Alex Kuczynski, pictured above with her infant and nanny on the lawn of her Southampton house, wrote an essay for the New York Times describing her "adventures in gestational surrogacy."
Her Body, My Baby is the story of how Alex Kuczynski, wife to a billionaire hedge-fund manager two decades her senior, gets a baby. Here, she is shown out on the town with her husband, about two weeks after Maxime Dudley Stevenson was born.
In Her Body, Alex chronicles the various trials and tribulations she endured trying to get pregnant, and her journey into surrogacy, which she apparently regarded as her only option for motherhood.
In her own words, Alex "rented" an "organ." Putting it this way, Alex says, makes her feel better about surrogacy. "That was something I could live with." The organ she "rented" was the womb of Cathy Hilling, a 43-year old substitute teacher from Harlesyville, PA, shown here with her dog on her front porch.
Surrogacy, whether it turns women and babies into commodities, is a fascinating subject, of course. But Alex's astounding views of herself and women are what I write about today. And although she has her defenders, I am not one of them.
Her essay left me dumbfounded. It gave me a stomach-churning, this-can't-be-real feeling. And it only took a quick "Alex Kuczynski" google for my jaw to drop again.
In all of her 8000 words, there is no discussion of adoption; she never explains why it was not an option. But she does describe in piteous detail her infertility, her pain and anguish when she miscarries, and the moment she ultimately realizes pregnancy is not in her cards.
That she miscarried is tragic. I don't make light of it. But just when I'd start to feel sympathy for Alex, she'd launch into some unsettling non-sequitur. "That Thanksgiving," she wrote, "I used the 3-milliliter, 22-gauge needles left over from when I was taking fertility medication to inject juices into the roasting turkey. It was the best turkey I’ve ever made."
And snippets like this one, "I never doubted my ability to be a good mother. I had a charmed, happy childhood; I have a warm, loving, funny mother," filled me with suspicion.
Her word choices were revealing, giving us a glimpse of her perceived self-importance. "If you saw me during this time [IVF treatments]," she writes, "I looked really, really cheerful: my face was a rictus of optimism."
A rictus? Oh dear God. (See also "nullipara" below.)
Her disdain for women, evident in her descriptions of Cathy Hilling and other women, chilled me to the bone. She was patronizing and contemptuous, which made her efforts to appear egalitarian seem comical.
Reading it, I felt sort of prurient, like a rubbernecker mesmerized by a bad traffic accident.
Will I stay pretty? I'm already rich . . . Alex's attention to appearance was a thread that ran throughout her piece. At one point she wonders, worries whether she can pull off a pregnancy at age 37 and hold on to her figure. "Celebrities offered hope, and still do. Halle Berry had her first baby at 41! So did Nicole Kidman, and two weeks later there were pictures of her wearing skinny white jeans. Not only fertile, but fit."
It is difficult to believe anyone so desperate for a biological child would give one whit about the physical consequences of pregnancy. She writes,
Yet I couldn’t argue myself out of my desire. A child with our genes would be a part of us. My husband’s face would be mirrored in our child’s face, proof that our love not only existed, but could be recreated beyond us. Die without having created a life, and die two deaths: the death of yourself, and the death of the immense opportunity that is a child.Whoa.
On reviewing applications from prospective surrogates:
It felt strangely like getting a letter from the roommate who would be sharing your dorm room freshman year. They described themselves, their lives, their ambitions. Their household incomes were not, on the profiles I saw, more thanHuh?
And lo, a handmaiden came forth: "And her [Cathy's] computer-generated essay indicated, among other things, a certain level of competence. This gleaned morsel of information made me glad: she must live in a house with a computer and know how to use it."
Hallelujah, glory be. Darling, we've found a literate one!
Alex embellishes. "They lived in a renovated mill house on a creek in a suburb of Philadelphia."
Err, Alex, take another look at Cathy's house. Then again, "renovated mill house" does sound lovely and should ease any concerns that you took advantage of Cathy.
Alex purports to be humble.
But it was easy to think of her as carrying my baby. She wasn’t desperate for the money, so our relationship wouldn’t have to feel like a purely commercial enterprise, or a charitable one. The only major factors separating us were the fact that Cathy could have a baby and I could not — and we had that $25,000 at hand.That Alex is so sensitive to Cathy's point of view is really heartwarming. You know, that Cathy not feel like the $25k she was getting was charity.
