“Surrogacy is as old as the Bible,” one American surrogate mother tells her critical mother-in-law. “We’re just helping other people have babies. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Leslie Morgan Steiner seems mostly to agree. In her new book, “The Baby Chase,” Steiner tackles some of the legal, ethical, religious, and social thickets that arise when people use advanced reproductive technology, including the uterus of a stranger, to make a baby for themselves.
But while offering some acknowledgment to the controversies surrounding surrogacy, the author comes down firmly on the side of prospective parents who’ve found themselves out of medical options and stymied by adoption red tape. For them, “infertility can become an insurmountable, intensely personal, crushing” burden, one intensified by religious condemnation, social ignorance, and financial strain.
Steiner’s book tells the story of one such couple, Rhonda and Gerry Wile, whose quest for parenthood led them to one of India’s hundreds of surrogacy clinics, where women serve as surrogate mothers in exchange for life-changing money. Although Indian surrogates receive only a fraction of what their American counterparts do, their paycheck of around $5,000 is more than many Indian workers make in four years.
For the Mumbai slum-dweller who decides to serve as a “Special Woman” in the parlance of Surrogacy India, the arrangement is embarrassing, isolating, if potentially lucrative. Because one of the prerequisites for the job is to already have given birth, they are leaving behind their own young children when they move into the company’s building for the entire third trimester.
A thorough, sensitive reporter who gracefully narrates the stories of the Wiles, their doctors, and their surrogates, Steiner seems less adept at managing the scientific details — for example, frequently using “implant” in place of the more standard “transfer” when discussing the passage of embryos into a surrogate mother’s body. When she argues that gestational surrogacy is increasingly popular with prospective parents because the surrogate is “not biologically related” to their future baby — well, that can either seem like a fumbled attempt at the more accurate “genetically related” or it can remind you of the marketing materials for a burgeoning industry.
The occasional slide from journalism into a kind of advocacy is even more jarring; worse is Steiner’s apparent empathy gap. The Canadian-turned-American Wiles, a nurse and a firefighter, truly do sound lovely but their extremely sympathetic portrayal only makes Steiner’s treatment of surrogates — especially the Indian surrogates, women who come, we are repeatedly reminded, from a country with “too many babies” — more unsettling. What’s most attractive about gestational surrogacy, Steiner argues, is the way “the surrogate can vanish like chalk erased from a blackboard.”
By the time the Wiles decide to pursue parenthood via surrogacy in India, Steiner’s authorial vision has narrowed to such a degree that she describes the deadly 2008 attacks on the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel in Mumbai (which left 166 people dead) mostly in terms of “the pain of having their baby cradle invaded by terrorists.”
In the end, one wishes this book offered more of what its subtitle promises: how surrogacy may be transforming the American family (and the non-American families touched by it, for that matter). Why are so many American surrogate mothers (like the one quoted above) military wives, for instance? How and when do mothers and fathers raising their own genetic offspring talk to their children about having been part of a surrogate birth? “Infertility remains a cruel and unfair affliction,” Steiner writes; sadly, her focus on the pain felt by infertile couples edges out some of the bigger picture.
"Steiner (Crazy Love, 2009) overlays the story of Rhonda and Gerry Wile—an Arizona nurse and firefighter whose search for children led them to surrogate pregnancy—on an emotionally heightened, journalistic overview of infertility and the options available to prospective parents.
With the help of Surrogacy India, a commercial surrogacy agency, and a mother from a Mumbai slum, the Wiles became parents after discovering they could not have children on their own. Steiner alternates between the basics of their meeting, marriage and journey toward parenthood overseas with reproductive facts, explanations of traditional surrogacy (in which another woman’s egg and uterus are employed), in vitro fertilization and its early history, and gestational surrogacy (in which one woman’s egg is implanted in another’s womb). Noting barren women of the Bible as examples, as well as celebrities who have used IVF and surrogacy, Steiner appeals to a popular demographic to craft a personable account of the hope surrogacy can offer.
