Not All a Bed of …Cabbages? Surrogacy Ukraine Experiences Difficulty
With the country experiencing an economic boom through the wombs of women, not everyone is experiencing joy.
“Where do babies come from?” A small child asks, while looking up at his pregnant mother. “From the cabbage patch of course!” Anika replies, holding the toddler’s hand tightly, as she retells the story that her own mother had told her.
Anika is a 24-year-old Ukrainian woman who is expecting her third child. The catch is- it’s not really hers. Anika is a surrogate. A job that is far from unheard of in the capital city of Ukraine, Kiev, where we meet. Even as we sit in the vast, green park, I am virtually surrounded by women in various stages of swollen bellies and thin smiles. I find my mind wondering and asking just how many of these women are growing children for someone else.
Surrogacy has become a huge market in the small European country within recent years. As larger and more notable countries have closed their own surrogacy trades due to allegations of fraud and exploitation, Ukraine has seen a massive influx of dewy eyed and hopeful parents, emerging to find their own way of creating a family. “I am well taken care of” Says Anika, sending off the boy to go play with the other children. “I am affiliated with an agency that takes good care of me and the other mothers that work for them. Some are not so lucky.” Anika shares some gossip with me in a way that is so perfectly stereotypical of any American expectant mother, I almost forget that I am thousands of miles away from home.
Anika says that she has heard of some mothers being paid very little for their hard work, not to mention poor gestational healthcare. She speaks of a woman that was denied any payment due to natural complications that ended in a mid-term miscarriage. “It is very scary for some.” She says. Anika is one of the few mothers that exist within a system that is designed to stay within the legal and ethical framework of compensated reproductive medicine.
Ukraine has surrogacy laws in place that are meant to keep both surrogate mothers and intended parents within a net of safety. Since 2005, the country has implemented laws that state who can become a surrogate, and what rights are afforded to intended parents. The framework on paper is brilliant, giving women the opportunity to earn money that they wouldn’t otherwise see. Because of civil conflicts in recent years, as well as smattered throughout Ukraine’s easily rememberable history, the country’s economy is still struggling to recover. The average salary being a shockingly low €237 per month.
For many healthy, young woman carrying the child of another couple brings the promise of housing, food, or other needs for their own families. Creating a large pool to choose from for couples looking to secure a surrogate of their own. However, it can also lead to some nefarious dealings where the women are poorly cared for and even more poorly compensated.
“Absolutely you will find women who are unfit to be surrogates. You will also find companies and clinics that are willing to exploit a real need.” Says a spokesperson for Ilaya, a company that has been helping parents secure surrogates in Ukraine. “The best way to avoid taking advantage of anyone’s situation is to find a reputable clinic that stays strictly within the confines of the law. Both legislative and medical.” The company has been recognized by Forbes for their innovation in medicine and healthcare, so they have a high reputation to protect. Other companies, however, have far less to lose.
“Wherever there is need, you will undoubtedly find someone who is willing to take advantage of it.” Our source says. Sadly, that exploitation doesn’t seem so hard to find in the war-torn country. Amongst the shady online ads and flyers promoting the promise of a better life for surrogates, there are also companies that are selling a fraudulent dream to intended parents as well. “It’s important that no matter your circumstances, you ensure that the clinic you choose is working for your best interests, not their own. Everyone has to be realistic.”
In countries like France, or Germany, surrogacy is still a very touchy subject. There have been cases of parents going through the entire process, only to be unable to return to their homes with their new children. Even after they had been assured by their “agencies” that there would be no problems with the return trip.
Anika, for one, sees hope and promise in her work. Both for her own family, and the family she is working for. “For me, it is all about family. I can give to them something that is so important in life. The gift of a child. They can give to me things that are equally important, a future for my own children.”