This Article originally appeared in The Gujarat, in 2012.
Bringing smiles to couples across the world via Reproductive Tourism
One year back, in Chennai, while researching on a story on infertility, I woke up to the fact that inability to reproduce is a bane in the lives of myriad married couples across the globe. The pangs of childlessness can cause serious psychological problems leading to depression, broken marriages and even suicides stemming from a deep sense of disability and deprivation.
There is no denying the fact that almost every human being lives to reproduce at some stage of life. This feeling often drives couples to think of unimaginable ways to reproduce. Remote possibilities such as surrogacy are now a common reality. Some of us would deridingly call it a womb on rent, when a woman bears a child for someone else since in in-vitro fertilization (IVF) process the egg of the biological mother is fertilized in a test-tube and placed in the womb of the surrogate.
It was in Chennai that I was told about Anand in Gujarat, which has emerged as the surrogacy hub of the country. A year later, having chanced upon the opportunity, me and my colleague embarked upon a captivating journey to the unassuming town of Anand which has made an indelible mark on the world map for reproductive tourism.
Lost in the maze of dusty bylanes meandering through the city; a few discreet enquiries later we realised that Akanksha clinic and Dr. Nayana Patel were household names for the people of the city. Making our way through a sea of expectant patients, we knocked at the door of Dr. Nayana’s small yet tidily organized cabin. We were greeted warmly by the unassuming lady, whose fame far precedes her name.
“It all started in 2003 when a couple approached me for the treatment of infertility.” Dr.Nayana told us. The lady did not have a uterus and the marriage turned turbulent because of her inability to bear children. In a bid to save her daughter’s marriage, the mother decided to become a surrogate at 44; after IVF (in-vitro fertilization) she delivered twins, her own genetic grandchildren! The medical wonder turned out to be a blessing; it saved the marriage and restored happiness to the family. Since then, there was no looking back. Dr.Patel was flooded with desperate cries for help from the world over. She set up a surrogate hostel, “Nest”, in 2007-08 and the Anand Surrogacy Trust was set up in 2008 with the funds that came from the parent couples.
On entering the gates of one of the cozy looking two-storeyed buildings, we met a group of cheerful women at various stages of pregnancies, busy chatting along while knitting or sewing. The warden Nirmalaben, an erstwhile JNM nurse, told us that it was time for their stitching classes. We met the tailor couple Geetaben and Chetanbhai, who train these women and who were all praises for the enthusiasm and interest of their wards. Their best pupil Ganga (23) is a two-time surrogate who has her children of her own. She showed us some samples of her neat stitches. With the help of these classes, she hopes to set-up her own little tailoring shop in future and wants to utilise the money she gets, to educate her children and buy them a home.
Apart from stitching classes, the women can chose from an array of vocational trainings offered to them during their stay at the house. The Anand Surrogacy Trust has given out loans for 8600 motorized sewing machines to the surrogates and also provided dress and study material to their children. They celebrate festivals together and even have elaborate baby showers. There were a total of 29 women staying at this home at the time of our visit, each pursuing an individual dream.
It was lunchtime in the other surrogate house and we were offered to share a meal with the surrogates. Over lunch, we asked one of the women if she regretted her decision and if her family was supportive enough. Pat came the reply, “No, I would never regret doing this and as for my family, it is for them I am doing this and they understand. As far as I am concerned, being a mother myself, I can understand what a childless mother goes through and I am more than happy that I am instrumental in helping one out.” Swamped by mixed emotions, we were taken back to the clinic by Omar, the auto driver who helps the surrogates commute to the hospital and back.
Back at the clinic we met Sharda, who had lost her husband, the only earning member of the family when she had come to become a surrogate leaving her 13 year old son with her mother-in-law. Today, with the help of the money she has received, she owns a farm and employs people to work for her. She could even educate her son. Her satisfaction was visible in her gleaming eyes.
One disturbing question that was irking us still was, about the attachment that the surrogate is bound to develop for the baby she nurtures in her womb. Dr. Nayana Patel told us that psychiatrist Dr. Neepa Shah counsels these women at every stage of the pregnancy and also since these women are already married and have their own children (this being a prerequisite for becoming a surrogate), they learn to let go of this attachment.
It is indeed remarkable that one small city in Gujarat has turned into reality what might seem to be a distant dream for the rest of India. The state has set a precedent in embracing humanist ideas by facilitating reproductive tourism which has proved to be immensely valuable. Apart from empowering the surrogates, it is bringing in a lot of revenue for the state itself, furthering its development. Dr. Patel told us that couples from all parts of the world come to her. She has successfully performed 98 IVFs so far. She further said that she was thankful to the State Government for its assistance at every step, starting from extending warm hospitality to the couples to the speedy issuance of passports and birth certificates to the new-borns.
Cynics may argue on the ethics of the process. But can cynics give a child to a childless couple and empower the surrogates not only through financial independence but also through a sense of working for a noble cause, asks Dr. Patel.
As we walked out of the gates of Akanksha Clinic we met a teary-eyed couple from US returning home with their new-born in their arms and Dr. Patel’s words appeared all the more prophetic.