Get a womb: Gay couples outsource Indian mothers

BANGALORE, India — In a building smack in the middle of chaotic Hyderabad, an hour’s flight from Bangalore, 29-year-old American Brad Fister recently got acquainted with the delirious joy of first-time parenthood.

Fister and his partner Michael Griebe, who own a computer business in Kentucky, contracted a womb from an Indian surrogate mother thousands of miles away in Hyderabad. Their daughter Ashton, conceived in a laboratory out of Fister’s sperm and an anonymous donor’s egg, was born in mid-February.

India has long been the go-to destination for a diversity of outsourced tasks such as answering customer service calls, online tech support and high-end technology services.

Now Americans — and increasingly gay American couples — are follwing American corporations into the world of oursourcing.

The practice of hiring a woman in India, or some other remote location, to be implanted with an embryo and bear a child is termed pregnancy outsourcing and, less charitably, as "rent-a-womb."

Commercial surrogacy has been thriving in India for several years. Specialized fertility clinics line up impoverished women and pay them to carry children on behalf of childless Western couples.

But now, there is an added dimension to that service. Many gay couples from the United States and elsewhere, desperate for a child, are arriving at clinics in Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore.

“India is a good option for gays because this country is patient-friendly, legally uncomplicated and there is practically no waiting time,” describes Dr. Samit Sekhar, the surrogacy program director at Hyderabad’s Kiran Infertility Center.

Besides the Fister baby, Sekhar’s center has already delivered children for five other homosexual couples. The clinic bills each couple about $20,000, including medical charges and the surrogate’s fees.

India’s low costs are undoubtedly a big draw, agrees Dr. Gautam Allahbadia who runs the popular Rotunda clinic in Mumbai’s Bandra suburb. “Even in expensive Mumbai, the price is as little as a tenth of what it would cost in the United States,” he says.

Richard and Paul, as they asked to be identified, a gay couple from New Jersey who work in the finance industry, chose India because of the costs. “We feel we hit the jackpot because we got two healthy and beautiful twins for a fraction of what it would have cost in the U.S.,” Richard wrote in an email to GlobalPost.

The number of babies born out of surrogacy is doubling every couple of years, according to rough estimates by individual clinics. In English-speaking India, where highly qualified doctors and clinics can deliver world-class care on the cheap, commercial surrogacy is headed for a boom.

To be sure, Indian medical tourism is not "five-star." There are hiccups along the way in the form of cross-cultural miscommunication and mixed experiences with the Indian bureaucracy. “But for those who can think outside the box, this is true value,” says Richard.

In the United States laws governing surrogacy and adoption vary from state to state. In India, commercial surrogacy is legal, though unregulated. Clinics draw binding contracts with the birth mothers who relinquish all rights on the baby soon after it is born. And parents who commission the surrogate, such as Fister, straightaway get their names on the child’s birth certificate.

Sensitivities could arise around this emerging trend of same-sex couples flocking to India to hire surrogates. In a conservative country, homosexual intercourse between consenting adults was only decriminalized last year.

Clinics and agencies do not advertise the services offered to gay couples. Still, a steady stream of customers arrives from word-of-mouth referrals or marketing through specialized networks and websites.

At Rotunda, Allahbadia has delivered about 50 babies for gay couples, most of them from the United States. At this very time, several more are in the process.

Each of the women hired to undergo the pregnancy is paid between $5,000 and $10,000. For the poverty-stricken mothers, that money could go toward educating their own children or building a roof over their heads.

In a rapidly liberalizing country, some Indians see the practice of commercial surrogacy for gay Westerners as another fallout of global demand-supply skews. “A baby is a baby is a baby,” says Dr. Aloma Lobo, an adoption specialist and former head of the government’s Central Adoption Research Agency.

But others raise ethical questions about rich Westerners paying impoverished and illiterate women to use their bodies. The medical risks the surrogates undergo, and the emotional hazard of giving up the child they have carried for nine months is viewed as exploitative.

“The reality is that in India there are many women who are financially constrained and they are letting their bodies be borrowed for money,” says C.P. Puri, former director of the Mumbai-based government body the National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health.

Meanwhile, clinics and hospitals which offer surrogacy services often face a different moral quandary. Sekhar in Hyderabad says he refuses to entertain rich Westerners who want to commission a surrogate because of lifestyle reasons. He says, “If they want to use this route because they are scared of stretch marks or sagging breasts, they are not eligible.”