SURROGATE BIRTHS IN CHINA
Chinese hospitals have been forbidden to carry out gestational surrogacy procedures since 2001. However, surrogacy agencies seem to be booming in China, as evidenced by a profusion of websites and advertisements offering the service. An estimated 25,000 children in China were born using surrogate mothers between 1982 and 2012, according to Southern Metropolis Weekly, a southern Chinese magazine. Procedures typically cost more than $50,000 in the early 2010s, about 140 times the average monthly salary for a university graduate in Guangzhou at that time. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2012]
Despite an official ban on surrogate mothers, in the 2000s women offered their services as surrogates for between $5,000 and $12,000 depending on the surrogate's education and physical qualifications, with the highest prices earned by those with college degrees. Enforcement of the surrogate mother laws enacted in 2001 has been weak. There are brokers, middlemen and agencies who help match infertile couples that desperately want a child with women who are willing to be surrogates. There have been some cases of surrogate women impregnating themselves with the sperm of a donor after being paid about $10,000. In a typical case in the 2000s an agency who worked out the surrogacy was paid $20,000 and the surrogate mother received $10,000.
Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li wrote in the New York Times: “Surrogate births have become a popular option for Chinese people with the will and the means to travel abroad to find birth mothers outside the country. Surrogacy has grown more popular in recent years as changing social norms, relaxation of the one-child policy and rising infertility have prompted wealthy single women, same-sex couples and others to travel overseas for reproductive assistance.[Source: Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li, New York Times, January 20, 2021]
According to The Initium, a digital media company based in Hong Kong, around 1,000 Chinese babies are born through in vitro fertilization every year in the United States, where the laws on surrogacy vary by state. The practice has become so popular that China’s biggest online booking company, Ctrip.com, offers some managers subsidies so they can freeze their eggs. Many of those looking for surrogate mothers are couples who have lost a child or have fertility problems, said Kelvin Ma, a partner with Shanghai Demei Law Firm. He said he had worked with clients to review surrogacy contracts with overseas agencies. “The clients I have come into contact with are actually quite innocent,” said Mr. Ma, adding, “They want a child very much, and they can afford it.”
China’s Surrogate Birth Policy
Stephen Chen wrote in the South China Morning Post: Although IVF treatment is legal, surrogacy, as well as the trade in sperm, eggs and human embryos, is outlawed by the Chinese government. However, there is a demand for the service from people who are physically unable to give birth or for whom it is too risky. China has more than 45 million infertile people, or 15 per cent of the entire population of reproductive age, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission. The lifting of the one-child policy has also boosted demand for surrogacy as older couples have sought to have a second child.[Source: Stephen Chen, South China Morning Post, December 31, 2017]
Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li wrote in the New York Times: “China bars medical providers from offering surrogate services but doesn’t bar people from using them, said Yu Yuanjian, a lawyer who specializes in civil and commercial legal disputes at Joint-Win Partners in Shanghai. [Source: Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li, New York Times, January 20, 2021]
Limits on reproductive techniques in general have met with growing skepticism from those who point to China’s historically low birthrate and from women’s rights activists who condemn government laws that control their bodies.
Other official media called for an outright ban on surrogate pregnancies. A media outlet tied to the All-China Women’s Federation, a state-sponsored group that often toes the party’s line, posted a video about why the practice cannot be legalized. Critics argued that surrogacy allows the wealthy to exploit disadvantaged women who have few other options to make money.
But the scandal comes at a time when some people in China are rethinking those notions. China’s declining birthrate has prompted some women’s rights activists, academics and others to question the country’s restrictions on reproductive techniques like surrogate births and egg freezing. Women’s groups also cite the horrors of the former one-child policy, which led to forced abortions and government intrusion into women’s reproductive choices to control the population, which is the world’s biggest at 1.4 billion people.
