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A fertile industry | In India, ‘wombs for rent’|
‘Outsourcing’ pregnancies raises complex questions
By SAM DOLNICK - The Associated Press
ANAND, India — Every night in this quiet western India city, 15 pregnant women prepare for sleep in the spacious house they share, ascending the stairs in a procession of ballooned bellies.
A team of maids, cooks and doctors looks after the women, whose pregnancies would be unusual anywhere else but are common here. The young mothers of Anand, a place famous for its milk, are pregnant with the children of infertile couples from around the world.
The small clinic at Kaival Hospital matches infertile couples with local women, cares for the women during pregnancy and delivery and counsels them afterward. Anand’s surrogate mothers, pioneers in the growing field of outsourced pregnancies, have given birth to roughly 40 babies.
More than 50 women in this city are now pregnant with the children of couples from the United States, Taiwan, Britain and elsewhere. The women earn more for their pregnancies than many would make in 15 years.
But the program raises a host of uncomfortable questions that touch on morals and modern science, exploitation and globalization, and that most natural of desires: to have a family.
A COMMON PRACTICE
Dr. Nayna Patel, the woman behind Anand’s baby boom, defends her work as meaningful for everyone involved.
“There is this one woman who desperately needs a baby and cannot have her own child without the help of a surrogate. And at the other end there is this woman who badly wants to help her (own) family,” Patel said. “If this female wants to help the other one ... why not allow that?”
Experts say commercial surrogacy — what has been called “wombs for rent” — is growing in India. While no reliable numbers track such pregnancies nationwide, doctors work with surrogates in virtually every major city. The women are impregnated in-vitro with the egg and sperm of couples unable to conceive.
Commercial surrogacy has been legal in India since 2002, as it is in many other countries, including the United States. But India is the leader in making it a viable industry. Critics say infertile couples are exploiting poor women in India by hiring them at a cut-rate cost to undergo the hardship and risks of pregnancy and labor.
Ritu Sodhi, a furniture importer from Los Angeles who was born in India, spent $200,000 trying to get pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, and was considering spending another $80,000 to hire a surrogate mother in the United States.
“We were so desperate,” she said. “It was emotionally and financially exhausting.”
Then, on the Internet, Sodhi found Patel’s clinic.
After spending about $20,000 — more than many couples because it took the surrogate mother several cycles to conceive — Sodhi and her husband are now back home with their 4-month-old baby, Neel. They plan to return to Anand for a second child.
“Even if it cost $1 million, the joy that they had delivered to me is so much more than any money that I have given them,” Sodhi said.
Young women are flocking to the clinic to sign up for the list.
Suman Dodia, a pregnant, baby-faced 26-year-old, said she will buy a house with the $4,500 she receives from the British couple whose child she’s carrying.
Dodia’s own three children were delivered at home, and she said she never visited a doctor during those pregnancies.
“I’m being more careful now than I was with my own pregnancy,” Dodia said.
Patel said she carefully matches couples and surrogates. She only accepts couples with serious fertility problems. The surrogate mothers must be healthy, between 18 and 45, and have at least one child of their own.
Like the cast of a fertility reality show, a rotating roster of surrogate mothers live together in a home rented by the clinic and overseen by a former surrogate mother. Their children and husbands may visit during the day, when the women are not busy with English or computer classes.
‘THEY NEED A BABY’
Women in the house “feel like my family,” said Rubina Mandul, 32, the den mother. “The first 10 days are hard, but then they don’t want to go home.”
Mandul, who has two sons of her own, gave birth to a child for an American couple in February. She said she misses the baby, but she stays in touch with the parents over the Internet. A photo of the American couple with the child hangs over the sofa.
“They need a baby more than me,” she said.
Patel said none of the surrogate mothers have had especially difficult births or serious medical problems, but risks are inescapable.
“We have to be very careful,” she said. “We overdo all the health investigations. We do not take any chances.”
Health experts expect to see more Indian commercial surrogacy programs in the future.
But if commercial surrogacy keeps growing, some fear it could change from a medical necessity for infertile women to a convenience for the rich. What if wealthy Western couples decide pregnancy is not worth the trouble and decide to outsource the whole process?
For now, the surrogate mothers in Anand seem as pleased with the arrangement as the new parents do.
“I know this isn’t mine,” said Jagrudi Sharma, 34, pointing to her belly. “But I’m giving happiness to another couple. And it’s great for me.”