When Gabrielle Union announced that her second tell-all book, You Got Anything Stronger?, would delve into her surrogacy journey, despite not personally being a fan of celebrity autobiographies, I must admit I was excited. Black women are thought to be twice as likely to experience infertility, and yet are half as likely to seek treatment. Infertility is seen as a taboo topic in Black communities. For Union to publicly discuss her struggles and reveal her vulnerabilities was a show of real strength.
Before reading the book, I decided to do a bit of research to see how tabloids and celebrity magazines covered her journey. Union gave multiple interviews in 2019, right after the birth of her daughter Kaavia, discussing how turning to surrogacy 'felt like surrendering to failure'. These interviews were quite shallow, and so I hoped the book would discuss some of the hardships of dealing with adenomyosis and how she came to the decision to pursue surrogacy. Additionally, as there is a dearth of research on Black women in surrogacy arrangements, as either intended mothers or surrogates, I was looking forward to seeing how Union would discuss her journey within the racial context permeating surrogacy in the United States.
Comforted by the excerpt published in Time Magazine, I was confident this book would meet at least some of my expectations – aware that I had set them quite high. Much to my dismay, only the first chapter discusses surrogacy, with nothing really ground-breaking. In fact, the first chapter was essentially a more drawn out version of the Time Magazine article. Union briefly discusses the heartache of repeated miscarriages and how her fiancé's affair leading to a child with another woman shone a public light onto her grief. The affair highlighted her desperate desire to experience pregnancy.–.and publicly. However, as this was not a physical possibility, she followed her reproductive endocrinologist's recommendation to pursue surrogacy.
Union mentioned her discomfort with the revelation on surrogacy messaging boards that white couples preferred Latina or South Asian surrogates. Yet, after reading the novel Little Fires Everywhere, her mind changed. In the novel, a married couple entered into a traditional surrogacy arrangement with a woman who was a lookalike for the intended mother. The traditional surrogate reneges on the agreement and runs away with the baby to raise as her own (see BioNews 1062). Union asserts that the author's portrayal of surrogacy was accurate, and for that reason she was adamant that her surrogate could not be Black, and would be white because 'if she ran off with a Black-ass baby, people might be more inclined to ask questions.' I would have enjoyed more of a discussion into how she negotiated her discomfort with specifically opting for a white surrogate, fully aware that she might not match with one because of the racial dynamics present in the USA.
After her first potential surrogate failed the vetting process, she is then quickly matched with a second surrogate who tells her how much she wanted to give someone else the gift of life with children. Union is sceptical and asserts that this this revelation was a nicety because 'nobody's going to say 'I need this money, so take my uterus'.' Having only recently claimed that she found the 'most ethical agency' (without any indication of what this entailed, I did wonder what metrics she was judging the agencies by if she wrongly thought that California surrogacy agencies would accept surrogates who were financially motivated.
She met with her 'cool-ass white girl' surrogate and was satisfied with her decision. The first embryo transfer was successful, and as the readers, we get glimpses of Union's celebrity studded life – including conversations with Jessica Alba. In between these superficial sections, Union discusses how seeing her surrogate fall pregnant so easily made her feel like a failure, like her own embryos rejected her body. This fleeting moment of vulnerability is quickly ushered away, and replaced with more celebrity talk.
As we rush through the surrogacy and birth, it became clear that I was quickly reaching the end of the surrogacy story. After posting photos of Kaavia's birth, Union mentions the hurtful comments she received and how they reinforced her own secret shame of not being able to mother. Once again, this vulnerability was over before there was a moment to process the stigmas associated with being an intended parent, especially in California, where the cost of surrogacy is so prohibitive (compared with the UK, for instance).
I had pre-ordered You Got Anything Stronger? hoping for an American version of Sophie Beresiner's The Mother Project (see BioNews 1103). I was intrigued by the racial and class tensions that undoubtedly coloured Union's surrogacy, with much of the press surrounding it hinting heavily that the book would focus on the surrogacy. I must admit that after that first chapter, I continued to read the book only to find another chapter, or at least section, about the aftermath of surrogacy, but was unsuccessful. If you are indeed interested in Union's infertility and surrogacy, I would recommend the Time Magazine article, rather than the book itself.