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July 29, 2007

Surrogate Mothers: Womb for Rent

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indian women at birthday party

Dr. Nayna Patel (center) and her staff throw a party for a newborn before he is taken home by his biological parents.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Sinclair

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Jessica Ordenes is a petite yoga-school proprietor from New Jersey. Hot, disoriented, jet-lagged, and alone — her husband, David, will join her in a week's time — she is sitting in an empty doctor's office at the Akanksha clinic, sipping fresh coconut juice and waiting for her daily hormone injection. A girlishly pretty woman with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, Ordenes wears a crisp green shirt and a liberal slick of lip gloss ("to stop my lips from shriveling up in this heat," she explains after numerous reapplications). She has come to Anand because she felt, at age 40, that she was nearly out of time.

Unable to get pregnant but still ovulating, she spent years unsuccessfully trying to arrange for a surrogate in the States to carry her biological child. "I was running out of eggs, running out of hope, and running out of patience with being treated like a number in the U.S. system," she says. "I read about this clinic online — I felt India was my last chance."

Ordenes arrived a few days ago, checked in to the only hotel in town with air conditioning, and arrived within hours at the clinic, where she began having hormone treatments to stimulate her ovaries. In about 10 days, the eggs she produces will be extracted and fertilized with her husband's sperm. Two days after that, if all goes according to plan, some of the resulting embryos will be implanted into local surrogate Najima Vohra, a 30-year-old mother of two. Ordenes knows very little about the woman she hopes will carry her baby. She has met her only once, during a short session with Patel on the first day.

Ordenes is not childless. She had a daughter at age 20 with her first husband, but her uterus became infected after a C-section, and she had to have it removed. Her marriage ended soon after. Three years later, she met David, a pharmaceutical executive and the love of her life. Not being able to have a baby with him tormented her. "I come from a huge family, and I always wanted a house full of kids," she says. Ordenes hoped for at least one child with David "to make our union complete."

The couple, who live in a sprawling house in the suburbs, started to think seriously about surrogacy seven years ago. Ordenes tried local agencies but learned that willing candidates were scarce because New Jersey state law decrees that surrogates cannot receive payment. She found herself languishing on waiting lists and frustrated by potential surrogates who backed out. "It was the most demoralizing experience of my life," she says.


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