Baby Makers: A Story of Indian Surrogacy by Gita Aravamudan. HarperCollins India, Rs 250.
In a world where babies can be ordered over email, created in petri dishes from frozen genetic material, and grown in wombs considered nothing more than gestational vessels, how do you define motherhood? In this fascinating, entertaining book tracing surrogacy in India through the people involved in the business of baby-making, Aravamudan combines journalistic detail and skilful storytelling to paint a compelling, sympathetic picture of the people who turn to surrogacy as a birth option as well as the women who opt to serve as surrogates.
The Ladies Finger is delighted to bring you this excerpt from Baby Makers, in which Meena, a woman who plans to use a surrogate, considers the possibility of wearing a prosthetic tummy to avoid her in-laws’ disapproval, but mulls over a valid concern: what if (like it appears to have happened to singer Beyonce), she has a ‘Bumpgate’?
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Meena was having the first real conversation with her surrogate. Until now, she had felt too embarrassed to even talk to the girl.
Almost apologetic. She was hesitant even now. Alice looked distant. As if she was detached from everything happening around her. She sat cross-legged on her bed in the surrogate home with her little daughter Mini next to her.
All around them, the other surrogates were going about minding their own business. One heavily pregnant woman on the next bed was having a heated conversation in Hindi with her child.
“If I get to know from your father one more time that you have stayed away from school, I will beat the living daylights out of you when I get home,” she said. “Otherwise, I will send you off to a hostel where they keep bad boys like you. Then you will learn what life is all about. Bah! These children,” she continued as she flipped her cell phone shut. “They don’t understand what sacrifices we are making to keep them in school. His father and I are uneducated. Who sent us to school? Nobody. And this fellow, he has everything. Uniform, books, bag, shoes. And he doesn’t want to go to school, I believe!”
“I’ve brought you some chocolates, Mini,” Meena said, holding out a big colourful packet of M&Ms. “And a doll. From London.” Mini looked hesitantly at her mother who nodded. She took the gifts from Meena and cuddled up closer to her mother. “How are you feeling, Alice?” Meena asked. “Are they taking care of you well?” She wanted to say, “I would have taken you to my mother’s house and asked her to care for you, but that is against the rules.” But the words wouldn’t come out. Alice looked so composed. As if she was on a different plane.
The surrogate shrugged. “I am fine. What’s there to take care of? In the beginning, I had several bouts of morning sickness. But now that’s over.”
Morning sickness? Meena hadn’t thought of that. Somehow, she had not imagined a surrogate would have morning sickness. She had brainwashed herself so much into thinking of the woman’s womb as just a container.
Alice. Alice. She was a person. Not just a womb.
Suddenly she felt guilty. Alice would have had to take hormone treatment. How had that affected her? And all the shots. She was enduring all the physical pain and discomfort for Meena. And, at the end of it, she was going to give Meena her most coveted possession – the baby. How could she even begin to repay her for what she was doing?
“Alice,” she said suddenly, on an impulse. “I can never forget what you are doing for me.” She held her hand. “Let me do something for you in return. Let me take care of Mini’s education.”
The younger woman looked at Meena squarely in the eye for the first time. She gave her a tiny smile. “The memsahib in the house, where my father worked as a driver for twenty years, made sure I got an education,” she said. “School. College. Of what use is that to me now? My womb earns more for me than my education did.”
Meena’s eyes filled with tears. There it was again, the importance of a functional womb. All her education, all the gold medals she had won for her academic prowess…everything had come to naught because of her inability to reproduce. Awoman who couldn’t have a child was nothing as far as society was concerned.
Back home, she rummaged through her suitcase and pulled out some brochures on prosthetic bellies. She had to decide very soon whether she wanted to use a fake belly or not.
As soon as she got back to the UK, after hiring her surrogate, she had started looking for prosthetic bellies. She hadn’t decided whether to tell her in-laws about the surrogate or not. What if they totally freaked out?
If she had to make her in-laws believe she had really borne the child herself, she would not only have to look pregnant, she would also have to act so.
“Anyway, until you decide, do your homework and be prepared,” Radha had said. “There are some women who want to fake it as they don’t want their families to know. I can give you the contacts of some fake belly makers and you can check them out.”
The bellies marketed by an online UK store Radha suggested looked quite solid and life-like. Their website had an exhaustive and enlightening FAQs section. She hadn’t given a thought to how her belly would be strapped on, or how she would go to the toilet with her belly on.
