'The Handmaid's Tale' Isn't A Stretch Of The Imagination For Surrogate Mothers In India
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'The Handmaid's Tale' Isn't A Stretch Of The Imagination For Surrogate Mothers In India

Surrogacy takes advantage of mothers who need money.

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'The Handmaid's Tale' Isn't A Stretch Of The Imagination For Surrogate Mothers In India
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“We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.”

These words are from Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale." They are spoken by Offred, a woman whose sole value in her dystopian society is her ability to bear children. I read this book recently for school and my class discussed the awfulness of the imaginary Offred's objectification for child-bearing. For women in the surrogate houses of India, however, the fate of Atwood's handmaids is disturbing close to reality. Thousands of women around the world are used as “two-legged wombs” when they are paid to be mother surrogates.

Surrogacy of itself can be a wonderful thing for couples who dream of having children. But the ethical and legal complexities of a pregnant woman not being the mother of a fetus too often result in the dehumanization of women and children. These problems exist in the US and are presented in the Center for Bioethics and Culture’s (CBC) documentary “Breeders: A Subclass of Women?” Surrogacy is most disturbing, however, in the countries of Southeast Asia like India, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia where commercial surrogacy is legal (some of these countries are banning surrogacy for foreign couples, but domestic surrogacy is still legal).

In India, mother surrogacy is an attractive option for women in poverty since even India’s baseline surrogacy prices can provide women 400,000 rupees, which would take years to earn with an average monthly wage. This aspect is also motivating for the couples who are "renting a womb" since they believe they are ending a woman's poverty.

The go-between fertility clinics, however, often take advantage of the surrogate mothers. According to the Centre for Social Research of New Delhi, many surrogate mothers are paid less than promised and deceived about procedures. Some couples pay for multiple surrogates and then abort the “less viable fetuses,” but the surrogate mothers are told they have had a miscarriage and are not given money. As the director of this research, Manasi Mishra, said, “The pregnancy is precious. The mother is not.” The surrogate mothers have become Atwood’s “two-legged wombs" or "sacred vessels.”

In fertility clinics that use surrogate houses, women stay in dormitories for nine months with as many as 100 other women. Their exercise and food are monitored. Families may be allowed to visit as seldom as once a month. Women are further objectified by the catalogs set up by fertility clinics from which couples can select. Even in the best of fertility clinics, many women are emotionally traumatized by the experience of giving up the baby they carried for nine months.

The surrogate mothers all agreed that they only became surrogates because they needed the money. "That's why we [did] this," says 24-year-old Vasanti from Gujarat, India. But she adds, "not in my entire life do I want my daughter to be a surrogate mother."

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