Love's labour is not lost

Ahmedabad

A long winding lane in a small central Gujarat township leads to what is arguably the epicentre of the country’s surrogacy world. In a not so swanky three-storeyed Akanksha fertility centre, Dr Nayna Patel is busy attending to soon to be mothers. But these are would be mothers with a difference. These are the surrogate mothers whose growing numbers have triggered a debate on whether it is ethically right to rent out wombs.
But undeterred by this raging debate, Dr Patel continues with what she calls a pursuit to give parental bliss to childless couples. A South American couple presently in her hospital wouldn’t stop blessing the doctor for giving them the happiness of parenthood. This childless couple had approached Dr Patel about a year back and now are all set to go back with a baby boy delivered by what sceptics call a `rented womb’. In another room of the hospital, a surrogate mother is carrying a child of a Sri Lankan couple. She will deliver next year.

These surrogate mothers are just a few among the hundreds in Anand town, who have in these last six years rented their wombs to childless couples mainly from foreign countries. With a high NRI population, the township was an ideal meeting ground for ‘demand and supply’ - childless couples from foreign countries in search of parenthood and a willing lot of women from financially not so stable background from nearby villages complimenting them. Dr Patel acts as the linkage between the two and is being dubbed as an ambassador of commercial surrogacy.

But surrogacy has come a long way here. It’s a far cry from 2004 when Dr Patel came into limelight after she got  58-year-old Radhaben to rent her womb for her childless daughter. “It was like a social burden for the aging mother. Whenever she came for  check ups, she would have her face covered,’’ recollected Dr Patel. But things have changed. “Surrogacy is now a more accepted concept for the childless couples and the  surrogate mothers,’’ said Dr Patel.

Bliss vs distress

In the last six years, about 300 children have been born to surrogate mothers in her hospital. Over 200 surrogate mothers have given the parental bliss to about 73 foreign couples and 82 NRIs. But what about critics who dub it unethical and emotionally distressing for surrogate mothers?

The surrogate mothers, perhaps, have an answer. With most of them coming from not so affluent backgrounds, it provides an opportunity for some financial upliftment. “It is not a very difficult task because this is a decision that we take by choice, our family’s economic conditions improve since we have our own children and the child growing in our womb does not resemble us in any way. Hence, it becomes easier to part with the child,” said a surrogate mother due to deliver the child of an NRI couple.

But what about the emotional issues involved? Doesn’t the surrogate mother develop a strong emotional bond with the child? “Maybe initially when the child is born and we take care of it. But we are counselled to detach ourselves before we decide to donate our wombs. We know that it’s not our child. It’s somebody else’s and will give happiness to someone who craves for parenthood,” claims a surrogate mother. Adds Dr Patel, “Before they volunteer, we counsel them. Once they have conceived the baby and they come for check ups, the foetus growing in their womb is always referred to as the baby of the parents. We constantly keep telling them that the baby looks like the original parent. So, the surrogate mother is emotional prepared.’’

And then, of course, the monetary part. “The woman is paid an amount of Rs 3 to 3.5 lakh apart from a monthly allowance of Rs 2,000-3-000. The original parents also have to bear the expenses of medicines and other treatments if required.”

Unsung architect

The 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine for IVF revolution, conferred on Britain’s Robert Edwards, may have been a joint award. Dr Subhas Mukherjee, who also developed the IVF technique the same year (1978), ended his life in anonymity. It was in 1997, when Dr T C Anand Kumar, famed for having headed India's first test tube baby project, started research that he came to know about Dr Mukherjee's work. He even went to Kolkata and borrowed Dr Mukherjee's diaries, where he found that some of the techniques mentioned were being used. In fact, Dr Mukherjee had shown how the uterus need not be slit to implant the embryo but could be implanted via the vaginal approach.

Dr Kumar believed Dr Mukherjee produced the first test tube baby in the country and published a paper on why his work is scientifically authentic in Current Science journal. Finally, Indian Council of Medical Research acknowledged it.

Outsourced pregnancies

Total surrogate deliveries     214
Total babies                          282
Foreigner parents                 73
NRI parents                           82
Indian parents                      56

Related stories:

Definite future for human IVF

Hope, the balm of life

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