This well-intended effort is hindered by dramatic comparisons, such as the turmoil of infertility being likened to the pain felt by parents whose children have been kidnapped. In descriptions of Rhonda, purple prose intrudes, as when Steiner addresses her contemplation of her desire for children, scanning the horizon 'like a crime victim trying to recall an assailant’s features for the precinct sketch artist,' or when she learns of a neighbor's pregnancy and responds 'like a rabid coyote baring its teeth.'
Still, the author effectively touches on the complications of surrogacy—including its economic, legal, ethical, psychological, and societal ramifications—in clear, informative ways. She also offers insights on some of the controversies, from religious perspectives to the lack of coverage for surrogacy by many insurance companies.
A brisk account of one family's determination and of a burgeoning, international solution."
“In this gripping, compulsively readable story of romantic love and its dreadful underside, Leslie Morgan Steiner has written a classic. What makes love turn to violence? How can a woman know she is at risk? These are some of the questions elegantly addressed in Steiner’s important book about how she survived a marriage which almost killed her. Her painful journey from love to fear to sanity is ultimately heartening and serves a profound lesson. This book should be required reading for all women.”
-- Susan Cheever
“Crazy Love reminds us that sometimes a marriage can go from being a mere skirmish in the battle of the sexes to becoming a full-on physical war. The book stands as a warning to all women to be vigilant when they pick their spouses, to always have an exit strategy in mind, to know where the money in the marriage is, to pick up as much education as possible – all for the possible day when they may find themselves battered, broke, terrified and alone. It can happen to anyone, and every woman should prepare herself for it.”
-- Carolyn See, Making a Literary Life
"A harrowing cautionary tale that should be read by every woman who thinks romantic love can overcome all. I read this book in one terrifying gulp and plan to have my daughter read it. Every mother should do the same.”
-- Elsa Walsh, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of Divided Lives
“If you've ever read your daughter the story of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, you should make sure she knows the story Leslie Morgan Steiner tells in Crazy Love, too. This book is for every woman who's ever thought, "I can change him. He'll change for me"—and who hasn't thought that? Steiner's tale unfolds with all the harrowing inevitability of a horror movie, the kind where you watch the heroine start down the dark staircase to the basement with your heart pounding as you whisper, ‘No! Don't do it! Don't!’
That such a smart, kind, funny, vital woman could let herself be victimized this way seems almost unimaginable—and yet Steiner makes you understand how it came to pass, and even appreciate, with a sort of disgusted awe, how expertly her husband manipulates her aching insecurities and longing for that great big happily-ever-after love we learn about in fairy tales. That she comes out the other side is miraculous. That she's brave enough to tell this frank and brutal story is, too.”
-- Sandy Hingston, “Loco Parentis” columnist for Philadelphia Magazine and author of The Affair
“After a few moments of disbelief—how could a nice girl from a nice family marry such a cruel and dangerous man?—I found myself cheering for this woman who gets off the floor—literally—and goes on to save her own life. Crazy Love is a deeply affecting account of cruelty and abuse in a marriage doomed from the start. It is a reminder that while bad behavior can be explained it can never be excused, and that while placing blame is rarely useful, letting go is. Leslie Morgan Steiner’s candor is wrenching and ultimately inspiring.”
-- Jane Juska, author of Unaccompanied Women and A Round-Heeled Woman
"A smart, balanced view of this hot-button topic."
-- Child Magazine
"Ambition and attachment do battle in a book of fiercely honest essays...that has the ring of truth."
-- Oprah Magazine
“Ever wondered why women waste so much energy judging other women? Here is a collection of terrific essays, full of distilled female wisdom, that tell it like it is. I can’t think of a mother who wouldn’t enjoy this book.”
-- Allison Pearson, I Don't Know How She Does It
“Mommy Wars puts real women's voices to animate what is often a frenzied but ill-informed debate -- thus bringing the texture, warmth, hope and angst of real mommies -- and real wars -- to the table. Challenging and refreshing!”
-- Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth, Misconceptions, and The Treehouse
"It's never been an easy decision -- home or work -- and I've done both. Mommy Wars supports all our choices as moms and proves that love for our children guides us all."
-- Ann Hunter Greene, full-time mom of three kids ages 11, 8 and 6, Ann Arbor, Michigan
“When women make their real voices heard – as they do in this remarkable book – they make the truth more fascinating than any work of fiction. Mommy Wars is bound to become a classic, read and discussed for years to come.”
-- Gina Barreca, They Used to Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted and Babes in Boyland
“Mommy Wars is a riveting page turner that brings into sharp focus the issues which tear apart all mothers today. If you read any new book this season, let it be Mommy Wars.”
--Esther Wachs Book, Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman
From Child Magazine, What's Hot Now!
In the new anthology Mommy Wars (Random House) edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner, 26 moms, including novelists Susan Cheever and Jane Smiley, write candidly about working vs. at-home motherhood. Advance buzz: It's a smart, balanced view of this hot-button topic.
From Publishers Weekly
Mommy Wars: Stay-At-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families
Steiner, Leslie Morgan (Author)
Most of the women here, famous and otherwise, express a familiar guilt along with pride at how they make peace with their choices juggling motherhood and career. Some, like Harvard MBA Ann Misiaszek Sarnoff, have pursued a high-octane job while raising two kids; others have scaled back work or work at home in order to be with their kids all day. These mommies (most are upper-middle-class white mothers who've made careers out of writing in some form) almost without exception have solid, provider husbands, and nannies or full-time babysitters. Moms in similar situations stand to gain the most from the collection and will relish such gems as novelist Jane Smiley's "Feminism Meets the Free Market," where she notes, "Home was the refuge when the workplace drove us out," and PW editor-in-chief Sara Nelson's revelation, in "Working Mother, Not Guilty," that her career gives her 10-year-old "a sense that there's a whole world outside of our little family." Washington Post advertising director Steiner offers a valuable opportunity for discussing women's "inner catfight." In lieu of mud-slinging, she presents a reasonable and low-key forum for mutual understanding and respect.
From Elle Magazine
AWWF-sanctioned smack-down is promised by the title of Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families (Random House), a collection of 26 essays gathered and introduced by writer and editor Leslie Morgan Steiner. But the book doesn't deliver--and that's a good thing, because only clownish culture warriors can possibly believe anymore that One Best Way exists for America's mothers to arrange their lives. Indeed, though written by a cozy coven of well-to-do, even celebrated media types, these nuanced self-analyses yield a rich variety of lives against which women can gauge their own struggle to find that elusive dynamic equilibrium between work and family. On the evidence here, fairly few end up where they expected or intended. A bad run at work or a child with special needs may be a doorway to unlooked-for domestic tranquillity; more often, the ebb and flow of family circumstance dictates a converse lightening or renewal of career commitments. But the backgrounding of husbands in most of these renderings of home life suggest that women will win real equality only when men come to interrogate themselves, and the culture, about how to achieve a similar balance in their own lives.
Interviews & Opinions
relationship violence and 50 shades of grey
The washington post
He held a gun to my head. I loved him.
The Washington Post
"If The Baby Chase Were a Movie"
Campaign for the American Reader Blog
Psychology Today Baby Chase Blog
How To Build the Family of Your Dreams
NPR Interview with Leslie and Rhonda Wile
The Baby Chase From Arizona to India
The Baby Chase
The New Republic Review
the crazy love TED talk
the only ted talk by a relationship violence survivor
One Love video
Great video that shows what it is really like to be trapped in a domestic violence relationship -- and what it feels like to be trapped on the outside, wondering how to help.
national domestic violence hotline
NPR: Leslie and the Mocha Moms discussing Sex & The City: The Movie on Michel Martin's "Tell Me More."
Crazy Love and Mommy Wars are available at your favorite local and on-line bookstores. Click here to order from Amazon.
Read Philadelphia Magazine editor Sandy Hingston's "Mommy Wars" essay on Newsweek.com by clicking here.