Surrogacy and the Meaning of Care Work
This paper discusses surrogacy arrangements as a new form of intimate, emotional, and embodied body and care work. I apply the theoretical framework of Amrita Pande’s (2014) groundbreaking fieldwork in Indian surrogacy camps conceptualizing surrogacy as sexualized care work to the US context, in which surrogates are more likely to be described in terms of altruism instead of the terminology of care work. Moreover, I pair this theoretical framework with the notion of multiple dimensions of body work, as conceptualized by Barbara Brents and Crystal Jackson (2013) in their study about sex workers. All of their five dimensions of body work apply to surrogates as workers: A surrogate performs (1) physical labor - the surrogate’s womb is utilized to create the life of a child; (2) bodily labor - the surrogate pays attention to the physical need of the child she carries; (3) interactive bodily labor - the child, the unintentional “customer,” is literally underneath the surrogate’s skin; (4) emotional labor – the surrogate negotiates feelings to perform her “job” properly; and (5) aesthetic labor – she performs labor on her own body to produce a particular image that is crucial to her credibility as a surrogate, in this case, creating the image of being a good birthmother.
The commodification of surrogates’ reproductive capacities therefore challenges feminist perspectives on this new form of (bodily) care work.