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Infertility & Reproduction Health Center

Womb for Rent: Surrogate Mothers in India

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Vohra sits in silence for a while and examines her cracked fingernails. "If I do feel sad after the birth, I won't show it," she says eventually. "I can understand how much Jessica wants this baby." In India, she explains, infertility is considered a curse.

Ordenes arrives at exactly 10 a.m., having hired her own car and driver to help navigate the belligerent scrum of auto rickshaws, rusting buses, and camel carts in downtown Anand. She walks over and hugs Vohra, ignoring the custom that discourages lower-caste Indian women from interacting with those outside their group. Vohra smiles.

Ordenes has brought her own interpreter, a female student from the local college recommended by the clinic, since Vohra doesn't speak English. However, when they find an empty ward upstairs and sit on the beds to talk, the women struggle for words. It's as though they both realize the gap between their lives is so vast, there's simply no sensible place to begin.

Ordenes feels her way with some questions about Vohra's kids, then fills her in on her latest ovum count — topic that consumes foreign patients while they're here, since their sole contribution to the pregnancy is healthy eggs. (Surrogates' own eggs are never used.) Ordenes has produced six eggs so far, but two need extra time to mature. She takes Vohra's hand and squeezes it and promises to look after her during the pregnancy. "You're my angel, you're my angel," she coos and hugs her again. Then Ordenes gets out her camera to take photos to send to her husband.

Patel's office is a gloomy, narrow room with a computer at one end and an ultrasound machine behind a fraying living-room curtain at the other. Her enormous desk sits in the center, piled high with papers. The room is constantly packed with nurses, patients, and anyone else who cares to wander in — nobody ever knocks before entering.

Making her rounds of the upstairs ward, where pregnant surrogates have been admitted for monitoring, Patel says the business has taken off beyond anything she imagined. She has about 150 foreign couples on her waiting list, and every week three new women apply to be surrogates. She works 14-hour days and insists she's only involved in surrogacy because there's a genuine need. "I accept patients who have an established infertility problem," she says. "I've had some women ask to do surrogacy because they don't want to give up work for a pregnancy, but I turned them down flat." All the same, Patel admits there are dangers if the surrogacy business continues to grow in India. "There is little regulation by the Indian Medical Council, the body that oversees such practices," she says. "Rules need to be tighter to ensure women are not exploited."

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