I was sitting in a smalltown Indiana hotel only a few days ago.
It was late at night. I couldn't sleep. I was flipping channels.
"Surely there's something to watch," I said to myself.
An image of Tina Fey catches my eye. I quickly realize it's Baby Mama. "I love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler," I think to myself and settle in for a few laughs before finally falling to sleep.
Suddenly, it doesn't seem so funny anymore.
Written and directed by Jennifer Lahl, Big Fertility: It's All About the Money is an involving 45-minute documentary. It's a convicting documentary, especially for those of us who've found ourselves laughing at the ways in which surrogacy is often lightheartedly portrayed on the big screen and for those of us who flippantly find ourselves saying "Hey, it's their bodies. They can do what they want to do with it."
While I can't quite lump myself into the flippant category, mostly courtesy of my already being a follower of Jennifer Lahl's social media presence, I am more than a little guilty when it comes to laughing along at an issue that I didn't begin to understand.
I'm not quite willing to say that I completely "get it" even now, but after watching Lahl's thought-provoking and emotionally jarring Big Fertility it's abundantly clear that the romanticized imagery often associated with surrogacy is often far from the actual truth and the actual experiences of countless women and families from around the globe.
Lahl is the founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, utilizing her 25 year history as a pediatric critical care nurse, hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager into her current role as an internationally recognized voice in the field of bioethics who is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. Lahl is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community and has even been invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has twice addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.
While Lahl's academic credentials are impressive, it's the personal story that unfolds in Big Fertility: It's All About the Money that is truly riveting. Centered around the experiences of three-time surrogate Kelly Martinez and her husband Jay, Big Fertility: It's All About the Money will have you checking your preconceived notions and biases at the door while being beyond aghast at the inhumanity involved in what is marketed as the beauty of helping create humanity for families desperately seeking children of their own.
Rest assured that Big Fertility: It's All About the Money comes out swinging relentlessly, yet thoughtfully and intelligently, against surrogacy in all its forms. Unflinchingly, Lahl refers to it as a human rights violation and has zero hesitation in stating that even if all the current ethical issues in surrogacy were addressed it would remain nothing less than human slavery.
Yep, she goes there.
Big Fertility goes there. It goes there a lot as it weaves itself through the tapestry of Kelly Martinez's life, examining both the circumstances that led her to keep returning to surrogacy while also unflinchingly exploring the devastating truths that manifested each time Martinez and her husband would be tempted by the seductive, yet deceptive, lure of the financial incentives hypnotically tossed to and fro toward potential surrogates yet financial incentives that actually pale in comparison to the rich rewards awaiting the various medical and legal professionals involved in surrogacy.
While Lahl is unquestionably against surrogacy, this doesn't mean she comes out harshly against those who've made the choice. One of the reasons that Big Fertility is such an effective documentary is that Lahl weaves her expertise in rather seamlessly to Martinez's journey and into the journeys of countless others who've been exploited, often with much cruelty and with almost a complete absence of concern about their welfare, by the system of surrogacy makes lots of promises yet ultimately only concerns itself with those who pay the bills.
Everyone else? Be damned.
At 45 minutes, Big Fertility: It's All About the Money makes its point quickly yet with a gentle, easygoing pace that avoids unnecessary histrionics and is steeped in rich authenticity and heartbreaking transparency. While in the beginning you may be tempted to judge Martinez, after all she went there "THREE TIMES!," by film's end you'll be angry at everyone else who so willingly exploited a young woman simply trying to make good choices for her family.
Only recently completed, Big Fertility: It's All About the Money should have no problem finding a home on the film festival circuit and continues Lahl's long history of creating thought-provoking, emotionally resonant, and vitally important documentaries and doing so in a way that makes complex issues immensely understandable.
Give it a watch if you get a chance.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic