Poor Turning to Child Surrogacy for the Money

A woman from the southern town of Netivot found an unlikely way to support her two children - by becoming the surrogate mother of a third.

The woman, who agreed to be only identified as N., had been left with the financial burden of her sons' school fees after a divorce and was struggling to makes end meet.

She took out a number of loans from her bank, going tens of thousands of shekels into the hole, which led her to seek help from community activists in the town.

One of them, Yaakov Cohen, told Haaretz that he remembers the woman approaching his organization as early as six years ago, saying that she couldn't afford even to make sandwiches for her kids to take to school. However, the reach of welfare organization had been severely curbed this year, with many expecting collapse over Passover unless the government intervenes.

N. said she first came to the idea of surrogacy when she saw a morning show interview with a surrogate mother and a social worker. The two explained the process, and mentioned that it could help improve the financial situation of many women.

N. contacted a surrogacy clinic mentioned in the program, and soon received an invitation for initial medical tests. Having passed both the test and psychological interviews, she was informed she was now officially on the clinic's waiting list.

A month later, N. received her first "work proposal." A couple from the north of Israel was interested in her as a surrogate, and were willing to pay NIS 120,000 for her participation. They also agreed to pay her a monthly stipend of NIS 2,500.

N. believes the unusual move is an opportunity to radically change her situation.

"My dreams were simple," she said, "and they're finally coming true. I owe no money to the electric or water companies, I can finally begin repaying loans, and I can now buy furniture for the children - maybe even a computer, which I could never afford."

Another dream coming true for N. is dental treatment.

"I couldn't take proper care of my teeth for years, because the procedures cost so much," she says. "Now I can finally start smiling once again."

N. is not alone. Since the Surrogacy Act was passed in 1996, the number of women approaching the Health Ministry and offering themselves for the role has grown. In 2001 the number was still at about 20 to 30 candidates a year. It reached 60 women only a few years later, and in 2008, 80 women expressed interest in the process, and 36 children were born as a result.

Despite the great physical and emotional stress of the experience, N. said she has no regrets.

"Surrogacy saved me," she said. "There's no reason to fear it, and I would definitely consider doing it again."

N. said she believes the process can be an effective solution to the financial distress experienced by many Israeli women, which has pushed some of them as far as prostitution. Surrogacy, she said, offers them an honorable living.

"Besides, I connected with the couple really well, and I feel like they're my family now," she said.