Apparently, the fake bellies made of silicone were actually specially designed body suits. They had bra cups and shoulder straps and an attachment at the bottom, which could be taken apart when one needed to go to the toilet. The bump itself was made of a special rubber with a foam core to make it light. The back of the bump was curved to sit comfortably on thebody of the wearer. The manufacturers had certain standard sizes – four-, six- and nine-month bellies, though different sizes could also be ordered online. There were also charts indicating what type of belly would suit a person of a specific weight and height. The skin colour could also be matched if required. The cost of the fake bellies varied according to their texture and size.
She found the part about belly maintenance quite entertaining.
The silicone tummy is too shiny. What can I do?
A small amount of talcum powder can be applied to the surface of the belly to dull the shine a bit. This will also prevent fluff from sticking to the silicone surface.
Should I wear underwear beneath my fake-pregnant belly costume prosthetic?
Yes. This is for personal hygiene and health and safety reasons, as well as for the wearer’s comfort.
How do I go to the toilet if I have the fake belly on?
The silicone fake tummies have poppers or hooks at the gusset that can be opened to allow for ease of access and wearability.
But the bellies from abroad were quite expensive. Radha also told her about Hema Inamdar, a soft toymaker in Ahmedabad, who had now switched over to making artificial bellies. They cost only Rs 1,000 for a set of three bellies simulating three-, five- and seven-month pregnancies or five-, seven- and nine- month pregnancies. This was nothing compared to the more than 100 to 200 pounds she would have to pay, per belly, if she were to get them from London.
Anand and Ahmedabad had apparently become the surrogacy capitals of India. And, if the newspaper reports were to be believed, there was a big demand for fake bellies in that region. Quite a few of the girls, who went to the many clinics in and around Ahmedabad, came from very traditional families. They didn’t want their in-laws to know they were hiring surrogates. Since a majority of them lived in traditional joint families, they also needed their artificial bellies to look verygenuine. So maybe she should also look at locally made bellies. Even while she was trying to decide what to do, Meena came across a YouTube clip of what the media had dubbed “Beyonce’s BumpGate”. When singer Beyonce announced some months ago thatshe was pregnant, rumours began doing the rounds that she had actually hired a surrogate to have her baby. However, she appeared a couple of times on stage sporting a small bump. Was she pregnant or was she faking it?
And then, bumpgate happened. Beyonce appeared on an Australian TV talk show sporting her baby bump. But, as she sat down in front of the talk-show host, suddenly, the bump appeared to fold in on itself.
All the old rumours resurfaced. Videos showed step-by-step images of Beyonce’s ‘belly’ collapse in slow-motion. The singer’s public relations teams went into overdrive and lashed out. It was the fabric of her dress which folded, they said, and not the belly.
Meena shuddered at the thought of that incident. Imagine what would happen if she had a fake belly which failed her at a crucial moment.
Nevertheless, it was still early days and she managed to get by without wearing a prosthetic belly in the UK. Until she was able to figure out what to do, she decided she would remain non-committal. She wore oversized cardigans and heavy coats during the winter anyway, and even if she had a bump it wouldn’t show. But Chennai was different. Her mother-in-law had an eagle eye. The first thing she would do is check out her bump.
She would have to decide by then whether to tell her about the surrogate or not.
Radha had also given her a few tips on how she should alter her body language to make her pregnancy look genuine if she did, indeed, want to fake it. She made her sit in her clinic and observe pregnant women.
“See how they arch their backs and bend their knees when they stand up. As the pregnancy progresses, and the stomach becomes heavier, they tend to support their bellies with their hands or, sometimes, support aching backs when they stand. Also notice how the pregnant mothers place soothing hands on their bellies to calm down a kicking or hiccupping baby. These are small instinctive motions. But you are faking it, so you have to watch and learn like an actress preparing for her part.”
But she was not an actress. She had never acted in her life! Not even in a school play. She pulled out the Indian fake belly that had arrived by courier the day before. She looked at it for a moment and then flung it on the bed.
She had arrived at a decision. She would tell her in-laws about the surrogate. Anyway, what was the worst that could happen? They would reject their own grandchildren. The babies were still genetically hers and Ram’s. And, in the final analysis, that’s all they needed to think about.
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About the Author: Gita Aravamudan is an award-winning author and journalist from Bangalore. She started her journalistic career at the Hindustan Times, New Delhi, at a time when there were very few women in journalism. She has also worked with and written for the Indian Express, India Today, Sunday, Filmfare, Femina, the Illustrated Weekly of India, the Week, Society, The Hindu, the Times of India, Deccan Herald, Sunday Mid-day and a number of other national and regional publications. Her books include non-fiction (Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide, Unbound: Indian Women @Work and Voices in My Blood) as well as the fiction narratives The Healing and, more recently, Colour of Gold.