Reposted from The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/30/india-women
India’s booming surrogacy business
India is fast emerging as the ‘surrogacy capital of the world’ with a $445 million business in ‘fertility tourism’. A burgeoning number of poor Indian women are turning paid surrogates for childless foreign couples. Fuelling the surrogacy service from India are a slew of factors, including low medical costs, a highly qualified medical workforce and lax surrogacy laws. Here, an underprivileged Indian woman, Sarita, in India’s western state of Gujarat, explains why she became a surrogate for an American couple
I am a farmer’s daughter and belong to a large family of ten siblings. I was conveniently married off by my parents 10 years ago at age 16 to our neighbour’s son, despite the fact that he was 15 years my senior. I told my parents that I wasn’t keen on marriage and that I would instead like to pursue higher studies and become a teacher. But they would have none of it: “You’re ultimately going to become a housewife and not the country’s prime minister, so why study so much?” they questioned. My name was struck off the school rolls.
My husband Ramesh is employed in a garment factory and gets a paltry 3,000 Indian rupees ($60) per month. The money is barely enough for us. But despite this, Ramesh shows no ambitions to improve our financial condition or plan a bright future for our children. On the other hand, I’m keen that our daughters get good degrees, well-paid jobs and marry well.
To enhance our family income, I’ve often thought of running a grocery shop. But getting a loan is impossible, especially for poor women, and my relatives also refused to help us.
But what actually stoked my material ambitions a few months back was the sudden affluence of a couple of our neighbours. Despite their modest incomes, these families suddenly managed to buy goodies like a TV, refrigerator and expensive household furniture. According to local gossip, the ladies of these families had turned surrogates for rich foreign couples who paid them a fortune to have their babies. Of course, it was all done surreptitiously.
Having a child is no big deal in our village, so I thought why not earn some money by becoming a surrogate? When I discussed my plan with Ramesh, he threw a fit. What will our relatives say? How would it affect us as a couple? What would we tell our own kids and families? How would the money be of help to us? He bombarded me with questions. Finally, he came around to my point of view after a few weeks.
Money is the prime motivator in surrogacy cases and societal support usually zilch. Occasionally, due to India‘s conventional attitudes towards sex, the surrogates become ostracised. So the biggest issue, if I was chosen to be a surrogate and had to give the baby away, was how I would explain it all to my village folk?
The only idea that came to my head was that I’d move in with my married sister who lives in a different city until the baby was delivered. And then I’d come back and say the child had died. Though everybody knows that women in our village opt to become surrogates in exchange of money, traditional attitudes mean that we often have to invent tales for our neighbors. It’s a lie we have to tell to profit from this arrangement.
Me and Ramesh visited our local gynaecologist to discuss things with her. She guided us to a city clinic which was looking for commercial surrogates. I registered myself here and filled up a form mentioning details about my caste, marital status and medical history. The agency told me that if I matched up with any of their clients, they would get back to me. I thought I’d never hear from them, so imagine my surprise when I received a call within a week.
A meeting was arranged for us and a foreign couple at the clinic two weeks later. They said they’d like to meet us after flying over from America. When I saw them both, the first thing that came to my mind was: “How could two such beautiful people not be able to have children?”
We all sat down and the lady talked about where they were from and the problems they had had in conceiving. She got a little emotional when she talked about her third pregnancy that ended in a premature baby which died soon after birth. We met once more and talked at length again. The couple said they would get back to me. They called a week later and we began our journey.
A contract was drawn up in front of the clinic doctors according to which I would be paid a fixed sum for carrying their baby. They would take care of all my pregnancy, medical and diet expenses and the baby would be theirs after delivery. The clinic did all the testing and we began the process with frozen sperm. At first, it didn’t work. So the next month, the husband flew to the clinic and we tried again. This time it was successful. I was pregnant.
As decided, after my baby bump began to show, I moved in with my sister to a different city saying the doctors there were better. My pregnancy was a breeze. The American couple called me every week to find out about my progress. The lady was especially concerned about me putting on enough weight. They’d offered me a generous food allowance to ensure that I ate well. In the meantime, back home, my mom moved in with my daughters to take care of them.
The weeks flew past and finally it was delivery time. The couple came over once more and were thrilled to see me. The night I went into labour, they were with me. Next day, a baby girl was born to us. She was beautiful. The look that came over the couple’s faces on seeing their child was enough to make me forget all the trouble I’d been through.
It was pure joy and love as they admired their little one. As I handed her to her parents, I thought: “She’s no longer mine”. But it felt like the most natural thing to do, to give her to them – she was theirs. The foreign lady holding the baby and singing to her brought tears to my eyes. I thought of the children she was not able to sing to.
It has been three weeks since the baby arrived. The couple flew back last week, thrilled with the new addition to their family. I hope that one day, when the child is old enough, they will show her my pictures and tell her that I had made their family complete.
• Sarita spoke to New Delhi-based journalist Neeta Lal.