By Hemlata Aithani,Womens Feature Service
After IT outsourcing, it’s now ‘pregnancy outsourcing’ that is on the rise in India. Childless couples and singles, especially from the US, Europe and Southeast Asia are looking to India with the hope of becoming parents.
There are others like working women who don’t have time or can’t afford to become mothers or who simply don’t want to go through the physical changes and health issues that come with becoming pregnant, but strongly want to have babies. Single women and men are also finding surrogacy the best way to have their own children with the help of either a donated sperm or egg, as the case may require.
Indian surrogate mothers are in big demand. A surrogate mother is one who gets paid for carrying the babies of other couples. Surrogacy is the process by which an embryo (fertilised egg and sperm of the couple) is transferred to the surrogate mother’s womb through in-vitro fertilisation or IVF.
Surrogacy is fast developing into a kind of profession. The requirements are simple: A surrogate must not be over 45 years and should test negative to life threatening and genetic diseases including, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C and thalassemia. There’s money to be had, it’s for a short term period, and there is the satisfaction of bringing happiness to someone’s life. The downside is that this is a largely unregulated sector and the rights of these women remain unprotected.
Mahua Dutta is a first-time surrogate. The 33-year-old from Delhi is helping a Frenchman by lending her womb. Her baby bump has started showing. She is little over than two months pregnant and has come for a regular check up at Delhi IVF & Fertility Research Centre in a posh area of the Capital. In this case, the parent-to-be is a single Frenchman.
Dutta will receive minimum Rs 3,50,000 (US$1=Rs 46.9) for becoming a surrogate mother. But it’s not the money that this mother of a nine-year-old needs. Surrogacy satisfies her emotional needs.
When she told her husband, who works in an IT company and is currently in the US, about her wish to become a mother for the second time, he had immediately said no saying that another child would be a financial burden. “But the craving to become a mother kept growing strong in me, especially when I came to know I had a bleak chance of conceiving again after I went for a fibroid surgery in my uterus. Becoming a surrogate mother has reassured me that I’m not infertile,” says Dutta. Moreover, she feels that she is “bringing happiness to someone’s life.”
Dutta may have opted to become a surrogate to satisfy her quirky maternal instincts, but for Preeti Singh (name changed) from Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, it was a way to address her poverty.
She delivered a child for a British couple in September last year. Six months on, she came to the IVF Research Centre again to donate her eggs that fetched her Rs 25,000. Now she is thinking of going for surrogacy once again to ease her economic pressures and secure her children’s future.
Thirty-year-old Singh has two children. Her husband is a driver and earns Rs 2,500 a month. “It was difficult to eke out two meals a day for the family,” explains Singh.
Her life changed after she delivered the surrogate baby. The payment she received took care of all her pressing needs. “Our worry to get the next meal for our children was solved immediately. Later, we built two small rooms, bought a bike and saved some money in a bank,” says Singh with a smile.
For Singh, the Rs 3,50,000 she received after nine months was a huge cache of funds that she could never imagine even earning in a lifetime. But for someone coming from the US or UK, this sum is a fraction of what they would have to pay to hire a surrogate in their own country.
“The cost of surrogacy in the US is about $80,000 whereas in India it’s only $18,000. The cost of IVF is $15,000 in the US and in India it’s $2,500,” reveals Dr Anoop Gupta, Medical Director, Delhi IVF & Research Centre.
And it’s this cheaper treatment that is making India a hot spot for those outside the country looking for fertility solutions or children through surrogacy.
Chui Sai Kit, 41, and his wife Zhang Zhenliang, 40, have come all the way from Hong Kong to Delhi IVF & Research Centre to have a baby through surrogacy. Zhenliang has a history of abortions, which she underwent while at the peak of her career. This was followed by multiple miscarriages. She can no longer conceive a baby. For the couple surrogacy is the only option left in order to conceive their own baby and coming to India was the “natural choice” for both of them.
“I looked up on the Internet and calculated the cost of surrogacy. India was comparatively cheaper than other countries and it’s close by, just across the border,” says Kit.
The couple has already held a round of meetings with the surrogate mother. They will be at the clinic for three to four weeks until the healthy egg and sperms are extracted from them, fertilised and the embryo is transferred to the surrogate mother’s womb through IVF.
This is just one case. The Delhi clinic, which is always packed with patients looking for fertility treatment, gets an average of 20 clients every month who want babies through surrogacy.
According to Dr Gupta the trend has caught on in the last few years. His IVF clinic facilitated the first surrogate child in 1997. “In the beginning we did two or three cases in a year. Now we are doing over 50 surrogacy cases a year,” he says.
So far, the clinic has helped in the conception of 4,000 babies through IVF and over 400 babies through surrogacy. About 90 per cent of their clients are foreigners. Even though in India commercial surrogacy is legal they do surrogacy on a case by case basis.
“We make our decision after talking to the expectant parents and observing their behaviour – whether they would be able to take care of their babies or not. And if we feel they won’t, we refuse them. Recently we refused a gay couple as we thought both partners didn’t fit the criteria of caring parents. We do facilitate surrogacy for gay and lesbians couples, single men and women, as well as straight couples of course,” says Dr Gupta.
Apart from Delhi, Mumbai in Maharashtra and Anand in Gujarat are fast emerging as hubs for surrogate mothers and IVF clinics in India. The reasons for India emerging as a favourite destination for surrogacy are many. The country boasts of the best IVF services in the world and the fact that English is widely spoken makes it easier for foreigners to avail of medical services. Moreover, they cost almost one fifth of what it would in the West.
This unprecedented popularity is providing a fillip to medical tourism in India. According to Indian Council of Medical Research commercial surrogacy will grow from being a $445 million-a-year business, which it is at present, to a US$2.3 billion business by 2012, as per a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) case study.
But precisely because it is a booming sector, it also needs to be better regulated.