Making Babies: Google Baby Introduces a Brave New World

by Phoebe Magee

Appearing tonight on HBO2 is Israeli filmmaker Zippi Brand Frank’s award-winning documentary Google Baby, about online shopping at its most bizarre.  The film opens with the idea that in the 1960s, the development of the birth control pill “took the baby-making out of sex.”  Today, with the development of advanced fertility treatments, the Internet, and the global marketplace the Internet facilitates, we have the technology to “take the sex out of making babies.”  Google Baby is present at the near-beginning of what by all accounts promises to be a rapidly growing industry—the baby production industry, in which a couple in Israel can send sperm to an egg collected in the United States, create a customized embryo in a lab in Connecticut, then quite literally have the “labor outsourced” to a surrogate mother in India (who will carry and birth the baby for a much better price than a woman in either of the aforementioned countries).  Frank introduces us first to Dr. Nayana Patel, a female doctor who runs a clinic in Anand, India, which employs Indian women to be surrogate carriers for other peoples’ children.  The film then moves to Israel, where tech industry businessman Doron has just had a baby using egg donation and a surrogate mother in the United States.  Doron has an idea:  link hopeful parents in Israel and other countries with a fertility clinic in the United States, create embryos, and ship them to India to be carried and birthed at a lower cost for surrogacy.  All of this is, of course, arranged via website.  In one scene, Doron meets with a gay male couple hoping to have a child.  The three peruse a website with pictures and profiles for possible egg donors–  “it’s like JDate”—and decide upon a tall, athletic, green-eyed brunette with two healthy children.  The film then meets up with said brunette in Tennessee, where she is ready to sell her eggs in order to renovate her house. 

Google Baby is remarkable in its refusal to simplify, and this cross-continental journey is as complicated—emotionally, ethically, logistically—as it sounds.  It is to Frank’s enormous credit that she allows a great deal of feeling into her film but refuses to pass judgment.  This is not the story of desperately poor women being exploited at a most basic and physical level; although at the same time that is certainly part of it.  Dr. Patel runs her clinic under strict guidelines of her own making, and considers the transactions that take place under her care to be cases of “one woman helping another”: one cannot have a baby, and the other cannot afford to educate the baby she has.  Both the egg donor in the rural American south and the surrogate mothers in rural India come from conservative societies bound by strict gender norms.  Yet all of these women also use remarkable physical and emotional strength to earn their own money and improve the lives of their husbands and children.  Frank manages to capture a whole spectrum of good and bad, sometimes in a single scene.  Near the end of the film, one of the surrogate mothers uses the $6500 she has earned to buy a house in which to raise her small son (the house, at Dr. Patel’s insistence, is in her name).  As the family sits in the new living room, her husband tells the cameras about her inability to reason, and her “small brain.”  Moments like these—and the touch of a hand on a new baby’s face, a doctor on a cell phone during surgery, an egg donor musing on the idea that she’s a robot—make Google Baby disturbing, and stirring.  After a screening in New York, the audience interrupted into cheers and arguments (and Doron himself, in from Israel, rolled a suitcase full of frozen embryos onstage).  At the middle of the storm was Zippi Brand Frank, still calm and objective, who noted that the type of “discussion” erupting through the auditorium was exactly the point of her film. 


Google Baby was directed and produced by Zippi Brand Frank.  It appears tonight at 8PM on HBO2

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