Our 'rent a womb' child from an Indian baby farm: British couple paying £20,000 for a desperately poor single mother to have their child
- Housewife Octavia Orchard describes the agreement as 'a business transaction'
- The Indian woman will live in a house with other surrogates, has children of her own, but no husband
- 'Her function is to sustain the foetus we have created,' says Mrs Orchard
- Of the £20,000, the Indian woman will earn between £3,000 - £6,000
- Around 2,000 births to surrogates took place last year
Strictly business: Octavia and Dominic Orchard have paid for an Indian woman to be their surrogate
Octavia and Dominic Orchard travelled to the Hyderabad clinic to get around a UK ban on commercial surrogacy. Their baby – due at the end of the year – will be theirs biologically while being born to an impoverished Indian ‘renting out’ her womb.
Mrs Orchard, a middle-class Oxfordshire housewife, admitted the £20,000 deal sounded ‘cold and clinical’ but insisted: ‘This is a business transaction.’
Describing the surrogate mother as ‘just a vessel’, the 34-year-old former estate agent added: ‘There is no altruism involved on the surrogate’s part: she is being paid to have our baby’.
At A clinic in Hyderabad, southern India, a surrogate mother is carrying Octavia and Dominic Orchard’s second child. The couple, who are as English as their bucolic-sounding name, know only the sparest of details about the woman who is pregnant with their baby.
They know she is 31 and has children of her own. They know her name, and that for reasons not explained — perhaps she has been widowed or deserted — she has no husband.
For the duration of her pregnancy she will live with other surrogates, away from her home and family, in a primitive dormitory within the clinic. It goes without saying that she is desperately poor.
Other than that, their surrogate’s life is a mystery to Octavia and Dominic. They chose not to become acquainted with the woman carrying the baby created from Octavia’s egg and Dominic’s sperm.
‘Our baby has no biological connection to the surrogate,’ says Octavia.
‘Her womb is just the receptacle in which it is being carried. Perhaps it sounds cold and rather clinical, but this is a business transaction.
‘There is no altruism involved on the surrogate’s part: she is being paid to have our baby. It’s a contractual arrangement.
‘Her function is to sustain the foetus we have created. Her blood is pumping around its body and she is feeding it through her placenta, but she is just a vessel. The baby she gives birth to on our behalf will carry none of her genes and bear no physical resemblance to her.
‘He or she will have white skin and, in all probability, red hair like my husband.
‘Of course I want her to do her best to have a successful pregnancy, and I’ll be very upset — quite devastated, in fact — if it doesn’t go full-term. But we do not want to get emotionally involved with our surrogate’s story. I’m not interested in her background. I don’t want to be part of her life.
‘She speaks a different language. She lives in a world culturally, economically and socially so remote from ours that the distance between us is unbridgeable.
Happy family: The Orchards are looking forward to giving their son Orlando another sibling
Happy memories: The Orchards pictured on their wedding day - they probably wouldn't have predicted the story that was to follow
Some will find it disquieting that the miracle of birth is being reduced to a clinical commercial transaction by a growing number of British couples.
India’s burgeoning surrogacy industry — there are about 1,000 clinics providing surrogates for ‘fertility tourists’ — has been compared to a baby factory in which children are made-to-order for affluent couples who often use donated eggs and sperm to create their baby, and an Indian donor to carry it, choosing everything from their baby’s eye colour to its height.
'I hope my surrogate does something wonderful with the payment'The Orchards have not been told how much their surrogate will earn from the £20,000 cost of the treatment — clinics are loath to specify sums — but estimates range from £3,000 to £6,000.
Many will struggle to understand Octavia’s lack of curiosity about the woman who is now 27 weeks pregnant with her child, but she is content knowing that the unspecified sum her surrogate will receive for her services will be life-transforming.
‘I hope my surrogate will do something wonderful with the payment,’ says Octavia.
‘She could educate her children with it; even buy a small house. It makes me feel good that we could help that happen.’
Octavia and Dominic are among a growing number of Britons using Indian clinics to circumvent UK laws that make commercial surrogacy illegal.
'Vessels': The Indian surrogate mothers at an Indian 'baby factory'
While some of the couples who attend the Indian clinics are homosexual and use sperm or egg donors, many, like Octavia and Dominic, are driven by infertility to put all their hopes into these clinics in teeming, impoverished cities like Hyderabad.
However, while the vast majority of these British couples choose to remain anonymous, the Orchards have decided to speak out about their own experiences with an Indian surrogate to encourage other British couples to consider the practice.
After 16 weeks of pregnancy, Octavia's amniotic sack failed to fill after her waters broke, and the baby died in the wombOctavia, 34, who had a comfortable middle-class upbringing in Oxfordshire, and Dominic, 35, a successful financial management consultant, have been married for six years and have a three-year-old son, Orlando, who was conceived naturally.
‘Orlando brought us such joy. I’ve loved every second of motherhood,’ says Octavia, who now works part-time in her recruitment job so she can spend more time with her son.
The Orchards knew they wanted more than one child, and were delighted when Octavia became pregnant 18 months after their son’s birth.
But after 16 weeks, Octavia’s waters broke prematurely, with catastrophic results: the amniotic sack failed to fill again and the baby died in the womb. She then had to endure an operation to remove the foetus.
‘I felt not only bereft, but completely worthless,’ she recalls. ‘I felt I’d let Dominic down. I couldn’t save our baby, I’d failed as a woman. I’m usually buoyant and positive, but I reached a very low ebb.’
