Women in surrogacy, between poverty and abuse

If it had not been for Facebook groups, ‘L’, Angelica and Sofia would never have known that they could rent their womb and receive an amount of money with which, they thought, they would cover the needs of day to day and change their lives in poverty.  
Interviewed separately, the three women first said they agreed to be surrogate mothers because they wanted to help those who wanted to have children, but for various reasons could not.
As the talk progressed, they accepted that the possibility of accessing economic resources in exchange for becoming surrogate mothers was also an incentive to do so, even though no one ever told them how the law protected them when accepting the procedure, what their rights as surrogates were or if they should receive more information about the risks to their health by undergoing these procedures.

“They have a catalog and the parents choose the surrogate”
‘L’, 32, lives in Cancun, Quintana Roo, and three years ago decided to undergo a process to be a surrogate mother and receive economic compensation of $ 14,500, about 290,000 Mexican pesos.
She says that before 2019 she had never heard anything about surrogacy until one day, while checking her Facebook, she read an ad asking for young women. The announcement caught her attention, but the fear that it was a scam stopped her and she did not answer the ad. Instead, he explains, he began to investigate what it was about and whether it was real.
A few weeks later, and after thinking about the matter, he made up his mind and asked for reports from the clinic that had published the ad. His economic needs, he accepts, were so many that at that moment he found a possible solution.