Use of Surrogate Mothers On the Rise Among Wealthy Chinese
Aw Cheng Wei wrote in The Straits Times: Surrogacy is illegal in the country, but try telling that to the increasingly wealthy Chinese who are getting others to carry and give birth to their babies. More than 25,000 children were born to surrogate mothers in China over the past three decades, with their births arranged by over 500 unlicensed agencies, according to some estimates. It is a growing phenomenon, said several agencies, some of whom spoke to The Straits Times on condition of anonymity. [Source: Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, May 13 2012]
“In particular, many Chinese want to have a baby during this auspicious Year of the Dragon. Some agencies say their business spiked by some 30 per cent last year over the year before. "Most couples want to have a Dragon baby, so surrogates have to be impregnated the year before," an agency owner in Beijing told The Strait Times.
“A check by The Straits Times also found more than 200 online discussion groups on infertility with a total of about 35,000 members, the majority looking for surrogate mothers. Most couples go through an agency, which acts as a middleman, to connect them with women willing to rent out their wombs. The first of such unlicensed firms opened in 2004. It advertised online to reach infertile couples and recruit surrogate mothers.
“The entire process costs about 300,000 yuan (US$47,534). The agent pockets 20,000 yuan and the surrogate mother, usually recruited from the countryside, is paid around 140,000 yuan. The remaining amount goes to medical expenses such as hormone therapy treatment and the baby's delivery. The surrogate mother typically offers just her womb. A fertilised embryo from a childless couple is placed in her. She is then paid in instalments and gets a bigger payoff once the baby is handed over to the biological parents. This is done to ensure that she fulfils her end of the contract. Customers have the option of caring for the surrogate mother themselves. Otherwise, she will be placed under the agency's care for 3,000 yuan a month, and live in an apartment with a nanny on standby 24 hours a day.
“The growing demand is due to several factors. For one thing, many urban Chinese, like people in developed countries, are marrying later and postponing child birth as work demands and the high costs of city living weigh couples down. Sometimes, vanity is involved: Women, particularly those with careers, simply want to maintain their svelte figures.Older couples are more likely to have problems conceiving, doctors say. One in every eight Chinese couples struggles to have a baby, according to official statistics. This is five times the number compared with 20 years ago. In 2010, 40 million people in China were affected by sterility.A surrogate mother in China has the added bonus of possibly dodging the country's one-child policy, as in-vitro fertilisation creates a higher chance of having twins or even triplets. Twins and other multiple-birth deliveries are exempt from the penalties.
“But locals are not the only ones seeking wombs for rent. The relatively low cost of surrogacy in China has attracted childless couples from overseas too."Americans and Europeans also come to us when they want children," said an agency owner, who has had seven years' experience in the business and seen more than 6,000 successful births. 'It costs twice as much to do the surrogacy process in the US, and the facilities are the same.'
The authorities are trying to crack down on the practice after a woman in southern Guangzhou hired two surrogate mothers to give birth to eight babies, local media said last year. The public attention stemming from the incident and complaints about the exploitation of women's bodies prompted officials in March to call for tighter laws against surrogacy. While the Chinese Health Ministry has banned medical institutions from trading in embryos and assisting in surrogate pregnancies, there are no clear laws against surrogacy services. In 2009, three surrogate mothers were forced to abort their foetuses when they were discovered.
Outrage Over Rich Chinese Family with Eight Babies Obtained from Surrogate Mothers
Jonathan Kaiman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “In America, a family with eight children is the premise for a reality television show. In China, it's a national scandal. The revelation that a Chinese couple were the proud parents of two sets of triplets and one set of twins launched a round of soul-searching about how the super-rich circumvent the one-child policy. It is a tangled case involving a wealthy couple, two surrogate mothers, a gaggle of nannies and, to top it off, a team of government bureaucrats scrambling to figure out how they all came together. A spokesman for the Health Office in Guangzhou, where the family lives, said the case poses "huge ethical problems." The babies have stirred up fiery emotions on Chinese Twitter-like microblogs and Internet forums. "In this society, if you have money, you can have miracles!" one sardonic university student wrote on his Sina Weibo microblog. "Having children is now a luxurious game for the rich," wrote a user in Guangzhou, the southern city where the [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2012]
A southern Chinese newspaper broke the news that the couple had four girls and four boys with the help of the two surrogates and in-vitro fertilization. The newspaper had been alerted to the case by an advertisement for a local children's photography studio. In the photo, the babies, who were born in September and October 2010, sit in a line against a pink backdrop wearing identical pink onesies and pointy white hats. Little is known about the family, which has moved away from its home amid the uproar. According to the article, the parents had tried to naturally reproduce for years before paying a surrogacy agency $158,000 for the procedure.A reporter from China Central Television interviewed former neighbors, who recalled witnessing an "extremely spectacular scene" when the family strolled around the complex to catch some sun. One neighbor said that the couple had used an American doctor for the in-vitro fertilization.
