When Josh, a 29-year-old who works in academic publishing, and Matt, a 32-year-old pharmaceutical rep, got married in November 2011, they knew they wouldn't be having kids the traditional way (obviously).
But having a family was important to them, and they were eager to get the ball rolling. They were so sure they wanted to be fathers that they preemptively moved from a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment to a two-bedroom space in Queens.
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After researching different options and what they cost, the couple decided to go with Indian surrogacy.
What's that, you say?
Indian surrogacy is when an Indian woman acts as the surrogate mom for a couple by carrying a fertilized egg from a separate egg donor (Matt will provide the dad's genetic material in this situation). Sometimes the surrogate moms use their own eggs, and in other cases doctors have been known to fly Caucasian egg donors to India.
Of course, surrogates are nothing new in the babymaking industry—but this new model is different in one key way: Using Indian surrogate mothers is a growing trend in large part because it's cheaper than getting a surrogate in the U.S. The $25,000-$30,000 price tag is less than one-fifth the going rate of U.S. surrogacy, which can cost up to $160,000.
Physicians in India oversaw an estimated 1,500 surrogacy births in 2010, a 50% jump from two years earlier. A report from Time notes that hundreds of foreign tourists head to India every year for surrogacy purposes, making India the world capital of outsourced pregnancies.
When we caught wind of Josh and Matt's plans, we wanted to know more. Why did they choose that option? What are the broader social ramifications, and what do friends and family think?
The Road to Indian Surrogacy
Matt and Josh started by pursuing options on U.S. soil first. A genetic link wasn’t important to them, but adoption, with its background checks and paperwork, is a time-consuming process.
“We don’t have a biological clock to deal with, per se, but when you’re ready to become a parent, you want it to happen immediately,” Josh says. Meanwhile, the astronomical price tag of surrogacy in the U.S. made that route impractical.
During their research, Matt and Josh found themselves coming across stories of couples doing surrogacy abroad, particularly in India.
They were immediately drawn to the cheaper price tag and swifter timeline (the agency they worked with in Mumbai set them up with both an egg donor and a surrogate in just six weeks). Plus, there were seeming health benefits: The majority of surrogate moms in India have already had at least one full-term birth, Josh explains, and they tend to be married with families. “So, on a societal level, there seems to be a lot less of a problem with drugs and alcohol than what you might find with adoption in the U.S.,” he says.
Though the process itself is cheaper than in the U.S., the couple will need to travel to India for a week at the end of July for Matt to provide his genetic sample, and they will need to travel back again when the baby is born. “Luckily, Matt has been at his job for eight years and has a lot of vacation, and I’m going to see if I can use FMLA time,” Josh says. (The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons.)
What’s in It for the Surrogates?
What we wanted to know was why a mother in India would be interested in carrying a child for a foreigner. Is this exploitative?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, surrogates in India tend to be impoverished women. Though couples wishing for a baby do pay far less than they'd pay an American surrogate, the typical amount an Indian surrogate receives, around $5,000-$7,000, can be more than a decade's salary for rural Indians. The rest of the $25,000-$30,000 price tag goes to the agency and pays for all the medical procedures like implantation.
Much of the debate centers around whether the surrogate mothers are doing this as a last resort, if they fully understand what they're getting into and whether they receive sufficient support and counseling for carrying babies to term and then giving them up. That's not to mention the dynamic of Western couples viewing these women and the babies as commodities to be bought.
In the other camp, one doctor who runs a surrogacy clinic says, "A woman who becomes a surrogate is paid more money than she could earn in her entire lifetime. She is doing something that she believes is good and makes her proud--bearing a child for a couple desperate to start a family, while at the same time providing for her own family. Which would you call exploitation?"
To better regulate this growing industry, India's Health Ministry recently drafted the country's first surrogacy law, which sets age limits and how often surrogates can give birth, among other things. Aware of the controversy, Josh and Matt spoke to their clinic, did as much research as they could and were satisfied that their surrogate's best interests would be cared for, and that her health would be of ost importance.
“One of the proposals floating around would close off Indian surrogacy to Indian citizens only, so we knew we’d have to make a fast decision," Josh says. "We want to have our process well underway before any potential changes could possibly limit our ability to have a child there.”
What Friends and Family Think of Their Plan
Matt and Josh are full-steam ahead. They’ve already picked out two boy names and two girl names for their yet-to-be-conceived child.
According to Josh, the response of friends and family has been overwhelmingly positive. “The great thing about kids is that they’re a unifier,” he says. “Right away people want to know how the process works, but after that, they just want to talk about having kids—the great stuff and the challenges. It’s funny. Co-workers have started treating me almost like an honorary pregnant person, excitedly asking for updates."
“We’re so happy. This has been a dream for both of us for a long time, so it’s nice to finally be taking the steps to make it happen,” Josh says. “If all goes according to plan, we could be parents by the end of April, 2013.”
What do you think? Does surrogacy in India seem like a good idea?
You can read more about Matt and Josh's adventures in becoming new dads on their blog, New Dads on the Block.