Hosting the others’ child? Relational work and embodied responsibility in altruistic surrogate motherhood

Feminist Theory 18 (2):159-175 (2017)
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Abstract

Studies on surrogate motherhood have mostly explored paid arrangements through the lens of a contract model, as clinical work or as a maternal identity-building project. Turning to the under-examined case of unpaid, so-called altruistic surrogate motherhood and based on an analysis of interviews with women who had been unpaid surrogate mothers in a full gestational surrogacy with a friend or relative in Canada, the United States or Australia, this article explores altruistic surrogate motherhood as relational work. It argues that this form of surrogate motherhood within close interpersonal relations can be conceptualised through the relational work involved in hosting a child for the intended parents. The article explores how relational work in this context implies an embodied, asymmetrical and far-reaching sense of responsibility that surrogate mothers describe as characteristic of their surrogacy experience. In this way, the article sheds light on feminist concerns about surrogacy as an embodied and objectifying work of women while at the same time illuminating how surrogate mothers respond to the intended parents in light of their pre-surrogacy relationship, how meanings are negotiated by them and how relationships are managed during the pregnancy.

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