Many details reported in the state press focused on the family's wealth. The parents hired a team of 11 nannies to look after the children, at a monthly cost of $16,000. For one set of babies' one-month birthday, the parents held a prize drawing in which they gave away eight bars of gold. An anchorwoman on China Central Television said the intersection of abundant wealth and abundant children has had a discomforting effect on Chinese society. "Where does this discomfort come from? It comes from unfairness," she said. "Why? Because the vast majority of us strictly abide by the one-child policy. One family, one household, one child." There has been some discussion of publicly shaming and creating “bad credit” files for rich and famous people who mock the one-child policy. One multimillionaire businessman in Beijing, with three children, said he wasn't worried about such threats. He told the Times of London: “I have plenty of money, and if I want to spend that money on having more children I can afford to.”
News of rich family with eight children “unleashed a barrage of editorials in state media about the ethics of surrogacy and in-vitro fertilization.” "This completely topples the traditional meaning of parents," said an editorial in the official People's Daily. One editorial in China Daily denounced surrogacy as the "business of renting out organs." Patrick Chan, an obstetrics expert in Hong Kong, said the eight babies are either a result of good luck or extremely aggressive fertilization techniques. "From the sound of it, they just tried to have some kind of baby machine," he said. Chan said multiple births through in-vitro fertilization also carry the risk of severe complications such as premature delivery. "Doctors see twins as a complication of treatment," he said. "We don't intend to create multiples."
Wang Qi, the manager of surrogacy agency daiyunivf.com, said the scandal hasn't affected her business. The agency continues to be overwhelmed with applications from aspiring surrogate mothers, most of them "people who had emergencies and need a large sum of money." Sales, she said, have been "quite good." Wang is unperturbed by the media hype and the government response. "There are so many dark things in society," she said. "The woman caused quite a stir, but wait a few days and you won't hear anything more about it."
Surrogate Motherhood:, a Family Cottage Industry in Poor Chinese Villages
There are places in China where surrogate births are a major source of income. There are villages where the majority of women — many of whom have been recruited by relatives — rent out their wombs for the equivalent of US$15,000.Stephen Chen wrote in the South China Morning Post: “Investigators found villages in Hubei where most women of child-bearing age had acted as surrogate mothers. [Source: Stephen Chen, South China Morning Post, December 31, 2017]
“In some areas, most women of child bearing age had been hiring out their wombs, even though the practice was illegal, Thepaper.cn reported. The news portal’s investigation highlighted the case of a village in Hubei province, where more than 100 women were bearing the fertilised eggs of couples they had never met. Many of the women involved were related by birth or by marriage. “Some were introduced into the business by their mother-in-laws,” a villager told the Shanghai-based website. “Giving birth to a child can bring in more than a hundred thousand yuan. The mother and daughter in-laws never fought each other again. Money introduced harmony to the family,” another villager was quoted as saying.
The lifting of the one-child policy has led to a black market where shadowy agents, often operating in the guise of health consultants, charging more than 800,000 yuan for the birth of a healthy boy. Many agents operate in southern and southwestern cities such as Wuhan, Chongqing, Chengdu and Guangzhou, the report said. The surrogate mothers get a small cut of the money – usually between 100,000 and 200,000 yuan, but the women Thepaper.cn spoke to said they were satisfied with what they made.“We come from a poor mountainous area. It is very poor. It will take us way more than a decade to save 100,000 yuan,” a surrogate mother was quoted as saying.
After the confirming the pregnancy, the agent pays the woman 2,000 yuan a month. After three months, this increases to 10,000 yuan per month. From the fifth month, the monthly fee doubles to 20,000 until delivery. “I earn only 4,000 yuan working at a factory for more than a dozen hours a day,” another surrogate mother was quoted as saying. There was no indication as to whether the authorities would take action after the report. A surrogate agent in Hubei, told Thepaper that the women in the business came mostly from poor families. Most of them have previously given birth to their own children.
