Though surrogacy is illegal in China, couples still seek surrogates so they can buy a first or second child, and many turn to the US for tall Caucasians who can bear twins. Yao Minji delivers the story.
At 54, Daisy Chen has built a successful career as a financial adviser, a happy marriage to a well-connected private investor and understanding life partner, and she has delivered a son. Now 25 years old, he recently returned from Australia with an MBA and started working.
It sounds ideal, but Chen feels she needs something more to make life perfect.
“I’m not a greedy person and there isn’t much that I don’t already have, but I always hoped for a second child, or maybe even a third, to build a perfect family,” Chen tells Shanghai Daily.
“My husband and I worked day and night when we were young. We had no time, no money, no courage to have a second child, since it is banned (by the one-child policy). Now, I’m retiring and I want to get it done,” she says.
Chen is exploring her options. Like thousands of Chinese couples, she turns to surrogacy, finding a woman to bear a child using her husband’s sperm and her egg, although physicians have strongly suggested her using someone else’s.
While the domestic supply chain, basically illegitimate and underground, has been up and running for at least eight years, the recent trend is to find a womb an ocean away — in the United States.
“Seventy percent of our clients are Chinese,” Jennifer Garcia from California-based Extraordinary Conceptions tells Shanghai Daily in a Skype interview from Carlsbad near San Diego.
The company started in 2005 and business really took off in 2011. That’s when many Chinese parents wanted a “dragon baby” born in 2012, the auspicious Year of the Dragon. In the last two years, the number has grown dramatically.
“Business with the “snake baby” (2013 was the Year of the Snake) was great too, and this year we expect a little growth since many people want a baby born in the Year of the Horse. The Chinese zodiac really influences our business,” Garcia adds.
According to Garcia, who has been with the company for seven years, business with China’s mainland expanded simply through word of mouth, without any advertising or marketing in China.
Around 70 percent of the total clients are from the Chinese mainland and already have one child. Most are between 40 and 60, though Garcia recently met a couple in their early 80s who wanted to be parents again. Due to their age, doctors did not approve the case.
Most couples want to use the wife’s eggs, if possible, and if a donation is required, they want an Asian egg.
However, they prefer a tall, large Caucasian surrogate who can easily carry twins.
“Age is a big factor. Many women had their first kid in their 20s, and now they want to have a child again, but it is illegal in China,” Garcia says.
There are added benefits. Children born in the US are automatically US citizens and can attend schools in the States. As citizens, they can eventually bring their Chinese family to the US to live.
The costs vary for invitro fertilization (IVF), implantation of embryos in the surrogate, insurance, legal documents and hospital delivery.
Overall, the cost in China for one baby, with no egg donation from the surrogate is 300,000 yuan (US49,471) to 750,000 yuan. The cost in the US ranges from US$90,000 to US$160,000.
Egg donation is about another 50,000 yuan.
While most Chinese surrogates in China are required to follow the exact instructions from clients, American surrogates in the US have their own preferences and views on lifestyle and prenatal care.
It can be irksome to Chinese intended parents when young American surrogates remain active and go to sports events and parties before the 12th week. They are supposed to be calm and rest. And Americans drink cold water, which is considered very unhealthy in traditional Chinese medicine, especially during pregnancy.
Chinese specify their body type preferences in the surrogacy contract and sometimes pay surrogates not to work or be active before the 12th week. Diet can also be specified.
Surrogates in China
Surrogacy has been banned by China’s Ministry of Health since 2001.
Still, business is good.
Those seeking surrogates are generally infertile couples, older couples who want a child outside the one-child policy, celebrities, and gay couples.
According to the China Infertility Report by the China Population Association in 2012, the nationwide infertility rate has reached 12.5 percent. It’s even higher in bigger cities such as Shanghai and Beijing where there’s more environmental pollution, stress and unhealthy living.
Among the infertile couples, some are able to conceive with medical assistance, while others require a surrogate.
China’s one-child policy has driven the demand for surrogates. Though it has been relaxed somewhat to allow single-child parents to have a second child, that change is very recent and it doesn’t help people like Daisy Chen from the single-child generation who are past child-bearing age.
