Surrogacy: a brief overview of the importance of word choice

Social science is a discipline that requires the use of the appropriate terms in each case to avoid ambiguities. In everyday life it should be like that too, but sometimes we run into pitfalls like the following.

Currently in our country, there is an important movement that promotes the legislation and, therefore, the legality, of surrogacy. Probably, many people will not know what we mean by this expression, and this is the first sign that we are not using the correct words to name a social fact.

Surrogacy is also known as a surrogate, surrogate mother, or surrogate motherhood. Neither of these is a correct expression to refer to the social and biological process by which a woman gestates the child of another couple. In other words, we would have a biological father, a pregnant woman and an egg donor mother. The ultimate goal of this assisted reproduction technique is that a woman who cannot gestate can have a child with her own genetic load if her ovaries are healthy and functional.

There are many cultural obstacles to this new way of making families, but I am dedicating all my research work to that, and I do not want to extend myself any longer than necessary. The fact is that one of those cultural obstacles is language.

What I just described is called surrogacy, and not otherwise. It is not called a rental belly, because a belly denotes an object, and rent implies economic benefit. In surrogacy, none of the elements involved are objects, and the purpose of the surrogate mother is not to earn money. With this misused expression, the only thing we achieve is to reify and commodify a fact that has nothing to do with these two concepts. In our country there seems to be quite a heated debate regarding the choice of the term but we can conclude that surrogacy “has won the battle.” For example, we can find surrogacy agencies in California but we cannot find “rental belly agencies in California.”

Nor can we say that it is formally a surrogate motherhood, or surrogate mother, since the surrogate does not act as a mother at any time. And here we would enter into the eternal controversy about whether a mother is the one who gives birth, the one who raises or the one who lays the ovum.

At this point in the 21st century, it is time to recognize and accept that families take multiple forms, and are created in very different ways. Not accepting this fact reveals retrograde thinking that is not adapted to social reality. It is not a question of opinions, it is a question of education.

Both the media and the people who dedicate ourselves to social science have an obligation to use the right words. The word surrogacy can, depending on the context, be even pejorative. It also highlights the speaker’s lack of knowledge of the process. It is simply not the proper expression.

We must be aware of the importance of choosing the words. 50 years ago, the word fag was more than common. Little by little we have managed to replace it with a non-pejorative one, and this phenomenon has been accompanied by great social achievements for the LGBT community.

Words are a true reflection of the society in which they are exchanged, and with it language evolves. But one thing is for sure, in this modern society, surrogacy is needed by some people. Several states have legalized it and if you are one of those needing it, surrogacy agencies in California can help you.

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