Due to the Corovirus pandemic and closure of international borders, as many as 1,000 babies born to surrogate mothers in Russia for foreign families left stranded in the country, The Guardian reported
Caregivers are hired to care for the babies in rented apartments in Moscow, St Petersburg, and other Russian cities. Some babies are born as far back as February.
“This is an urgent problem,” said Irina Kirkora, the deputy head of the Kremlin’s advisory council on human rights.
Based on a tallying of clinics in Russia catering to international surrogacy, Kirkora estimated that as many as 1,000 births to foreign parents might have occurred since February. An employee of a company in St Petersburg that provides surrogacy services estimated that the number was at least 600.
“These are children that are growing up every day. They need their parents,” said Kirkora.
Including Russia, paid surrogacy is permitted in a few countries around the world like Ukraine, Georgia and few states in the US.
Closing of borders have put additional pressure on surrogate mothers, who usually handover the babies to their biological parents within days of birth. Due to the pandemic, some surrogate mothers have been approached to pitch in the hospitals, which they had not expected.
A surrogate mother who gave birth in May said that the absence of the family had complicated the process emotionally. “You feel like you’re giving away the child,” she said. She was asked to stay on to help provide childcare but declined and the child was put in the care of a nanny.
A British-Chinese couple from Shanghai is expecting a baby girl in the next few days. The surrogate has been admitted to hospital in Moscow. For the couple, the struggle to arrive in time for their daughter’s birth complete years of effort to harbour a child.
From unsuccessful attempts to conceive to infertility treatment, then medical screenings for surrogacy, trips to Moscow to provide sperm and eggs for in vitro fertilisation, several failed implantations in a surrogate mother’s womb before a successful pregnancy was achieved late last year.
“We are trying to be adult about it,” said the couple, who approached Russian, Chinese, and UK officials to try to get a Russian entry visa. “But we have been patient for so many months. It is time for us to go full speed.”
They are facing the possibility of meeting their child with a closed border and often-paradoxical information about how to get in to Russia.
After facing infertility problems after 35, the couple decided that surrogacy was “a very good solution for us, if we approach it in the right way. Missing our child has been torturing us,” said the couple.
They have collected medical records and news clippings to chart their daughter’s development to show her when she is older. “We want to provide our daughter a history she is proud of. That’s our philosophy,” said the parent.
They are soon to join an estimated 180 families in China who have had children born to surrogates in Russia since February. “Other families are in Singapore, France, the Philippines, Argentina and Australia,” said Kirkora.
In a Chinese WeChat group with 150 members, other families have expressed pain and shame at missing the first months of their children’s lives.
In video testimonials seen by the Guardian, families pleaded to Russian officials to grant them special visas. They described painful histories of infertility and lost pregnancies, and expressed depression from being unable to reach their children born in recent months.
“Missing our child has been torturing us,” said one. “Because of this epidemic, my child is now born, but I cannot meet my child,” said another.
Russia is not currently issuing visas to Chinese citizens. The Guardian has approached the Russian foreign ministry for comment.
However, the surrogacy practice is legal in Russia, but the practice is controversial. Critics say, “It commercialises the birth process and can lead to the exploitation of surrogate mothers, including in cases where the pregnancy is lost.”
Chinese families going through an agent (the couple above mentioned did not) are willing to pay up to £60,000 (Approximately Rs. 59, 00,000) to an agency. Prices paid to surrogate mothers, who are often from poorer Russian regions, start at approximately £11,500 (Rs.11, 18,000)
Advocates for reuniting the families said reforming the industry was important but that the coronavirus pandemic should not prevent biological parents from coming to Russia to collect their children.
“You can’t slow down a pregnancy, not with coronavirus or by any other bans. This process is going forward,” said Kirkora.
A controversial criminal investigation against doctors instills fear in the surrogacy industry. Four doctors and four other employees from two fertility clinics that work with surrogate pregnancies.
The cases relate to two incidents: the death of a child born to a surrogate from sudden infant death syndrome in January, and the discovery in an apartment in June of five children cared for by two Chinese nannies.
“There is a pressing issue in the transparency of the surrogacy industry,” said the couple. “Most unfortunately it is happening around the time when my baby is supposed to be born.”
Parents are desperate to get to their children and avoid being cut off from them.
Doctors have reportedly declined to treat surrogate mothers for fear of legal liability. Several clinics and companies that provide surrogacy services cited the recent arrests when declining to speak for this article. “I’m worried like everyone that it’s going to touch my clients too,” said Inessa Matovich, the director of a Moscow company that provides surrogacy services mainly to families in Russia. “The world has gone crazy and the smallest, most defenceless beings have been hit. And they’re without their parents.”