Between 2011 and 2013, a few large-scale crackdowns on the black market for eggs and embryos took place in Beijing, Wuhan in Hubei Province and Shenzhen in Guangdong Province.
In 2012, Shenzhen police investigated a registered elder care facility, which housed no seniors, only pregnant women suspected of being surrogates. Police confiscated a record book of all transactions, which covered several dozen pages, and surrogacy contracts. Attorneys say the contracts are not protected by law.
Many illegal facilities were closed and some doctors’ medical licenses were suspended.
Authorities also banned surrogacy-related posts and content on some major websites, however, the multimillion dollar black market is still going strong.
“I already have two daughters and my wife is too old to carry another child,” says 48-year-old John Zhao in Guangzhou, capital city of Guangdong Province. “I want a son to inherit my business and my bloodline.”
Bloodline, transmitted through sons, is still important in China. Quite a few people still seek illegal ultrasound scans to determine the gender of a fetus, and then obtain illegal sex-selective abortion if it’s female.
The son of farmers, Zhao became a construction worker, then a contractor and is now the president of a listed real estate company.
“I don’t care much about the money, as long as I’m guaranteed a son,” says Zhao who has turned to an agency based in Guangzhou.
The total cost is around half a million yuan, he says, and includes the commission for the agency, payment and living costs for the surrogate and medical costs for delivery.
Through the agency, Zhao has chosen a 29-year-old divorced model who agreed to live with him and his wife until she became pregnant — she is now six months’ pregnant.
Zhao says he prefers a natural pregnancy because Chinese believe intercourse produces a child that is more attractive and intelligent than one carried by a surrogate.
“My wife has no say in this since she couldn’t conceive a son for me,” he adds.
In most surrogacy cases, sex is not involved, according to a sales representative for a domestic surrogate agency, contacted only through an online messaging service. The person was extremely wary about discussing the issue.
“We have surrogates and doctors in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, with the most advanced facilities,” the representative says.
The price ranges from 300,000 to 750,000 yuan, depending on how many babies are desired and on the chosen surrogate, the person says.
“Babies are more expensive if you want a taller, prettier surrogate with higher education. Egg donation costs an additional 40,000-60,000 yuan,” the salesperson says.
Former surrogate Xiao Zhuang is a factory worker in Shenzhen. She comes from a small village in Fujian Province and is a divorced single mother with a daughter.
Four years ago when she was 26, a coworker who is also a surrogate referred her to a surrogacy agency. She was promised 65,000 yuan to be paid in stages. She asked for a bonus if she delivered a son.
But ultrasound showed it was a daughter and the client disappeared, having paid only 30,000 yuan, Xiao Zhuang says. “He didn’t want a girl.”
The agent also disappeared.
It was too late for an abortion. She delivered the baby at home and deposited her at the door of an orphanage.
“I was young and stupid,” she says. “I immediately regretted giving her up and thought about getting the baby back, but I didn’t have the courage. It’s not easy being a single mother with one child, not to mention two.”
Like Xiao Zhuang, many Chinese surrogates didn’t and still don’t know much about what they were doing.
“The facilities and IVF physicians look terrible and psychologically, our surrogates were not ready,” says Shanghai native Tony Jiang, founder and chief consultant of Shanghai-based Diyi Consulting, a US fertility consulting service associated with a few clinics in California.
In 2007, Jiang and his wife were told that she could not deliver a child. At that time they started looking for IVF facilities and surrogates. In Guangzhou, they tried three different surrogates, each implanted with an embryo using Jiang’s sperm and his wife’s eggs. The technology failed.
“So I started looking for overseas solutions and landed in the United States,” Jiang, a former marketing director, tells Shanghai Daily. “We had a great experience with one baby and went back with the same surrogate for a pair of twins later.”
The California-based agency then asked him for help since they had received inquiries from China and didn’t read Chinese.
At first Jiang worked part time and later started his own firm matching Chinese intended parents with US IVF clinics and surrogates.
In the past three years, his company has successfully matched more than 100 couples with surrogates, he says.
