Stranger in a Strange Land
Tales of a Year Abroad

Karma or Cottage Industry?

I've noticed a fascinating trend as reported in the one newspaper we receive (The Times of India): the number of foreign families that employ (literally) Indian women as surrogate mothers. On a near weekly basis, the paper runs stories about single mothers, same-sex couples, couples from France or Germany (where surrogacy is outlawed), and couples from America who come to India to procure a baby. Surrogacy is a lengthy procedure that includes a screening process (for the woman who will carry the baby), courses of hormones, implantation, pregnancy, and delivery--and it is not without risks.

While the newspapers paint this as a joyous occasion for all parties involved--childless individuals receive at least one (often times more due to fertility drugs) and the women who bear these children are often quoted as saying that they are pleased that they can bring happiness to others. Yet, what is rarely talked about, and perhaps the most problematic element in this scenario, is the monetary compensation these native women receive for carrying a foreigner's child/children.

It is cheap to buy a baby here. This statement does not imply triteness, judgment, or ill-will towards those who come to India to add to or start their family--especially when so many of these stories are about individuals who, for some reason or another, are unable to have children of their own. Like Keri Armstrong (profiled in a The Times of India article on March 15th), who suffers from a genetic condition that forced her to undergo tubal ligation at 23. Her surrogate, according to the article, bore the children for Keri and her husband so that she would have enough money for a surgery that would prevent her own 17-year old daughter from going blind. Many of these reports are as equally touching, and highlight the how this situation is mutually beneficial (both parties "win" in the end), yet they fail to fully address the financial implications of a such a "deal." The fact remains that foreigners come to India for surrogates because it is unregulated (at this time, India has no laws governing the practice of surrogacy) and cheap--dirt cheap. It costs somewhere between $5000-$10,000* to produce a baby. Most of that money does NOT go to the women who carry the baby; the doctors who implant the embryo take a larger cut for his or her self. But what is more fascinating is how this phenomenon has grown into a full-blown industry.

According to Abigail Rabinowitz, a Fulbright recipient conducting research in this specific area, women are now recruiting other women into this enterprise. During the course of her research, she encountered a grandmother who was pressuring her 21-year old granddaughter (a married woman with children) to become a surrogate. The reason: the 21-year old's husband was a deadbeat husband and father who had left his wife and children. Rather than become a burden to her family, as often happens to women whose husbands leave, the grandmother saw surrogacy as a viable way for her granddaughter to support herself. And this is not the only story: Rabinowitz's research is rife with sisters recruiting sisters, aunts recruiting nieces, neighbors recruiting neighbors. Her research also shows women returning to clinics to become surrogates for the second, third, or fourth time. Some of these women, realizing the value of the "goods" they're selling have started to ask for more money the second, third, or fourth go-around. Other women, if they "age out" of surrogacy, may push relatives into the "biz" just to receive a finders fee.

In all fairness, it is easy to sit here, on this privileged throne that is first-world feminist, and criticize this practice. It is easy to pass judgment, to equate surrogacy (on some levels) to prostitution--after all, are not both cases of women selling their bodies for profit? I have also never wanted a child, never been told I can't have a child, or been denied the possibility of having a child. I have never been option-less, I have never been poor. I have never been faced with the powerlessness of being a woman with family obligations and no way to fulfill those obligations. I have never been told that my gender limits what options I have available to me in all that I do, say, think, and desire.

I do not begrudge these Indian women for choosing the venue, perhaps the only venue available to them as underprivileged, under-educated, seemingly powerless women (Rabinowitz reports that many of the surrogates she interviewed were women who either had abusive husbands, husbands who were unable to work, or had been abandoned by their husbands). In some ways, I can see how this situation may actually be empowering for a woman with little to no resources at her disposal. Nor do I condemn the foreign couples who come to India hoping to fill a void in their families. Rather, I puzzle over the long-term implications and ramifications of this industry, for no other word can be used to describe what is occurring. I puzzle and I hope that the professed joy surrogates and new parents alike remains free from corruption and perversion.

*These are rough estimates based on articles read in the newspaper as well as vague recollections of numbers stated by Abigail Rabinowitz at the Fulbright Conference. In no way do they represent a 100% actual "fact" but rather stand as a close enough approximation of the truth. In other words, you get the picture, right?

Intresting post Tina..why people crazy about children?of course i like children.why dont they adopt street children or orphans who lost thier parents by mishaps or natural disasters.globe already over india and africa so many poor people waiting for ..better life.

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