When Patricia Bohanonan American teacherflies home to Colorado on Sundayshe will carry a precious made-in-India baggage: an embryo.
This embryowhich was born in a petri-dish out of anonymous contributions from an Indian sperm donor and an egg donorwas transferred to Bohanonwho will deliver the Indian baby as her own in the first week of December.
Welcome to an assisted reproduction technique that is fast gaining popularity in a world where fewer children are available for donationand adoption norms are getting more stringent. Not surprisinglythis method is called embryo adoption or embryo donationdepending on which side one looks at it from.
Dr Anjali Malpanian infertility specialist who treated Bohanonnow performs about three to four embryo adoptions a month as opposed to the random annual procedurewhich was the case until a few years back. Says Dr Malpani"With availability of better infertility treatment techniquesembryo adoption/donation is becoming popular of late across the world." In the US alonewhere embryo adoption is about a decade oldover 1,000 babies have been born using this method.
"Adopting an embryo allows a womanwho is infertileto experience motherhoodcomplete with labour painsas against rearing an adopted child," says another infertility expert Dr Indira Hinduja.
Bohanona 51-year-old single mother of two 30-plus womenhad literally yearned for a houseful of children. "But being a single mother without a fancy incomeit was impossible to adopt." The English teacher enrolled as a foster-motherbut couldn't find a young child she could adopt. When her work took her to Vietnam and Chinashe explored adoption norms in those countries as well. "Vietnam closed adoption for foreigners except those who are based there for a long period. China doesn't allow single mothers to adopt. Cambodia closed adoption after corruption charges were levelled," says Bohanon.
But the charges were high—an embryo alone would work out to over $10,000 (Rs 4.64 lakh) with a similar amount for running Infertility treatment cycles. "I went online and came across the Malpani Infertility Clinic," says Bohanonwho landed in Colaba on January 26 for the e-adoption costing less than Rs 1.25 lakh all inclusive.
Ever since the birth of the first test-tube in England 32 years agoembryos have been grown in petri-dish. As technology improvedmore and more eggs were harvested from infertile women and more embryos grown per couple. It is this glut of sorts of embryos that hasin a wayresulted in the popularity of embryo donation.
Says Dr Malpani"We are living in a world driven by technology. On the one handtechnology has given us contraceptionthat has meant fewer babies in general and fewer still for adoption. On the other handtechnology in infertility treatment has allowed us to freeze embryos." In other wordsembryos can be adopted years after they were made.
There also are better techniques available to allow womeneven those who have undergone menopauseto carry a child. "Within two weekswe can ensure — with tablets and a single - injection every day — that the woman's endometriumthe inner lining of the uterusis thick enough to sustain a pregnancy," says Dr Malpaniwho feels embryo adoption is best option for elderly women.
Apart from technologyDr Indira Hindujawho is credited with India's first test-tube baby born in KEM Hospital 20 years agocites an emotional reason contributing to this newfound popularity of embryo donation. "If you adopt an embryothe whole world sees you pregnant. You don't have to publicise that it was someone's egg and sperm. The law says that you are the biological mother as you have delivered the child. Moreoveryou get to feel the baby kickyou go through labour as well as breast-feeding." Womenshe addsthus get to go through a complete motherhood experience.
Whenever a couple comes up for infertility treatmentdoctors treat her medically to harvest the maximum number of eggs. Says infertility specialist Dr Hrishikesh Pai"We create many embryos per couple on the presumption that a couple may need to undergo many cycles to get pregnant. But many couples get pregnant in the first attempt and that too with twins. Instead of throwing their other embryosthey allow us to donate them to other childless couples."
Dr Paiwho is the vice-president of the Indian Society for Assisted Reproductionfeels it is this glut of embryos in infertility clinics that is adding to the popularity of embryo-donation. His clinic in Lilavati HospitalBandraalone has nine cans of embryos store in liquid nitrogen.
But patients like Bohanan are not complaining — even though she realises an Indian baby will be difficult to pass off as her own. "I may let the child know as soon as possible that it was adopted—albeit in a different manner."