Last week, one of our staff members went to the movies and saw a trailer for a film called “When the Bough Breaks.” The movie features a married young professional couple unable to conceive naturally, so they decide to pursue surrogacy. They match with a seemingly perfect surrogate and she becomes pregnant with their child. As her pregnancy progresses, she develops an obsession with the intended father, and attempts to seduce him. When he dismisses her advances, she becomes psychotic and threatens to hurt the baby. According to the official synopsis, “the couple becomes caught up in [the surrogate’s] deadly game and must fight to regain control of their future before it’s too late.” Sony Pictures Entertainment is marketing the film as a thriller, using the tagline “Find out how #ItAllWentWrong.” Our staff member was not only appalled by the entire plotline, but also by disturbing scenes such as one where the surrogate dangles a knife over her belly after the intended father rebuffs her advances.
While such plots make for juicy storylines that may attract moviegoers, these depictions of surrogacy are inaccurate and misleading. Surrogacy is normally an overwhelmingly positive experience for both the intended parents and the gestational surrogate. Gestational surrogates are scrupulously screened by agencies. Many fertility clinics require that the intended parents and the surrogate complete a mental health evaluation prior to starting the surrogate’s medications. The parties must usually stipulate in their surrogacy agreement that they have undergone mental health evaluations and that they have discussed the potential psychological risks with a mental health professional. In the unlikely event that something goes wrong, it hardly resembles the plot in “When the Bough Breaks.” More realistic issues that may arise can include disagreements during the contract negotiation phase, pregnancy complications requiring bed rest, or insurance-related uncertainties. Agencies, clinics, physicians, attorneys, social workers, and other professionals work tirelessly to ensure that gestational surrogacy arrangements are based on the underlying principle of good faith. While the emergence of problems in a surrogacy is not inconceivable, the level depicted in “When the Bough Breaks” is extreme and sensationalized.
To those who enjoy thrillers and plan to “find out how #ItAllWentWrong” when the film hits theaters in September, we encourage you to keep in mind that this movie does not accurately represent surrogacy. For an excellent and thought-provoking read on another recent misrepresentation of surrogacy, this time on television, check out this blog post by attorney Rich Vaughn from the International Fertility Law Group.