Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Humanities

Advisor 1

Marika Seigel

Committee Member 1

Oren Abeles

Committee Member 2

Erin Frost

Committee Member 3

Stefka Hristova


Surrogacy as a medical practice goes back, in a practical sense, to 1988, when the court case, “In the Matter of Baby M, A Pseudonym for an Actual Person,” was tried in the Supreme Court of New Jersey. At the heart of the issue, was the question of who Baby M’s legally-recognized mother was in the relationship between the contracting parents and the woman who gestated and gave birth to Baby M. Using this case as a jumping off point, this dissertation traces a history of surrogacy as a global industry. This project explores rhetorical agency in the embodied performance of surrogates telling their own surrogacy stories. I take a cultural-rhetorical approach to understanding how the surrogacy industry persuades potential surrogates to enter into formal contracts to gestate a fetus for another person, and how surrogates’ agency might be overtly influenced by the industry. Situating surrogacy within the realm of alternative birth stories, my analysis begins with a critique of digital advertising media, particularly in how the trope I call “insidious madonna-mother” is deployed in the textual and visual representations of pregnancy on surrogacy brokers’ websites. I then extend my analysis to podcasts produced as part of the digital marketing media. I argue that the podcasts, as an important extension of surrogacy brokers’ digital marketing media, do provide surrogates an opportunity to reclaim rhetorical agency in a medical and legal system that exerts control over their embodied experience. However, the subtlety of the insidious madonna-mother trope permeates the discourse, limiting the potential for surrogates to truly reclaim and exercise agency within a rhetoric of surrogacy, impacting the wider issues of agency within reproductive healthcare discourse.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.