A few months ago, Julia Baird, the editor who oversees our science and family coverage, kept coming across stories about Americans (and Brits) going to India to look for surrogates—stories that were prompting angry online debates about the ethics of outsourcing childbearing to the developing world. It was all very interesting, Julia says, "but I kept wondering why no one was talking about the women in this country who enter commercial arrangements to carry other people's babies. The thought of going through childbirth and nine months of pregnancy for someone else seems astonishing for anyone who has been through it themselves. Sure, it's a joyful, miraculous process—but it is not easy. It can be uncomfortable, painful, restricting and traumatic as well as uplifting and curiously magical. So I was puzzled: who would do this? And why?"
The great thing about journalism is that we get paid to go in search of answers to the questions that interest us. And so we launched a reporting project to find out what we could about the small but fascinating world of surrogacy. The result is this week's cover, written by Lorraine Ali and Raina Kelley with additional reporting from Jeneen Interlandi and Daniel Stone. Raina, who is in her second trimester, says that "it was truly strange working on this story while pregnant. The knowledge made intended parents nervous and defensive (though it did help them to open up regarding their own fertility struggles, all of which were nightmarish)."
Along the way we discovered what are called—and they love the term, treating it as an inside joke—"military carriers": the wives of American servicemen who bear children for others. "I would never have imagined that one of the most disciplined, conservative and straitlaced slices of our society would be involved in one of the most unconventional—and contested—methods of achieving family," says Lorraine. "But in the military-housing complexes surrounding San Diego's bases, the wives of corpsmen and Navy petty officers told me their decision to become surrogates was largely based on the same ideals that brought their husbands to the military—that of sacrificing oneself for the greater good of others. The money also helps, they said, which made sense, considering they're trying to raise kids on salaries that start at $16,080."
The idea of surrogacy makes many people uncomfortable—some conservatives find it unnatural, some liberals say it exploits women—but our reporting destroyed a lot of popular preconceptions. "What amazed me about this story was the kindness of many of the women involved, the sense of empowerment, daring and duty, and the fact that for many, the greatest satisfaction—delight, even—came from giving a child to those unable to carry or deliver them themselves," says Julia. "They defy stereotypes and, in some cases, can transform what appears to be a commercial transaction into something almost sisterly, or altruistic."
One of the military wives Lorraine spent time with, 29-year-old Christina Slason, lives in San Diego. Photos of her husband, Joseph, helping a wounded soldier during the invasion of Baghdad, hung in the entryway alongside pictures of their three children. "Slason is a stoic woman," Lorraine says. "But when she told me she couldn't imagine being unable to have kids—how incomplete life would be—she teared up. She felt a great responsibility toward the couple she was carrying for—a same-sex male couple from Mexico City."
As you will see, the numbers are relatively small, but the issues raised are enormous, and we think you will be glad that Julia got curious.