The woman who travelled to India for a surrogate was overjoyed, and saw the commercial transaction as mutually beneficial. But I found out it hard to celebrate

I blogged last week about the hapless Captain Schettino, who skippered the doomed cruiser Costa Concordia, and whose excuse for being in a lifeboat while hundreds of passengers were still left on board was that he tripped and fell into it.

Well, my daughter, who is a detective constable with the Metropolitan Police, has since told me a funnier tall story. During last year’s London riots a man was caught on CCTV rushing at a police cordon three times. Faced with this incontrovertible evidence in court he told the Bench that he had simply been trying to get across the road to reach a newsagent on the other side – in order to buy a birthday card for his wife. You have to applaud his ingenuity.

I heard a programme on the World Service last Tuesday night: on surrogacy. It made sad listening. An Irish woman, Carolina, who had had ovarian cancer some years previously and who had subsequently married, had travelled to India to find a surrogate to carry “her” baby. All this had been arranged very professionally by a Dr Patel, who kept repeating that no exploitation had taken place: the surrogate had come forward of her own free will, had been well looked after and had been well paid for her trouble. After all, she had received over $7,000 – enough to pay for a new home and to educate her children.

Carolina spoke too; she was overjoyed to have a baby and saw the commercial exchange as mutually beneficial. She had hired a nurse to feed the infant while she was in India as it wouldn’t be right for the surrogate to breastfeed; that would be “a step too far” in her view. When all the legalities and paperwork had been completed, she would fly home to Ireland with the baby and all would be well.

The surrogate was also interviewed, through an interpreter. She was crying: why could she not even be allowed to breastfeed the baby she had carried in her womb? She had chosen to become a surrogate without telling her relations, apart from her husband; they would have objected so the pregnancy had to be kept secret. They had found out anyway and this had caused problems. Her two children had to be cared for while she was living at the surrogacy house and she was missing them. Yes, the money would change their lives and without it they would never own a proper home – but she sounded downcast and her tears kept flowing.

Throughout the programme we never heard about the test tube conception or the transfer of the tiny embryo to the surrogate woman’s womb, or what was really going on: a childless westerner; a poor Indian woman; a Home where surrogates incubated babies they would never hold in their arms; the fee paid to Dr Patel’s clinic. What will Carolina’s baby be told in years to come and what will he/she think? As infertility rates climb in the West, is this new form of imperialism the future? The programme caused me deep disquiet; I couldn’t find anything in it to celebrate.