Ausgabe 38/2008

The Life Factory In India, Surrogacy Has Become a Global Business

They come from Europe, Asia and America. Couples unable to have their own children are finding a booming market for surrogate motherhood in India. But what happens when a baby is born that suddenly belongs to no one?

By Sandra Schulz

Manji has six mothers. She's a healthy baby girl, weighing in at three kilograms (6 lbs. 10 oz.), with dark, downy hair on her head. She was brought into the world by Caesarean section at 2:41 p.m. on July 25, 2008. She is a pretty baby, with a perfectly round face and slightly protruding ears.

Manji's first mother is a Japanese woman. Last fall, she and her husband traveled to India to make the arrangements for Manji at Kaival Hospital in Anand, a city in the state of Gujarat. Mothers two and three were waiting at the clinic, which specializes in the treatment of infertility. Manji's second mother donated her egg cell, the father gave his sperm and her third mother provided the use of her womb. On Nov. 22, 2007, Manji, now an embryo, was transferred into the body of an Indian woman, where she began to grow. But just one month before her birth, the people who had planned her procreation got divorced. Suddenly Manji was motherless.

In July, her father, a Japanese doctor named Ikufumi Yamada, returned to India, bringing along his own mother, Manji's grandmother. Yamada had little time before he had to return to work in Japan. His ex-wife was no longer interested in "Project Baby," and the Indian surrogate mother had already delivered and handed over the infant, as stipulated in the contract. Manji, screaming and crying, met mother number four, who was in fact her grandmother. She fed Manji and carried her around, but what she failed to consider was that India is a hot place with a lot of germs and bacteria floating around. She did things the way she felt they ought to be done, keeping the windows shut in Manji's room, changing her diapers only once every six hours and only sterilizing her bottle once. Manji would likely have never become infected if she had been fed at her mother's breast and not from a non-sterile bottle. Instead, on the tenth day of her life, she was admitted to a hospital and diagnosed with severe diarrhea and blood poisoning.

There she is, lying in the infant ward at Arya Hospital in the Indian city of Jaipur. Her spot is at the back of the room, near the window, next to the drawn, sky-blue curtains imprinted with a pattern of brightly colored little ships, birds and Mickey Mouse. She hears the irregular beeping noises coming from various medical equipment. There are seven babies in the room -- each in an open glass box under a heat lamp, their tiny feet attached to clamps, which in turn are attached to cables. Their naked bodies lie on beds of real estate ads torn out of newspapers, one of them advertising a two-room apartment with bath, garden and luxury furniture. Diapers are expensive, and instead the hospital sterilizes old newspaper so that the parents can afford to keep their children alive.

But Manji is already a VIP baby, with the press touting her as "India's first surrogate-mother orphan." Since the day of her birth, her father has been fighting to be allowed to take his daughter back to Japan. Manji's treatment is free of charge -- she is given Pampers and has been assigned a personal nurse, mother number five, who is responsible solely for her care. When the journalists begin descending on the clinic, Manji is moved to a "Super Deluxe 1" single room furnished with a gray metal bed, a television set and a refrigerator with a small crocheted blanket on top. A clock hangs crooked on the wall and there's also a picture, of a European woman with a European child. The caption reads: "There is a mother behind every great child." By this time, Manji has already been introduced to mother number six, an Indian woman who has just given birth and is now Manji's wet nurse.

On the 17th day of her life, Manji is taken, in a mobile incubator, to see the elephant-headed, pot-bellied, bright orange god Ganesha, enthroned in his temple. A piece of paper with the ancient Indian symbol of good luck, a swastika, is taped to the incubator. In Japan the symbol is called manji. The father had wanted his daughter's name to mean something in both countries, Japan and India. On the 19th day of her life, CNN posts the grandmother's desperate wish on its Web site: "From deep inside my heart I want to return immediately to my own country with my grandchild." On the 22nd day of her life, the Japanese justice minister promises to do something so that Manji can travel to Japan.

But Manji has no travel documents -- she doesn't even have a nationality yet. On her birth certificate, the words "not recorded" are printed where the mother's name should be. Also on the document is the following handwritten statement: "The egg was used from anonymous egg donor … and donor's name should not be declared."

Manji's case, in addition to being complicated, has become very public. This child without a country is the reason India is now asking itself whether it truly wants to be known as a place for outsourced pregnancies.

The country is home to more than 100 hospitals and clinics that treat infertility, with many located in major cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta. But childless couples from around the world have already discovered infertility clinics in second-tier cities like Bhopal, Indore and Ahmedabad. India is the land of unlimited opportunity for people unable to have their own children. The doctors are good, they speak English, they are willing to help gay Israelis or Irish lesbians become parents -- and India is cheap. The cost of surrogate motherhood can run anywhere from $50,000 (€34,000) to $80,000 or more in the United States. In India, couples pay about $10,000 for the privilege of having a stranger carry their child.

One of these clinics, which provides a full range of services at low prices, is on a side street in Hyderabad. "Dr. Rama's Institute for Fertility" is written in red lettering on the front of the building. A rivulet of rainwater from a recent monsoon shower has formed in front of the entrance. A truck drives up. Two men are standing in its bed, sorting garbage with their bare hands. Upstairs, on the third floor of the clinic, embryologists are putting on their white lab coats and sterile masks. Six hundred times a year, including today, the staff at Dr. Rama's laboratory attempts to create life in a Petri dish.

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