There’s a recent upwards swing in the sheer amount of shows that feature infertility struggles or surrogacy as a plot device. In the past five years, shows like Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Little Fires Everywhere, and Roseanne have all depicted journeys with infertility as attention-grabbing storylines. And while it’s true that surrogacy is exciting, and emotional, and relatively recent (so that the plots of these series feels relevant) — there’s also a lot that these shows get incorrect about the surrogacy process.
In the revival of Roseanne, character Andrea, who is a middle-class married woman, asks another character, Becky, to serve as a surrogate. Becky is a poor waitress who ends up lying about her age and family history to make herself more appealing as a surrogate. There’s a couple issues with this narrative, though: first, while there is a financial aspect to surrogacy, it’s never the only reason women become surrogates. And second, surrogates go through an extraordinarily detailed screening process when working with agencies, something that Roseanne never touches on.
The surrogate screening process is intense for reputable surrogacy agencies, and that’s by design: like any pregnancy, surrogacy can be rewarding but complex. Agencies want to make sure that the women they work with are physically and psychologically ready to carry someone else’s child. (For reference, our surrogates undergo a background check, psychological screening, and a comprehensive medical review before we begin our work with them. They’ve also got access to medical and psychological care throughout their entire surrogacy process.) No reputable surrogacy agency would accept a surrogate whose primary reason for becoming a surrogate was money: and overwhelmingly, the women who choose to become surrogates do so because they deeply care about individuals and couples struggling with infertility.
So what does Roseanne get right about surrogacy? Well, in Roseanne’s case, Becky is offering to be a traditional surrogate (the same, by the way, is true in Little Fires Everywhere.) Gestational surrogacy, as opposed to traditional surrogacy, means that there’s no biological relation between the surrogate and the intended parents of the baby she’s carrying. Rosanne is right that traditional surrogacy can sometimes create an extra degree of risk, especially because traditional surrogacy is so often uncontracted. Surrogacy agencies use only gestational surrogacy when working with parents because it adds an extra degree of protection for all parties involved. If Roseanne did one thing right with this plot, it was highlighting the need for surrogacy agencies in order to help protect both surrogates and intended parents, who otherwise may enter into negative non-contractual surrogacy experiences.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, like any good plot device on television, depictions of surrogacy can be dramatized to elicit emotions from their audience. And it makes sense: what’s more soapy than baby drama? But what’s true in these stories is that a good surrogacy agency — one that understands the complex laws surrounding surrogacy, which vary by state, and one that offers fair and compassionate care to all parties involved — can sometimes make all the difference during a surrogacy journey.