Hey there baby, that's show business

Elton John
Elton John 

Surrogacy and serial adoption have become the Hollywood norm.

Who could fail to feel uplifted on an emotional thermal of joy by the latest glorious concordance of celebrity and reproductive science revealed in the past month?

First there was Elton John's new surrogate baby, Zachary, tenderly eased into family life with a front-page exclusive in OK! magazine. Then there was Nicole Kidman's surprise announcement that last month she had had a baby girl, or rather someone else had had one for her, and she wished to express her incredible gratitude to the ''gestational carrier''. Now there's a gap in the Hallmark card market if ever I saw one.

They are, you see, bang on trend: Sarah Jessica Parker had twins, Marion and Tabitha, via a surrogate last year when she was unable to conceive after having her son, James, now aged seven. Flamboyant Latino singer Ricky Martin's twin boys, Valentino and Matteo, were born to a surrogate in 2008; and, as in so many spheres, the pioneer was Michael Jackson, who evidently felt that being a paranoid infantile eccentric should be no barrier to fathering three children, although given they bear absolutely no resemblance to him, it would seem fair to conclude that the King of Pop did not himself crack any proverbial eggs to rustle up these particular omelettes.

In the US, surrogacy is the new adoption and a thriving business to boot. In Australia it is invariably a private arrangement, steeped in social awkwardness, with ostensibly only ''reasonable expenses'' changing hands.

In the US, surrogacy is the new adoption and a thriving business to boot.

But in America, and especially in Hollywood, surrogates are paid well. The rate, including brokers' fees, is about $US80,000, the price varying according to whether the surrogate is using her own egg, an embryo created in vitro, or twins. Anyone with enough cash can engage their services and celebrities seem particularly unfazed by outsourcing their reproduction.

Advances in medicine have made all sorts of complex egg-sperm-embryo permutations possible, but Hollywood has always fostered a pioneering attitude to parenthood.

In the early days studio bosses and agents would sternly warn starlets - their childbearing years inconveniently coinciding with their casting years - to retain their figures at all costs, which ushered in an early acceptance of adoption as an alternative to pregnancy. These days it may not be PC to say it, but young actresses know the score.

In some quarters, adoption has been viewed as the stuff of cynical career moves. Back in 1978 Christina Crawford shocked the world with Mommie Dearest, in which she exposed her adoptive mother, film icon Joan Crawford, as a cruel, abusive alcoholic. Crawford sought to create the perfect domestic scenario: a girl, a boy, twins. There was a fifth child, too, which she nobly ''took in'' - only for him to be apparently reclaimed by his furious birth mother within days.


Crawford was applauded for her philanthropy, but Christina, the first to be adopted, in 1939, claims the fairytale family image was a facade, concealing a world of violent rages and capricious punishments.

Angelina Jolie, who has six children with Brad Pitt, three of them adopted from Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam, is considered Hollywood royalty, so there was a gasp of horror at the Golden Globes ceremony last week when British comedian Ricky Gervais joked about her brood: ''You can be a little child, a little Asian child, with no possessions, no money - but you see a picture of Angelina Jolie and you think, 'Mummy!'.''

It was excruciatingly near to the knuckle for a Tinseltown audience that sees adoption by a star as an act of selflessness verging on sainthood.

The ultimate A-list melting-pot family was created by Mia Farrow, who adopted 11 children, as well as bearing three with her first husband, Andre Previn, and another during her relationship with Woody Allen.

She and the filmmaker broke up when it emerged he was having an affair with her daughter, Soon-Yi, whom she had adopted with Previn. Despite the 35-year age difference, Allen went on to marry Soon-Yi and they, in turn, have adopted two daughters (do keep up). Incidentally, Allen's former muse, Diane Keaton, 61, adopted two children when she hit 50.

That adoption is open and regarded as a norm must surely be regarded as a good thing: when Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards adopted two orphaned Vietnamese girls in 1974 they encouraged future overseas adoptions.

Although Kidman now has a baby daughter by a surrogate, she was once old-fashioned enough to have adopted two children with her first husband, Tom Cruise, who chose to live with him when the couple separated. She probably won't be able to resist parading the new arrival, Faith, but let us hope she will be more low-key than Sir Elton and David Furnish.

''I feel very uncomfortable seeing Elton John's baby plastered all over OK!,'' says behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings. ''It reduces a child to a commodity, to be shown off like a new house or a new car. It's great that surrogacy is being publicised for women who can't conceive, but it's troubling to see celebrities acquiring babies like designer accessories.''

Judith Woods is a columnist with The Daily Telegraph (UK).