Welcome to the Showbiz Brief, pressing pause and focusing in on the ever cycle of celebrity news. Because sometimes, things really are that deep.
Where better to start this inaugural column than with the most famous people in the world, and on the topic of the very beginnings of human life?
Yes, I’m talking about the Kardashians, whose wombs each tell a different story: Kylie kept her entire pregnancy secret, before delivering the announcement via an 11 minute YouTube video, Khloe is pregnant after a series of bad guys and heartbreaks, and Kim’s third child with Kanye, Chicago West, didn’t enter the world via her famous parents, as she was delivered by a surrogate, who’s also been welcomed into the dynasty.
After giving birth to North and Saint, Kim was advised to not become pregnant again, due to health risks posed by her tendency to develop placenta accreta, a condition where the placenta grows into the wall of the uterus. But she wanted another child, hence the surrogate, who was introduced to the family in the latest episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians
Pregnant with Chicago at the time of filming, La’Reina is invited into the glossy grey chic of a Kardashian-owned Calabasas mansion and embraced by each family member in turn. ‘I like being pregnant. I know it sounds really weird’, she explains, and the family listen to her, smiling and nodding. They’re all in sweats and low-key make-up, and you can see from their clear, wet eyes that rather than being slovenly, this is showing us just how intimate this moment is.
‘I really didn’t know what to expect because I don’t really know anyone who’s gone through this’. Kim says to camera. ‘It’s definitely not as easy as I’d thought it’d be, emotionally, but it’s so worth it and my surrogate is such a nice person, my family loves her and I’m just so grateful’.
A woman with tummy-tea flattened abs introducing the ‘gestational carrier’ of her child to her family makes for unique viewing. Because though the details of lesser-spotted reality stars’ reproductive struggles have long been divulged via teary interviews, we’ve never before seen a reality star with her surrogate, let alone introducing said surrogate to her loving family. Perhaps it’s a publicity stunt, designed to pre-empt criticism that Kim’s not respecting her surrogate’s role. But when, as Kim noted, there’s dearth of public information about surrogacy, and everything Kim and her family does is carefully crafted for the cameras - Kylie’s pregnancy the exception that proves the rule - is there a problem with this story being broadcast? There is an argument to be had for her story existing in the first place, though, and, particularly Kim’s role in normalising this process.
Though certain US states have legalised paid surrogacy, other western European countries blanket ban surrogacy, and it’s illegal to pay for it in the UK. It’s an ethical minefield: can pregnancy be incentivised by money? What’s a reasonable day rate for treading the high-wire that is every hour of pregnancy, when one in four end in miscarriage? What price can you put on renting out your entire body and mind (because pregnancy can irreversibly affect both)?
Kim’s candour shines a new light on surrogacy, the glue that bonds so many celebrity families. Michael Jackson’s procreative arrangements were confusing enough for people to still wonder about his children’s ethnicity. Elton John and David Furnish have sparingly told the story of their parenthood, and the same goes for Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick.
And then, there’s Ronaldo. The footballer is said to have paid £10 million to the mother of his eldest son, so that he could secure sole custody and her anonymity. He’s since had three more children - one with fiancée Georgina Rodriguez, and two who arrived on his Instagram in June last year, along with the caption: ‘So happy to be able to hold the two new loves of my life’. It was one of 2017’s top 10 liked sports-related posts on the social media site, but despite rumours of hidden surrogates and secret girlfriends, we have no idea how the babies got there.
With surrogacy so often sequestered away, it’s easy to read Kim’s story as a more heartening rendition of surrogacy. Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and husband the athlete-cum-vlogger Tom Daley realised that openness about surrogacy comes with increased accountability, though. . The pair are expecting their first child via surrogate, and responses to their pregnancy announcement were mostly as binary as the black and white ultrasound photo they’d posted on social media. People either congratulated them on the fantastic news, or insisted Tom and Dustin are ill-equipped to be parents (what with them both being rich, well-resourced adult men). And then, there was one other - less homophobic – concern: would the woman enabling this miraculous gift of life get a shout-out too? Dustin eventually addressed this, explaining to Fearne Cotton on her Happy Place podcast that ‘the women who are willing to do this and give this gift to couples who can’t have children – there is a love and a warmth and a generosity and a kindness that’s difficult not to fall in love with. We certainly have that with ours. We do love her very much.’
Dustin then wondered why ‘people felt sorry’ for Kim Kardashian West, when he and Tom had ‘been treated quite differently.’ Perhaps it’s because Dustin and Tom, though blighted by their own, very present difficulties of homophobia and its associated stigmas, haven’t once risked death to become parents.
Two men can raise a child immaculately, I have no doubt. And it’s not for me to suggest whose right it is to have a child. But just as we’ve seen with the misleading way celebrity adoptions can be presented, it’s about time we saw the famous people, especially those who make a show of their children, get the story right by confronting - and embracing - the small matter of the blood, sweat, tears and literal labour necessary for their precious bundles to arrive.
Follow Sophie on Twitter @SophWilkinson
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.