Published on January 23, 2020

AHMEDABAD: Nirali Barot (name changed), 39, a travel firm owner in Canada and an overseas citizen of India (OCI), is camping in Anand for the past few days. “I got married 10 years ago and have been trying to conceive for about nine. My uterus is not competent to sustain a pregnancy leading to miscarriages. Surrogacy is the only hope if I want my own flesh and blood,” says Barot.

Hundreds of couples and individuals like Barot have pinned their hopes on the Rajya Sabha select committee which is to examine aspects of the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, which aims to end to commercial surrogacy in India. The committee visited Anand on Wednesday to meet various stakeholders. In the next two days, the members will travel to Hyderabad and Mumbai.

While stakeholders who were part of the discussion refused to divulge details of discussion, sources said that it’s likely that issues from the mandate, such as Anand’s surrogacy services, it’s impact on women working as surrogate mothers, the economics of these services, eligibility for services etc, were discussed with surrogate mothers, fertility experts, parents and NGOs.

“We are often advised, why don’t we go for adoption. Have they tried the adoption procedure?” asked Barot. “I don’t mind adoption. But the procedure takes three to four years, doesn’t provide us with choice and is more expensive than current surrogacy cost.”

Dr Nayana Patel, the founder of Akanksha Hospital in Anand, who put the town on the global map through a record number of surrogacy cases over the past 15 years, said that in several cases surrogacy is the only feasible answer. “How would one address the wish of a woman or couple to have their own child when other options are exhausted?” she asked. 

Infertility experts from across India have created momentum against the bill’s provisions since November 2019, which aims to end commercial surrogacy and promote altruist surrogacy that requires a close relative of family to step forward and carry the couple’s pregnancy. Already, an MHA notification has prohibited commercial surrogacy for foreign nationals, NRI and OCI couples, couples with children and single parents, among others. 

Dr Abhirajsinh Jadeja (name changed), a gynaecologist, wants to become a single father. “I was in a long-term relationship which did not have a good ending. I don’t know whether I will in another relationship now. Should that decide whether I am eligible to have a child of my own? I could have a child when commercial surrogacy had still not hit rough waters but I was not ready then,” he said. “Why single out single parents? I believe from my experience that they are better equipped to handle a child with a family support.”

‘Uncertain about future’

The most vocal opponents of the Bill, however, were the surrogate mothers. Close to 100 women are in various stages of pregnancy at Dr Patel’s clinic. The women are generally from Anand district and are often related. “This is my second surrogacy. In 2017, I conceived for the first time and managed to make money enough to send my two children to school and save some to build my own house. I am separated from my husband and with just a primary education, I won’t be able to earn this much in any organized vocation,” said Alka, a surrogate mother.

Meena, another mother who is pregnant for a couple from Bengaluru, said that she is paid through cheque. “The government should surely crack down on exploitative practices, but indiscriminate action will do more harm than good for both surrogates and aspiring parents,” she said.

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