An open account from a Siberian surrogate mother, who shares her story with Russian 'Public Post' project.
'My husband deserves a medal. Not every man can patiently stay without sex for nine months'. Picture: The SIberian Times, posed by models.
Ekaterina, 27, a surrogate mother from Tyumen in Siberia speaks to 'Public Post' journalist Anastasia Mironova.
Full account in Russian can be read here: http://publicpost.ru/theme/id/1978/portrety_rossii_ekaterina_surrogatnaya_mat/
I'm 27, a qualified teacher. I even started to work at school but now I see my life's aim as giving birth to children. I grew up in a family with lots of children, and have two of my own.
How did it all start? I needed money to buy a property. I first applied to the surrogacy programme in 2007, when I only had one child. My husband, his mother and all his relations were totally against it.
At that time it was so new, so scary. When I came to the doctors during my first surrogate pregnancy they all looked at me like at a heroine. You've got to warn them that it's not your child. Nobody believed that in a city like Tyumen something like this could have happened.
Everyone has got only one reason for it. They might be saying here and there that surrogacy is such help to people, that they are almost volunteers. It's a wrong opinion.
I wish I could say my aim was to help childless couples - but this is only one of my motivations. Of course, the main thing is money.
If the state was to buy us all flats, then many girls going through the headaches of surrogacy or egg donorship would have never done it.
Some of us have to pay the mortgage, others took a loan to buy a car... and here you can carry a baby and shut this financial hole down.
Of course people do sometimes help each other for free. But most often it happens inside the families, like to become a surrogate for your mother or niece. And even then, I know the cases when the girls who gave birth to their relatives' children were bought flat as a present for that.
ABOUT THE PROCESS OF CHOOSING
The main criteria are: age from 20 to 35, physical, somatic, and psychological health, and your own child as a must.
Its not enough to simply want to become a surrogate. Otherwise, you know, there are plenty of students who would not mind to carry a baby and then pay their tuition fees.
The surrogacy centre checks very, very strictly that candidates have their own children. It's the law, no-one wants to break it and go to jail. So, however much the young and the pretty want it, they are not accepted into the surrogacy programmes.
After your first call to the surrogacy centre your name is put into the catalogue. Then they check hormones and do the first scan - many girls are thrown out at this stage. One girl, a mother of two, wanted to become a surrogate mother but they found womb mioma (tumour) during the scan. And she was only 25.
Sometimes the checks show that the hormonal levels are not correct.
If everything is all right after this stage, next are AIDS, hepatitis and chlamydia tests, and others too.
After the tests, you are included into the database. Next is to wait for parents to choose you.
'I am not doing anything bad. People are generous with me for sorting their problems'. Picture: The SIberian Times, posed by models.
ABOUT THE HUSBAND
The hiccups with husbands happen very often. You need him to agree. Some couples don't mind having single surrogate mothers, and some don't want to take a risk - what if she (the surrogate mother) would steal the husband?
Many of the women who order a surrogate mother's service are scared of it, specially if the girl is also an egg donor - then the baby is completely hers.
For some reason it is the women from Ukraine who are feared the most. Russians, especially from big cities like Moscow, take it more in their stride and are not scared.
ABOUT THE COSTS
When the parents have selected me, we don't start anything before we agree a price.
For those who go into surrogacy for the first time the fee is between 300,000 and 700,000 roubles ($9,450 to $22,050).
Those doing it for a second time ask for more, an average of 900,000 roubles ($28,350).
It's understandable, as it is a woman with experience, who knows what to do and how to behave. And the main thing is that she will definitely give the baby away. Everyone is the most scared of this, that she will not.
The competition is very high among us. The prices have dropped. More and more people learn about it and want to do it. TV speaks about it, and girls are not as afraid of it as before. This is why the prices have slipped.
If some ten years ago you could have earned a flat from having one surrogate baby, now the average for the first delivery is 550,000 roubles ($17,330). It's not a bad sum - but it is also a huge health risk.
Its not bad, but it was better ten years ago.
Parents must realise that if they found a surrogate mother ready to give service for 300,000 roubles ($9,450), it means she has got something wrong with her. It is most likely that she comes from a low social level family. It is for sure will be a girl from a city suburb, or a village.
And here is another moment: You have got to completely stop all sexual contacts, for nine complete months. God forbid something happened to the baby, or you lose it, specially during the first three months when the embryo is not so well attached.
It is always stress for your husband: to have nine months of no sex.
My husband deserves a medal. When I come for all my tests, doctors say - 'Katia, there are no more like you, so pure and innocent' (meaning she is free completely from sexually transmitted diseases).
I know other girls who got loads of all sorts of infections from their husbands. They go elsewhere, then catch the infections - and bring it back home.
If this happens, the poor girl goes through all sorts of treatments. And she is not going to be fully paid either - she has violated the contract, plus sometimes the baby is born with an infection.
Situations like this happen in the lower level families. So if the girl agrees to give birth for 300,000 roubles only, it is a definite sign that something is wrong there. Because if she was aiming at this amount she could have got it from the state - this is the amount of state maternal support for a second child.
ABOUT THE BUSINESS
We sign a contract with the parents who order my service, and it includes all possible nuances... but, still, if the surrogate mother decides to keep the baby, no-one can stop her.
Right after birth in a maternity hospital the baby stays with the new parents - but is considered to be hers by law. She can cancel all her obligations at any point.
The confidentiality is another big issue. The fines for breaching it are gigantic.