The Orchards tried again for a baby. More sorrow ensued. Last January, Octavia’s obstetrician discovered that the remains of the placenta from her previous pregnancy were still in her uterus. A further operation to remove them followed.
All change: The art of conceiving has been taken to a new level now with the Indian baby-making factory
‘I cried and cried,’ she says. ‘My confidence deserted me and though friends and family tried to tell me I had a perfect family already, I wouldn’t be consoled. I desperately wanted a sibling for Orlando and another baby for Dominic and myself.’
It was then they considered surrogacy. ‘As I could produce healthy eggs, I just needed a uterus in which our baby could grow,’ she explains. She and Dominic would provide the embryo and their surrogate would incubate it: it seemed simple.
So Dominic researched their options via the internet. He started in the UK — but was worried as the law does not recognise surrogacy as a binding agreement on either side.
‘Even when the baby is genetically related to both intended parents, and not to the surrogate — as ours would have been — there is very little we could do to make our position 100 per cent water-tight,’ she explains.
‘We’d heard stories of British surrogates refusing to hand over babies. We did not want to risk the heartbreak of that.’
Similar rules applied in Australia, while in the U.S. the cost was prohibitively expensive, at around £40,000.
They researched South Africa, and there, too, the law was obscure. But India, it seemed, had different and unequivocal rules. ‘The surrogate is paid. She does a job. You don’t have to become friends with her,’ says Octavia. ‘She carries the baby and hands it over. It’s very clear-cut.’
They chose a clinic in Hyderabad because it was cheaper than rival organisations, and because it also offered a lawyer to negotiate the convoluted bureaucracy involved in securing the baby’s British passport.
Soon after signing up, a box of medication to boost Octavia’s egg production arrived at their home, and in March — Orlando was left with his maternal grandmother — they flew to India for treatment.
Octavia knew what to expect from the subcontinent. Although she spent most of her childhood in Oxfordshire — she attended Samantha Cameron’s alma mater, St Helen & St Katharine School, Abingdon — she lived briefly in India when her father, a pilot, worked there. Dominic, too, had visited on business. Without this knowledge, they admit they would have been alarmed by the dizzying mix of abject squalor and wealth they encountered.
‘If we hadn’t been prepared for what we’d find, we would have been worried,’ concedes Octavia. ‘The clinic was basic and compact, but clean. It was three or four storeys high and the surrogates live on the upper storeys.
Tender time: Octavia and Dominic Orchard, pictured at the birth of their son Orlando
Growing up fast: The Orchards at Orlando's six-month Christening
Three set to be four: The Orchards always wanted a sibling for Orlando - and now their dreams are coming true
Many believe such arrangements are exploitative, and question whether it is morally right to use uneducated, impoverished women to fulfil wealthy couples’ dreams of parenthood. But Octavia insists the arrangement is mutually beneficial. For her, the quid pro quo is the financial recompense — huge by the standards of impoverished Indians —_ the surrogate will have received.
Octavia and her surrogate were treated within the clinic, but in separate areas. Around ten British couples a year currently use its facilities.
There are 90 surrogates on its books, and it has produced 218 successful deliveries in the past four years.
Octavia’s eggs were harvested and fertilised with her husband’s sperm, before being implanted in the surrogate’s womb, where one embryo is now successfully developing.
Other fertilised embryos produced by the treatment are being stored by the clinic and the Orchards may use them for a third child in the future.
Octavia and Dominic were flying home when the operation to transplant the embryo took place.
They said they weren’t even tempted to glimpse the woman who would transform their lives by carrying their second child.
Now they are back in Hong Kong, where Dominic works. They hope to return to the UK soon — to live in Wimbledon where Octavia worked at an estate agent, or their native Oxford — to raise their two children.
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They do not know its sex. Gender-testing is illegal in India because so many female foetuses are illicitly aborted. As the pregnancy progresses, they feel a little more relieved. But there is no euphoria: they are too wary to celebrate yet.
‘When we found out our surrogate was pregnant we couldn’t quite believe it, but as every stage is passed — the 12-week scan; the 20-week scan — we feel a little more relieved and the knot of tension in our shoulders starts to ease,’ says Octavia.
‘We thank God for our success so far, but we’re not jubilant yet. I’m itching to get the baby’s nursery organised, but I daren’t. This whole thing feels a little like an out-of-body experience. I do think about the baby but I try not to be consumed by it. To an extent I shut off.’
Orlando has been told he is to be a big brother, and is excited by the prospect. ‘He knows babies come from mummies’ tummies, but we haven’t told him any more yet,’ says Octavia. ‘At this stage he just needs to know he’s loved.
‘Eventually he’ll know mummy’s tummy was not working properly so we borrowed another lady’s tummy. My parents are writing a little book for him, setting it all out in simple language.’
Is it right? The baby-making factory in India gives a whole new meaning to the words 'surrogate mum'
‘I’m assuming that once the baby has popped out and been bathed, he or she will be handed to us. I’m sure the surrogate will see the baby, but she won’t breastfeed it or cuddle it.
‘We may briefly see our surrogate, too, and I will thank her. I’m certain she will have formed a bond with the baby — no woman who has carried a baby for nine months could fail to do so — but I do not anticipate there will be any problems handing it over. I’ve no worries. She certainly won’t want to extend her own family.
‘I know that we will treat our new baby exactly as we have Orlando. It will be born in a different country and carried in a different body, but it will be no less special, no less of a miracle. It will just have come to us via a very different route.’