The Secret Circle

PhotographerAbby Rabinowitz, writer
PrizePress / Feature Story
Entry Description

Commercial surrogacy is intensely controversial – and nowhere more so than in India, where foreigners hire local women to bear their children at bargain prices. The $450 million-a-year industry has spurred dispute everywhere but, in the articles and debates, one voice is nearly always missing – that of the surrogate mothers themselves. Few foreigners know about the experience of surrogate mothers, least of all the intended parents, many of whom never meet the woman who carries their child. In that way, the story of surrogate motherhood in India is much about how tough it is to behave ethically in the global economy as it is about pushing the limits of assisted reproduction. Commercial surrogacy became legal in India in 2002. New practices open every year, and, with the help of medical tourist agents, draw more parents from home and overseas. The sperm and money arrive by air, from Bangalore and Delhi, New Jersey and Colorado, from London, Tokyo, Sidney and Jerusalem. Intended parents come from countries where surrogacy is illegal, like France, or expensive, like the United States. In Mumbai, many (if not most) surrogate mothers are illiterate, and few (if any) keep copies of the contracts they sign. Mumbai is surrounded by satellite cities and suburbs constituted by slums from where millions of people every day pour into the city. In one of these slum cities I found out about the “Secret Circle”: women who make a living renting their wombs, who get involved in surrogacy by word of mouth and who keep this as a secret to hide from the eyes of the communities they live in and, in some cases, even from members of their families. Many expectations and dreams for a better life lay behind their decision, as many complications and disappointment await them as the pregnancy carries on.