Good television is all about escapism, entertainment and surprise. Our favorite TV shows ramp up drama and conflict to give us a more heightened story than occurs in our real, everyday lives. After all, nobody wants to watch a story about something that goes smoothly and uneventfully — it wouldn’t be very exciting! But, this means that real occurrences, like growing a family through surrogacy, are often dramatized and fictionalized beyond recognition in order to make a better TV plot twist.
The problem? Surrogacy is still a relatively new and misunderstood concept in the eyes of many viewers. So, these fictional and sensationalized portrayals could be inadvertently fueling dangerous misconceptions about what surrogacy is really like. How do these shows measure up to the real surrogacy process?
Meet the Contenders
While surrogacy is no stranger to the small screen, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Roseanne,” “Superstore,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “The Nest,” and “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” have all recently had surrogacy storylines that garnered some buzz. Let’s rank those 6 depictions, from least accurate to most accurate:
6. “The Handmaid’s Tale”
The winner of the least realistic portrayal of surrogacy, “The Handmaid’s Tale” takes place in a dystopian future, where fertile women are forced into becoming traditional surrogates via rape. Needless to say, it’s devastatingly far from the truth of real and legal gestational surrogacy. Read real stories of gestational carriers and parents here.
5. “The Nest”
A drinking, partying teenage surrogate who lives with the intended parents, a drug-dealing intended father, a swapped embryo, some murder, mystery and general mayhem ensue. This series takes place in the U.K., but this show flies in the face of the requirements of actual surrogacy professionals in the U.S. and the surrogacy contracts that real intended parents and surrogates establish with attorneys.
4. “Top of the Lake: China Girl”
Their portrayal of surrogacy is just one of many wildly inaccurate and dangerously dramatized plots throughout the series. The titular “China Girl,” a murdered sex worker and illegal surrogate for intended parents working outside the law in Australia, is one of many outlandish (and at times, offensive) aspects of the show.
Becky decides to pursue surrogacy purely for money — she’s promised a whopping and unrealistic $50,000. She also lies about her age and is faced with unreasonable demands from the intended parent. In real life, base compensation starts at about $35,000–$40,000 for a first-time surrogate like Becky, who also would have been carefully screened and background-checked prior to her acceptance into a gestational surrogacy program like American Surrogacy. Additionally, the wishes of intended parents and surrogates are talked about with their American Surrogacy specialist long before the process ever begins, to ensure everyone is on the same page and feels comfortable with how things move forward.
Dina volunteers to be Glenn’s surrogate, although she’s never been pregnant or given birth before — a requirement for surrogates in real life. At different points, comedic misunderstandings are inserted into the plot, including disagreements about the contract (which would have been discussed with an attorney beforehand in real life), threats to have unprotected sex in the midst of the surrogacy process, shock over what childbirth is like and more. Unsurprisingly, none of this is a realistic depiction of the careful, legal contract between surrogates and intended parents.
1. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
This is probably the most accurate of these portrayals, although it’s still not realistic by a long shot. After two unsuccessful rounds of IVF, Darryl runs out of the money he’d saved to conceive a child. He is successful once Rebecca donates her egg for free and Heather offers herself as a gestational carrier, also for free.
But, who is covering the costs of Rebecca’s egg retrieval and Heather’s medical processes? Were the reimbursements of these costs discussed and established in a contract with a licensed attorney? Heather had never given birth before, which is a requirement for surrogates, so she wouldn’t have been a gestational surrogate in the first place. It’s not a wildly inaccurate portrayal, but it’s not a very clear one, either.
Red Flags in Fictional Surrogacy
One common theme in these fictional portrayals: Many of the surrogates had never been pregnant before and they panicked midway through their pregnancies at the thought of childbirth, which they mysteriously had not considered up until that point. In real life, gestational carriers must have given birth at least once before, with no history of complications. Real surrogates have a history of smooth pregnancies and childbirth, and enjoy being pregnant. It’s what draws them to surrogacy in the first place.
Another fairly common element in TV storylines is the presence of traditional surrogacy, which has been all but fully phased out in favor of gestational surrogacy. In fact, most professionals in the U.S., American Surrogacy included, won’t complete traditional surrogacy journeys. But, traditional surrogacy is more dramatic, so it makes for better television.
There’s another red flag in most of these stories: Informal agreements without the guidance of a professional. Surrogacy professionals screen and background check the prospective gestational carrier as well as the intended parents. They educate the participants about the highs and lows of the surrogacy process, so everyone knows what to expect — no comedic surprises, unlike TV’s depiction of surrogacy in sitcoms. Professionals help intended parents and surrogate forge supportive, healthy relationships, which often turn into genuine friendships. So, none of the situations in the TV shows mentioned above would have ever happened under the guidance of an actual surrogacy professional.
Instead of perpetuating myths about real surrogacy experiences, we encourage anyone and everyone to read the stories of our real-life gestational surrogates and families created through surrogacy. Their stories may not be shown on the small screen, but they’re far more meaningful!