Since becoming a mother I have acquired this tendency towards cognitive empathy which is the ability to to put yourself into someone else’s situation and imagine their thoughts and feelings. This surfaced again, actually it does almost on a daily basis, when I read about the poverty stricken women in India who are renting out their wombs to make money to keep their families going.
The commercialisation of a woman’s body and babies knows no bounds but the heartache and suffering that goes with it carries no price. In fact, it is not even priceless because it is not costed into the pricing model for surrogacy.
Surrogacy firms in India run a service whereby poor Indian women from slums are recruited to be baby carriers to supply married couples, singles and unmarried couples who want to be parents.
This is how the service works. A man’s sperm is sent to the US where women from the Ukraine or South America are on standby to donate eggs. The embryos are then flown to India because poor Indian women provide the cheapest wombs to rent. The Indian women are then kept in hostels run by the surrogacy clinics/agencies where they are looked after. To many poverty stricken mothers this is the first time that they would have had the simple comforts of a proper roof over their heads and decent food. This is what gets me as well. In a country where maternal care is poor private providers are able to exploit a deficit.
The clinics justify recruiting poor women because they can sell the business idea to them easily and ‘educate the women and their families in a clean slate’. Such an imperialistic attitude belies any consideration for the baby carriers.
The concept of choice, as with so many women’s issues, is illusory because their husbands earn about £130 ($110) or so a month and the clinic pays about 20 times more. That amount will keep a poor Indian family going for years. However, the women suffer public shame and stigma from carrying somebody else’s baby. The Centre for Social Research in New Delhi reports that a high proportion of women are shunned by their families when they return. The report also found that many women had been forced into becoming surrogates by their husbands and were deeply unhappy with the situation. The clinic says that it is careful to not recruit any women who have been forced against their will but the evidence proves otherwise.
Providing babies in this way to service a global need for maternal provision is a caricature of the biological ability of women to reproduce. Firstly, the Indian women are no more than commodities because they may have no say in whether to become a surrogate or not, they are powerless to decide whom they would like to carry a baby for and their emotional wellbeing is immaterial to the economic process of childbearing. The politics of race is part of the equation too because, apparently, most requests are for white babies so the brown baby carrier is a vessel much like the way brown boxes are discarded when the contents are taken out.