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Do Mothers of Surrogate-Carried Babies Deserve Paid Leave?

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Do all new mothers deserve paid maternity leave?

a blog by Suzanne Rico, March 28, 2014 The news came as a total surprise. It was late 2007 and I was meeting with the Human Resources manager of KCBS-Television in Los Angeles, where I anchored the morning newscast.

"I'm sorry," said this fellow working mother, "the company doesn't provide maternity leave for mothers of surrogate babies."

"None?" I asked, incredulous. With the due date of my surrogate-carried child a month away, I wondered how in the world I was going to care for him (and his two-year-old brother) while working full-time. I also wondered what was so different about bringing home a surrogate baby--or an adopted child for that matter--than one a woman delivered herself? Was caring for the baby supposed to be easier? Less stressful? Walking away from the HR manager's office, the fact that CBS had opted to stick with its outdated policy instead setting precedent in a changing world left me feeling sick.

After taking the issue up the ladder to the company's lawyers in New York, I was granted two weeks paid leave--the same as mothers who adopted--but my bosses made it clear it was something they didn't have to give. When that two weeks expired, I went back to work, pumping breast milk (yes, you can breast feed if you don't carry a baby, but believe me, it's not easy) before the 5am newscast and dragging back home exhausted after our midday show. I felt as if I were being punished for my infertility. Now, a new ruling by the European Court of Justice has brought these memories back: under European Union law, the court ruled, no paid maternity leave must be granted. By way of explanation, the court stated that "the directive presupposes that the worker concerned has been pregnant and has given birth to a child. Therefore, a commissioning mother who has used a surrogate mother in order to have a child does not fall within the scope of the directive, even in circumstances where she may breastfeed the baby following the birth or where she does breastfeed the baby."

Said Daneshmand is a fertility specialist with The Fertility Center of Las Vegas. He had been hoping for a different outcome from the European Court--a precedent setting change to give equal rights to all new mothers--no matter how they started their family. "How can we call ourselves a civilized and responsible society when we deny mothers their right of leave after their child is born?" says Daneshmand. "The family is the cornerstone of our society and the bond that develops between the child and the parent, especially in the first few months of life, has been shown to have a profound impact on a child's cognitive and emotional development later in life, contributing to factors such as self confidence, sense of self worth and achievement."

I would also make the argument that for a new mother, having that time to bond--to focus solely on the child without distractions and additional outside stressors--is priceless in terms of developing parenting skills. In those early days at the office, my exhaustion was so total I would hand the care of my infant over to either my husband or my nanny and the guilt made everything worse. It's time, in my opinion, for policy to change both in Europe and here in the United States, as technology has forever altered the old definition of what it means to build a family. And Dr. Daneshmand agrees.

"Parents who suffer from infertility and who undergo the added emotional and financial burden of surrogacy are now denied a fundamental right: the right to spend time, care for and nurture their newborn in the precious few months after birth. This is not right and must be remedied as soon as possible."

Join the discussion. Should mothers of surrogate-carried babies and adoptive mothers be granted paid maternity leave by law? Answer in the comments section below.

Comments (3)

I think the answer is simple - yes. Its 9 months of hard work for the lady carrying the baby. Its 9 months in which many she won't be able to work herself. And if a couple are of good character and can support the baby properly emotionally first and financially second then I can see no reason why not. In countries where surrogates are paid, we see desperately poor women making what is often not a truly free choice to do this. While it seems sensible to clarify the law about parental responsibilities, I think it’s much better to pay only evidenced expenses. And surrogacy should remain an altruistic act like organ/blood donation or volunteering. We can't allow a situation where women are taking the huge risks involved in pregnancy and childbirth and not be paid for it. I know that in Ukraine for example surrogacy works on legal basis. Therefore all rights of surrogates are protected. They get fixed sum of money and nobody talks about exploitation. You never own a child anyway. But being a mother or father is not about ownership of a child. It's about parenting and it can be mighty difficult at times.

I had a very similar experience last year when I went to talk to HR about my options for leave if adopting or going through surrogacy. Same answer. 2 weeks for adopting, nothing for surrogacy. I cried in their office and felt as if I didn't matter. This year we decided to pursue surrogacy anyway, and I will be going to talk to HR again with the support of my teacher's union. I am hopeful to be granted the same leave as adoptive parents and excited to meet our baby in a few months.

I think we as a society really need to understand that the inability to have children is not a choice. It is incredible the ignorance surrounding this issue. Punishing a woman for not having carried her biological child is equivalent to punishing someone born without legs by refusing to provide them a wheelchair.