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Bonding with the Field: On Researching Surrogate Motherhood Arrangements in Israel in: Gardner, Andrew M. and Hoffman, David M. (eds.), Dispatches From the Field: Neophite Ethnographers in a Changing World, Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press. pp. 167-181

Bonding with the Field: On Researching Surrogate Motherhood Arrangements in Israel in: Gardner, Andrew M. and Hoffman, David M. (eds.), Dispatches From the Field: Neophite Ethnographers in a Changing World, Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press. pp. 167-181

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Published by mslula
Dr. Elly Teman's new ethnography of Surrogate Motherhood is now available.
'Birthing a Mother: The Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self'
by Elly Teman
University of California Press, February 2010

Sample chapter available on book website:
http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520259645
The book can also be purchased on Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Birthing-Mother-Surrogate-Body-Pregnant/dp/0520259645
Dr. Elly Teman's new ethnography of Surrogate Motherhood is now available.
'Birthing a Mother: The Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self'
by Elly Teman
University of California Press, February 2010

Sample chapter available on book website:
http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520259645
The book can also be purchased on Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Birthing-Mother-Surrogate-Body-Pregnant/dp/0520259645

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Published by: mslula on Oct 18, 2007
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09/06/2012

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167
Bonding with the Field: On ResearchingSurrogate Motherhood Arrangements in Israel
Elly Teman
Hebrew University
T
his essay addresses my perspective during the course of fieldwork on the topic of surro-gate motherhood in Israel. In a surrogacy arrangement, a woman is contracted to bear achild for a couple to whom she will relinquish the child, usually in exchange for monetaryreimbursement. Gestational surrogacy—the variant that I studied—refers to a specific varia-tion of the process in which a fertilized egg, created through in-vitro fertilization from theintended couple’s gametes, is surgically implanted in the surrogate’s womb.Surrogacy is considered a highly controversial topic in most of the world on moral, ethi-cal, legal, and religious grounds (Rae 1994; van Niekerk and van Zyl 1995). This has led manygovernments to enact regulations outlawing the practice entirely or carefully “ignore it” bymaintaining that surrogacy contracts can be pursued in the free market economy but will notbe enforced in a local court of law (Cook et al. 2003). The case of surrogacy in Israel inter-ested me particularly because Israel is one of only a handful of countries that has legalizedthe practice, and because it is the first in the world to pass a specific state law that endowssurrogacy contracts with full legal standing. Whereas surrogacy agreements are undertakenprivately in the U.S.—where the majority of such agreements take place—in Israel the stateis intimately involved in every contract. Specifically, a state approval committee awards cou-ples and surrogates the right to enter such agreements only if they meet the strict criteria of 
 
168
Temanthe surrogacy law: both parties must be Israeli citizens, share the same religion, and cannotbe related to one another. Surrogates must be single and raising at least one child, whilecouples must be married and be childless or have only one genetic offspring.The strict directives of the Israeli surrogacy law have resulted in my “field” being madeup of a distinct population. All of the persons partaking in surrogacy contracts in Israel todate have been Jewish, permanent residents and citizens of Israel, between the ages of 22and 52. Moreover, all of the surrogates have been single mothers raising between one andfive children of their own, and all of the couples have been heterosexually paired, mostlymarried couples, with long histories of female infertility, or in which the female partner waseither born without a womb or lost her womb to hysterectomy.I have been researching surrogacy since 1996, shortly after the passing of the law. Aftercompleting my M.A. thesis on this subject, I continued to research it towards my PhD. Whatinterests me most about surrogacy are the personal experiences of those involved in theprocess and how Jewish-Israeli culture shapes their experiences. This interest also framesmy methodology, which has followed several complimentary methodological tracks. Theseinclude narrative interviewing, textual analysis of media and legal documents concerningsurrogacy in Israel, and online participation in a Hebrew-language discussion forum inwhich Israeli surrogates and intended mothers share their surrogacy experiences.Unlike an anthropologist who travels to a foreign country or conducts research for alimited period on a group to whom he or she is foreign, I am a Jewish-Israeli woman andlive no more than six hours away from any of my informants. Therefore, my research hasnot been limited by time or place. As a result, I’ve been “in the field” for over seven years.During this time, I have kept in close contact with many of my informants, reinterviewingthem repeatedly and taking part in their lives, to the point that many of my initial informantshave turned into personal friends. It is the precarious anthropologist–informant relationshipand the friendship that these relationships sometimes span that I address here.
Beginnings
A little background on the general framework of the surrogacy process in Israel will behelpful at this point. Couples and surrogates find one another through ads in the newspa-per, private agencies, or online surrogacy discussion boards. Looking for the appropriatepartner to proceed with takes time. Some couples I met interviewed over fifty women beforefinding their surrogate, while surrogates usually met several couples until they felt the right“chemistry” with a particular couple. Together, all three submit forms to a government-runapproval committee that decides whether they can continue with the process. Merelyobtaining the committee’s approval is a very trying event in itself, sometimes lasting up to ayear because of the bureaucracy.
 
Bonding with the Field
169After receiving permission to proceed, the trio begins upon the equally difficult task of achieving pregnancy. The law does not allow the surrogate to become pregnant with herown egg. Therefore, the technology of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is used to implant an embryocreated from the intended couple’s gametes into her uterus. The IVF technology, with a suc-cess rate of roughly 30 percent, does not always deliver quick results: some of the surro-gates, although very fertile, conceived through IVF only on the fifth or sixth try. Sometimes,after finally achieving pregnancy, the surrogate would suddenly miscarry, and the wholecycle of IVF attempts would start over again. Other times, after six IVF attempts—the limit of standard contracts—did not result in pregnancy, the surrogate and couple would part ways,and each would have to decide whether or not to look for a new partner in the process andthen approach the committee for approval yet again.The fragility of attaining a surrogate pregnancy forged a “make or break” situation inthe cases I studied. Participants either gave up somewhere along the way or becameintensely involved with one another. In most cases, an intimacy formed between the surro-gate and intended mother. The two women would “bond” with one another during the vari-ous stages of the process, forming a type of camaraderie similar to that of soldiers inbattle—a comparison that they would sometimes make themselves.In a parallel manner, my own relationship with informants has often mimicked the sur-rogate–intended mother relationship. The basic issue of both relationships was the same:establishing connections and maintaining distance. Surrogates and couples sign a contractaccording to which they will enter into a joint project where they will work together closely fora limited period of time. The same type of limited yet involved connection is part of theanthropologist–informant relationship. Moreover, surrogates attempt to maintain emotionaldistance from the pregnancy and fetus-cum-child even as they forge this close camaraderiewith their intended mother. They feel that this distance is crucial in enabling them to eventu-ally relinquish the child. Similarly, the anthropologist must achieve a careful balancebetween establishing trust with his or her informants so as to gain an insider (or emic) per-spective, and maintaining an emotional, objective (or etic) distance so as to gain theoreticalinsight and create a realistic representation of their case study.I have experienced challenges in maintaining the balance between involvement anddistance during my fieldwork. I have found that my close involvement in my informants’ livesand caring deeply for them has become a problem as I attempt to “exit” the field—mentallyand emotionally, if not physically—in order to write about it. In this way, I relate to an issueraised by Fox and Swazey (1992: 199) when they wrote about ending their fieldwork onorgan transplantation in the United States. As the result of their close relationships with theirinformants, they found that “the process of disengaging ourselves from the field has madeus feel at times as though we were getting a divorce, departing from a religious order, orforsaking comrades in crisis.”

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