Jun 7, 2018

Birthstory

We originally posted this episode in 2015, and it inspired producer Molly Webster to take a deep dive into the wild and mysterious world of human reproduction. Starting next week, she’ll be taking over the Radiolab podcast feed for a month to present a series of mind-bending stories that make us rethink the ways we make more of us.

You know the drill - all it takes is one sperm, one egg, and blammo - you got yourself a baby. Right? Well, in this episode, conception takes on a new form - it’s the sperm and the egg, plus: two wombs, four countries, and money. Lots of money. 

At first, this is the story of an Israeli couple, two guys, who go to another continent to get themselves a baby - three, in fact - by hiring surrogates to carry the children for them. As we follow them on their journey, an earth shaking revelation shifts our focus from them, to the surrogate mothers. Unfolding in real time, as countries around the world consider bans on surrogacy, this episode looks at a relationship that manages to feel deeply affecting, and deeply uncomfortable, all at the same time. 

Birthstory is a collaboration with the brilliant radio show and podcast Israel Story, created to tell stories for, and about, Israel. Go check ‘em out! 

Israel Story's five English-language seasons were produced in partnership with Tablet Magazine and we highly recommend you listen to all of their work at  http://www.tabletmag.com/tag/israel-story

This episode was produced and reported by Molly Webster.

Special thanks go to: Israel Story, and their producers Maya Kosover, and Yochai Maital; reporters Nilanjana Bhowmick in India and Bhrikuti Rai in Nepal plus the International Reporting Project; Doron Mamet, Dr Nayana Patel, and Vicki Ferrara; with translation help from Aya Keefe, Karthik Ravindra, Turna Ray, Tom Wasserman, Pradeep Thapa, and Adhikaar, an organization in Ridgewood, Queens advocating for the Nepali-speaking community. 

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

Audio Extra:

Tal and Amir had a chance to meet each surrogate once - just after the deliveries, after all the paperwork was sorted out, and before any one left Nepal. As Amir says, they wanted to say "a big thank you." These meetings between intended parents, surrogate, and new babies are a traditional part of the surrogacy process in India and Nepal, and we heard reports from the surrogates that they also look forward to them. These moments do not stigmatize, reveal the identity of, or endanger the surrogates. Tal and Amir provided the audio for this web extra.

THE LAB sticker

Unlock member-only exclusives and support the show

Exclusive Podcast Extras
Entire Podcast Archive
Listen Ad-Free
Behind-the-Scenes Content
Video Extras
Original Music & Playlists

Jad Abumrad:

Jad here. So, uh, next week we're gonna launch a new miniseries here on Radiolab from Molly Webster. Molly is somebody who, if you've listened to the show for a while... Like you know her voice, you know her vibe, she's been reporting mostly science stories here at Radiolab for about five years. She's begun to host the show on occasion. And, uh, next week she's gonna start up a month long series about the seemingly ordinary, but in truth utterly bizarre and magical and deeply weird and ethically fraught, business of humans making more of themselves.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now this is a beat that evolved over time for her. And I thought, um, as a prelude to Molly Town let's, uh, play one of the big foundational stories that got her and all of us thinking about this whole world. Uh, I'm not sure that we've ever spent so much time and energy and money, frankly, reporting a story as the one you're about to hear. Those of you who have heard this, check back in with us in a week. For those of you who haven't, I think this is actually one of the best things we've ever made. In any case, here it is. And next week, it's on.

 

Intro:

Hey, wait, you're listen- (laughs). Okay. All right. Okay. All right. You're listening to Radiolab... Lab. Radio from WNYC. Yep. (laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Webbs?

 

Molly Webster:

Oh, am I allowed to talk?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, do it.

 

Molly Webster:

Oh, I'm Molly Webster. (laughs)

 

Robert Krulwich:

You just graduated. (laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Join the party, Molly, join the party. And, uh, today we have a... I don't know, we have a birth story.

 

Robert Krulwich:

We're calling this birth story because that's what it is. The- we're gonna tell you about babies, who were very recently born. And who, one day, will turn to their parents and say to them, "Tell me how I got here. Like, like what's, what's, what's-"

 

Jad Abumrad:

"What's my story?"

 

Robert Krulwich:

"What's my story?" And the parents in this case will say, "Well..."

 

Jad Abumrad:

"That's complicated."

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's... Yeah. This is one way the kids will hear what we're, you're about to hear, and they'll go, "Really?"

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's a collaboration with a, a team of reporters in Israel called Israel Story, they are a group of folks who do sort of long-form reporting and storytelling. They've been doing it in Hebrew for three years. And they are in the middle of their first English language season right now, and-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Which we're gonna be in.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Exactly. And, uh, this is, uh, two producers that we work with in particular, Maya Kosover and Yochai Maital. And, uh, this story begins with Maya.

 

Maya Kosover:

Okay, it was party. We were all dancing. Israeli music in the middle of Jaffa.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It was her birthday. We were at her apartment and this guy Tal...

 

Maya Kosover:

Tal was dancing with his partner.

 

Jad Abumrad:

These are friends of yours?

 

Maya Kosover:

Yeah, Tal is kind of a megastar in the deaf community in Israel 'cause he translates the news in the TV to, uh, deaf people, to sign language.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, wow. So, he's like the little guy in the corner of the TV.

 

Maya Kosover:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And his partner?

 

Maya Kosover:

Amir.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Amir or Amid?

 

Maya Kosover:

Amir.

 

Jad Abumrad:

With an r?

 

Maya Kosover:

He's a psychologist that works especially with children that are autistic.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Huh. Anyway, they're at the party.

 

Maya Kosover:

So, we were dancing all together and then, uh, Tal was, "Oh my god, maybe it's going to be the last party that I'm in 'cause I'm going to be a parent. And not only a parent, I'm going to be a father for three." And then-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Whoa.

 

Maya Kosover:

We were like, "Oh my God, three babies?"

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs)

 

Maya Kosover:

"How's that going to happen?"

 

Jad Abumrad:

And it turns out how that was gonna happen. Is a... whew, it's a crazy story involving uh, four countries-

 

Molly Webster:

Three women.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Two guys and, and-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Three babies-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

As we mentioned.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Planes and-

 

Molly Webster:

Planes, wait, jet planes-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Jet planes-

 

Molly Webster:

Two of them.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 

Molly Webster:

At least four languages?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes. Oh, yes. All that.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But we should, we should go back a bit to the beginning.

 

Amir:

The first thing that I saw in Tal is, is, uh, is his ability to be a father.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Amir.

 

Molly Webster:

Really?

 

Amir:

Yeah.

 

Molly Webster:

How so?

 

Amir:

Because, um, he was a good man, you know, he was very, uh, gentle and, and really an adult, uh, uh, to be the family. I don't know how to describe it.

 

Tal:

Mench.

 

Amir:

Mench. [crosstalk 00:04:21]

 

Molly Webster:

And, but did you see that, like, on the first meeting or was this, like, four months in?

