The making of babies
Published by: Harper Collins
Price: INR 250
A century ago, this book would have been banned as inflamatory fiction that flies in the face of nature and the belief that God alone decides who among womankind will bear children and who will remain barren.
Today, surrogacy has come to stay. While the rest of the world grapples with the moral, ethical and social issues of renting a womb to fulfil the need for a child, India has set aside all of these to allow surrogacy as legal and permissible, as long as some conditions are met.
Of course, where there is a law, there are loopholes. And every technological advance has two sides. Surrogacy brings light and joy into homes that have craved for the sound of a baby’s voice, but it also has an ugly face. Gita Arvamudan’s book reveals both faces. Creating a series of short sketches of the many players in the surrogacy drama, Arvamudan lets the story tell itself.
We meet couples in need and surrogate mothers who will bear their children for them, we meet women who help in the clinics and women who donate eggs to earn a fast buck. There are agents, and embryologists, and a host of overseeing relatives. Through all of them, the picture emerges slowly, but clearly.
There are rich couples and middle class ones, and each of them comes with a background of motives for picking this method of renting a womb. There’s Cathy from the USA with her need to have her own baby. She fears India as being a far off, alien land, its only appeal over other countries being the fact that English is commonly spoken here. There is Rajappa and his wife, from Andhra, visiting a clinic in Bangalore, feeling as alien in the city and its Kannada speaking rickshawmen as Cathy does in Hyderabad, where her chosen clinic is situated.
The book travels to Chennai, Katmandu, Anand, Mumbai as well as Delhi. Through montages, it lets us view the mental and physical states of the many protagonists. We learn some amazing facts, among them is that India is one of the few countries in the world that allow gay men to have surrogate babies. The book also records the case of two Caucasican partners who each want a baby, and as they want them to have the same genetic mother, the rules are bent to allow them to ‘choose’ eggs from the same donor, whose ‘looks’ too are first approved by them.
Through a series of case histories, Arvamudan unravels the many aspects of surrogacy, including the laws governing those who fly in from overseas, the competition between the larger, better established clinics and the smaller ones, the exploitation of women donors by their own relatives, to ensure they supply regularly and keep the money coming in.
Chief among these is the rather tragic story of pretty Manisha from Nepal. She and her husband are lured to Bombay by her sister. Manisha walks into the surrogacy trap without any idea of what is happening. She ends up becoming a regular donor, whose eggs are much in demand because of her fair skin and pretty face. Though Manisha never becomes a surrogate, her womb is harvested mercilessly, thanks to her own sister’s greed, and before long, the invasive hormones make her bloated and sick.
There are good relationships too, between donors, surrogates and parents. Rajappa’s wife Malini bonds with her surrogate, and Meena and Ram actually grow fond of Alice whom they first looked askance at, because of her religion.
Arvamudan touches on senstitive issues. When Alice is asked to nurse the twins she has carried and borne for Ram and Malini, the maternal instinct she feels is a cross that she has to bear. But the contract holds good, and money must substitute for emotions which must be quelled.
The history of surrogacy, the complicated laws that can stymie the best intentioned and well-operated surrogacy endeavours are all dealt with by Arvamudan in interlude-chapters.
Taking the reader from the first seed of the idea through the process of finding a surrogate and the pregnancy, the stories end with the joy of delivery and the parents carrying away the babies that strongly resemble them, to happy homes. The surrogate mothers are left with money, sometimes with a bonus—the knowledge that they are young enough to go through the process again.
There is empathy in some of the narration. Like when Mona realises with a start that Alice suffers from morning sickness, and understands that there is so much the surrogate endures. Mona then sees Alice as a woman, not just as a rented womb.
By portraying both the softer, humane side of surrogacy and the joy it brings to childless homes, by highligting the fact that young women who are healthy donors or surrogates can enrich their lifestyle through their earnings, and also showing us the harsher side of surrogacy where avarice takes the lead over medical concerns, Arvamudan leads us through all the highs and lows of the issue.
When a donor tells a prospective parent, “My womb has earned me more than my education did,” it is a telling indicator of where the idea can go horribly wrong, when women set aside their health for money.
Fake bellies and sci-fi scenarios of the future that allow eggs to fertilise themselves without a male donor are interesting asides found in the book. Well researched and written with journalistic clarity, Baby Makers is a one-stop book to clear all your doubts about surrogacy in India.
This was first published in the September 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.