Dilara has been living in Tbilisi, Georgia for several months now, working a variety of jobs from hairdressing to shoemaking to waitressing.
But really, all she wants is one thing: raising someone else’s child.
The 34-year-old widowed mother of four left her children with her parents in Uzbekistan last year in the hope of finding work in the country’s nascent commercial surrogacy industry.
Dilara told CNBC, “I had a loan from the bank and I have four kids. They have school, they have expenses, you know. It’s hard for me.”
Of course I would like to be a surrogate mother.
Commercial surrogacy refers to an arrangement in which a woman is paid a fee to carry a pregnancy for another person or couple. This is distinct from altruistic surrogacy, in which a woman volunteers to carry a pregnancy without any compensation beyond medical reimbursement.
Typically, commercial surrogacy is gestational surrogacy, meaning that the surrogate has no biological relationship to the child.
Laws related to surrogacy vary widely from country to country and state to state. For example, in the US, the practice is permitted in some states but restricted in others, while only altruistic surrogacy is allowed in Canada and the UK. In Georgia, meanwhile, as in Ukraine and Russia, both forms are legal.
Growing Commercial Surrogacy Industry
Dilara is one of a growing number of women turning to commercial surrogacy as a source of income amid growing global demand for careers.
The global commercial surrogacy industry was worth Estimated $14 billion in 2022According to market research consultancy Global Market Insights – although the exact numbers are hard to verify given the private nature of many arrangements.
By 2032, that figure is projected to rise to $129 billion, as infertility issues rise and an increasing number of same-sex couples and single people seek ways to have children.
This demand is primarily driven by wealthy, so-called intended parents in Western countries. Many of these are seeking cross-border surrogacy services to avoid long waiting lists or high fees at home, or because domestic laws forbid surrogacy or exclude particular groups – such as gay couples – from the practice. The end of COVID-19 travel restrictions also led to an increase in demand for global surrogacy last year.
“The pandemic has reduced international surrogacy, but we are now seeing all that demand,” said surrogacy expert Sam Everingham, who is the global director of Sydney, Australia-based surrogacy support group Growing Families.
Ukraine war pushes surrogacy into new markets
Until last year, Ukraine was the world’s second largest surrogacy market after the US, attracting foreign prospective parents with low fees and a favorable regulatory framework. Importantly, this includes naming the intended parents on the child’s birth certificate, rather than the surrogate mother.
But everything changed with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. bomb shelters And future parents are trying to enter Ukraine to unite with their surrogate.
A woman takes care of a baby born through a surrogate in a makeshift basement shelter in Kiev, Ukraine, after the invasion of Russia.
Anastasia Vlasova | Getty Images News | Getty Images
“We had a lot of intended parents who were with us at different stages of the process,” said Olga Pyasana, partner at Ukrainian surrogacy agency World Center of Baby. “We had to come up with an alternative quickly.”
The conflict has pushed the industry to countries such as nearby Georgia, where laws closely mirror those of Ukraine. World Center of Baby, which was already operating in Cyprus in 2022, plans to open its Georgia office this month. Meanwhile, Mexico and parts of Latin America have also seen a boom.
In Georgia, as in Ukraine, commercial surrogacy programs cost around $40,000-$50,000, while in Mexico they range around $60,000-$70,000. This is compared to an average of $120,000 and above in the US
“In Mexico, we’re seeing a boom around surrogacy again because Ukraine is locked down,” said Ernesto Noriega, CEO and founder of Egg Donors Miracles, a fertility agency based in Cancun, Mexico. % increase in surrogacy arrangements last year.
source of income for women
The global boom has increased the demand for surrogates, with Facebook groups and agency advertisements luring women in with promises of good income.
Lauragh, from southeast Ireland, whose son was born in October 2021, said her surrogate mother was able to buy a home for herself and her two daughters in Ukraine with her earnings from the programme.
The main driving factor, whether it’s in Ukraine, Georgia, Mexico… is the financial motivation behind it.
