My Body, Their Baby | Grace Kao

My Body, Their Baby

The following is an excerpt from My Body, Their Baby by Grace Kao. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.

It was very late one fall evening. I had already been in the hospital for thirty-six hours and counting after having been admitted for a medically indicated induction. My husband had stationed himself behind my head, gently whispering words of reassurance. He could sense my alarm at how much my body was involuntarily shivering and shaking from the epidural, IV fluids, and labor hormones. Katie, the intended mother of the baby I had been carrying for thirty-eight and a half weeks, was standing to my left, nervously awaiting what was to unfold. Her husband, Steven, had not been permitted in the operating room given the two-guest limit. I could see in front of me a large curtain and several doctors and nurses scurrying about in surgical scrubs and masks. While months before, I had nearly spit out my drink during office hours when a graduate student recited John 15:13 upon learning of my surrogacy and thus compared me to Jesus (“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”), it wasn’t lost on me that I was now lying down on a T-shaped operating table with my arms outstretched and strapped down in what some nurses have called the “crucifix position.”

Of the many memories I have of the events surrounding my emergency C-section, one stands out above the rest: the moment when my ob/gyn pulled the baby out and we all heard her cry. I remember closing my eyes, releasing a fresh surge of tears from relief, joy, and exhaustion, and thinking silently to myself, “Hot damn, we did this.” I also remember sensing my doctor’s hesitation as he held the baby girl and slowly moved toward me. He seemed uncertain— or perhaps he had simply forgotten—to whom he should give her: my friend (Katie) or me (her surrogate). So I quickly exclaimed “Katie! Give the baby to Katie!” and then uncharacteristically stuttered “K-K-Katie, hold your baby!” to end the confusion by barking out orders of what was to be done. As my unconventional pregnancy came to an end, so did Katie and Steven’s ten-year saga of involuntary childlessness.

I know from personal experience and my work as an ethicist that surrogacy as a way of bringing children into the world is not something the public feels indifferent about. Some people marvel at what modern medicine makes possible while others are aghast at this use of science to “play God.” Some people lavish praise on persons like me who become pregnant for others out of a desire to help them while other people feel pity and revulsion for anyone who would perform such metaphorical and literal labor for money. Some people sympathize with couples who cannot bear children of their own while others judge them for hiring surrogates to endure significant health risks on their behalf, when in those critics’ minds, such couples should “just adopt.”

While statistically the least common and most contested method of family expansion, surrogacy is nonetheless on the rise. Singles and couples who are involuntarily childless, facing secondary infertility, or in a same-sex relationship are increasingly commissioning others to bear children for them while many nations across the world are clamping down on the practice. But what explains this escalating usage and why are opponents agitating for tougher regulations or even total prohibitions on what critics have derisively called “outsourcing” pregnancy? How do surrogates like me actually feel about birthing babies for others and how do they and the children they bear ultimately fare?

With My Body, Their Baby, I help readers sort through these and other questions while advancing the moral permissibility—even moral good—of this reproductive technique when conducted under certain parameters. I intersperse reflections on the time I spent carrying and delivering a child for my friends, Katie and Steven, with the research amassed on other families expanded by “collaborative reproduction” to offer readers something more than an academic treatise on a contested topic. In the following pages, I offer my firsthand account and scholarly assessment of surrogate motherhood for anyone who has ever struggled with infertility, pondered what it would be like to hand over a baby to someone else to raise, or attempted to sort out the moral parameters of this “brave new world” of reproductive medicine.

Praise for My Body, Their Baby

“The world needs more scholars like Grace Kao. With thoughtful rigor and deeply human tenderness, she provides a faithful framework for understanding surrogacy. Her cogent, compassionate arguments illuminate a practice that is often consigned to the shadows, and her work shines with creativity, empathy, and care.”
Jeff Chu, author of Does Jesus Really Love Me?

“Drawing on her own experience both as a surrogate and a Christian theologian, Kao makes a powerful and rigorously argued Christian ethical case for surrogacy. An invaluable resource for parents, pastors, and all concerned with reproduction and its ethical implications.”
Susan A. Ross, Loyola University Chicago, author of Anthropology: Seeking Light and Beauty

“Kao’s descriptions of her experience as a surrogate succeed in bringing the moral arguments for and against surrogacy into sharper focus. This insightful book shows us how narratives shape our moral visions.”
Aline Kalbian, Florida State University, author of Sex, Violence, and Justice

“This book breaks the ice on Christian feminist reluctance to think about surrogacy. Painstakingly researched and accessibly written, it will not only inspire needed attention to surrogacy but also influence the whole landscape of Christian ethics of reproduction.”
Cristina Traina, Fordham University, author of Erotic Attunement

“Kao masterfully weaves together personal narrative, exploration of data, and engagement with scholarly sources in an accessible theology of surrogacy that is responsive to its complexities and generous to her interlocutors.”
Kendra G. Hotz, Rhodes College, author of Dust and Breath

“This book provides an expansive Christian vision for surrogacy that bravely probes complex social ethics questions surrounding it. Kao’s accessibly articulated and social justice-oriented guidelines offer a roadmap for decision-making that contributes fresh, thought-provoking analysis to feminist reproductive ethics.”
Traci C. West, Drew University Theological School, author of Solidarity and Defiant Spirituality

About the Author

Grace Kao

Grace Kao (she/her/hers) is a scholar, professor at Claremont School of Theology, and award-winning educator. For the past two decades, Dr. Kao has been writing, teaching, and speaking about feminism, progressive Christianity, human rights and human-animal relations, Asian America, and religion in politics in the U.S. A second generation Taiwanese American, Dr. Kao earned co-terminal BA/MA degrees in philosophy and religious studies from Stanford University and a PhD in religion from Harvard University. She lives in Southern California with her husband, their two teenage sons, and their pandemic cat and enjoys watching heartwarming animal stories in her free time. Read her detailed biography.

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