers point to surrogacy.

In the United States, surrogate motherhood is a given as an option for families looking to build their family. An expensive option, but option nonetheless. In fact, the global view of the United States's surrogacy laws and 'opportunity' is that we are one of the most liberal destinations for 'commercial surrogacy.'

Yes, commercial surrogacy. Did you even know there was such a thing?

Many mothers give the beautiful gift of family to another struggling mother through surrogacy in the United States. Sometimes, it's quite profitable. Others it's truly friend-to-friend connection where one mom is helping another mom-to-be out. Laws on the legality of who is a biological parent vs. gestational carrier vs. birth mom, etc. vary from state to state, but in general, the world views the United States as a place one can come to find the gift of parenthood through surrogacy.

If you have the money to do so, that is. It's a well-known fact that stars like Kim Kardashian, Sarah Jessica Parker and Lucy Liu chose surrogate mothers for various reasons--including Liu saying she was just too busy to be pregnant herself.

The little known fact in the US, though, is that many countries outlaw surrogacy. In major ways. Why would a country ban surrogacy? Several reasons, actually.

Commercial Surrogacy?

It's true that many come to the United States for our lax laws on surrogate parenthood. Reproductive tourism is a real thing, and many parents-to-be who are desperate to build their families turn to countries like ours. Or Russia. Or Ukraine.

But many countries--most in the European Union, Sweden, Iceland, Portugal, Finland and more--ban surrogacy. Why?

Well, because sadly there is a culture of desperation that leads people looking to build their families to do so in ways that come awfully close to 'baby-making' businesses. In some of those countries, waivers can be given for couples who can prove they cannot biologically have children of their own, but for many residents of those countries seeking surrogate arrangements?

They travel.

And what's been particularly terrible is the COVID-19 pandemic and the ramifications that travel restrictions have had for dozens of newborns in Ukraine.

According to an article for NewEasternEurope, the COVID-19 restrictions for travel from and to Ukraine (as well as pretty much any other place in the world) meant that over 100 newborn babies--the 'products' of surrogate contracts with hundreds of parents worldwide--were 'stuck'. The New York Times said that as many as 1000 babies could be born and 'stuck' in the restrictions, leaving parents helpless and newborn babies even MORE helpless. You've likely heard about what happens to babies in orphanages where there is no possible way to give the individual needed attention to each and every newborn there--critics of surrogacy and reproductive tourism in general are claiming this is a perfect example of how that can happen to these very 'much wanted' babies as well.

And while it may not (or may?) be an 'industry' in the United States, it's clear that it looks an awful lot like one in Ukraine. Polish journalists investigated a surge of Ukraine women crossing the border to private Polish clinics in light of COVID-19 restrictions that may not let intended parents connect with their babies. They found that many of the 'girls' show up at private clinics with no medical records and no indications they're carrying for themselves. In fact, Jakub Korus is a Polish journalist who was mentioned in the above article and said that many of the surrogates told him that the pregnancies were supervised by clinics in Kyiv (Ukraine) and many were IVF. They had 'translators' who guarded the Ukranian women and followed them everywhere and were even allowed to be in the delivery room--making them look more like a middleman in a transaction.

For these women, after a 2-3 day stay in the hospital, 'biological' parents waiting in Warsaw would pick their children up. While the hospital is supposed to give parents 21 days to register their children, authorities don't check to see who is registered and no one keeps track of whether the actual birthing woman is listed as a parent or not. Bilogical parents then can take the baby and leave the country with no checks becuase of EU border rules.

And because surrogacy is forbidden in Poland, there's no legislation to address Ukraine 'fixing' their surrogacy problem in Poland.

There's literally no judicial control in what happens to the child.

As if this isn't problem enough--there's the issue of exploiting impoverished women. The average 'salary' of a surrogate in Ukraine is $15,000 (USD). The average physician makes about $6,200 (USD) where a chemical engineer may make $20,000 (USD). For an impoverished young woman in a former Soviet country? The lure of 'baby carrying' is great. Yet for biological parents looking for a surrogate? They'll end up paying close to $50,000 or more in 'fees'. The concern about 'baby buying' and 'baby selling' is legit.

So what does all this mean? Should women no longer be able to offer this gift to other women? For many, it truly IS a gift and an act of incredible love and sacrifice for our fellow human.

For others? It may be the way they keep a roof over their heads and 'make someone happy' at the same time.

But when a human baby is a collateral in the middle? Particularly when the 'business' leaves innocent babies alone and parents heartbroken when the unexpected happens?

There's a lot of grey.


Photo: Kate Baklitskaya/New Eastern Europe