 

Amir:

My career is established to work with autistic people and to take notice for every sign of, of communication and, uh, and to understand other people and to analyze them. So it was really immediate, I say.

 

Tal:

Let's say after two or three times, you say, okay, eh, I want children. So are you interesting?

 

Amir:

I wrote a manifesto about my future, what I want to do, what I want to do in my career. It's kind of my vision and I gave it to him and I said this and this is what I want. (laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Sign at the bottom please.

 

Amir:

Yeah. It kind of was a contract. It's like, this is what I want. If you want to join me, eh, so let's do it.

 

Tal:

So let's do it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And Tal, what was your reaction to the, to the manifesto?

 

Tal:

I like it. It's look like someone who want a future.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Did your own parents have any, either of your parents have any views about that? Saying don't, do or this is weird? (laughs)

 

Tal:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Suffice to say their families did not approve, especially when it came to the idea of them having kids. Now, how to have those kids. That is a question.

 

Yochai Maital:

Basically there, there are two options. If you're a gay couple and you want to have kid, there used to be three options.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's Yochai Maital from Israel Story. Here is how he and Maya laid it out for us. Option one, which is now not as much of an option.

 

Yochai Maital:

You could adopt a kid from a third world country.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But he says over the last few years what happened is that those third world countries figured out who was adopting their babies and one by one they banned it for gay couples.

 

Maya Kosover:

Yeah.

 

Yochai Maital:

The second option, which is becoming very, very popular in Israel is sort of the new family. That's what it's called in Hebrew, at least. Sort of, getting together with another woman who wants to be a mother but doesn't have a father. And then they do a joint parenthood.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They all live in the same house?

 

Yochai Maital:

No, the mother lives separately and it's, kind of, like divorced parents that get along really well.

 

Maya Kosover:

They sign a contract before the process and everything is like in the contract.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Tal and Amir said that early on, uh, they tried this route.

 

Amir:

Eh, Tal, got the, an offer from one of his friend to do the co-parenting, but then I spoke with Tal and ask him, "Listen, it's very important for me to have a baby of my own and with my sperm."

 

Tal:

Eh, and I said to Amir, "I want to try, but I don't care if in the end we have only one baby in your sperm, so it will be my baby the same."

 

Amir:

I think, I was more stubborn about it than Tal.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Amir couldn't really explain why it was so important to him, just that it was important to him. But reflecting on it later, Maya from Israel story, put it this way.

 

Maya Kosover:

It's very Jewish and Israeli. I mean, if you're are not in the Israeli mainstream, if you are gay or if you are different and you'll have your own baby, it's like a signature of being part of the game, you know?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Whatever the reasons, uh, Amir and Tal talked it over and then they went back to this woman, Tal's friend who had offered to do the co-parenting...

 

Amir:

And we asked her if she can, uh, obligate to us to bring two children, one of, eh, of Tal's sperms. And one of my own.

 

Jad Abumrad:

In the end, she said...

 

Amir:

No.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And at this point a year had gone by.

 

Amir:

So then we've decided that maybe the best option will be...

 

Yochai Maital:

Option three is, is surrogacy.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Meaning, of course, if you're a gay man, that you take your sperm, take some eggs from a woman, put your sperm in those eggs into the womb of a second woman who carries the baby to term.

 

Yochai Maital:

But surrogacy is illegal in Israel.

 

Maya Kosover:

Only for gay couples, yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

In Israel, if you're a hetero couple, you can use an Israeli woman as a surrogate. But if you're gay, you can't.

 

Yochai Maital:

So there's a big problem. But that problem also creates a big demand. As you can imagine, there are quite a lot of gay couples in Israel and so the company's sprang up basically offering international brokering of sperm, eggs and, uh, ovaries.

 

Maya Kosover:

Babies outsourcing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

[foreign language 00:08:41] You can see this play out every year at these conferences in Israel conferences.

 

Yochai Maital:

Conferences where they get prospective parents together.

 

Speaker 9:

We are here for our first time in Tel Aviv.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So it's this big room of people.

 

Yochai Maital:

Several hundred people.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Pretty much all gay men.

 

Speaker 9:

Pardon me for not being to speak Hebrew very well, or at all. Shalom.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Basically what happened to these conferences is that surrogacy agencies will get up and, basically, sell their products.

 

Speaker 9:

We now offer a surrogacy in, uh, Mexico...

 

Speaker 10:

Thailand...

 

Speaker 9:

Panama...

 

Speaker 11:

The United States...

 

Speaker 9:

India...

 

Speaker 10:

Anybody been to Fort worth? Very nice place. You can go see a basketball game, you can go see a baseball game.

 

Jad Abumrad:

These agencies will find women in all of these places who will serve as the surrogate for your child. And depending on which country you choose and whether or not you provide the donor eggs, or they do, or a million other factors. The costs will vary.

 

Speaker 9:

We offer very competitive prices. For example, $36,000 complete start to finish in Mexico, $38,000 in Thailand

 

Speaker 11:

Anywhere from $65,000 to $85,000, $150,000. It could be that much.

 

Speaker 9:

That's excluding the donor, of course, but we have a good selection of donors including, um, Jewish donors as well.

 

Tal:

Yeah, you have session with the lawyers, you have session with the families, you have session is with doctors.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Tal and Amir went to two of these conferences, successive years, and coming back from the second one.

 

Tal:

We take a calculator and you start (laughs) to think how we can make it. Raising money, money, money.

 

Amir:

Yeah.

 

Tal:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They figure if they go with a company that does surrogacy in the U.S.

 

Amir:

It's probably going to cost $150,000 or...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Is that lawyers and-

 

Amir:

Lawyers, the hospital...

 

Tal:

The sperm delivery, uh, the egg donor. There is a lot of people that we need to pay

 

Jad Abumrad:

And he says keep in mind when you pay that money, you are not guaranteed a baby.

 

Amir:

You'll buy a process.

 

Tal:

Yeah.

 

Amir:

We don't buy a baby.

 

Tal:

One of our friends did this kind of process and they spent five times and they still didn't succeed.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Five times.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, they figured with that kind of risk doing in the U.S. was just too expensive. And so they started looking at surrogacy agencies which operate in India and Nepal.

 

Tal:

Because over there, you can do the same thing and it will cost you about $60,000.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So, it's almost half price.

 

Tal:

Almost a half price, Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now, one of the tricky things, according to Yochai, is that in 2013...

 

Yochai Maital:

India, basically, outlawed surrogacy.

 

Maya Kosover:

For gay couples. I mean, if you're a straight couple, you can do surrogacy in India.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But not if you're gay.

 

Yochai Maital:

Also in Nepal, by the way, Nepal also outlawed surrogacy.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Effectively the cabinet said, if you are a Nepali woman, you cannot be a surrogate, period.

 

Yochai Maital:

But there's, sort of, a loophole. Indian women are allowed to be surrogates in Nepal, but just Nepali women aren't allowed to be surrogates in Nepal.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So what ends up happening is this really strange situation.

 

Maya Kosover:

It looks like it puzzle.

