In my earlier avatar as a basketball player, I derived the same gratification while playing and leading my state team at the national level.
My Everest moment was when I successfully finished my first-ever full marathon as a 30-year-old.
But take all my life’s accomplishments, multiply them several fold, and that’s how I felt when I held my first born for the first time. Till date, the biggest achievement of my life remains being a mother to a five-month-old.
I’ll hazard a guess: most mums would agree.
Jayshree Wad (the lawyer who first filed a petition against commercial surrogacy) and Sushma Swaraj (Head of the Group of Ministers who finalised the surrogacy bill) are mothers too. Proud mothers like me is a safe assumption. Though unlike me, they had the gift of bearing their own child. I, on the other hand, had to take the help of a surrogate. For that, I shall always remain envious of them.
As a young professional, I put marriage and kids on the back-burner (perils of working in the competitive and very demanding environment of TV journalism). I married at 35, and when – at 37 years of age – my husband and I decided to start a family, most doctors told us, I had missed the proverbial bus.
After going through an emotional and physically demanding roller-coaster ride for three years that involved multiple IUI and IVF failures, I had my first-born at 40, through surrogacy. I didn’t choose surrogacy so I could avoid putting on weight, or avoid labour pains, or simply because it was fashionable since Bollywood stars were doing it. On the contrary, for the rest of my life, I shall always carry the pain and regret of not being able to carry my own child. So surrogacy wasn’t my first, second or third option. It was my last resort.
Our baby girl has brought so much joy into our lives, I cannot even put down the feeling in words. For this, I shall forever be grateful and indebted to my doctor and the lady who carried our baby for nine months- our surrogate.
Hence, it pains me when I read or hear words like prostitution, exploitation, money-making racket being used to describe surrogacy. But before I tackle the pitfalls of the “Surrogacy Bill”, let me try and explain surrogacy to the uninitiated. Simply because such little knowledge exists about this subject even amongst the educated elite in India.
They are two types of surrogacy treatments: traditional and gestational.
Traditional surrogacy is best suited for infertile women. The male partner’s semen is fertilised using the surrogate’s eggs. All of this is done artificially without any physical contact between the two. The surrogate then carries the baby for nine months, and hands over the child to the biological father and his partner.
Since I was producing eggs of my own, I opted for gestational surrogacy where my husband’s semen and my eggs were fertilised in a test-tube. Once the eggs turned into embryos, they were transferred into the surrogate’s womb. She carried and nourished our biological child for the duration of the gestational cycle. And then, one fine morning, after nine anxiety-filled months, we had the greatest gift in our arms. Years of suffering and disappointments vanished in a matter of seconds.
For someone who greatly benefitted from this scientific advancement, I find the Surrogacy Bill- that bans all kinds of commercial surrogacy- regressive and an attack on our democratic freedom.
Myths that the Surrogacy Bill propagates:
Surrogates equals exploitation.
Our surrogate was one of the happiest, most positive personalities I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. A mother of two, she had a “complete” family- in her own words. In fact, as a rule, our doctor only commissions women who are done having kids of their own as surrogates. So while surrogacy gave us our little bundle of joy, in return, our surrogate used the money earned to fund her children’s education. In the end, we both benefitted, and no one lost. I only wish Mrs. Swaraj and Mrs. Wad had met our surrogate before leading the march in banning the practice altogether.
Add to that: during the gestational period the surrogate’s diet and general well-being is the prime responsibility of the doctor, paid for by the commissioning parents. There are periodic ultra sounds tests, which the commissioning parents are allowed to be a part of along with the surrogate. The aim is to avoid health hazards, as much for the woman carrying the baby, as for the baby itself.
But needy couples can always opt for altruistic surrogacy.
True, the Surrogacy Bill cleared by the cabinet allows “altruistic surrogacy” for childless couples who have been married for at least five years. Simply put, there should be no monetary or any other material benefit that the surrogate may derive from the biological parents. That’s not all, the surrogate mother should be a “close relative” of the couple, should be married and have borne a child of her own.
What happens to those childless couples that don’t have a “close” relative who is married and has kids of her own and is willing to bear a child for somebody else?
And even if one has a close relative that fits all criteria, whether she chooses to be a surrogate or not rests solely with her. The childless couple have no say in the matter, nor do they have Plan B.
Add to this the role that relatives play in a typical Indian family set-up. How many grandmothers or mothers-in-law would give their nod to surrogacy within the family? Some, maybe. But let’s be honest, the majority won’t. Which is why most women who opt for surrogacy (the surrogate and the biological mother) choose to do so discreetly. Away from the prying eyes of their extended families. And quite frankly, there is nothing wrong with it, as long as both parties gain.
So why not adopt a child?
My husband and I weren’t and aren’t averse to adoption. In fact, that was to be our last option had surrogacy not worked out for us. But to have a biological child of our own was what our hearts desired, and we weren’t going to let go, not until we had explored all available options. It is a personal decision and each couple should be allowed to take this decision. If scientific options such as surrogacy exist, why not make it useful to those that can benefit from it?
Agreed, surrogacy should only be an option when all other forms of treatment have failed. Yes, a crackdown on clinics flouting rules is needed. And yes, we need checks and balances in the way surrogacies are commissioned and executed. But to suggest a complete ban on commercial surrogacy is not the solution.
But whilst I argue in favour of childless married couples, as someone who experienced it first-hand, I can’t help but feel for gay/lesbian and unmarried/live-in couples for whom this remains the only way of having their own biological child.
FAQs about surrogacy:
Is the child biologically yours?
100% in gestational surrogacy. 50% in traditional surrogacy.
Is it expensive?
It is indeed. The entire procedure (from fertilisation of eggs to the baby in your hand) costs anywhere between 15-25 lakhs, depending on which city and which doctor you consult. This includes the surrogate’s fee, doctor’s charges and all medical/ultrasound test costs.
Do you stay in touch with the surrogate mother?
Entirely upon the commissioning parents. Some parents don’t meet the surrogate mother at all, and their doctors remain the liason between the two parties for the entire duration of pregnancy. Others tend to meet the surrogate on a daily basis and remain in touch even days after the baby is delivered.
Are surrogates and commissioning parents bound by a contract?
Yes, the doctor facilitates a very elaborate contract between the two parties that pre-empts situations like – Who takes home the child in case the commissioning couple split in the nine months that the baby is in the surrogate mother’s womb? Who becomes the child’s guardian in case the biological parents meet with a fatal accident before the child is born? etc
I have my baby and she is worth every hurdle that I went through. I am forever indebted to the woman who partnered with us. I cannot imagine excluding lakhs of people from the freedom to explore – within ethically and mandated defined parameters – the ecstasy of parenthood. This bill is not the answer. We need to reconsider it, put more thought into it, and consider modern circumstances and lifestyles when we decide on obligations, duties and penalties.
I used a surrogate and am so thankful to her.
(Rupali Tewari is a Senior Special Correspondent, NDTV)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.