Partner, World Center of Baby
“The main driving factor, whether in Ukraine, Georgia, Mexico — all main markets — is the financial motivation behind it,” Payasana said of surrogates.
Indeed, Dilara was attracted by the high income potential when a colleague who worked with her in a call center first told her about surrogacy. “If you want to do surrogacy, they pay you good money,” she recalled being told by her younger female colleague.
However, the draw-down of women in the industry has raised concerns, not least for the often large disparity between agency fees and surrogates’ final earnings. In many cases, a surrogate parent can earn less than a quarter of the tens of thousands of dollars she is charged for.
An embryologist assesses the quality of the retrieved oocytes – a female germ cell – prior to fertilization.
Baby’s World Center
“I’ve been researching about this job for two months, and doctors charge $50,000, $60,000 from intended parents and $12,000 to $20,000 for surrogate mothers,” Dilara said. “It’s unfair what they do.”
Pysana and Noriega, for their part, said their agency’s fees were justified due to the high medical expenses involved in the procedure, as well as the cost of housing and feeding the surrogate in the final weeks of pregnancy. However, he acknowledged that corruption exists in other firms.
Ethical concerns and exploitation risk
There are also substantial ethical issues associated with commercial surrogacy, with critics arguing that the industry takes advantage of vulnerable women.
For example, a requirement for many agencies is that surrogates are either widowed or single and they already have at least one child. Agencies say this is to demonstrate to a woman to prepare physically and psychologically for pregnancy and to avoid any disputes with her partners.
This is not a good industry for women. To me, they are victims.
Teresa Ulloa Jiaureiz
Regional Director, CATWLAC
“It’s not a good industry for women,” said Teresa Ulloa Giauriez, regional director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (CATWLAC). “To me, they are victims.”
Ulloa Jiauriez said that in her experience working as a female fertility advocate in Latin America — primarily in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico — agencies specifically target those who are experiencing financial hardship. are facing.
Describing the process as a form of human trafficking, she said of the agencies, “After the pandemic, a lot of women lost their jobs. They looked for single women with children who were in dire need of financial support.”
The surrogacy process is also physically and psychologically demanding, and while most agencies require potential carriers to undergo mental and physical health screenings before entering into an arrangement, the lack of regulation leaves room for abuse.
“There are no international standards and new programs are being started in unregulated places,” Everingham said.
A call for surrogacy standards
Some countries are now trying to correct these shortcomings. For example, in the UK, regulatory authorities are working on a review to improve domestic surrogacy safeguards.
“While there is little we can do to change surrogacy laws abroad, we can ensure that the regime in the UK is well regulated and in the best interests of the child, the surrogate and the intended parent,” Professor Nick Hopkins, commissioner of family law for the Law Commission of England and Wales.
In the first three quarters of 2022, more than 400 parent orders were placed for surrogate parents in the UK, according to the Law Commission, the number of children born through surrogacy could be around 10 times more today compared to a decade ago.
Women’s rights groups are calling for greater regulation of the commercial surrogacy industry.
Yuri Dychishin | AFP | Getty Images
But with no international coordination in place, Laurag said it’s up to parents to do their research and make sure surrogate mothers are given a fair deal.
“If you want to start the process it is your responsibility to do the research,” said Laurah, adding that she emphasized communicating directly with her surrogate throughout the process. Both are still in contact today.
“There are some very cheap agencies out there, but if they are cheap you can be sure the surrogate mother is paying the price for it,” she said.
Nevertheless, surrogacy advocates emphasize that surrogacy can be enabling for women, in addition to offering a path to parenthood for those who cannot conceive naturally.
“If you talk to surrogates, they say it’s quite empowering,” Payasana said. “They feel like they’re doing something great.”
Meanwhile, Dilara said that her surrogacy journey continues.
“If there is a good hospital and they give me a good price, then definitely I would like to be a surrogate mother,” she said.