 

Jad Abumrad:

These agents in Northern India will find Indian woman, move them across the border into Nepal, take them all the way to Kathmandu, where the surrogacy agencies have set up shelter houses and work with local hospitals and clinics. Maya says for Tal and Amir, the decision to do it this way was not easy.

 

Maya Kosover:

They, they had, like, different opinions.

 

Amir:

Tal had the bigger issue with the moral concept of this process.

 

Maya Kosover:

Amir was. like, this is the thing that we need to do. I want to be a father.

 

Amir:

But Tal...

 

Maya Kosover:

Tal was... It was very hard for him.

 

Tal:

I thought if it's, it's immoral to do... things like that. To use another woman to give me a present like that and, and I know she will never will see this baby anymore.

 

Molly Webster:

Is it immoral, because you're essentially, like, just using a woman's body or?

 

Tal:

Uh, yeah. You can say it.

 

Maya Kosover:

He felt like he's using other people. Bad luck for his own good.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Maya Kosover:

She has no choice. She's not doing it out of freedom. She's just doing it for the money and maybe it's not morally okay that we'll use this weakness.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Tal and Amir went back and forth on this for months. And eventually the argument that won the day was this. That if they're going to do it, they're going to do it with this agency called Lotus, which, to their understanding, paid the surrogates $12,000. I mean the surrogates were actually paid in Indian rupees, but that would be the dollar equivalent. $12,000. Now for a rural woman in India, that is a massive sum of money. They figured this won't just help her survive, it will change her life. She'll be changing their life and they'll be changing hers.

 

Tal:

Maybe this was, um-

 

Amir:

Kind of like comfort.

 

Tal:

Yeah, they get money, they can change their life, they can buy a house, they can send their, her children to school, eh, to learn in the university. When I thought and understand it's will be life changer and it's not, uh-

 

Amir:

Exploiting.

 

Tal:

Exploiting her. So I agree.

 

Jad Abumrad:

At the start of the whole process...

 

Maya Kosover:

One of the main issue was to pick the egg donor.

 

Molly Webster:

And, like, who are these women? Like where do they come from?

 

Tal:

Ukraine.

 

Amir:

They're from the Ukraine.

 

Molly Webster:

They're all Ukrainian. What is that? That is not a country I expected to be thrown into the mix of countries.

 

Yochai Maital:

The reason the eggs are from Eastern Europe are generally because uh-

 

Maya Kosover:

They're white.

 

Yochai Maital:

Because they're white. So it's like cheap white eggs.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Cheap, white eggs. Wow (laughs) that's quite a phrase.

 

Tal:

So you have, like, a website and you see a lot of pictures of woman and then you need to choose the most, eh-

 

Amir:

It's like Jdate.

 

Tal:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Jewish online dating service.

 

Tal:

Yeah. I think it was the most straight-y-ish act that I did in a very long time.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, straightest, basically.

 

Molly Webster:

Oh because you're picking out a lady.

 

Tal:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, how did you decide which criteria you wanted in a, in a donor mom?

 

Tal:

Oh, the first one was height.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You wanted someone tall?

 

Amir:

Yeah.

 

Molly Webster:

Why, why was height your first one?

 

Amir:

Because it's, uh...

 

Tal:

It's more easy to, to live when you're height.

 

Amir:

Yeah.

 

Molly Webster:

Okay.

 

Tal:

Then eyes.

 

Maya Kosover:

She has these sick eyes.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They showed my a picture.

 

Maya Kosover:

Light brown hair and she has this nice nose. It was, you know, very strange.

 

Tal:

It was very uncomfortable to choose. For me, it was very, eh, [foreign language 00:15:12]

 

Yochai Maital:

Is there a genetic, uh, improving-

 

Molly Webster:

Oh [crosstalk 00:15:18] like a eugenics.

 

Tal:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, eugenics.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Huh.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now since Tal and Amir had each one at a baby with their own sperm, they told Lotus...

 

Maya Kosover:

We would like to rent two wombs, one of each sperm and to try to use, like, two surrogate mothers.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Lotus said "Fine, that's gonna run you..."

 

Tal:

"About 50, $60,000 each pregnancy."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Again, no guarantees. So Tal and Amir, they give Lotus their sperm in little cups. Lotus freezes the sperm, sends it to a hospital in Nepal, the Ukrainian woman, the egg donor, is flown to Nepal. Her eggs are harvested somewhere along the way. Two North Indian women are moved across the border into Nepal. Finally, the doctors at that Nepali hospital take the Israeli sperm inject it into the Ukrainian eggs, create some embryos and they implant those embryos in the wombs of the Indian surrogates. Four countries, one baby. A few months go by, they get the news that both surrogates are pregnant. The process worked. One is pregnant with twins, three babies in all. They're sent sonograms, pictures of the surrogate's pregnant bellies.

 

Tal:

I, all the time, look on the picture of her, all the ultrasound pictures, all the time looking on my cell phone in the picture.

 

Jad Abumrad:

'Cause Tal says there wasn't really much he could do. 'Cause for three or four or five months, not much happened. Until, six months in...

 

Amir:

Six o'clock in the-

 

Tal:

Six o'clock in the morning. Dana from Lotus call us and, uh, Amir was answer the phone and they hear him say, "Okay, they're okay?" I wake up and say, "What?" Because it was too early, uh-

 

Amir:

Early.

 

Jad Abumrad:

How early?

 

Amir:

About eight, uh, eight weeks ahead.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow. The surrogate who was carrying twins had given birth.

 

Tal:

I was cry a lot.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This was the surrogate carrying Tal's baby, which turned out to be two babies.

 

Tal:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And were you on the plane the same day as getting that call or?

 

Tal:

Uh, day after. We fly from Tel Aviv to Istanbul. And from Istanbul to Kathmandu. It was very crazy day. Then Gail, uh-

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is one of Tal's friends, who was also in Nepal for surrogacy.

 

Tal:

Took me to the hospital and, wow. I, I was shocked because Gilly was so tiny.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Gilly was 3.8 pounds. His brother Yuval, 4.8 pounds.

 

Tal:

And, uh, yeah, I, I was very scared to, to touch him.

 

Jad Abumrad:

He says he expected the twins to stay the hospital for a month. But the nurses were like, "Nope, going home tomorrow."

 

Tal:

I thought, I don't have enough time to think because I understand tomorrow, I need to take them home and to be alone and I never take care of any babies. So I said, I said to the nurses, "Teach me out to feed him." And, uh, after three days, I took them home.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So where was the surrogate during these days? Was she at the hospital?

 

Tal:

I think she was in the hospital. Yeah.

 

Amir:

Because she had the ceasarean surgery.

 

Tal:

I was ask if she's okay and if she needs something. They said, "You cannot see her until she signed all the papers and then you can see her."

 

Molly Webster:

The papers hadn't been signed.

 

Amir:

Yeah, because we need that. She's giving up all her maternal, eh, rights. And if she doesn't want to sign this paper, we can lose the baby.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The laws on this get crazily complicated, but basically they needed Israel, India and Nepal to all recognize that they were the uncontested parents and hanging in the air was the recent case in Thailand, which is all over the news, where the surrogate after the baby was born, changed her mind.

