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27 1 Public Health and Assisted Reproduction in India I first met Karishma in Dr. Singh’s office, where she was pursuing a second attempt at becoming a gestational surrogate. She was friendly and inquisitive throughout our brief conversation, and at the end of our interview she invited me to visit her at her home in Kailash, about an hour and a half outside Mumbai. I eagerly accepted. I would soon learn that in contrast to many of the homes I had visited (which often lacked running water and many material possessions), Karishma’s appeared perched on the edge of the middle class, belying dominant media representations of impoverished Indian women desperate to rent their wombs as surrogates. Indeed, while making plans to visit Karishma and her family, Karishma’s husband inadvertently texted a shopping list intended for the local provisions store instead of the directions we needed to travel to their home. The list included items such as brand-name household supplies and Bournvita (a chocolate malt drink mix); reflecting her surprise at the shopping list, my translator remarked, “These are items we would buy ourselves,” indicating that the family was closer to middle-class status than working class. My translator ’s hunch was confirmed once we arrived at Karishma’s home; unlike some of the women I had interviewed who lived in small, one-room shanties, Karishma and her family lived in a two-room flat with running water. Various food provisions lined the pantry shelves, as well as a few children’s toys. In the background, Karishma’s two daughters were watching cartoons on a large television set, and in the center of the room Karishma set a plate of biscuits on the coffee table. After offering us snacks and refreshments, she sat down to tell us her story. Twenty-nine-year-old Karishma was married and had two daughters, aged seven and three. She and her husband, Rajan, had both completed high school. While Rajan worked in the hospitality industry after completing a diploma in hotel management, Karishma described herself as a “housewife,” though she had also previously studied nursing and had 28 | Public Health and Assisted Reproduction in India worked as an auxiliary nurse midwife. Yet, after the birth of her children, she said, “I had to think about who would take care of them,” and she decided to stop working in order to care for her children. Though Rajan could sometimes earn a monthly salary of up to U.S.$650, the family’s finances were unstable. Rajan was in the process of starting his own hospitality consulting business with several colleagues and did not have a steady income. Karishma wanted to help her husband support the family and suggested that she might earn money as an egg donor or surrogate, which she had learned about from Rajan’s sister, herself a former surrogate. Explaining his reaction, Rajan says, “I was against it then, but there were some financial messes. Checks were bouncing, and we were in need, so she said she wanted to contribute and help.” Karishma too initially was somewhat uncertain, saying, “I kept wondering how such things [conception through egg donation or surrogacy ] could happen.” But eventually, she realized, “By doing this, we are getting some financial help. And there is no other place where such immediate financial help is available.” While Rajan was out of town for work, Karishma decided she would sell her eggs in exchange for approximately U.S.$260. She returned to sell a second time at a different clinic, earning the same amount of money. When she wanted to sell her eggs a third time, however, her doctor, Dr. Singh, suggested that she become a surrogate. As Karishma explained, “The doctor said that donors were not needed; surrogates were needed. ‘Don’t do donation now,’ she said.” Talking it over with Rajan, they decided to move forward with surrogacy: “We thought that if we got good money, we could add to our earlier savings and buy a house.” In the end, Karishma attempted to become pregnant as a gestational surrogate twice; embryos made from the intended father’s sperm and an anonymous donor’s eggs were transferred to Karishma’s uterus. In both attempts, the client was a Russian man named Seth, whom Karishma met once, briefly. The first attempt ended in miscarriage early in the pregnancy, and the second attempt did not result in pregnancy. She earned about U.S.$220 for undergoing embryo transfer...


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MARC Record
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