I have twin babies,” says class fourth dropout Reshma Sheikh (name changed), 21, struggling to string four words together in English. Sheikh is 12-weeks pregnant with twins and like many new mums, fervently prays for her babies’ health each day. She eats healthy, takes her multivitamins and folic acid pills with clockwork precision, and gets all her tests and ultrasounds done on the prescribed date.
More than love for the newborns, it’s doing her job well that helping Sheikh stick to her regulated lifestyle. For having two babies will get her an additional Rs 1 lakh, over the Rs 2.5 lakh she’s getting for renting her womb to an Israeli couple. If it’s a Caesarean section, she gets another Rs 50,000."A foreigner man took my pictures and then came with his wife. I agreed to have their baby because I wanted to help them and use the money for my daughter. I left school when my father died when I was 10, but I want her to learn to use a computer and become someone," says Sheikh, hugging her two-year-old girl Nafisa (name changed) close, who is just with her for the day.
Her daughter’s first computer will come from Sheikh’s putting her life on hold to spend close to a year at a surrogacy home, the first of its kind in India, away from her Taimur Nagar home near Maharani Bagh, where her husband lives and runs a second-hand junk shop. She says she doesn’t really mind the separation, as she gets better food and care here than at the home. “I miss my family but they visit every weekend and at times, Nafisa stays over. But more than the money, I’m looking forward to going home,” she says.
Order, a la carte
Surrogacy in India has finally been corporatised, moving out of small mom-and-pop clinics ruled by the buyer’s market to companies that offer fixed prices to surrogates for each eventuality and ensure medicare and delivery at an empanelled multi-specialty hospital, such as Max Super-Speciality, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and the Fortis Group of Hospitals. Apart from getting paid and treatment costs, surrogates are put up in a home where their boarding and lodging is taken care of.
Sheikh is one of six women living away from their families in one such surrogacy home in West Delhi’s Janakpuri, run by Wyzax Surrogacy Consultants (WSC), which offers all surrogacy solutions, including a home for the surrogates, legal consultancy, IVF treatment and delivery.
“Having the women live together helps us monitor their health, nutrition and hygiene aspects more closely,” says Vivek Kohli, director, Wyzax Surrogacy Consultants, which diversified from medical tourism to concentrate on surrogacy two years ago. “We set up our first home in Delhi less than 18 months ago and 10 couples have already taken babies home. We have a database of over 80 surrogates and an average of 50 queries a month, 90% of which are from foreigners,” says Kohli.
“Apart from the money paid for the delivery, we spend an Rs 1.5 lakh on their food, medical care and lodging. on an average, they stay here for 10-11 months,” says Jagatjeet Singh, the director in charge of the home where Sheikh lives."We group them together depending on their cultural and eating preferences, as a vegetarian may not want to eat with a meat-eater. Their families can visit them whenever they like and the women can go home, but we discourage home visits in the first trimester, which is the critical phase of a pregnancy." Apart from Janakpuri, Wyzax Surrogacy Services have a home in Loni and another near Ganga Ram Hospital, and one-room homes in Hari Nagar for women who want to stay with their families.
Living off on rent
Like Sheikh, all the five other women at the Janakpuri home are married, with children, an essential pre-requisite for signing up as children are a sign of “proven fertility”. Palam Colony-resident Sushma Ravi, (name changed), 24, has two children — Varun, 6, and Seema, 2 — and is here with her extended family’s blessing. “We discussed it at home — I live in a joint family — and everyone supported me because it is a daan (good deed) to help someone in need. It will also pay for my children’s education,” says Ravi.
“Our son goes to an ‘English School’ that costs Rs 2,500 a month, and next year his sister will join him. We are doing it for our children, and everyone knows except my father, who does not understand these scientific advances,” says her husband Inder Ravi, 32, who works as an electrician.
For Parveen (who goes by a single name), 30, money would mean a taxi for her husband Suresh. “He’s a driver and works for others. If we get our taxi, he can set up business and give a better life to our boys, who are 10 and 7,” she says.
Does she miss them? “Of course I do, we all do, but life here is not bad. We sit and chat and watch TV all day. I can think of a life a lot worse,” says Parvesh. And will they miss the bay they are carrying? “Not at all, the baby’s not mind to keep,” shrugs Sushma.