 

Speaker 12:

Blake and his husband believed this surrogate decided to try and keep the baby because she found out they were gay.

 

Tal:

We had the little bit of anxiety, let's say, if they will going to know that their baby's going to grow in the house with two dads.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Any case, Tal is in Nepal with the twins. Amir is back in Tel Aviv. A couple of weeks go by and then...

 

Amir:

Tal called me and said, eh, Mozal Tov, you're dad.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The second surrogate had given birth, one baby.

 

Amir:

And, day after, Tel Aviv to Istanbul. And from Istanbul to Kathmandu.

 

Tal:

And then it was very, very, very nice that we went, eh, only us with the babies. Like, no parents, no friends, no phones.

 

Amir:

No phones, no work.

 

Tal:

To be the first, eh, eh, blocks of our relationship with the babies. [foreign language 00:20:43]

 

Jad Abumrad:

And for the next month they lived in an apartment in Nepal, just them and their three babies. [foreign language 00:20:56] Learning to be dads and waiting for the paperwork to be done. Now the paperwork, incidentally, is a beast because after the surrogates sign away their rights, the babies have no nationality. And then they're suddenly illegally in the country. So then the guys have to take a DNA test, send it to Israel, get it verified. Then they've got to get a passport for the babies. Then several sets of visas need to be gotten. And all of that means, multiple trips to the Israeli embassy. And it was on one of those trips that they learned something.

 

Tal:

It was really weird because we went over there with our, eh, kids to get the passport and over there there was another surrogate from a different agency.

 

Jad Abumrad:

An Indian woman. And standing next to her was in Israeli woman who happened to speak Hindi.

 

Tal:

And we just, like, you know, out of curiosity, we asked her to ask the surrogate in Hindu, eh, how much is eh, she's getting.

 

Jad Abumrad:

For the whole process.

 

Tal:

Yeah.

 

Amir:

But the surrogate was very shy.

 

Tal:

Yes. Not very delighted to speak about the money.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Which made them even more curious. So they persisted.

 

Tal:

And then, eh, we discovered that-

 

Amir:

She get only $3,000 U.S. dollar or something like that.

 

Yochai Maital:

$3,000 for the whole pregnancy.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Amir was like, "Wait a second."

 

Amir:

In the agreement, $12,500 supposed to go to the surrogate.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That was at least his understanding. Now this was a different woman from a different agency and this was just one woman's account. But still...

 

Robert Krulwich:

In your narrative, you've described that you thought that the reason that this was okay to do the surrogacy is because you were, the phrase you used was, "This will make a change in the life of the woman that we're paying."

 

Tal:

Yes, a life changing sum of money.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So Maya says they walked away from that meeting.

 

Maya Kosover:

Wondering if they should do something in Israel.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You know, call the agency at the very least. Say, "Hey, we heard some rumors, I'm sure they're not true, but what do you think?"

 

Tal:

We started to ask question, but then-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Literally the next day....

 

Speaker 13:

Horrendous scenes of death and destruction from Nepal today. After a powerful earthquake that started outside Kathmandu. The death toll is now over 5,800 nearly 14,000 were injured.

 

Speaker 14:

Officials say it is the most destructive earthquake to hit Nepal in more than 80 years.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The death toll would ultimately rise somewhere between 7 and 10,000. Maya says she was in New York, uh, in a meeting and she gets this voicemail from Tal [foreign language 00:23:52]

 

Maya Kosover:

And he was shouting, "An earthquake just happened here. We saved the babies and we got down to the street where half naked, we don't know what to do." And he's crying over there and then it suddenly stopped. They, he lost the connection. Mm. It was, uh, like, 12 hours with no connection to them. We didn't know if they're alive or not. You know, everything was unknown.

 

Amir:

I don't know how but Tal took his cell phone and we just ran barefoot.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Amir says they ran out of the apartment, down the street, half naked, holding the babies and the phone. On the way, they ran into their friend Gail, who had four babies, another other couple, who had two babies.

 

Tal:

We are in the street and we're, uh, nine babies. [foreign language 00:24:53]

 

Jad Abumrad:

They actually shot a video on Tal's phone. You see Tal only in shorts. A bunch of other couples holding babies and they're all literally standing on a pile of rubber. As they're standing there, a guy with a badge walks by.

 

Tal:

You all are policeman? Hello? You are from the American embassy? We are Israeli citizens. We have here nine, nine babies. We need help, please. We don't have food for the babies. Thank you.

 

Speaker 15:

You need to go from this place very quickly to go from here.

 

Tal:

Thank you.

 

Tal:

So they took us in to the embassy.

 

Robert Krulwich:

The U.S. embassy or the Israeli embassy?

 

Tal:

No, Israeli embassy.

 

Yochai Maital:

They went to the Israeli embassy, and the Israeli embassy, sort of, went into emergency mode.

 

Tal:

Gave us a some blankets.

 

Yochai Maital:

And they put up, put out tents.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And shortly after, the news cameras arrived. And Tal...

 

Yochai Maital:

Tal is, uh, Tal is... He's, like, in the media and stuff because he's the, he's the sign language translator. And so he realized that he doesn't have any way of communicating back home that he's alive.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So Yochai says, uh, Tal shoved his way in front of one of the television cameras [foreign language 00:26:09] and started signing.

 

Maya Kosover:

12 hours after the, the earthquake.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Maya says she got a call from her partner back in Tel Aviv.

 

Maya Kosover:

And she said they're on the news now. I can see Tal speaking sign language to his parents saying everything is okay, they are alive. The three babies are with them and they're waiting to the rescue team to come and take them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But what the is also captured was this scene that hadn't really been grasped yet.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, this whole thing has been going on kind of quietly. You have an international earthquake. Everybody's watching the television. And in the middle of the story they're like 10 Israeli babies and gay people.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It wasn't all, it was more than 10 babies.

 

Yochai Maital:

Yeah, it was, I think, 24 babies.

 

Molly Webster:

24?

 

Yochai Maital:

Yes.

 

Molly Webster:

Whoa.

 

Yochai Maital:

Because there is another agency that also...

 

Molly Webster:

It's, like, all of a sudden you realize there's this pipeline of babies.

 

Yochai Maital:

Yes.

 

Molly Webster:

Moving from Nepal to Israel.

 

Yochai Maital:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Maya says when the images of those 24 babies splashed across Israeli TV screens...

 

Maya Kosover:

Was, like, the first time that the surrogacy was, uh, discussed in the Israeli media such way.

 

Jad Abumrad:

She says, a huge debate broke out.

 

Maya Kosover:

One side of the argument was, okay, we are using women and it's, it's unmoral. And from the other hand there was like, okay, in Israel for gay couples, they don't have a lot of choices, I mean.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And everyone was asking, what do we do with all these babies and the surrogates?

