Surrogate babies, Hollywood style
Valued children or designer accessories? As Elton John and Nicole Kidman have children by surrogates, Judith Woods reports on pregnancy Hollywood style.
By Judith Woods
January 19, 2011 / telegraph.co.uk
Who could fail to feel uplifted on an emotional thermal of joy by the latest glorious concordance of celebrity and reproductive science revealed this week?
First there was Elton John’s new surrogate baby, Zachary, tenderly eased into family life with a front page exclusive in OK! magazine.
Then there was Nicole Kidman’s surprise announcement that last month she had a baby girl, or rather someone else had one for her, and she wished to express her incredible gratitude to the “gestational carrier”. Now there’s a gap in the Hallmark card market if ever I saw one.
They are you see, bang on trend; Sarah Jessica Parker had twins, Marion and Tabitha, via a surrogate last year when she was unable to conceive after having her son, James, now aged seven.
Flamboyant Latino singer Ricky Martin’s twin boys Valentino and Matteo were born to a surrogate in 2008; Frasier star Kelsey Grammer and his wife have two boys who were similarly conceived and of course, as in so many spheres, the pioneer was Michael Jackson, who evidently felt that being a paranoid infantile eccentric should be no barrier to fathering three children, although given they bear absolutely no resemblance to him, it would seem fair to conclude that that the King of Pop did not himself crack any proverbial eggs to rustle up these particular omelettes.
In the United States surrogacy is the new adoption and a thriving business to boot. Here in Britain it is invariably a private arrangement, steeped in social awkwardness, with ostensibly only “reasonable expenses” changing hands.
According to the charity Surrogacy UK, around 700 births have occurred - which sounds a lot until it emerges that that figure spans the past 25 years: the first case hit the headlines in 1985.
But in America, and especially, in Hollywood, surrogates are paid well. The rate, including brokers’ fees is about $80,000, the price varying according to whether the surrogate is using her own egg, an embryo created in-vitero or twins.
Anyone with enough cash can engage their services and celebrities seem particularly unfazed by outsourcing their reproduction. Advances in medicine have made all sorts of complex egg-sperm-embryo permutations possible, but Hollywood has always fostered a pioneering attitude to parenthood.
In the early days studio bosses and agents would sternly warn starlets - their childbearing years inconveniently coinciding with their casting years - to retain their figures at all costs, which ushered in an early acceptance of adoption as an alternative to pregnancy.
These day it may not be PC to say it, but young actresses know the score, claims British comedy writer Jane Bussman who lived in Hollywood for 10 years and wrote The Worst Dates Ever.
“Hollywood is the sort of place where you have to sacrifice everything to be a success,” she says. “If you want a baby but you don’t want to interrupt your schedule and there’s a nude scene coming up in your next movie, then sure, you adopt or get someone else to have the baby for you.
"Having seen the hours that people work - up at 5am, home at 11pm - there’s not much time to make babies.”
In some quarters, adoption has been viewed as the stuff of cynical career moves. Back in 1978 Christina Crawford shocked the world with Mommie Dearest, in which she exposed her adoptive mother, the film icon Joan Crawford as a cruel, abusive alcoholic.
Crawford employed private brokers so that the normal restrictions against single, divorced women did not apply as she sought to create the perfect domestic scenario: a girl, a boy, twins. There was a fifth child too, which she nobly “took in” - only for him to be apparently reclaimed by his furious birth mother within days.
Crawford was widely applauded for her philanthropy, but Christina, the first to be adopted, in 1939, claims the fairy-tale family image was a facade, concealing a world of violent rages and capricious punishments for even the mildest misdemeanours which took place behind closed doors.
“It was complete and total hypocrisy between the public and the private,” she observed, bitterly, in 2008, when the book was republished. “What my mother wanted was fans and puppies, not human beings. She adopted us for the publicity.
"I have tremendous concerns about celebrity adoptions… From the adoptee’s point of view, it is vitally important to know who they are and where they came from, or it can have profound medical and psychological effects.”
Angelina Jolie, who has six children with Brad Pitt, three of them adopted from Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam, is considered Hollywood royalty, so there was a gasp of horror at the Golden Globes ceremony earlier this week when British comedian Ricky Gervais joked about her United Colours of Benetton brood: “You can be a little child, a little Asian child, with no possessions, no money - but you see a picture of Angelina Jolie and you think, “Mummy!”
It was excruciatingly near to the knuckle for a Tinseltown audience which regards adoption by a star as an act of selflessness verging on sainthood.
Sandra Bullock, who adopted New Orleans orphan Louis Bardo, as her marriage to Jesse James fell apart, found herself elevated to the status of People Magazine’s Woman of the Year 2010.
Madonna whose adoption of children David and Mercy from Malawi orphanages, reputedly has three nannies on a rota looking after them as well as her daughter Lourdes, known as Lola, aged 13, and her 10-year-old son Rocco.
In America, the controversy over the adoption of her two photogenic tots did little harm to the Material Girl’s image. In Britain, with its institutionalised disapproval of mixed-race adoption, intended to safeguard the cultural heritage of ethnic minority children, there is more suspicion.
The new Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, has pledged to make race a consideration rather than a deciding factor in the adoption process, but it remains to be seen whether this colour-blindness will be embraced by social workers.
Either way they should probably avoid taking a leaf from the ultimate A-list melting-pot family created by Mia Farrow, who adopted 11 children, as well as bearing three with her first husband, Andrew Previn, and another during her relationship with Woody Allen.
She and the film-maker broke up when it emerged he was having an affair with her daughter, Soon-Yi, whom she had adopted with Previn. Despite the 35-year age difference, Allen went on to marry Soon-Yi and they, in turn, have adopted two daughters (do keep up).Incidentally, Allen’s former muse, Diane Keaton, 61 adopted two children when she hit 50.
That adoption is open and regarded as a norm, must surely be regarded as a good thing:when Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards adopted two orphaned Vietnamese girls in 1974 they encouraged future overseas adoptions. Meg Ryan, who has a son from her marriage to Dennis Quaid, went on to adopt a Chinese daughter, Daisy.
Although Nicole Kidman now has a baby daughter by a surrogate, she was once old-fashioned enough to have adopted two children with her first husband, Tom Cruise, who chose to live with him when the couple separated.
She probably won’t be able to resist parading the new arrival, Faith, along with her elder sister, Sunday, but let us hope she will be more low-key than Sir Elton and David Furnish.
“I feel very uncomfortable seeing Elton John’s baby plastered all over OK! It reduces a child to a commodity, to be shown off like a new house or a new car,” says behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings.
“It’s great that surrogacy is being publicised for women who can’t conceive, but it’s troubling to see celebrities acquiring babies like designer accessories.”