Within two months of writing to ask for reports, ‘L’ was already pregnant. 
“I passed all the tests, they told me ‘you’re ready’ and I started taking the medicines, a lot of medicines, because they start preparing your body in a special way,” ‘L’ said.
“They (the clinic) have like a catalog (…) And the parents chose me to gestate their child.”
In Quintana Roo, surrogacy is not legislated; However, in recent years it has become a paradise where couples and single people from all over the world go to have their children through surrogacy processes. A homoparental couple residing in Australia was the one who chose ‘L’.
Before and after the process, the young woman shares, she never asked what would happen if the pregnancy became complicated, trusted that the clinic would ensure her well-being throughout the process and never asked what legal procedures had to be done so that the baby, once born, went with his parents to Australia.
Read: Abusive contracts without the right to health: the ‘global monopoly’ of surrogacy also operates in Mexico 
Even, shared the young woman, although the process was done through a surrogacy clinic – or at least that’s what she was told – once the baby was born and still in the hospital, the representatives of the clinic gave her to sign a series of papers in which it was established that she was giving up the baby for adoption.
“(At that time) my daughter was three years old and needed money because my options had already run out and I saw that renting my womb would be a good option … I felt like that was going to help me get out of my problems,” he said.
Before making the decision to undergo the procedure, she approached her family, specifically her mother and sister, to tell them about surrogacy and the financial compensation that women who did it received. At first, they did not see it badly and, although they did not tell him to do it, they agreed that it was a good option and that the amount of money they offered was adequate.
Weeks later, when ‘L’ returned home and told them that she had started the procedure and that she was already pregnant, her whole family became angry, judged her and stopped talking to her.
“It was the hardest part … My mom stopped talking to me, my sister blocked me (from her social media) and got mad at me. I thought, I thought, I was going to get a lot of support but I was a zero for them,” he recalled.
If it were not because during pregnancy she contracted COVID-19 and her family thought she would die – because at that time there was no vaccine and the information we had about the disease was very little – they would still not speak to her.
Victims of violence and in loneliness
The reaction of the ‘L’ family was not isolated; in fact, in Mexico it is usually the common response.
Although in only two states surrogacy is legislated (Tabasco and Sinaloa), these procedures are carried out without control throughout the country violating the human rights of women who choose to submit to them.
María Cristina Pérez Agüero, professor at the Faculty of Psychology of the UNAM, warns about the complications and sequelae in the mental health of women who rent their womb because they are not only judged by their families and acquaintances, which forces them to carry pregnancies in complete solitude, but they are also victims of psychological violence by the clinics and agencies that recruit them.
And, to ensure that the woman does not become fond of the baby growing in her womb and ensure that at the end of the process she delivers it to the parents who hired the service, it is more common than imagined to be told, again and again, that it is not theirs and that they are only incubators.
“Any violent environment can involve aspects from depression, anxiety to post-traumatic stress, and by objectifying or minimizing a surrogate womb to be only the incubator, you are not seeing everything that the process of pregnancy itself implies,” said Pérez Agüero.
“It may not be the egg of the person who is lending the womb, but it is a body that is not separated from the mind, from emotions, and as much as the woman is aware that it is a surrogacy, it does not imply that she will not create any link with the being that is gestating and that she is continually reminded that she is not the mother, or that it is only functioning almost like a machine, because obviously it does violate the rights of the person,” he said.
The expert added that this type of situation is also the result of the lack of specific regulation on procedures, which has led to them being carried out clandestinely in the country, leaving women who decide to undergo them adrift.
“It is completely a violation of their rights and this should be addressed as part of the basic and minimum respect of when a person accesses a surrogacy,” said Pérez Agüero.
“I would like to know about babies”
Angelica lives in Puebla, is 31 years old and three years ago was a surrogate mother for a single father. He had twins.
“I opened my Face and read a story of a couple who couldn’t have children. Her story moved me a lot because they had had three failed attempts and were still looking for a surrogate (mother)… That’s why it caught my attention and I started searching the internet and joined the group,” she said.
“One day I applied. I put my name, my age, where I was from, put a picture of myself and said ‘if at some point I can help someone, it’s like leaving a mark on the world, knowing that we made someone happy or we completed a family.'”
Her husband accompanied her to Mexico City to carry out the procedure. The last month of the pregnancy, she details, she went to live in the apartment of the man who had hired the services of a surrogacy agency so that he would be aware and could take her immediately to the hospital when necessary.
Angelica maintains that the experience was unique. The continuous reminders that she was not the mother and that she would be paid for it, she accepts, did not see them bad at that time because she thought it was normal and part of the process; Even during the talk he reported that he was in conversation with another clinic to do it again because he knows the process and his family needs the money.
However, as the talk progressed, he acknowledged that to date he longs to know what happened and how the twins are doing.
“I was left with the thorn (…) Because I don’t know what they are like. Once I did want to know and I checked the profile (of the dad) but it blocked me everywhere … I sent him messages but he never answered me, he doesn’t want me to know anything anymore,” the woman said.
“It’s a difficult process for pregnant mommies… There is a bond because we are not animals, we feel… Suddenly I do start thinking: what will they be like? I don’t know, a lot of things going on in my mind.”
It may interest you: Surrogacy: the SCJN ruling is a dead letter, pregnant women are victims of abuse
The economic compensation they gave Angelica was 180,000 pesos, which she received both in cash and in different electronic transfers made directly by the man who sought to be a father, not the clinic that supposedly hired her.
At the end of the procedure, she details, she had to allocate part of that money to attend and overcome, because the clinic and the man who took the twins left her completely alone. They never even answered a call or a message again.
“It took me a little bit of work to recover (…) I had milk and in the caesarean section I did badly because I was infected and the stitches were incarnating; So, all those expenses were already part of me, because he no longer even ‘hey, how are you?, how did you do today, have you already recovered?’, nothing, “he laments.
Rent your womb to constRuir a bathroom in your house
Sofia, who was renamed like the other two interviewed to protect her identity, lives in the state of Morelos, is married and has two children.
One afternoon, she says, while checking her Facebook, a publication appeared that caught her attention: it was an ad – with videos included – in which it was read that they were looking for pregnant women who would receive an economic compensation of 250 thousand pesos.
One ad took her to another and another and another, until she found a private group that she joined with the idea of becoming a surrogate mother and thus be able to access the money that will help her to face all the shortcomings with which she and her family live.
Without further information, she posted a message in which she announced that she wanted to rent her womb. She said she was 24 years old, a mother of two and completely healthy. Dozens of private messages immediately began to arrive with countless offers.
“I received several messages from agencies. Some offer what is all hospitalization, clinical appointments, ultrasounds. There are some who offer you money for maternity clothes and maybe even food. There are some that offer you up to 250 thousand pesos and there are others that do not, that offer you 300 thousand, and to say, if you do it outside an agency depends on the couple what they want to offer you. There are some who offer 80 (a thousand pesos), there are some who offer 150 or 200 (a thousand pesos),” Sofia shared.
Data from the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval), updated to 2020, show that in Mexico 52.8% of the population is in poverty and 17.2% of the population is in extreme poverty.
Among the main deficiencies of the population are access to social security (52%), access to health services (28.2%) and access to nutritious and quality food (22.5%).
Thus, with the reality that is lived in Mexico, Sofia is convinced that renting her womb is a way out of the complicated economic situation she lives.
“The money would not be anything else for me, it would be for the well-being of my children, to buy them maybe clothes, shoes or things that are needed here in the house (…) we are a young couple and the truth is that the only support I received from my dad was that he bought us a little land,” explained Sofia.
“In fact, we don’t even have a bathroom and I say, with that money we can do the bathroom, the things that the house needs and more for us,” he explained.
After its publication, there were people who contacted her offering 80 thousand pesos in cash and in a single exhibition. Without having more information and without knowing what people it is, or with what real objective they are looking for it, she has been tempted to accept the offer. “Worse is nothing,” she says resignedly.
For weeks, she secretly answered dozens of private messages from her husband that sent her supposed clinics and individuals asking for details of her state of health or requesting full-body photos. They were weeks of loneliness and uncertainty because I didn’t know who to tell what I intended to do.
As the messages became more and more insistent, the young woman took courage and told her mother.
“I explained to him and he says, ‘Pray for him, then cheer up… You can still have children.’ ‘Cheer up,’ he says, ‘and that’s how they have money and you’re not going to raise it,'” the woman recalls.
With the endorsement of her mother and later that of her husband, she began to have permanent contact with the supposed clinics that she believed were the most serious to seek a good deal.
Of contracts, medical insurance, life insurance, risks, legality, he knows nothing. She has not asked and it is not something that at the moment has her worried. They have only told her that they will sign a contract in Mexico City, an entity where surrogacy is not legislated.
“I had already said that I wanted to operate this year, but if it is possible to be a surrogate mother, then what a father. I mean, that’s just how I do it once, I operate and now, now everyone is happy and content,” he says.
Until August 2022, Sofia had not started the procedure due to lack of economic resources, and everything promised by the agency that convinced her the most and that was presented under the name of Baby Boom has been changing on the fly. If she wishes to be a surrogate woman, she was informed, she must pay all travel expenses to perform studies and confirm if she is a candidate for the procedure.
 
The Baby Broker Investigation project featured journalists from Animal Político in Mexico, iFact in Georgia, The Observer in the UK and Eesti Päevaleht in Estonia. Independent reporters in Kenya and Cambodia also participated. The research was coordinated by Finance Uncovered and received support and funding from the Pulitzer Center. The Full research can be read here.
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Original source in Spanish

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