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July 29, 2007

Surrogate Mothers: Womb for Rent

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indian women with children

Many Indian surrogates live in temporary apartments with their families in order to hide their pregnancies from the community.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Sinclair

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As she sits in the empty doctor's office, a young Indian man wearing a red T-shirt and stonewashed jeans enters the room. Without a word, he proceeds to stick a needle in Ordenes's arm and fill a syringe with her blood. She looks up at him quizzically — she has no idea who he is. After he leaves, she examines the livid red dot left behind on her skin for a second, then shrugs. "So anyway, the years disappeared, and now, as you can see, here I am in India."

The temperature at 9 a.m. the following morning is pushing a brain-melting 107 degrees. Najima Vohra, immaculately dressed in an electric-blue tunic-and-pants set, arrives at the clinic an hour early for her meeting with Ordenes so they can bond a bit more before the procedure begins. It's not the most intimate venue, but Vohra is uncomfortable being seen anywhere else — like most women here, she plans to keep her surrogacy a secret. Vohra is slim, and her long hair is tied back with a plain rubber band. "I couldn't wait to get here," she says through a translator, sitting in a plastic chair in the lobby. "I've been so excited since Dr. Patel chose me to be a surrogate that I haven't been able to sleep."

Vohra says she's not ashamed of being a surrogate, but most locals are very traditional and don't understand. "They think it's dirty — that immoral acts take place to get pregnant," she whispers, explaining their disbelief that she could conceive a child without having sex. "They'd shun my family if they knew." Vohra comes from a village 20 miles outside Anand, but she has temporarily moved to the town with her husband and two children, a 12-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son, to hide what she is doing. "We told our neighbors we were coming here for work, which is not strictly a lie."

Vohra has no job but helps her husband in his scrap-metal business, for which they earn 50 to 60 rupees ($1.20 to $1.45) a day. If her pregnancy is successful, the $5500 she receives will, as she puts it, "give my children a future."

Growing up, Vohra worked in the wheat fields; she had little education. After her parents married her off at 16, she moved with her husband into a one-room mud house that erodes every year during the monsoon season. She plans to divide her surrogacy windfall three ways: buying a brick house, investing in her husband's business, and paying for her children's education. "My daughter wants to be a teacher," she says. "I'll do anything to give her that opportunity.


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