Friday, 18 May 2012

The surrogate

Rent a womb, that's basically what surrogacy is. At it's core, it is two women helping each other, or bartering. One wants a baby, but can't carry one, while another can surely carry a baby, but needs money. On the surface it is straightforward, but look a little deeper and complexities abound. We are all human after all.

Our surrogate was chosen for us by Dr. Patel. Her name is Kailash and like most surrogates here in Anand, she is from a poor village outside of the city. She is a mom of two kids, a ten year old girl and an eight year old boy. I just saw their photos today--they are really cute. The surrogates who become pregnant here leave their families for their entire pregnancy and are put up in one of two houses managed by Dr. Patel and her staff. From my perspective, hopeful mama, it sounded great. I had every assurance that my babies would get all the nutrients, vitamins and pre-natal care they needed. I knew my surrogate was passing her days munching on snacks (probably spicier than the root beer floats I consumed every day of my pregnancy), watching Bollywood movies, and gossiping with another 30 or 40 pregnant women in her same situation. India gave me relief from wanting to call my surrogate every day, from wondering if it was her car in the pileup on the 880. I knew a world away she was insulated. Insulated from her daily chores, hunger, and stress, but also (here's where it starts to get complicated.....) isolated from her community, family and home.

One of the requirements to be a surrogate is that the woman is already a mother.  While this validates that the woman can bear children, and it ensures that the woman will not likely feel a pull to keep our baby, it also means that her kids must spend almost a year without their mother.  I couldn't imagine that, but I also couldn't imagine much of the hardship of her life either.  Complicated, right?

All of the women who chose to be surrogates for Dr. Patel's clinic are married with children.  They need the full support of their families to do this.  In India families live together multi-generationally, so the whole family supports the effort of the surrogate.  The husband must also be in full agreement and sign legal contracts to that point.  In our case, the sister-in-law of our surrogate (her name is Daksha) was the enabler of the surrogacy.  She heard about it, brought the idea to Kailash and convinced her brother (Kailash's husband) that it was a good idea.  For all of this effort, her family benefits financially and she gets a "finders fee" from Dr. Patel.  India's economy is based on this cash "finders fee".  The wheels are greased constantly---another topic for another day.

There was an article on the cover of the paper today (The Times of India) about surrogacy.  It described how most surrogates use the money they have earned:  31% buy a home, 28% clear a debt, 20% invest in savings or financial securities, 11% pay for education of their children.  I guess, this is probably pretty similar to what American surrogates do with their earnings.  Comparing the impact of the money on an Indian surrogate's life with the life of an American surrogate, it seems that the Indian experience is more life-changing.  Many of these women are rebuilding their lives with the money they earn as surrogates.  At the same time, some are exploited and in the most tragic cases, some die.  When considering surrogacy in India, we asked ourselves if we were taking advantage of the poorest of the poor.  This is the big one.  Really complicated.  I'm sure some people in our family disagree with us, but, in the end, we didn't see a big difference between India and the US in this respect.  Money is the motivator.  As long as we were honest and respectful, we thought we could help Kailash improve the quality of life for her and her family.  Nearing the end of our journey, I think this is still true.  That said, my story has a happy ending.  Thank God I'll never know how I would have felt if it didn't turn out so well for us & Kailash.

In comparing Indian surrogacy with surrogacy in the US, I was attracted to the forced distance in our relationship.  In the US, I could imagine hanging out with my surrogate on a Friday night, watching movies and eating root beer floats.  We'd be besties...but then she'd deliver my baby (or babies) and what?  Would we stay friends?  Would we vacation together?  Would my kids know her as surri?  Would she feel a "special connection" with my kid?  Did I want that?  It could get awkward, fast.  Kailash and I don't speak the same language.  She wanted to hold the babies and we let her.  We took a bunch of photos together and will give her some prints before we leave.  We smile and try to communicate, taking advantage of a translator whenever we find one.  We really have tried to treat her well and with respect, but we aren't best-friends.  I don't have her cellphone number and if I try to send pictures of Camilla and Oliver as they get older, I've heard they won't realistically get to her.   I think she's happy she helped us.  I think she is happy to be going home soon to her family.

Medically, this surrogacy business is complicated stuff, and this clinic is high volume.  There are shots and medications, lots of ultrasounds, likely twin pregnancies, likely c-sections.  We considered how it must feel for Kailash.  Does the doctor really spend time explaining what she's doing, why she's taking certain drugs?  I don't know Kailash's education level, but am certain it's low.  I'm sure there is not a lot of time spend on educating her about fertility and pregnancy.  Is she treated like a cow headed for slaughter? Even if I treat her with respect and dignity, does my doctor?   It's so complicated.

Anybody have any thoughts to add?

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