I watched a lot of TV during the late 80s and early 90s. I remember gathering with my family around the TV to watch our favorite sitcoms, and Roseanne was a staple in our TV diet. I loved the realistic way the show portrayed family life. I appreciated that the show typically didn’t sugar-coat the struggles the Conners faced as a family – from financial issues, raising kids and everything else a working-class family faces in their day to day life. And it was pretty darn funny too.
So, I was very excited when I learned Roseanne was going to be revived and include all the original cast members. I could only think of one issue with that premise – the original show had used two actresses in the role of Roseanne’s daughter, Becky. How would they write that storyline?
As a surrogacy professional, I was excited to learn that problem would be solved by incorporating a storyline about surrogacy. Basically, the show is using one of the actresses (“new” Becky) to play a middle-class married woman named Andrea who hires (“old”) Becky to serve as her surrogate. I was excited about this because I viewed it as an opportunity to bring the topic of surrogacy to a wide audience and hopefully help more people understand how and why it happens.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. While I expected some humor and even irreverence around the subject, I was disappointed and concerned that they got it completely wrong about surrogacy. Becky is a cash-strapped waitress who is utilizing surrogacy to gain financial independence. She is taking on the role of a Traditional Surrogate and lying about her age and family history so that her Intended Mother will accept her. Let’s break down all of the issues with this picture:
- Financial motivation – While there certainly is a financial component to surrogacy, it can NEVER be allowed to be the primary motivator. A qualified surrogate should be motivated to enable the gift of parenthood for someone else and have empathy for those who cannot carry their own child. A reputable agency would disqualify a surrogate who only wanted financial gain. This is one reason why surrogates are required to have a thorough screening by a mental health professional to review her motivations and be sure she understands all of the risks before proceeding with surrogacy.
- Traditional Surrogacy – Becky is portrayed as a traditional surrogate. In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate contributes her own egg and therefore has a biological connection to the child. While traditional surrogacy does happen, it is far less common than gestational surrogacy. In gestational surrogacy, the woman carrying the child has no genetic link to the child. Further, the show is set in Illinois, which does not offer legal protections for traditional surrogacy. Finally, the show insinuated that Becky, as a traditional surrogate, would “have sex” with the Intended Father to create the embryo, which is not surrogacy at all.
- Lies, lies, lies – Becky told the Intended Mother that she was 33, instead of her real age of 43. She was also trying to hide things in her family history so the Intended Mother wouldn’t find out. There are so many things wrong with this. First of all, a surrogate could never “fake” her way through to surrogacy. Agencies and Fertility clinics conduct a thorough screening of every surrogate. This includes criminal background checks, medical records reviews, psychological evaluation, social security traces and more.
I shouldn’t be surprised; the media almost never paints surrogacy in a positive light or portrays it accurately. But I will keep hoping and doing my best as a professional in the field to adhere to the highest ethical standards and educate all of those I reach about why surrogacy is a beautiful gift.