Surrogate mothers rest at the Akanksha hostel in Anand, a small town in Gujarat that has a reputation as India's "surrogacy capital."
India is one of a handful of countries where women can be paid to carry another's genetic child. There are no official figures on how large the fertility industry is in India, but a U.N. backed study in 2012 estimated the business at more than $400 million a year.
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"How is society affected when it accepts women using their bodies like this?"
A smooth, modern road in the prosperous Indian state of Gujarat leads to 35-year-old Chimanlal’s small, windowless brick hut that he lives in with his wife, young son and two daughters. Earning 2500 rupees (38$) a month as a driver, Chimanial says it is not enough to feed his children. Only his son goes to school. But in a year’s time, their lives are set to change.
50 kilometers away is the small city of Anand, known as India’s “surrogacy capital”. Chimanlai’s wife is carrying a baby for a Japanese couple in which she will be paid 450,000 rupees, an unimaginably large amount of money for a family like theirs. Since 2004, over 500 Indian women have traveled to Anand from neighboring villages and towns to become surrogate mothers for families from nearly 30 countries. Dr Nayana Patel and her husband run Akanksha clinic, the city’s only surrogacy facility.
For nine months, the surrogate mothers live away from their families. They stay at a residency provided by Patel’s clinic. Wearing gowns covering their big bellies, the women pass their time by watching TV, talking on their mobile phones and chatting to each other. Some enjoy the experience and see it as break from their tough daily life, while others miss being away for so long from their husbands and children.
“I’m not ashamed of doing what I’m doing. I don't care what the neighbors think or what my relatives think because they are not the ones who have to feed my family,” Daksha, 31, Chimanlal’s wife, said. With the money she will earn, she and her husband plan to build a new house and send their daughters to school.
Dr Patel is somewhat of an icon in the small city of Anand. I walk out of my hotel and jump into an auto rickshaw. The driver sees my cameras and assumes I've come to photography Dr Patel and her clinic. He tells me: "behan” (polite way of addressing a woman that translates into "sister"), almost every journalist or foreigner walking on the streets of Anand is here to meet Dr. Patel.”
I first saw her as she stepped out of her light gold Audi in a beautiful, sparkling sari accessorized by a large, pearl necklace. Dr Patel, a firm woman in total control of operations at her clinic, has made a name for herself by running a successful fertility in this small city which has garnered international attention. Oprah Winfrey’s now-defunct talk show featured the facility in 2007, a woman Dr Patel clearly admires based on the framed photos of the U.S. daytime TV star that are on the shelves of her clinic.
Daniele and Rekha are a couple from London who heard about the clinic in Anand after watching a documentary on TV. They met Dr Patel in London and wanted her to help them fulfill their lifelong dream of having a child. Soon after, they sold their restaurant business in order to fund the surrogacy treatment and flew to India. Daniele said it was very emotional for him to meet Naina, the surrogate mother, for the first time a few days before the delivery of the baby. “I was very nervous, it wasn’t romantic for me because I was concerned about the child as well as the surrogate” he said. It has been a life changing experience for both Rekha and Daniele and they would love to share this with their daughter and tell her about the experience and their special journey to get her. Unlike Rekha and Daniele, many parents choose not to tell their child and keep it as a big secret for their entire lives. Rekha and Daniele said they were impressed with the amount of knowledge Dr.Patel had but they wished there were improved guidelines to follow that could help them to communicate better between all parties.
Though some have described the clinic as an exploitative baby factory. Dr Patel disagrees: “There is nothing immoral or wrong in this. A woman is helping another woman, one who does not have the capacity to have a baby and the other who doesn’t have the capacity to lead a good life. And when the end result is a lovely baby how can you say there is something wrong happening?” This may satisfy many people but it leaves one thinking about two people involved in this process - one is the surrogate who is putting her physical and mental health at risk in order to fulfill her family’s dreams. How is society affected when it accepts women using their bodies like this? The other is the child who is the product of this transaction. Shouldn’t he/she have the right to know the identity of any/all of the people involved in that child's conception and delivery?