My Sister Had a Baby We Didn’t Keep

When you deal with infertility, you become an expert in reproduction in the same way, I assume, someone with cancer becomes versed in types and treatments.

Suffice it to say, I’d seen lots of ultrasound videos.

Surrogacy is illegal in China, as it is in Australia, France, Portugal, and many other countries.

Not surprisingly, an underground surrogacy market has risen, employing usually low-income, rural young women by often questionable methods. Many Chinese couples travel to Thailand, India, or Ukraine to find a surrogate. And the wealthiest come to the United States. They can afford to pay the hefty penalties for violating the one-child policy; they have the means to travel back-and-forth throughout the process. Attracted by the professional and regulated U.S. surrogacy industry, by the clean air and yes, by the prospect of citizenship for the baby, Chinese couples often pay more than $100,000 to bring home a baby with their DNA, carried by an American surrogate. Like any system, you’ll hear of abuses and questionable intents. You’ll hear about requests for blonde, tall egg donors and about perfectly fertile couples paying top dollar for a made-in-America baby. But I have to believe that the vast majority come to this difficult decision with one basic desire and physical impediments to this goal. The same way my mom came to adoption, the same way I came to IVF. But how did Carol come to surrogacy?

I confess to having several conversations with our mother about Carol’s surrogacy idea, and neither of us were exactly jumping over the moon about it.

We worried about her health. She had recently lost quite a bit of weight, after years of being too heavy. She’d had her gall bladder removed; she got tonsillitis all the time but wouldn’t have the surgery her doctor kept recommending. Her life was incredibly hectic already; both she and Jose worked full-time and there were, of course, their three boys, the commute, teaching at her church on Sundays, and volunteer duties at her kids’ schools. You may have surmised by this list of activities that saying no is not one of Carol’s strengths, and you’d be right. My mom and I worried about her mental state in regards to the surrogacy. We thought maybe, in a strange way, she was doing it because she wanted more children. We worried about how she’d handle giving the baby away.

Carol describes her call to surrogacy as a vocation. Matter-of-factly, she tells me it isn’t fair that some women can have children and some can’t.

She’s looking forward to the golden moment when she’ll watch the Zhang family expand from two to three. This moment, the idea of witnessing the creation of a family, remains her main motivation. As for fitting in the doctor appointments, she says she’s accustomed to life lived at fever pitch, so it was just one more thing to schedule in. Because she’s delivered three babies already, she isn’t worried about potential health risks. When I ask her if there is anything she worries about, the only bad outcome she can imagine, at this point, is the baby not surviving. And she worries about that for the Zhangs’ sake, not her own.

“We live in a happy life, both of us think that the most lucky thing in our life is to meet the other.”

The Zhangs were married for two years when they started trying to have a baby, and they’ve been at it for five years. Early inventions included natural remedies: holistic herbs, teas and treatments, and during the last three years, they’ve attempted several IUIs in Beijing with no success. Because their efforts included miscarriages, they turned to surrogacy. A friend referred them West Coast Surrogacy in Irvine, California, and after Jian did some initial research, Jane hopped on a plane and went directly to their offices. Jane is thirty-eight years old and Jian is thirty-seven.

Gifts from the Zhangs

I too wondered about Carol’s feelings, having no daughters of her own, and I worried about my admittedly stereotypical notions about gender preferences for Chinese couples.

Were the Zhangs hoping for a boy? I spoke to Carol after she left the appointment and asked her about both of these issues. She told me it didn’t phase her at all that the baby was female; it made no difference whatsoever. From the beginning, she said, this pregnancy has been different from her others. She didn’t feel the bond she felt with her children, only the responsibility to keep healthy and provide nutrition for the baby. Basically, it felt like a job. A personally fulfilling job, but a job nonetheless.

“But that moment,” she says, “when it finally came, was just as good as I imagined.”

“Jane had been advised to hold the baby bare chest to bare chest, so she had a gown on. And when they handed her the baby, that look on her face, the way she just stared, and smiled a little smile, and kissed her, it just made me remember how strange it is to meet someone and fall in love immediately.”

Carol seemed to have a certain pride about the baby and yet, it was obvious Jane was the one in charge of her.

As we stood chatting with Carol in the cramped room, I looked over to see Jane holding Mia and looking at her in that ravenous way Carol and I both later recalled from having our own babies. The slight smile, the unwavering gaze, the quiet murmurs; it was incredibly touching. Jian arrived with Jane’s mother, who hadn’t seen the baby yet, and Jason and I hustled out of there to give them their space. It was their baby, their moment. I had no desire to hold Mia, as adorable as she was. I had concerns only for my sister.

Carol, Jose and their boys


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