Alex encounters a mean sonogram tech:
The technician varied from visit to visit. The previous time, we were lucky: it was the gregarious young woman named Gisele who wrote things like “Hi Mom and Dad!” over the cloudy portraits of the baby or, on one image of the baby’s genitals, “I’m still a boy!” On this day, we got the terse woman who grudgingly wrote “foot” and “face,” if she wrote anything at all.God Alex, that must have been hell for you. How dare the sonogram lady react that way, simply because you, the rich Techno Mom, watch your child twist and turn in an older, poorer woman's womb.
Then she tore off the sonogram images and handed them to me with one hand; with the other, she reached down to wipe the gel off the stomach of the woman who was bearing my child.
Alex admits narcissism:
Umm, yeah, that was pretty bad, Alex. But thanks for sharing.
When Cathy and I went for doctor’s visits, she gave me the clearest sonogram picture to take home. I would drive back to New York, scan the image and send it out to family members and close friends — except that I would crop Cathy’s and the clinic’s names out of the frame. Even though they knew I wasn’t the pregnant one, I didn’t want them to be confused — who is this Cathy person? Where is Abington, Pa.? And for the forgetful ones: Why is Alexandra having her baby there? But more important, I wanted them to see my profile in the picture, not her name. It was immature, puerile, like a seventh-grade girl blacking out her nemesis’ picture in the yearbook. I wanted her identity to disappear and mine to take its place.
Thank God I'm not the one who's pregnant:
The bigger Cathy was, the more I realized that I was glad — practically euphoric — I was not pregnant. I was in a daze of anticipation, but I was also secretly, curiously, perpetually relieved, unburdened from the sheer physicality of pregnancy. If I could have carried a child to term, I would have. But I carried my 10-pound dog in a BabyBjörn-like harness on hikes, and after an hour my back ached.Bully for you, Alex. Bully for you. Level 10 rapids and a ski-racing camp? Simply fabulous! And dahling, thank God you've got that nanny to save your back.
Cathy was getting bigger, and the constraints on her grew. I, on the other hand, was happy to exploit my last few months of nonmotherhood by white-water rafting down Level 10 rapids on the Colorado River, racing down a mountain at 60 miles per hour at ski-racing camp, drinking bourbon and going to the Super Bowl.
The sweet and earthy Cathy was endearing:
"His butt is right there," she would tell me. She wasn’t condescending. She wasn’t pushy. I owed her so much, and yet it was she who sent me a birthday present — a ceramic candle holder that glowed with the words “Happy Birthday” when a candle was lighted inside — when she was four months pregnant. And when the baby was born, she was the one who had thought to bring a gift for me to the hospital: a statuette of a mother, father and child holding one another.Alex, umm, can I call you sister? I am sorority squeeling with you. And I loved your subtle class point: you're Southampton, upper-crust Manhattan, while Cathy is K-mart and Lillian Vernon.
Being pregnant is not Alex's cup of tea:
"I had several friends around my age — 37 and up — who were pregnant with their first children at this time, and I was amazed at how their feet swelled like loaves of bread. They were haggard. They seemed sallow and tired, and they let their hair go gray."
"At the height of her pregnancy, Cathy and I embodied several facets of femininity. She could be seen as the fertile, glowing mother-to-be as well as the hemorrhoidal, flatulent, lumpen pregnant woman. I could be the erotic, perennially sensual nullipara, the childbirth virgin, and yet I was also the dried-up crone with a uterus full of twigs. She got rosy cheeks and huge, shiny stretch marks. I went to Bikram yoga and was embarrassed to tell the receptionist — in front of the pregnant 20-something yogini in short shorts — to pull me out of class in case my baby was about to be born out of another woman’s body."Umm, no comment.
People are mean to Alex:
I wish I could say that everyone’s reaction to Max’s birth was as generous. * * * One announced to a table of people at a dinner party: “My God, Alex. You’ve really gotten away with some stuff in your life. But this takes the cake!” It was as if I had performed some slimy trick and was still able to have my ticket stamped “Mother.” Not only Mother, but Biological Mother.Those dinner party divas are just bitter. You got to drink bourbon and go white-water rafting, while they got bulging veins, big feet and contractions.
Those mean women will come around, Alex. Once they see your essay in the New York Times, they'll understand. And it won't matter a bit if they don't read a word. The two pictures that ran with it tell your tale just as well.
Oops! Sorry darling. Forgot to include your cover shot!