 

Maya Kosover:

There was, like, a huge argument in the Israeli media about the questions of there are women that are waiting to, to give birth and we need to bring them to Israel to, to give birth here because the fathers are here.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So they would fly the women to Israel, have the baby and then fly them back.

 

Tal:

Yes, they was stuck about it.

 

Yochai Maital:

Yeah, they talked about it, but I don't know, I think that legally they could not do that.

 

Molly Webster:

Well because that just, it feels like kidnapping a lady.

 

Yochai Maital:

Yeah. And so what, what happened was that very quickly Israel sent over a search and rescue and medical aid delegation.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And all the babies and their parents...

 

Yochai Maital:

They were basically just all put on a plane and, sort of, the process was expedited and they just brought everybody over to Israel.

 

Speaker 16:

Back in Israel, a parade of newborns. They will celebrate together, knowing the medical stress they'd been through. And very much aware of that many in Nepal are still going through it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So what happened to the surrogates? Um, any idea?

 

Maya Kosover:

They checked with the agency, what is the situation with the surrogate mothers? And the answer was that two of them are back in India already. And they weren't there in the earthquake.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And what about all the surrogates who were in Nepal but hadn't given birth yet?

 

Maya Kosover:

Yeah, I mean about them. There's a big question. I mean, no one knows. There were, like, a worried fathers in Israel.

 

Tal:

It's terrifying. All my thoughts and my prayers are for the surrogate mother and for the unborn child.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Tal and Amir made it back to Israel with their babies. They were fine, but there was still a lot of questions.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And if I were one of you guys, I would still be wondering, after all these, both of these women gave you, as you point out, a remarkable gift. Both of you believe that, you hope rather, both of you hope that that gift was well rewarded and was life changing. But both of you don't know at this point, you're just a little suspicious, that maybe wasn't. And don't you have this funny feeling, you need to find out whether they got paid what you thought you'd paid them?

 

Tal:

Yes. Like, this is why we're so glad that we made the connection with you guys and we heard that you can.

 

Amir:

Find them, maybe.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So we started a kind of a whole new leg of the story.

 

Nilanjana:

Hello?

 

Molly Webster:

Hello.

 

Nilanjana:

Hi Molly. Can you hear me?

 

Molly Webster:

Yes, I can hear you. Ooh, I hear some other things too.

 

Nilanjana:

Oh, what do you-

 

Molly Webster:

Actually it might just be static on the line, but it kind of sounded like the ocean

 

Nilanjana:

I just switch up the fan. Just give me a second.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Our producer, Molly Webster, was able to track down a reporter in India, Nilanjana Bhowmick. And she asked her if she could find those surrogates.

 

Nilanjana:

Okay, so you had given me a name, right?

 

Molly Webster:

Lotus, yeah.

 

Nilanjana:

Lotus. Lotus has got a representative in Nepal. I actually call that person in Nepal and they did tell me the location of the clinic. And I spoke to the doctor and she said that "Yes, I will put you in touch with one of the surrogates." And the next morning, we were supposed to touch base again, but then you know, she just totally went incommunicado. That's been the same day I opened my mail and there was a mail from Israel, you know, them asking me like just like to stop the search for some time. And I was, like, I was so near them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

As far as we understand, what happened was that the doctor contacted Lotus, Lotus contacted Tal and Amir saying, "Call off the reporters, you're putting these women's lives in danger. If someone in their village sees a reporter hanging around, they'll know those women were surrogates. That's not something these surrogates want people to know. Stop." Here's, uh, here's my understanding, and you guys correct me if I'm wrong, is that we, we had, had asked someone to look for them. And that person got kind of close and then word got back to the agency. And that's created some pressure for us to change and, you know, that's really what we're sort of staring out right now is how to respond.

 

Tal:

We heard that there is a real threat on their life because of the culture, of the society that they live in. One of them was Muslim. I don't know if, if, if the Muslim society is going to accept the fact that she carried the pregnancy to a gay couple and-

 

Amir:

And to Israelis.

 

Tal:

And to Israelis.

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So that's a very, very weird, very delicate-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Situation.

 

Tal:

We don't want anything that may hurt, eh, the surrogates.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well, I mean, we want to tell this story. We definitely don't want anyone to get hurt, but I do feel like we have an ethical obligation to hear from the women who do this. If not the specific women in this case, then people who represent their experience to whatever degree it can be represented. It would be, it would feel wrong for that to be a voice that we don't hear.

 

Tal:

I don't know. It's like, eh, it's for us, it's, it's, uh, we don't want that anybody will contact our surrogate. And if it says that it's not going to be without the story, so let's [inaudible 00:32:39], because it's not worth it for us.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay, understood. Understood. We won't make any further attempts to contact those two, those two women.

 

Tal:

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Just so we're all clear. I think what I'd like to do is to continue to pursue people who have been in similar situations, but are not in any way connected to those two women, or to you guys.

 

Tal:

Okay. I mean, again, we need, uh, only make sure that, eh, nobody's going to be hurt.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Absolutely. Absolutely. That's where we left things with Tal and Amir. And then, uh, and then the story changed a lot. That's coming up.

 

Sally:

Hi, Radiolab. This is Sally calling from Melbourne, Australia. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org

 

Speaker 21:

Listen to your favorite podcast on any device with Pocket Casts. You can start an episode on your phone during your commute, pick up where you left off on your laptop at work, then finish it home on a smart speaker like Alexa without missing a beat. Download the free Pocket Cast app today for Android or iOS. Find us online at pocketcasts.com or use the app on Alexa, Chromecast, Sonos, Apple Watch and CarPlay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Molly Webster:

I'm Molly Webster.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab and we will return now to our collaboration with Israel Story, producer is Maya Kosovar and Yochai Maital. Uh, the story of Tal and Amir and their three babies. Now, that's how it started for us. It was a story of two guys trying to have some kids, but around the point of the earthquake, uh, the story really shifted for us. I mean, as it did for the entire world, really.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Because we'd been concentrating the tale so far on the fathers, but with 24 some odd babies, that's an awful lot of women...

 

Jad Abumrad:

Who had to carry those babies.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So what could they be thinking? What is the story about them?

 

Jad Abumrad:

How are they feeling about this transaction? Uh, how much are they getting? Will it actually change their life? These are some of the questions we had. We gave those questions to Molly and she sort of ran with it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah. So in the months after the earthquake, I guess you could say the, like, the political situation in Nepal changed. How everyone started looking at surrogacy changed. Once everyone saw these pictures of all these babies outside the Israeli embassy being put on airplanes and sent back to Israel. It just cracked open this huge debate, not just back in Israel but in Nepal, in India, even internationally. Basically you had groups coming out and saying like, you know, the feminists were saying this is exploitation and we're just using these women for their wombs. And there were op-ed articles about should we be shifting women across borders? Is this way you want to do surrogacy? And then, sort of, the next thing that happens, uh, like three weeks after we talked to Tal and Amir, is that Nepal actually decided to ban surrogacy.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Completely?

 

Molly Webster:

Completely for both straights, for both same sex couples, foreign couples, local couples. And for, for Nepali women couldn't do it. And Indian woman couldn't come into their borders and do it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

No more surrogacy, no more loopholes.