Everything is written in the contract: for example, if the baby is born with a trauma, would it be surrogate mother's fault, or not? There is an amount to cover miscarriage at an early stage, another for a late miscarriage, still another amount if you need to do an abortion because a genetic disease was found.
By law, parents must go through a test detecting such diseases - but some refuse categorically. And it shows up during the pregnancy.
There is a reward for a case when the embryo needs to be removed, and a fee for a womb removal. There is even a fee if you die. I don't remember it, I didn't want to think about it. My mother, a doctor, was shocked when she read the contract. She cried her heart out.
Sometimes there is a line in the contract to cover a situation where the couple might change their mind and send you to an abortion - you know, there can be a crisis, or the couple can get divorced.
So far I've only had reliable couples, they didn't put this line on. And if girls jump into surrogacy without checking who they are dealing with.... then anything can happen. People are different. Some called me saying that they simply wanted to stay fit: 'Oh you know I want my boobs to be in good shape, I don't want to give birth myself'.
I say goodbye to people like this straight away.
ABOUT THE SUFFERING
So we have discussed everything, signed the contract - now its time for IVF.
After the stimulation, the egg donor's cells are taken, and implanted into the surrogate mother. Then the surrogate mother is taken home by car, and then you have to lie flat for several weeks.
You cant do a single thing. Even you child - however tiny he or she is - you can't take. You've got to have somebody who can take care of your own child.
'To ensure the maximum possibility of pregnancy as well as lying flat for two weeks, you must be very calm - no nerves are allowed'. Picture: The Siberian Times, posed by models.
Only later do you find out if you are pregnant, they do the tests. Sometimes you are told that there it is a multiple pregnancy.
My second surrogate pregnancy was with twins. For this case there is a line in the contract, an extra fee for a second child.
It happens that parents, to ensure positive results, take two surrogate mothers, both of them go through IVF, both get the fertilised egg - and both get pregnant. Then the parent get rid of one of the surrogate mother's baby, following their preferences.
ABOUT HOW IT FEELS
Surrogate pregnancy is different to yours. There can be a conflict in your organism - after all, it's not your blood. But then I think everything comes from our heads, I mean, whether you know that you suffer from having your baby - or somebody else's.
Even the birth.
With your child, you lie there, calling: 'Darling, dear, come here, I'm waiting for you'.
And here you don't even know how to treat this baby. Yes you love him by now, and talk to him - but this is not your child. You know that behind the door sits a woman, the baby's mother, and that she will take him away.
Its so easy to give birth to your own child. As doctors say, the main thing is for a mother to call her baby. And this one - how do you call this baby?
ABOUT THE PARENTS
Well, the parents... they do whatever their imagination allows. Some put on false tummies on to imitate pregnancy. Some go on 'maternity leave'. I don't know what 'my' parents were doing. They were from another city.
But it's clear that if they were to hide this pregnancy, they would have to try twice as hard, as they've got to raise their children in their city.
ABOUT THE REFUSAL
Well, look here is a girl who gave birth to a baby. Some even ask to not show the baby at all. Or to show only from afar - so that they see that everything is OK, that the arms and legs are there.
My position is that I always want to see the baby, to make sure that I've done everything according to my contract. I will sleep better then, because later on I will never see this baby again, and at least for once I will make sure that the baby is OK.
The baby is then immediately passed to the parents, and continues to stay with them until they leave the maternity house.
ABOUT THE RESPONSIBILITY
It's like the sense of my life now, surrogacy.
Naturally I've put on a lot of weight. I was very sporty before. After my first child I was 46-48 kgs, and after the surrogate twins I got to 52 kgs. But then my babies were 3,260 and 2,800 - imagine how it was, to carry them?
So girls should not expect an easy time.
The hormones you get during all of the pregnancy and before, they harm your health hugely.
I saw girls in maternity hospitals, you know, who are giving births for themselves. Their babies are born at like 2,800 kg, because they were deliberately starving, so that their births are easier. Hilarious.
ABOUT THE INSTINCT
It was hard to give them away. Specially after the twins.
I remember walking about the hospital after giving birth to them. I very much wanted a baby... if only not for my financial problems.
No, it's not that I'm poor. I've got a car, I'm also building a house - but it's not enough to cover the costs still. If not for the money, most likely I would have had many children.
ABOUT THE RUMOURS
People react badly. I've got a number of neighbours. When I was pregnant with first surrogate baby, they seemed to have felt sorry for me and asked me nothing.
They saw that I had a bump.. and where did the baby go? I was telling that I didn't want to answer this question, so each of them made various versions up.
But the second time, a doctor 'helped'. One of them, who happened to know my neighbour, told her everything.
So it was breaking news in our yard. 'Ah this is what she is like! Can you imagine!' They were pointing their fingers at me.
Now I'm not hiding my surrogate pregnancies from friends - though I'm not advertising them either.
Mostly because of my husband, he is against speaking about it publicly.
I am not ashamed. Unlike some, I am not expecting support from grandparents or parents. I don't want to live in my mother's flat.
I've done nothing wrong. It was a good deed, for which I was paid. I sacrificed my health and my body to help others.
I am a believer. Its not like I am spending days in church, but I do believe in God. Recently I saw a programme about surrogacy, and a priest said it was a sin.
He is sort of right.
Yes, it is selling babies. But every labour should be paid for. We get nothing free of charge. And here you work nine months, 24 hours a day.
People are generous with me for sorting out their problem.
An open account from a Siberian surrogate mother, who shares her story with Russian 'Public Post' project.
Meet our unique Siberian love child, a female cross between a lion and a tigress, and the undisputed star of Novosibirsk Zoo.