“It is up to the child to remember us,” she says. “We will remember the child for the rest of our lives.” – Indian Surrogate Mother

What do Piperlime, India and Surrogacy all have in common? Read on….

We are now outsourcing childbirth, to India. Reproductive Tourism, or Fertility Tourism is the practice of traveling out of one’s own country for fertility treatments or to use a surrogate clinic. Surrogacy isn’t always as beautiful as it’s portrayed in our minds or from media propaganda. In fact, new reports are surfacing that third-world countries are thriving with new business models of renting-out impoverished women’s wombs. India is thriving most with readily-available women and hundreds of clinics opening to meet the demand from Western couples especially because surrogacy costs a mere fraction of what it does in the biological parents’ own country. More so, countries are cracking down on surrogacy and it is currently illegal to pay a surrogate to gestate a child in Australia and Great Britain, who of the countries using Indian mothers most. GulfNews.com states, “Surrogate mothers in India cost considerably lower, roughly about a fourth of what they would cost in the US. The cost of surrogacy in the US is approximately $50,000 to 100,000 whereas in India, it costs anywhere between $3,000 to $12,000.” However, those lower costs come with a high moral pricetag.

“Commercial surrogacy is now a $2.5 billion industry in India.”

With billions flooding into India, many are capitalizing on the trend, with national news and even Oprah Winfrey is speaking out for surrogacy. But, are both women being misled about the true toll of surrogacy? In a recent interview by the DailyMail, a British couple decided to use surrogacy after a devastating miscarriage. Listening to Octavia, (the biological mother of the child in-vitero,) speak about the surrogate, it’s easy to see the elitism and classism that is occurring between some Western couples and Indian women. Octavia, (in all her cluelessness) states,

“Her function is to sustain the foetus (sic) we have created. Her blood is pumping around its body and she is feeding it through her placenta, but she is just a vessel. The baby she gives birth to on our behalf will carry none of her genes and bear no physical resemblance to her. She speaks a different language. She lives in a world culturally, economically and socially so remote from ours that the distance between us is unbridgeable. We do not want to get emotionally involved with our surrogate’s story. I’m not interested in her background. I don’t want to be part of her life. I’m assuming that once the baby has popped out and been bathed, he or she will be handed to us. I’m sure the surrogate will see the baby, but she won’t breastfeed it or cuddle it.”

I couldn’t get over the phrase that simply stated, “Her function,” as if the surrogate was a machine, something merely to turn on and off that housed no emotion or feelings. The comments section held both praise and contempt for the well-off family and their individual views. I was struck by the lack of empathy for the other woman. Octavia has a child of her own, surely she couldn’t imagine gestating a child for 9 months and never holding him or her? Is her surrogate’s body truly just a “vessel” for a child and nothing more? This child has spent its entire life inside the womb of another woman, listening to her voice and heartbeat. There is a distinct lack of respect for the Indian surrogate, more than words could even express. Even more, I can’t help but be struck by wanting a biological child (and only a biological child) when these stats are so in our faces:

According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.

Why would a woman choose to be a surrogate in a country with a caste system and an unbelievably-high level of povery? Plain and simple, the answer is money. While couples utilizing surrogacy services, routinely pay $20,000 or more, the “vessel” only usually receives $2,000 to $6,000, with that number being widely refuted- many claiming the real amount is less, as clinics are unregulated. Unregulation also has some more dire side effects on the women who are surrogates.  With high mother mortality rates and complications, these pregnancies are and surrogacy in general is unsupervised and left open to the clinic’s own discretion, which can lead to death for the mothers involved.

In 2010, India accounted for 19 per cent of the estimated 287,000 women who died in pregnancy and childbirth, according to the United Nations. According to a 2011 survey by a city-based non-governmental organisation, Center for Health Education, Training and Nutrition Awareness, a childbearing mother dies every eight minutes in India.”

In India, most surrogates must hide their pregnancies for fear of retaliation by their families. Maria Faer, DrPH states, “The womb slaves are required to live away from their children and families; forced to lie to their own families; and face considerable social stigma if it is discovered that they are carrying another man’s child.”

In fact, in many Indian clinics, once a surrogate has become pregnant, she must leave her family for the entire 9 months to be housed in “bunker-like” apartments, her only connection to the outside world being what she is told. How is this ethical?Additionally, there are many stories like that of the Pinks, a couple from Australia who were overcharged for basic services and fees, like a birth certificate, in order to pad the clinic’s bottom line.

The article mentions, “In the days before they left New Delhi, the Pinks were asked for 5000 rupees ($90) for a birth certificate. Mr Pinks later discovered a birth certificate in India costs $1.30. ” Because of an increasing amount of parents complaining, surrogacy has come under new scrutiny in India for overcharging and the rate of C-Sections, strictly for profit. SMH.com explains,  

”The villains in all this are the clinics making a fortune out of this. It’s very hard for a couple here in Australia to monitor what is going on over there. There have been some greedy operators in the market.”

The saddest truth is that countries will not act to protect the impoverished women, essentially renting their wombs for survival, but they’ll start looking into the issue because citizens are being, “overcharged.”

However, this isn’t the lowest we, as a human race can go. Scott Carney, an author and journalist recently published, “The Red Market” an expose into the demoralizing world of human organ trafficking. In a NPR interview about trafficking in India refugee camp after the Tsunami, he stated: 

“The women are just lined up. They have their exposed midriffs and there are all these kidney extraction scars because when the tsunami happened, all these organ brokers came in and realized there were a lot of people in very desperate situations and they could turn a lot of quick cash by just convincing people to sell their kidneys.”

What would cause an otherwise healthy woman to “sell” her kidney? ”When you’re at your most desperate place is when the brokers come in,” Carney explained when speaking about an Indian mother who sold her kidney to save the life of her teenage daughter. In all reality, I might do the same thing, if put in the same situation and my own daughter’s life was at risk. As human beings, we can be evil, greedy and opportunist. With nothing to keep human traffickers or unsavory surrogacy clinics in check, what will become of the Indian women on the lower caste system?

Perhaps our greed says it all in one, single screenshot from the DailyMail’s own article featuring brand Piperlime:



We too, can look like surrogates from India, complete with PiperLime’s recommendations on what an impoverished Indian surrogate might look like. Their scarf of choice? Spun by Subtle Luxury: Starbust fabric. The cost? $90. This is more money than most Indians living in povery will ever see. Gap’s subsidiary, Piperlime, should be ashamed of themselves for this incredibly tacky plug-in, especially transfixed over such a sad and overlooked subject.

For more information on Indian Surrogacy, the CBC in Canada did an excellent podcast on the subject, entitled, “Of Mothers and Merchants.” I highly recommend it.