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Remember, a baby is for life, not just for Christmas

Right now, every media organisation in the world probably owes a massive apology to Madonna for spending the last few years gleefully caricaturing the musical superstar as a celebrity who used her wealth and influence to collect African babies the way other people pick up a pint of milk on the way home from work.

Since Elton John and civil partner David Furnish announced to almost universal acclaim that they, too, have just picked up a baby in the Christmas sales, it's become ever more apparent that Madonna's only mistake was being a heterosexual woman rather than a gay man. Ditto, Mia Farrow and Angelina Jolie. Rich Hollywood women adopting foreign babies are basically treated as hormonal loopers with too much time and money on their hands, their innermost motives belittled and ridiculed and forensically questioned by all and sundry.

Sir Elton's sexuality, by contrast, has effectively shielded him from any negative commentary. The overriding response of the media was fear of being accused of homophobia if they did not treat the news that a 63-year-old gay man had become the surrogate father to a nameless American woman's baby as a feelgood New Year's fable. And yes, I know there is a difference between adoption and surrogacy, and I know Elton or David donated sperm -- they won't say which of them it was. But what all of these celebrity parenting devices have in common is that money is an important part of making it happen.

On Sky News, the headline all day was that Sir Elton and Furnish had "become parents" to little Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, born on Christmas Day in LA. That's technically true under California's liberal surrogacy laws, but the words stick in the throat all the same. There's more to being a parent than just signing a cheque and taking delivery of Junior as a sort of belated Yuletide pressie. It's like saying that buying a new set of golf clubs makes you Padraig Harrington.

The Daily Star actually went further with a headline that read: "Elton John has baby." There's a neat trick if you can manage it. Did his partner buy him a second- hand set of ovaries and a portable womb from Harrods for Christmas?

The strained determination to present what was happening as entirely normal was certainly successful, with few people daring to spoil the party by pointing out just how bizarre the whole set-up really was.

Madonna was already in an established family unit when she adopted Mercy James and David from Malawi. She had biological children of her own and a proven track record as a good mother. Even so, she still had to convince a court in Malawi that her lifestyle was a fit one to provide a loving and stable home for another baby.

What are Sir Elton's credentials for taking on these responsibilities? By all accounts, his lifestyle is hectic, extravagant, peripatetic. Indeed, when he and Furnish failed in their recent bid to adopt an HIV-positive boy from Ukraine, he admitted that his age and way of life might not be the best environment in which to bring up a child. In fact, he had admitted he had always previously resisted David's desire to be a parent. He's not even pretending now that having a baby is going to interfere with that. At the end of the month, he'll be in France at the start of a six- month, 26-date concert tour of Europe and America. That hardly presents the image of a man who is taking his new responsibilities seriously.

Of course, none of this would prevent any straight man from fathering a child, or lesbian couple from finding a sperm donor and bringing a baby into the world. But the point is that, in those instances, the parties involved are biologically capable of seeing the job through.

David Furnish may, if reports are correct, have provided the sperm that created baby Zachary, but not even his partner's millions could have allowed him to give birth. They both still needed a woman to make a baby happen. There's no point griping about that. It's basic biology. Orthodox Jews can't celebrate Christmas. Vegetarians can't eat a Big Mac. Some things are self-excluding by definition.

There were actually two women in this case. The first was the provider of the egg, the second the woman into whose womb the fertilised egg was then implanted and carried to term. That's two women who have now effectively been written out of the picture as if they do not exist.

In California, women are reportedly paid $25,000 to

carry surrogate babies for other couples, and even bribed with extra sometimes not to put their name on birth certificates. That's just wrong, and you'd think feminists might have something to say about it. It's treating women as wombs for hire who have no feelings or rights of their own.

If anything, it's a kind of fertility prostitution, where the poor provide certain services to the rich in return for money which means a lot to them but which is peanuts to the party receiving the favour. In fact, it's worse. A paid sexual encounter in a hotel room can last five minutes and be forgotten about by the time the woman in question has reached the lift to make her way to the next client, yet feminists still consider a financial transaction of that nature demeaning to women.

Actually having a baby and then being paid to sever all ties with the infant provokes much less indignation from them -- at least if the people doing it are gay. The urge to be right on about gay rights overrides any consideration for the dignity of women.

That's the part which most needles. I'm still old fashioned enough to believe that children are best brought up by one mother and one father in some boring old nuclear family, but that's obviously unrealistic now.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and there's no reason to doubt that Elton and David will provide anything other than a loving, nurturing environment for baby Zachary. Good luck to them all.

But to exclude the mother from the deal just seems like an insolent dismissal of the whole business of what it means to bring a child into the world. Mothers matter. They matter to children most of all. Just because you have the money to pay for the services of a Californian surrogacy agency and keep the woman quiet afterwards doesn't mean that a child's right to a mother can be trampled under your desire to play at parenthood.

Sunday Independent