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59 2 Making Kinship, Othering Women Surrogacy India, an agency dedicated to facilitating gestational surrogacy arrangements between Indian surrogates, egg donors, and a largely international client base of would-be parents, earnestly offers an unconventional route to parenthood. One of the first to market their services to foreign clients as the Indian surrogacy industry expanded starting in 2005, today Surrogacy India is one of numerous agencies providing surrogacy packages to infertile couples and individuals from around the world. The agency justifies the promise of IVF and gestational surrogacy by emphasizing genetic models of kinship: “To reproduce is the strongest human desire, second only to survival itself. If none of us passed on our DNA and refuse [sic] to become parents, life would end with us.”1 The use of such affective language to highlight primordial desires for biogenetically related children was not unusual among Indian doctors in their efforts to draw prospective clients to their clinics and to situate their own ethical and moral positions regarding surrogacy. Indeed, as one doctor explained, “Every human being has the right to be a parent. Who are we to decide who should and cannot? Surrogacy is not a crime. It is an alternative mode of delivery for all those who are interested in having their own biological children.” To be sure, by and large doctors argued that couples seek gestational surrogacy because of a desire for their “own child,” and surrogates, egg donors, and commissioning parents frequently embraced claims to parenthood as an inalienable right and a desire innate to human beings. Yet the unique circumstances of family making via transnational gestational surrogacy in India call into question dominant ideas of kinship and parenthood among the range of actors involved, and rely on multiple disruptive boundary crossings. Consumers of transnational surrogacy in India travel across national boundaries in order to hire surrogate mothers, often of a racial background different than their own. Indeed, Surrogacy India’s home page boasts a series of cartoons 60 | Making Kinship, Othering Women that portray the “typical” actors involved in transnational surrogacy, unambiguously highlighting differences in class, nation, and culture. The commissioning parents appear as a conventional white Western married couple, with the husband dressed in a shirt and tie and the wife in high heels and a knee-length skirt, her haircut stylishly short. The surrogate mother, meanwhile, is sketched as a stereotypical “traditional” Indian woman; she is visibly pregnant with her long hair in a bun, wearing a dupatta over her housedress and a bindi on her forehead. The images and discourse found throughout the website emphasize the creation of perfect (white) children and the making of happy (white) families. Moreover , these illustrations center on and naturalize difference and distance between Western commissioning parents and Indian surrogates. Indeed, themes in the agency’s promotional materials explicitly code the Indian woman as racially and culturally Other to the commissioning parents as well as to the fetus she bears. As Surrogacy India’s pamphlets state, India represents the ideal global destination for gestational surrogacy, in part because “Indian culture is much different from the rest of the world. No Indian woman has the desire to carry your Caucasian [or other raced] children in her arms as she would not be able to explain or bear the social stigma.”2 Clearly, transnational surrogacy in India underlines the intersection of ideas about kinship, genetics, race, and reproduction. The readiness of primarily white, Western commissioning parents to enlist Indian women in gestational surrogacy arrangements can be traced in part to the belief in popular scientific discourse that compartmentalizes gestation and genetics. That is, if the qualities that determine a child’s future identity are embedded in his or her genes, then the role and influence of the gestational surrogate matters less, because she makes no genetic contribution (even though she undoubtedly shares a biological connection to the child because of the embodied nature of surrogacy). Yet this genetic essentialism—the notion that human beings can be reduced to their genes, privileging genetics over gestation in the context of assisted reproduction—raises questions about how actors construct kinship , race, and racial difference. In other words, how do commissioning parents, doctors, and others conceive of the connections between racial identity, genetic reproduction, and cultural attitudes about kinship and relatedness? Making Kinship, Othering Women | 61 In this chapter, I examine the ways in which intended parents understand kinship and parenthood as they narrate their family’s origin stories, as well as how these constructions...


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