 

Molly Webster:

No more surrogacy, no more loopholes. But then the confusion was that they banned surrogacy, but there were still, uh, pregnant surrogates on the ground. And so they sort of existed in this gray zone, um, and in the midst of that was when we went out to try and find surrogates.

 

Molly Webster:

In Nepal, all the surrogates are kept in what are called shelter houses, which are just like houses that, um, agencies rent out that have a lot of pregnant women.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Even thought this is banned, they're still, they still have these-

 

Molly Webster:

Yes, they still have the houses. Like, the rumors are that they moved the houses further away from the city center, like attract less attention. And so we found a Nepali reporter

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

I'm Bhrikuti Rai and I am a freelance journalist based in Kathmandu.

 

Molly Webster:

Uh, to go, uh, try and get into one of these shelter houses.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

So the shelter house is actually quite far from the main city center. Almost half an hour or 40 minutes drive from Kathmandu. It's on a, on a hilltop because these are the outskirts of Kathmandu where new settlements have just started. Uh, so it was actually a school building, which they turned into a shelter because I think the school had left after the earthquake. The moment I reached the first floor, I was so surprised. It was very noisy. A lot of children playing around. And turns out a lot of women bringing their young children if they're too young to be left alone.

 

Molly Webster:

Really?

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

Yeah.

 

Molly Webster:

And how many women were there?

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

There were around I think 20 or 22 women there.

 

Molly Webster:

20 or 22 women on the first floor of this building.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

Yes.

 

Molly Webster:

This shelter house was run by another Israeli agency, so not Lotus, but a different one. And uh, we're guessing that most of the women were carrying babies for Israeli couples.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

And at least the women I saw who outside the room or who had the doors open, they seem to be around thirty to early forties.

 

Molly Webster:

Really?

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

Yeah. But I mean, the first time I saw, I saw the first woman I talked to [foreign language 00:38:04] she was wearing like a mustard color sadie. I think she had some bangles. All the women had some bangles in their hands and [foreign language 00:38:14]

 

Molly Webster:

She said she was 36 years old [foreign language 00:38:20] from Kolkata [foreign language 00:38:24] she has two girls. [foreign language 00:38:28] Bhrikuti asked, "How old are your girls?" And she said, "8 and 12." [foreign language 00:38:31] And then Bhrikuti asked, like, "Why are you doing this?" And the woman said, [foreign language 00:38:40] "Oh, I'm doing it for them."

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

It's because, you know, we have a lot of financial problem. My husband is a rickshaw driver and we don't make enough. And [foreign language 00:38:52] she worked as a maid in Delhi

 

Molly Webster:

And ultimately, she said she had no other way to raise money for her daughters to get married because [foreign language 00:39:02] in Hindu weddings, the bride's family pays off the groom in the form of a dowry. And the plan was to use the money from surrogacy for the dowry. [foreign language 00:39:13] She'd been in Kathmandu for three months. So she was in her first trimester [foreign language 00:39:17] And when Bhrikuti asked her [foreign language 00:39:19] does she know who the baby is for. [foreign language 00:39:28] She said, no. [foreign language 00:39:30] But she knows it's not hers.

 

Molly Webster:

[foreign language 00:39:36] And actually, all the women that Bhrikuti talked to were very, very clear about this. [foreign language 00:39:41] This is a job. [foreign language 00:39:48]

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

The second women I talked to-

 

Molly Webster:

30 years old, also a maid in Delhi, also two daughters.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

She looked all dressed up. She was already, too, as if she were about to leave somewhere and then I realized, "Okay, her husband is here."

 

Molly Webster:

She had just given birth and she put the job sentiment pretty plainly. [foreign language 00:40:02] So she said, and I'm translating here, [foreign language 00:40:09] "I will give gladly, I will give the baby from my wound. If I will think this is my baby, then how will it work? I have two children. I cannot take this child home. I will have to give, I have no sadness, no problem."

 

Molly Webster:

Anytime Bhrikuti asked these women, "Are you conflicted? Will you have trouble giving the baby up?" She always got the same answer.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

[foreign language 00:40:36] They always say that we would happily give away the child and one of them even said [foreign language 00:40:40] "If the baby comes out right now, I'll just give it right away drag away." And then she laughed.

 

Molly Webster:

Did you get a sense that these women didn't want it known that they were doing this?

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

Um, I mean some of them did and some of them didn't because some women were like [foreign language 00:40:59]

 

Molly Webster:

They said like, "Now that I'm here, my neighbors, my family, everyone knows." And then when Bhrikuti asked her [foreign language 00:41:07] do they have an opinion? Is it right or wrong? She answered, "No, I'm here for the money. So I would not listen to any opinions. If it was wrong, I would not come here."

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

But some of them were like [foreign language 00:41:27] why would I tell anyone? You know, there was one particular woman...

 

Molly Webster:

32 years old...

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

Very cheerful, nail polish on and she had, like, this pink lipstick on.

 

Molly Webster:

She said, "People in my village simply do not believe these things. That one can have children by getting injected or taking medicine. They won't believe this."

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

She kind of do parallels with how some of the people in our village had done something similar when they bred cows or fishes. She said, like, "Maybe they'll understand but my family will not understand."

 

Molly Webster:

She says [foreign language 00:42:04], "I have told lies to them."

 

Jad Abumrad:

So how much in the end of that do they make?

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

I asked them [foreign language 00:42:13]

 

Molly Webster:

How much money do you get here?

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

I talk to four women and the figure was the same [foreign language 00:42:19]

 

Molly Webster:

3.5 lax.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Shat does that mean in dollars?

 

Molly Webster:

So if you do the conversion, um, today it's a $5,300 U.S. dollars. And the way it works is that they get paid a small amount of money every month that they're pregnant. And then at the end they get a lump sum. Bhrikuti says that for these women, at the end of the pregnancy, that lump sum...

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

Is like, let's say around 2 or $3,000.

 

Molly Webster:

Which is the amount that Tal and Amir heard outside the embassy.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

The total sum that they have when they go back home is quite, you know, it's not a lot.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So $5-ish-000 dollars is what you're hearing.

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow. That's a difference.

 

Molly Webster:

To sort of see if this was a number that was just coming out of that shelter house or if it was something that was, like, the going rate, I guess. Uh, we talked to six surrogates who are in India, that same rate, around $5,000 kept coming up. And we did hear a range from one surrogate. Um, and this was about a friend of hers. Uh, we heard as low as a thousand.

 

Jad Abumrad:

A surrogate getting only a thousand dollars for a pregnancy?

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah.

 

Tal:

Hello? Hello. This is Jerusalem calling.

 

Molly Webster:

Hi, this is New York answering.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Ultimately, we took this information back to Tal and Amir, because this was originally their question.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Let's talk about the money part now.

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah, all right, so the last time we talked to you, you thought you were paying your surrogates $12,000.

 

Tal:

Yes.