Wealthy Chinese Seek American Surrogate Mothers — and Green Cards
Chinese inquiries to agencies that match couples from around the world with American surrogates rose tenfold between 2012and 2012. Surrogacy in most cases is against the law in China, so many infertile couples use use American agencies. John Weltman, president of Circle Surrogacy, a Boston agency, told the IB Times said that North America was "unequivocally the safest country to do surrogacy in". American surrogacy offers Chinese couples the choice of deciding on the gender of the child, which is illegal in China. [Source: Fiona Keating, IB Times, February 1, 2014]
VOA News reported: Shanghai resident Tony Jiang and his wife Cherry have three children - all born in the United States to an American surrogate mother. Their daughter and twins were born in California. “The elder girl is now three years old," he told VOA. "The younger twins are now 13 months. The Jiangs are part of China’s booming business of families seeking American women to bear their children. The Jiangs had turned twice to domestic surrogates through military hospitals, which can legally perform the procedure. But the efforts were unsuccessful, so they contacted a surrogacy agency in the United States. There, they connected with Amanda, a California resident who prefers to only give her first name. She gave birth to all three of the Jiang children. Cherry was actually in the room with me when Nicole was born, and she actually got to witness the birth, and see Nicole come into this world," she said. "And she was so ecstatic, and she was crying, and she was just so happy.” [Source: Shannon Van Sant, VOA News, January 30, 2014]
“China’s relaxation last year of its one child policy, which allows couples to have two children if one of the parents is an only child, has led families to seek fertility options. But a regulation under the Ministry of Health bans surrogacy procedures at most Chinese hospitals. “So increasing numbers of wealthy Chinese couples are seeking fertility options in the United States, a decision that comes with many benefits. Under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, anyone born in the United States has a right to citizenship. U.S. citizens may also apply for green cards for their parents when they turn 21. So-called “designer babies” draw interest from some Chinese couples who favor eggs from tall, American or European donors. Gender selection is also an option through in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures in the United States. Tony Jiang started an agency in Shanghai that consults with Chinese couples on their fertility options. He said most people, like him and his wife, seek surrogate mothers abroad because of fertility problems. They choose the United States because of its superior health care system and opt for a gestational pregnancy. “
Reuters reported: “Some wealthy Chinese say they want a bolt-hole overseas because they fear they will the targets of public or government anger if there were more social unrest in China. There is also a perception that their wealth will be better protected in countries with a stronger rule of law.. At least one Chinese agent promotes surrogacy as a cheaper alternative to America's EB-5 visa, which requires a minimum investment in a job creating business of $500,000. While the basic surrogacy package Chinese agencies offer costs between $120,000 and $200,000, "if you add in plane tickets and other expenses, for only $300,000, you get two children and the entire family can emigrate to the U.S.," said a Shanghai-based agent. Intended parents typically pay the surrogate between $22,000 and $30,000, an agency fee of about $17,000 to $20,000 and legal fees of up to $13,000. If egg donation is required, that can cost an additional $15,000 and pre-natal care and delivery fees can run between $9,000 and $16,000. [Source: Alexandra Harney, Reuters, Sep 22, 2013]
“Technically, Chinese who deliver their second child overseas still violate family planning policies, but in practice the government has little way to enforce this, says Zhong Tao, a Shanghai-based lawyer who has handled similar cases. Obtaining a Chinese household registration, which is necessary to enjoy subsidized health care and enroll for lower tuition as a local student in state schools, is more complicated, if not impossible for second children. For children who are foreign citizens, parents must apply for visas and residence permits."
