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Womb for Rent: Surrogate Mothers in India

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Another example of third-world exploitation? Globalization gone mad? The system certainly lends itself to the criticism that foreign women unwilling or unable to pay high Western fees happily exploit poor women at a tenth of the price it would cost back home. The system also avoids the legal red tape and ill-defined surrogacy laws women face in the U.S. (Not to mention that India, unlike some developing countries, has a fairly advanced medical system and doctors who speak English.) Or is it a mutually beneficial relationship?

By some estimates, Indian surrogacy is already a $445-million-a-year business.

Jessica Ordenes is a petite yoga-school proprietor from New Jersey. Hot, disoriented, jet-lagged, and alone — her husband, David, will join her in a week's time — she is sitting in an empty doctor's office at the Akanksha clinic, sipping fresh coconut juice and waiting for her daily hormone injection. A girlishly pretty woman with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, Ordenes wears a crisp green shirt and a liberal slick of lip gloss ("to stop my lips from shriveling up in this heat," she explains after numerous reapplications). She has come to Anand because she felt, at age 40, that she was nearly out of time.

Unable to get pregnant but still ovulating, she spent years unsuccessfully trying to arrange for a surrogate in the States to carry her biological child. "I was running out of eggs, running out of hope, and running out of patience with being treated like a number in the U.S. system," she says. "I read about this clinic online — I felt India was my last chance."

Hearst Maireclaire Photo India Women Holding Hands

Ordenes arrived a few days ago, checked in to the only hotel in town with air conditioning, and arrived within hours at the clinic, where she began having hormone treatments to stimulate her ovaries. In about 10 days, the eggs she produces will be extracted and fertilized with her husband's sperm. Two days after that, if all goes according to plan, some of the resulting embryos will be implanted into local surrogate Najima Vohra, a 30-year-old mother of two. Ordenes knows very little about the woman she hopes will carry her baby. She has met her only once, during a short session with Patel on the first day.

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