Mail Order Wombs: Outsourcing Birth to India

By Michelle Chen Jun 15, 2010

So much of America’s economic activity takes place on faraway shores, from call centers in Mumbai to sweatshops in Shanghai. Still, you’d think that making a baby would be one job that’s hard to offshore. But today, for a fee, a woman in another country can serve as a "gestational surrogate," carrying a fertilized egg to term and then delivering the baby straight to your door, halfway around the world. We’re not used to talking about that kind of labor as an outsourced job. But farmed-out childbirth has become a full-fledged industry in India, turning the rural poor into wombs for hire.

The practice has become increasingly common with new advancements in in-vitro fertilization. The efficiency of the technology raises ethical, legal and cultural questions about the meaning of parentage.

Like Autotune and drone warfare, the transaction might feel disturbingly mechanized: someone, an infertile couple, for example, creates an embryo in a lab, ships it abroad for gestation in a stranger’s body, then takes possession again after birth. But in a consensual financial arrangement, what’s the big deal, really? There’s less (but still some) stigma surrounding child care services, though that also involves contracting out the duties of motherhood.

But maybe what makes the global surrogacy market so different is that the service providers are women in poor countries who feel compelled to lease their bodies to care for their own families.