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Socially acceptable human trafficking

A Kardashian brings the reality of surrogacy to light

Khloe Kardashian attends a gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2022, in New York. Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/Associated Press

Socially acceptable human trafficking
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Surrogacy is back in the news and one celebrity’s personal honesty is making headlines. Last year, Khloe Kardashian welcomed her second child via surrogate and she recently admitted how “transactional” it felt to collect her baby like a purchase order upon arrival.

Though the baby was biologically Kardashian’s, the disconnection was palpable, putting her in what she called a “state of shock.” 

“When I went to the hospital, that was the first time it really registered,” said Kardashian, “It has nothing to do with the baby."

Her last line is key to the moral and ethical problems with surrogacy. In every surrogate pregnancy, a child’s interests are set aside in favor of an adult’s desires. Even when a baby is the biological offspring of non-gestational parents, the birth mother’s body is the only world the child has known and that fact is critical in those first few weeks.

Research shows that a baby’s first attachment bond is formed in the womb, where the child becomes familiar with and partial to a mother’s scents, sounds and soothing. Even puppies aren’t allowed to be adopted for six weeks, precisely because they need to develop near their mother after delivery. “Early maternal separation can result in a series of traumatic emotional reactions,” says research from Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Thus, tearing a newborn away from his birth mother immediately induces trauma with potential long-term effects on well-being. The most rapid and important changes in a child’s brain development happen in these early months.

Brain imaging studies done on infants reveal evidence of structural and functional changes in infants separated from parents. Infant brains double in the span of one year, and every imprint of unnatural attachment can corrupt that healthy growth. 

Parents are left wondering how all this will affect their relationships with their children as well. In 2018, actress Gabrielle Union used a surrogate to have her child. She later wondered if her daughter “would love me more if I had carried her” and if their bond would be lessened because she didn’t. 

The possibilities of technology have clouded the moral vision of even some who consider themselves Christians.  

That may or may not be the case, but a birth mother—whether surrogate or biological—will always be foundational. In the past, when couples frequently lied to children about their biological beginnings in these situations, the truth was a brutal reality when it emerged. There now exist donor-conceived support groups and “misattributed parentage” counselors for those who discovered they weren’t who they thought they were.

Though surrogate parents today might not hide the facts from their kids, children can still harbor deep attachment and identity issues as they grow. Babies don’t stay babies, but when you want one, it’s hard to remember that. Unfortunately, most parents who seek surrogacy don’t realize the consequences—and no one in Big Fertility is rushing to inform them. 

Surrogacy can cost $100,000 to $225,000, according to some estimates. Kardashian was unprepared for the disconnection with her baby because people don’t talk openly about it. It would be bad business for a surrogacy agency to offer warnings about such things, wouldn’t it?

The money itself is also an ethical issue. Women may not be forced to become surrogate mothers (as in The Handmaid’s Tale), but many of them are from low-income families. Surrogates can be paid a significant amount of money for the use of their bodies. 

There’s a reason organ trafficking is illegal. Surrogate birthing is even worse for it’s literal human trafficking that exploits vulnerable women and disregards the sacred nature of human need. 

God created biological families to raise children in attachment, safety, and security. In a fallen world, biological families are often separated and adoption or foster care is necessary. As Christians, we are called to love and support people in these situations.

It is entirely different, however, for someone to pre-emptively and purposely create a child while knowing that the child will face a significant risk of trauma in his or her future. Yet, the possibilities of technology have clouded the moral vision of even some who consider themselves Christians. 

When I speak about this issue publicly, the pushback is always how difficult infertility is for adults. While this is a tough situation, adult disappointments don’t relieve anyone from moral or ethical imperatives. 

The Kardashians may not be known as exemplars of morality, but Khloe’s honesty about surrogacy sends a clear moral message.

Ericka Andersen

Ericka Andersen is a freelance writer and mother of two living in Indianapolis. She is the author of Leaving Cloud 9 and Reason to Return: Why Women Need the Church & the Church Needs Women. Ericka hosts the Worth Your Time podcast. She has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Christianity Today, USA Today, and more.

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