Neha and Rahul (names changed) were heartbroken to know that Neha could not carry a child in her womb. But commercial surrogacy gave them hope.
From being a global hub for commercial surrogacy, India is now on its way to becoming a country where commercial surrogacy is almost completely illegal.
As per the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill passed by the Union Cabinet last week, only married (for at least five years) resident Indian couples who are infertile can opt for surrogacy as a means of extending their families.
Only an immediate family member can be the surrogate in an ‘altruistic surrogacy’ (in which no money changes hands). Despite surrogacy being so much in the news these days, most of us have no or only a vague idea about how it works. Here’s the story of a Pune couple who went through it last year.
In 2011, a year into their marriage, Neha and Rahul discovered that Neha had Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). During the dialysis and treatments that followed, the Pune couple was heartbroken to know that Neha was unfit to carry a child in her womb.
“We had practically given up and felt like there was nothing we could do, that we should just carry on our life without a child,” recalls Neha.
But Rahul was not ready to abandon hope as yet. He learnt about surrogacy and discussed it with Neha, who wasn’t immediately on board with the idea of another woman carrying her child. But, after extensive online research, in 2013, they decided that surrogacy was the way to go.
Although foreigners have been coming to India for commercial surrogacy for years, the method isn’t so popular among married Indian couples. Other that foreigners, the only other people opting for surrogacy in India seem to be gay couples and single men.
Neha and Rahul decided to go with gestational surrogacy, where an embryo is created using IVF and then implanted in a surrogate. This way, the child will biologically be the couple’s and will have no genetic connection to the surrogate. This is different from ‘traditional surrogacy’ where the surrogate is also the biological mother.
Once the decision was made, the couple visited an IVF clinic in Pune with Neha’s medical records and a note from her nephrologist confirming that she was fit to go through the hormone injections prior to extracting the eggs.
Neha’s mother offered to be the surrogate (altruistic surrogacy) but was told she was unfit due to her age. Women over 40 aren’t advised to be surrogates. So the couple decided to go in for commercial surrogacy and it became the clinic’s responsibility to find them a suitable surrogate.
A counsellor was assigned to them to guide them through the process. Apparently, many Indian couples don’t want surrogates who are from a different religion than their own. But Neha and Rahul had no such demands and made it clear they just wanted a healthy and responsible woman to carry their child.
The clinic arranged a meeting for them with a potential surrogate and her spouse but the couple was shocked by the surrogate’s demands. In addition to asking for an amount they couldn’t afford because of the CKD treatments Neha was going through, the surrogate expressed her interest in being a part of the child’s life; Neha and Rahul were not comfortable with this idea.
But they got lucky with the second surrogate they met.
“She was warm and compassionate. I was able to explain to her that the reason we were going in for surrogacy wasn’t because I wanted to keep my figure or I didn’t want to go through pregnancy. She understood that it wasn’t just ‘business’ for us,” says Neha.
Once they chose the surrogate, the next big step was to get all the legal documents ready.
“The legal contract is the backbone of this whole process. It gives you the confidence to go through with this,” says Neha.
In their contract, the couple made it clear that the surrogate would have no legal rights to the child. The amount of money to be paid every month and after the delivery was also spelled out. According to Neha, couples considering commercial surrogacy should be extra careful and spend considerable time ensuring the legal contract is in order. Along with their own, the surrogate’s rights in the event of a miscarriage, complications during the delivery, etc., are also protected through this contract.
Once the legal documents are signed, the surrogate is implanted with one of the embryos created using IVF. If a couple is lucky, this will result in pregnancy. If not, the same process has to be repeated after waiting for 3 months and spending more money, until it finally works or they give up. For Neha and Rahul, the first cycle was a failure. They kept themselves motivated and didn’t lose hope. Luck was on their side during the second cycle. By then, seven whole months had passed.
Then began the most terrifyingly exciting roller coaster ride – the pregnancy!
Neha and Rahul met with the surrogate every other week during the check-ups at the clinic. The counsellor prepared them for what was to come. Every other week turned into every week.
A minor health scare somewhere along the way, a few unexpected expenses, a lot of attempts to keep the surrogate happy, a few ups and downs here and there and then, one day, after a scheduled C-section, Neha and Rahul held their baby girl for the first time, surrounded by their family.
“If the support system is strong, and you understand how it all works and what the steps are, and all the legal documents are done, it’s not that hard. The clinic was so helpful. Although it was expensive, the services of the clinic were so personalised. They were being neutral and made sure both the parties were taken care of,” Neha says.
Neha thinks there should be regulations and strict laws when it comes to surrogacy to prevent the exploitation of poor women. Policies need to be implemented regarding maternity leave for women who have children through surrogacy. The IT MNC she works for doesn’t have any such policy. Although the company only offered to give her half of the allowed maternity leave at first, she ended up getting the full three months finally because of her good relationship with the organisation.
“For couples with medical conditions that prevent them from having children, and for gay couples, etc., surrogacy is the only way of having children of their own. For us, it was not possible to get an immediate family member to be a surrogate so commercial surrogacy was the only option,” says Neha about the new surrogacy bill.
Neha and Rahul’s daughter celebrated her first birthday last month. Neha says she has already recommended surrogacy to other women who have medical conditions like her.
— Arjun Raj