Eight months pregnant with twins, Pooja Chheda’s spirits are buoyant with hope and expectation. You might find something amiss when the 30-year-old tells you that her dreams mostly revolve around ‘good books, new uniforms, shoes’ and other paraphernalia of school education that ‘a normal child of a rich parent’ has access to.
The confusion clears when Pooja (name changed to protect privacy) tells you that the child in her womb is a means to a very specific end: uninterrupted education for her three school-going children. Pooja is a surrogate who has lent her womb to a couple for nine months, for a fee of Rs 3 lakh. The money will ensure that her three kids aren’t thrown out of school any time in the near future.
A few years ago, Pooja’s son was thrown out of his school when she failed to pay his fees. Scarred by the incident and desperate to prevent a repeat, she took the radical step of putting her womb up for rent. Her three kids taken together, Pooja has to cough up Rs 30,000 annually in school fees alone.
She claims she took the decision to rent out her womb under duress. Acquaintances turned down her requests for loans, and even a bank sent her away. It was then that a friend suggested that she sell her ova to infertile couples. Pooja’s hopes were raised, but she soon discarded the idea, learning that she would not earn enough to amass the school expenses this way.
Scouting for more lucrative options, Pooja soon stumbled upon the idea of surrogacy, learning that women were being paid hefty amounts by bearing children for others. The decision wasn’t an easy one: her husband was dead against it, and it took Pooja two months to convince him, and steel herself for the task at hand.
Aware of the physical ordeals involved in bearing a child and suffering through labour, Pooja was spurred on by the singular dream of seeing all her children go to school. Choosing to educate her six brothers, Pooja’s parents had never thought of sending her, or her sister to school. Aware of the stigma attached to the unlettered, she was determined not to let her poverty come in the way of her children and literacy.
An emotional Pooja said, “When my child was thrown out of the school, I was devastated. I tried my best to collect money, but failed. My husband doesn’t earn enough to pay for school fees. He too tried to collect the money but couldn’t. I don’t want my children to be illiterate and spoil their lives.
When all doors seemed to have closed, I heard about donating eggs. But that would not allow me to earn the fees to keep all my children in school. So after thinking it over for two months and arguing with my husband, I decided to go for it. This is the first time I am doing something of this kind, and I am doing it only for the sake of my children’s education.”
Pooja doesn’t want her children to know about the surrogacy. She explained, “When my kids ask me for things, I can’t bring myself to say no to them. My younger son asked me for a new school bag, books and a uniform recently. I don’t know how to refuse him. After I had conceived, my children asked what had happened to me. I lied, telling them there was gas in my stomach that was making it big.
I don’t want my children to know about this, as they may not understand why I decided to be a surrogate. I want to give my children all the love that I didn’t receive in my childhood. I have decided to risk my health and my appearance because I love my children. Every month, I get money from the hospital for medicines and good food. I try to save some of it for the fees.”
Dr Goral Gandhi, embryologist, said, “The policy for the surrogate mothers varies from hospital to hospital. The couple is allowed to meet and speak with the woman who is going to give birth to their child. The trends have not changed. It is usually women from economically weaker sections who come forward to be surrogates.
Two important things I had to check were her fertility and the presence of any skin diseases. Her health check-up included a long list of examinations, after which doctors said she was a fit candidate for surrogacy. The amount due to her is before she conceives.”