Every month Andrea, a US citizen from California makes a tentative call to small town Anand. In a conversation of two sentences, Andrea asks, “Daksha, you fine?” to which a voice replies back, “Daksha fine”. Though cryptic, this is all the reassurance that Andrea-an ‘intended parent’ who is expecting a child from a surrogate mother back in Anand, home to a fledging rent-a-womb industry in India, needs. In a first, the process of surrogacy shed the veil of stigma attached to it and went public as many such stories came out in a public forum in a panel discussion led by Nayna Patel-Obstetrician, Gynecologist and Medical Director of Kaival Hospital Pvt Ltd & Akansha Infertility and IVF Clinic known as ‘Surrogacy pioneer’ of Anand alongwith her embryologist Harsha, three surrogate mothers Manisha, Papia and Jyotsna and three intended parents. The unusual panel threw open the topic of ‘Surrogacy: Past, Present and Future’ on the first day of the 3-day International Communication Management Conference (ICMC-2014) hosted by premier communications management institute-Mudra Institute of Communications(MICA) on Wednesday.
The story is not too different for Canada-based lawyer couple Seema and Aly Kanji, who spoke about their trial and tribulations with four failed IVF treatments and the legal hassles related to adoption until they stumbled upon Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Patel in 2007 and are proud parents to a baby girl who was born via surrogacy just 20 days back. “Before opting for surrogacy, we thoroughly grilled the surrogate beforehand and ensured that she is doing it out of her own will and had a willing partner and met her last May…Even after birth, the surrogate mother ‘Chandrika’ comes to see our daughter and so does her entire family. We have decided to communicate to our daughter right from the beginning about her surrogate mother and will ensure that she keeps in touch with her. We hopefully will bring our daughter to meet her,” says Seema.
Even with an impending Surrogacy bill to be passed in the Indian Parliament, presence of many IVF clinics and high availability of surrogates in Gujarat has ensured that surrogacy has picked up majorly in Gujarat, especially in Anand, which has earned the reputation of a ‘baby farm’. Exchanging her sojourn into surrogacy was Manishaben; a two-time surrogate mother and currently a nanny who hails from a village in Anand.
“I lost my husband in 2008 and was left with three young daughters. A close female relative told me about surrogacy and said your life will be made. I didn’t even know the meaning of the word back then. I became a surrogate mother in 2009 to a couple who were married for 21 years and could not bear a child and delivered a healthy baby for them. With the money I bought a house for myself and educated my daughters. Today my eldest is working in a children’s nursing home and the two others are studying in an English-medium school and I plan to educate them further. I learnt the job of a nanny at the surrogate hostel and can today eke out a living. The respect I have garnered because of my economic independence has increased. My in-laws who would not speak to me after I decided to become a surrogate started calling me up after I got a bank balance,” she says about the stigma attached to surrogacy.
Papiaben, another surrogate who delivered twins for an American couple spoke about buying a rickshaw for her husband who now earns a livelihood out of it. Speaking about the pain of the separation from the child they bear for nine months, she says, “The intended parents of the twins I delivered came four months after the child was born and I almost wanted to keep them as we get emotionally attached to the child. But, when the couple came they cried a lot and were very elated. I felt bad when I had to give it up and cried too. Due to constraints I have to give up the child (Majburi ke hisaab se dena padta hai). But looking at the joy of the parents I feel that now it is their job to take care of the child and they will do it best.”
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Even as last week Gujarat CM and NDA’s PM elect Narendra Modi spoke at a public rally about how Gujarat contributes 40 per cent to India’s surrogacy industry, Patel reveals that her clinic has delivered 735 babies through IVF treatment in 11 years and has atleast 75 ongoing surrogacies at any given time at her clinic in Anand, for couples from all over the world. However Patel laments the business tag associated with surrogacy. “People relate surrogacy to business due to lack of awareness and think that Westerners come and exploit poor women and liken the process to selling babies. However it is a very good arrangement whereby a couple who is unable to carry their child can have one via surrogacy. It is often the last option for them to have a child. However medical and legal supervision is necessary to ensure that agents do not siphon off compensation intended for surrogates or that the couple is not blackmailed and that there are no medical complications for these women… Even after so many cases of successful surrogacies, the child is never a product. We always counsel the intended parents to love the surrogates as it is more important than the money they pay them to bear their child.”
Even as all three intended parents who spoke about the issues surrounding post-surrogacy process where it takes atleast 45 days to complete the mandatory DNA tests and legal requirements required by governments of both countries to take the baby back home; Aly Kanji is all hopeful as he says,”Having a baby through surrogacy is not any different from adopting a child… Our baby girl is just 20 days old, but we can keep staring at her all day long.”