 

Molly Webster:

Uh, around ish. We've been off reporting and it seems like the number that's coming up most consistently for what surrogates are reporting as their rate is $5,300 U.S. dollars.

 

Tal:

What. [foreign language 00:44:14]

 

Amir:

It's too low.

 

Tal:

It's too low. Really?

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah.

 

Amir:

I want to cry.

 

Molly Webster:

We explained to them that if you actually look at the contract, the line that looks like it's payment straight to the surrogate doesn't actually say this is payment for the surrogate. It says this is payment to surrogacy services. And it's sort of, like, once you add in that second word, it opens the door to all kinds of things.

 

Tal:

She's getting less than half. Its very, its like, you feel like suckers.

 

Amir:

So who get the money?

 

Tal:

So who got the money?

 

Molly Webster:

That question, it hung in the air for a few weeks. Until...

 

Dana Magdassi:

I have around seven minutes before I go into something. I'm just in my car now...

 

Molly Webster:

I was finally able to talk to Dana Magdassi, who is the head of Lotus, which is the agency that Tal and Amir used in Nepal. She had just, the morning I talked to her, she had just flown from Nepal to Israel and I caught her in a car, on her way back to the airport. And she was going to fly off to Australia. And I asked her, how much do the surrogates actually get paid?

 

Dana Magdassi:

I can tell you truly that I work in Indian and Nepal since 2010, and I cannot tell you exactly how much a surrogate holds in her hand at the end of the procedure because we don't transfer the funds to the, uh, surrogate herself.

 

Molly Webster:

She's saying she has no idea. And the reason she has no idea is because, uh, she said this and other agencies I spoke to said this, is that when you're working on the ground, in foreign countries, under the umbrella of surrogacy, you are dealing with a lot of middle men. And the middle men have middle men, and there are sub-middle men. The, the, the people who find the women in India, who get all the paperwork done, who get them to the border, who get them over the border, who then bring them to [inaudible 00:46:15], someone meets them in Kathmandu, gets them to the shelter house. And all those people, they need to get paid.

 

Dana Magdassi:

I, I truly can tell you that I truly don't know after the agent, you know, how much the surrogates, they have in their hand. We don't come and ask the agent exactly how much goes for her compensation, exactly how much goes for her, uh, allowance. We don't go into that. I can tell you that-

 

Molly Webster:

Well I guess I was thinking about, I would feel conflicted as the head of an agency, to be, like, "I think the money is going to some people? But I just don't know, like..." I think that would niggle at me.

 

Dana Magdassi:

Yeah. Well that's the good thing that you're doing what you do. You're not doing what I'm doing.

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah.

 

Dana Magdassi:

Because, uh, you, you know, you can't look at the whole world and say, okay I'm going to make it, uh, brighter. I cannot deal with all the problems in the world. We're trying to give them as much as possible.

 

Tal:

We paid the money for this woman gets life. And, and now we understand it's not exactly like that.

 

Amir:

It's not right.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I mean, that real... I think the deep question here, underneath, after everything is, is over, is when, when we do a generous thing, like, we give people families who couldn't have families before, but that becomes a business. Is there something about the business of making a family that is always going to be a little troubling? And there are no perfect ways to do this? Or is there a way to pull this off in some... I, I just don't know.

 

Tal:

I mean, like, I still have three more embryos that they're in the freezer in Nepal. I don't know if the next time I will not do the process, maybe, in the state.

 

Molly Webster:

The U.S. is, like, an entirely different surrogacy scene, which we're just not going to get into here. But the interesting thing that, uh, that, uh, Dana said and, and the head of another agency, was that they think that in the next, like, five to ten years, the U.S. will be one of the only countries where surrogacy is still happening.

 

Dana Magdassi:

Things are closing down. Most of the things are closing down.

 

Molly Webster:

So obviously Nepal has a ban, Thailand, it looks like, uh, in a few days after this piece comes out, that India may ban it for foreigners. Cambodia, there's rumors that they're about to ban it. And even in Canada, there are talks of new restrictions on surrogacy. And this is, these are bans, like, not just for same sex couples but, uh [crosstalk 00:48:58] hetero couples, single people, everybody.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh whoa. And the main reason for all these bans and restrictions is, is worries about, uh, exploiting women?

 

Molly Webster:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I feel weird about that, a little bit, though.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Because?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Because if you're, if you're trying to, if you... As we heard, these women are making a business decision, whether or not we agree with it, that's an entirely separate thing. They're, it seems like they're making a decision and were going to take it away in order to protect them. Feels, I don't know.

 

Molly Webster:

It's funny because at times, it also feels, it... you just think, okay, these women can decide how they're going to use their own bodies.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Right, its a little bit, like, a little bit like the abortion debate.

 

Molly Webster:

Mm-hmm (affirmative) it totally is.

 

Robert Krulwich:

But, but by the same token, its, its not wrong for a society to say, "Hey, there's certain things we just won't allow. We won't give you that choice because we, we find that the choice itself is, um, is wrong."

 

Molly Webster:

Mm-hmm (affirmative) I mean, its fair. But, like, one of the arguments against banning it, is that, is that there's still, uh, demand for surrogacy. And that that's not going to go away. And so it just pushes-

 

Robert Krulwich:

To the underground.

 

Molly Webster:

This system underground. And so, uh-

 

Robert Krulwich:

And that way its a lot like abortion.

 

Molly Webster:

And that way its a lot, you know, shadier.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Molly Webster:

Um, but the other thing was, is that then Bhrukuti actually went and talked to the women about, like [foreign language 00:50:18] what this job does for them. Like, okay, so its not the crazy amount of money we thought it might have been. Its $5,000. Like, what does that do for you? [foreign language 00:50:30] One woman said-

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

That, you know, when I get this money, I'm going to go back home and start something on my own [foreign language 00:50:40] start a small shop, you know, my own little enterprise.

 

Molly Webster:

The other women...

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

All of them wanted to use this money to build a house, [foreign language 00:50:52] buy some land.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Can you buy a plot of land in New Delhi for five grand?

 

Molly Webster:

You definitely cannot get a plot of land in New Delhi for five grand. But what these women do is they take the money and they go back to their original village. And they use it there to buy a small plot of land. And that's totally doable and its actually no small feat.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

Having ownership of land is so important in our society in South Asia.

 

Molly Webster:

Once you own land, in South Asia, it raises your, um, socioeconomic status. Its something that's passed down through generations. So you're, like, creating something for your family. And if you're one of the women that, maybe, already have land, the thing you can do with that $5,000 is build a house on it.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

That's a very small, like, mud house or, you know-

 

Molly Webster:

Keep in mind, like, these women, their day jobs are all maids, right? And so they make less than $100 a month.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

They said that had it not been for this, I mean, they would have never, I mean, probably never own this much money at, at a single chance.

