That’s right. Baby brokers are matching up would-be first world parents with Indian women desperate to earn enough money to raise their families out of poverty. A full-on parenting package, which includes everything from the cost of in-vitro fertilization to the paying the birth mother what it would otherwise take her a decade to earn, can be had for as little as $10,000. That same service in West Los Angeles instead of the western Indian province of Gujarat: Five to ten times that sum.
Not surprisingly, many commentators find this latest twist in globalization more than a bit gross. Judith Warner, in fact, takes on one “Julie”:
“The legal issues in the United States are complicated, having to do with that the surrogate mother still has legal rights to that child until they sign over their parental rights at the time of the delivery. Of course, and there’s the factor of costs. For some couples in theUnited States surrogacy can reach up to $80,000.”
This was “Julie,” an American thirtysomething who’d come to India to pay a poor village woman to bear her baby.
She went on:“You have no idea if your surrogate mother is smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugs. You don’t know what she’s doing. You have a third-party agency as a mediator between the two of you, but there’s no one policing her in the sense that you don’t know what’s going on.
”Would you want this woman owning your womb?
But before we take up the cry of “burn the witch,” let’s pause for a moment and think about what exactly is behind the meet-up of free-trade and fertility.
Men and women in the United States are routinely implored to wait and have children till they are settled, both professionally and personally. Traditional job tracks demand that the ambitious of both sexes prioritize their career goals over their private lives in their twenties and thirties if they want to be successful. Well meaning advocates of flex-time arrangements add to the pressure by routinely pointing out that the more seniority one has at work, the more likely one is to be able to negotiate personally amenable schedules post- parenthood. Even the less driven are told to enjoy their youth, not to settle down.
For men, there is no problem with this advice. They can become father’s until – well, until they are in the grave. The picture, however, is a bit different for women. Female fertility decreases with age, beginning to fall at 35 and plummeting after 40. But instead of changing our work and societal structures to reflect that fact, our society encourages women to turn to the technological solutions offered by fertility industry, forgetting to mention its extremely high costs, relatively low success ratios and often dubious ethics till it’s too late.
True, one does not have to give birth to children to lead a fulfilled life. History is replete with folks who never became parents and did just fine. But most of us – both men and women – do want to reproduce eventually. And it’s not selfish to ask that our society make it both possible and desirable for us to have children at the age when, it seems, nature intended us to do so and not put women in a position where they feel they have no choice but to turn to a borrowed uterus, be it in India or Indiana, if they want to experience motherhood.
So, there are reasons for anger. You can curse the culture that encourages women to think they will be young and fertile forever when, in fact, they will not. You can yell at the powers that prioritize workers over mothers, who tell us to schedule children the way one books a vacation. But let’s leave “Julie” and the women like her alone. They might not be as deserving of pity as third world mothers who have no choice but to rent out their wombs for a chance at a decent life, but they’ve been taken advantage of just the same.
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