Most Chinese clients seek surrogates because of their age, according to Jiang and Garcia from Extraordinary Conceptions in California.
One woman wanted a surrogate simply because she didn’t want to lose her figure, Garcia says.
Some US agencies promote their service as a cheaper and better way to ensure future immigration to America, since the US-born baby is a US citizen. The immediate family can obtain US resident visas after the child grows up and chooses American passport. Their target clients are wealthy Chinese.
“This section of our business has been on the rise since last year,” says Jerry Liang, marketing specialist at a Beijing-based immigration consulting firm. “It’s great. You get a passport, and you don’t even have to deliver the baby by yourself. We take care of everything.”
Shanghai-based Jiang disagrees with “buying a baby” for immigration purposes.
“I have rejected around 20 percent of prospective clients because my bottom line, and that of our IVF physicians, is that each couple must have a genuine problem with conception or social issues,” he says. “They can’t just buy a baby because they have money.”
Though Jiang’s consultancy is not illegal, he has felt the effects of the crackdown on illegal surrogate agencies within China. He used to promote his agency on major online forums but his surrogacy-related posts are now deleted within hours.
Even so, business is good. Jiang has acquired an office and is hiring more staff.
“I bought the office mainly as a meeting place, because most of my clients, especially older couples, are highly sensitive about privacy. They don’t want anyone to know they have inquired about surrogates,” Jiang says.
His own wife asked for a 12-month leave from her company so that nobody would find out that she never got pregnant.
Daisy Chen, the successful financial adviser with a near-perfect life, worries about the reaction to her surrogate-seeking from relatives and friends. She has consulted several agencies and clinics, mostly based in California. Confidentiality is her top concern.
“I have thought about borrowing a womb for quite a few years, but my husband was always so worried about what people would think of us,” Chen says. “He called me nuts when I first mentioned the idea five or six years ago.
“Chinese women are well advanced into the new age while Chinese men are still stuck in Stone Age,” she shrugs. “He was ignorant about surrogacy and worried people would call him an aged womanizer with abnormal fantasies.”
Today he is more accepting of the idea, but both Chen and her husband are worried about whether, when and how to tell the child — if they have one — about the surrogate.
Jiang says many clients don’t intend to tell their children anything, at least not until the child turns 30. Of course, in the rare case of a donated Caucasian egg, the question might arise sooner. When a donated egg is required, couples prefer an Asian donor.
“They don’t think their children will be mature enough to know the truth at 18,” says Jiang, who has decided not to tell his own children while they are young.
He requires his clients to keep in contact with surrogates during pregnancy, at least once a month, to stay emotionally attached since their babies are inside other women’s wombs.
“Most of them are fine and some even continue ties and send pictures of the child afterward,” he says.
Most clients get along well with surrogates, though cultural differences pose some problems, especially when clients are middle-aged and older and surrogates are young and active American women in their 20s.
When some clients choose surrogates, they prefer married women because marriage suggests stability and good character and they don’t understand the common pattern of civil partnership, Jiang says.
They also don’t understand why so many American women always drink ice water, even while they are pregnant, since TCM links infertility with yin (“cold”) energy in ice water and cold foods. Chinese people, especially women, drink warm water.
Garcia also says 95 percent of her Chinese clients want Caucasian surrogates and do not want African Americans or Hispanics. Seventy percent want twins and may think Asian surrogates are not big enough to carry them comfortably, she says.
The same is true for Jiang’s clients, with only two exceptions. Jiang himself first chose a Hispanic surrogate, but his mother objected and wanted a Caucasian, so he switched.
“Even I didn’t understand why my surrogate chose to go to baseball games, football games, birthday parties and even go camping before week 12,” Jiang says. “But she had a doctor’s certificate saying it was OK.”
Many Chinese parents-to-be pay extra so that surrogates do not work or do anything strenuous before three months, to ensure the fetus is sound. They are ultra-cautious.
“Of course, I would be willing to pay her not to work,” concludes Daisy Chen, who is still mulling the idea. “If possible, I would love to pay her to just lie in bed for nine months.”