 

Molly Webster:

But more than that, like [foreign language 00:51:47] when you go into this, or at least when I went into this, the thing that I expected to see was, like, okay, these are poor desperate women that are being forced into this, like, right? They've been dragged across the border. And I think the thing that I was surprised to see, when I looked at the transcripts was that even though these women don't have a lot of options and, yes, they are poor, they had chosen to do this. Out of the limited options they had, they had looked at them at all and they thought, like, this is the thing that I'm going to do to get what I want. It felt like these women were making a choice.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

I, I asked them [foreign language 00:52:22] What if you're given a chance to go abroad, lets say to Dubai or Qatar, because a lot of women from India and Nepal, they go there. One of them said that, you know [foreign language 00:52:29]

 

Molly Webster:

Like why would I do that?

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

That would be very far away.

 

Molly Webster:

She says that here, the kids can come, their husbands can visit.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

They are fed well [foreign language 00:52:39]

 

Molly Webster:

The surrogates get good medical care.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

They're taken care during the whole nine months.

 

Molly Webster:

And, and for those whole nine months, their sending money back home. And back home, there's one less mouth to feed.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

I think, you know, I mean, the way we pass judgment, you know, you just pity on this women. But I think they've, they are very aware of what they're doing. They might be exploited to some level, like you said. But it seemed like the women are, are, in some ways, they are in charge of deciding how they want their life to be. And we don't have to look at them with, um, with pity [foreign language 00:53:19]

 

Molly Webster:

The last woman that Bhrikuti spoke to, she was a 32 year old woman, from Darjeeling, she spoke in Nepali. And she told Bhrikuti [foreign language 00:53:34] I came here in March, my embryo transfer was done once, but I don't know if it was due to the earthquake or something else, but it didn't get heartbeat and it got washed.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

She said that she lost the fetus in two months. And they tried it twice on her [foreign language 00:53:47]

 

Molly Webster:

Bhrikuti, "How did you feel when the child got washed?" Surrogate, "[foreign language 00:53:59] I felt bad. What to say. It felt like it was my own. And they won't give money if its unsuccessful."

 

Molly Webster:

Wow wait, she, uh, I'm like, I didn't know if you miscarry, you don't get paid?

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

Yes, yes, yes.

 

Molly Webster:

She says its treated like a business. You get paid for every month you successfully carry. And if you do lose the baby, depending on where it is in the pregnancy, part of the money is refunded to the intended parents. [foreign language 00:54:47] Surrogate, "Most of my friends had successful stories to share back in Delhi. Some of my friends made a house with the money. Some bought land. I felt good."

 

Molly Webster:

She basically says, she wishes she had done this earlier, because now, with the ban, she was being sent back to her village.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

She was still weeping a little, of what could have been if she was, you know, if the eggs were healthy enough, if her health was all right. [foreign language 00:55:17]

 

Molly Webster:

Bhrikuti, "Will you come again if this opens back up and try again?" [foreign language 00:55:28] Surrogate, "Yes, I will come."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Producer Molly Webster.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Ah, there's something on your face that says were not quite done here.

 

Jad Abumrad:

No, we're done, we're done, we're done.

 

Robert Krulwich:

No, no, no, say, say what's on your mind.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'm, well, I'm thinking, I'm thinking about all the different ways we've thought about this story along the way of making it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

 

Jad Abumrad:

I mean, you can read it as, like, this is story about the business of family making.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

 

Jad Abumrad:

The outsourcing of babies. You can hear it as a story about exploitation. All these different things are happening in this story.

 

Robert Krulwich:

They are.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But it occurs to me that this is also a story about the inventiveness of people, in some weird way.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Invent, you mean, what do you mean by that?

 

Jad Abumrad:

I guess, what I mean is, like, the way that cultures will cross fertilize in these really unexpected, like okay-

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's true.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Like, these are, these are two, these are two sets of needs that are, sort of, reaching out and finding each other, half a world away. And there's a kind of symbiotic benefit. Even while its trouble and maybe unfair. But its still kind of there. And so like, I, I feel like we could talk about this story in any number of ways but I also feel like one of the things that's happened here, this is a story about dreams. And about aspiring to have a better life and how, in this case, those aspirations meet in this really uncomfortable transaction.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah. Yeah, well lets thank people. That's what we should do next. Lets thank them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Molly Webster:

So many people.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Okay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

First we should, uh, we should begin by thanking, uh, the posse at Israel Story and Maya Kosover. Uh, we have just, we went in deep with those guys (laugh) for this story. Check them out, it, its really cool stuff. At prx.org and israelstory.org. What was the one you were just telling us about?

 

Molly Webster:

Oh I love this one.

 

Robert Krulwich:

There's, there's a story that they did last season, in which they went to every town in Israel that has a Herzl Street. Herzl's, like, the George Washington of Israel. So they all have Herzl Streets, they knocked on 48, 'cause Israel was founded in '48. They go, "knock, knock" "who's there" and they open the door and they interview whoever's on the other side of the door. It's just a wonderful, cool idea and they get to meet a crazy quilt of Israelis.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, well huge thanks to the Israel Story team and to Barry Finkle.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes.

 

Molly Webster:

And to our reporters in India, Nilanjana Bhowmick, and in Nepal, Bhrikuti Rai. And the International Reporting Project for connecting us with reporters and translators in different countries.

 

Jad Abumrad:

We talked to a lot of agencies, uh, for this story, surrogacy agencies, special thanks to Doron Mamet and Dr. Nayana Patel.

 

Molly Webster:

To our translators Tom Wasserman, Aya Keefe, Karthik Ravindra, Turna Ray-Franz and Adhikaar, which is a Nepali community organization out of Ridgewood, Queens and, uh, thanks to Ivan Zimmerman.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And for music, special thanks to [inaudible 00:58:52] and the Balkan Beat Box.

 

Jad Abumrad:

We had production help for this, uh, story from Andy Mills and this piece was produced and reported by Molly Webster. I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Molly Webster:

I'm Molly Webster.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Thanks for listening. Oh and one last note, uh, we should tell you that, uh, Tal and Amir did meet their surrogates, very briefly, one time. And, uh, its kind of a cool moment. We couldn't figure out where to put it in this story. But we have that scene on our website at radiolab.org. And its worth listening to.

 

Speaker 25:

Message five from phone number-

 

Maya Kosover:

Hi, this Maya Kosover. Calling you again because I had a mistake last time.

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

Hello, my name is Bhrikuti Rai and I'm a journalist from Kathmandu.

 

Yochai Maital:

Hi this is Yochai Maital from Tel Aviv. Calling to read the credits. Radiolab is produced by Jad Abumrad. Our staff includes Brenda Farrell, David Gebel, Dylan Keefe, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich...

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

[inaudible 01:00:05]

 

Maya Kosover:

Arianne Wack, Molly Webster...

 

Yochai Maital:

Soren Wheeler and [inaudible 01:00:12]

 

Maya Kosover:

With help from Simon Adler and Alex [inaudible 01:00:18]

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

[inaudible 01:00:19]

 

Yochai Maital:

Our fact checkers are Eva Dasher and Michelle Harris. All right...

 

Bhrikuti Rai:

Bye, bye.

 

Copyright © 2019 New York Public Radio. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use at www.wnyc.org for further information.

New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.