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Surrogate motherhood still a minefield of issues in Japan


“I’m ready to die for my daughter if necessary.”

Hopefully it won’t be. What Kazuyo Yamamoto (a pseudonym) really wants to do is bear her daughter’s child. She’s 52; her daughter “Tomoyo Suzuki” is 26. When Tomoyo was a year old she developed a tumor on her womb.

"I didn’t even know babies had wombs!” Kazuyo exclaims to Josei Jishin (July 1). But they do, and Tomoyo’s was surgically removed before she was out of infancy.

Surrogate motherhood has a fraught history in Japan. In April, the Science Council of Japan recommended to the justice and health ministries that surrogacy be banned. Since 2000, 10 children in this country have been born of surrogate mothers. Only one maternity hospital, the Suwa Maternity Clinic in Nagano, is – controversially -- involved in the procedure.

Josei Jishin claims a scoop -- its interview with the Yamamotos represents, it says, the first coverage of surrogate birth from the point of view of people about to embark on the adventure.

As a child, Tomoyo was told about her operation but not of the larger implications. Entering her teens, she began to suspect, and by her second year of senior high school she was fairly certain, that she would never be able to have a child of her own. She was 20 before she could bring herself to put the nagging question to her mother. What was wrong?

The two women had their long-delayed talk. “We cried and cried,” recalls Kazuyo.

“It wasn’t really a shock,” says Tomoyo. “It was more like, ‘So that’s what it is.’ My next thought was, ‘What now?’”

In 2006, Tomoyo married, having told her fiancé, “Makoto Suzuki,” everything. To Suzuki, too, the news came as less than a shock -- he had naturally noticed that his girlfriend never seemed to menstruate.

“No, I wasn’t surprised,” he tells Josei Jishin. “I told her, ‘If we can’t have kids, we can’t have kids, we’ll have a nice life just the two of us.’”

But Kazuyo’s thoughts were of a darker stripe. “I felt responsible,” she says. “I had failed to make my daughter’s body right. I wanted to make it up to her somehow.”

One day she happened to see Dr Yahiro Nezu on TV. Nezu is the director of the Suwa clinic, a pioneer in the field of surrogate birth. Seeing him gave Kazuyo an idea, which she broached to Tomoyo. Tomoyo sent Nezu an email, and consultations began.

The 10 Japanese children born to date of surrogate births resulted from eight pregnancies achieved at the clinic. Two of the pregnancies produced twins. Seven surrogates have so far failed to become pregnant. Of the 15 parties Nezu ministers to, five are mother-daughter couples, four of whom have achieved pregnancy.

It’s an expensive procedure, costing between 1.5 million yen and 2.5 million yen altogether. Given the inherent risks of pregnancy in women old enough to be grandmothers, the medical care included in the fee is so intense, Nezu tells Josei Jishin, that surrogacy “may actually be safer than ordinary pregnancy.”

The Science Council’s objections seem to be more social and ethical than medical. If surrogacy becomes established, might it not spawn a kind of rent-a-womb mentality?

Tomoyo hesitated for another reason. “I’m not an only child,” she explains, “I have a younger brother. What if something happened to my mother? What would I say to my brother? Do I really have the right to lay so heavy a burden on my mother?”

Family conference followed family conference. Everyone supported the idea. Still, “it took a year before I could make up my mind.”

As for Kazuyo, she never had any doubts. “I wanted to do it from the beginning,” she says. “I wasn’t uneasy at all. I’m so happy we can finally get started. I myself have been blessed with the joys of raising children. I want my daughter to know those joys too.”

Perhaps she will. “A year from now,” concludes Josei Jishin, “Tomoyo may be holding her own baby in her arms.”

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Wow, I had no idea surrogate motherhood was looked down on. I would have thought that in a country with such a low birth rate they would take any forms of pregnancy they could get.

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To Suzuki, too, the news came as less than a shock—he had naturally noticed that his girlfriend never seemed to menstruate.

man, some guys have all the luck

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"Wow, I had no idea surrogate motherhood was looked down on."

I hope you are being sarcastic. It is a perversion that will haunt us all.

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It is a perversion that will haunt us all

can you look into a baby's eyes and say "you are a perversion"?

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Romulus, I don't know if dubya can, but the Catholic Church and other denominations do also. They also condemn IVF.

I have no problem with surrogacy or IVF. I am, however, a little concerned that in Japan it seems that it is often the grandmother who is the surrogate and wonder about future possible medical effects on the grandmother having a child late in life.

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That is true... I wonder if they could provide the same kind of service as America, having an anonymous woman who is healthy carrying their baby. The woman, of course, will get monetary benefits for it. This seems to be the way to go, having your own mother carrying your child is problematic because of the age issue.

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