“Chinese surrogacy clients typically want to use their own eggs and sperm, which allows them to have a child who is fully biologically theirs, agents said. A growing number, though, are open to egg donation. Often Chinese donors will seek ethnically Chinese or Asian egg donors, commonly with Ivy League degrees. But others want tall, Eurasian children, agents said. "Lots of clients that are Chinese do use tall blond donors," said Jennifer Garcia, case coordinator at Extraordinary Conceptions, a Carlsbad, California-based agency where 40 percent of clients are Chinese. Agents said that clients believe these taller, bi-racial children will be smarter and better looking. Chinese clients also often request boys, a consequence of a cultural preference for boy children. While sex-selective abortion is illegal - though still common - in China, gender selection is technically straightforward through IVF in the United States, where it is used in surrogacy cases. Genetic screening also allows intended parents to rule out inherited conditions. "You can basically make a designer baby nowadays," said Garcia.
Chinese Celebrity Scandal Bring Attention to Surrogate Births
In 2021, the South China Morning Post published a 2019 recording that appeared to show Chinese actress Zheng Shuang and her former partner, producer Zhang Heng, deciding to abandon two children arranged with a surrogate mother before they were even born following the end of their relationship. Heng, Shuang and their parents talked about the fate of the then-unborn children. Shuang’s father purportedly made the suggestion to abandon the children at the hospital. The actress herself was frustrated over the fact that they could no longer abort the unborn babies as they were already seven months in the womb. [Source: Ryan General, Nextshark, January 22, 2021]
Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li wrote in the New York Times: “The scandal already seemed tailor-made for celebrity websites and online gossips: A glamorous Chinese actress stood accused by her estranged partner of abandoning two surrogate babies they had decided to have together, stranding him in the United States to take care of them. When his allegations hit the Chinese internet, the outrage couldn’t be confined to the gossip pages. The accusations against the actress, Zheng Shuang, have dominated conversation online and drawn a fiery response from the public, from the state-run news media and even from a powerful Communist Party legal group on the subject of reproduction. China’s limits on people seeking surrogate mothers should be tightened, officials have argued. Beyond the salacious details of the celebrity breakup, the scandal surrounding Ms. Zheng touches on sensitive topics for a country that has a troubled history with women’s reproductive rights and that remains largely wedded to traditional notions of family. [Source: Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li, New York Times, January 20, 2021]
The scandal came to light through recordings of Ms. Zheng’s conversations that were posted online, then widely reported on in the Chinese news media. Ms. Zheng’s father, Zheng Chenghua, said on his verified account on Weibo, the popular Chinese social media platform, that the recordings were only snippets and lacked context. He did not respond to a request for comment. Attorneys for Ms. Zheng and her former partner, a television producer named Zhang Heng, did not respond to requests for comment. It wasn’t clear why they were using surrogates.
At one point in the recording, in a moment that has drawn particular anger in China, Ms. Zheng seems to express frustration that the pregnancies were several months along and couldn’t be ended. Mr. Zheng said online that Mr. Zhang was trying to force his daughter into a settlement to resolve a $3 million legal judgment she had won against him for a loan she said he hadn’t paid back. Mr. Zhang is appealing that decision in a Shanghai court. In one of the recordings, Ms. Zheng tells her parents and Mr. Zhang’s that if she and Mr. Zhang ever get back together, they can still have children using her frozen, fertilized eggs.
On her official social media account, Ms. Zheng, 29 — who just a few years ago topped the list of China’s most popular actresses — said her fight with Mr. Zhang, 30, was “a very sad and private matter for me.” She has found little sympathy. The luxury fashion brand Prada said it had canceled her contract as a brand ambassador, as did a cosmetics company and a watchmaker. China’s top industry award committee stripped Ms. Zheng of her 2016 title as “Best Actress in Modern Chinese TV Dramas” and 2014 title as a “Top Ten Favorite TV Star.”
China Central Television, the main state broadcaster, issued its own condemnation of surrogacy on Weibo. “Its disregard for life is heinous,” it said. Without mentioning Ms. Zheng’s name, the broadcaster said surrogacy could lead to wanton discarding of a fetus, for example if the couple wanted a boy instead of a girl. In the 1990s, China made it illegal to identify the sex of a fetus in an effort to prevent gender-based abortions, which have led to millions more men than women because of a traditional preference for boys. That same day, the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission accused Ms. Zheng of “taking advantage of legal loopholes” to organize a surrogate pregnancy.
Amid the rising public anger toward Ms. Zheng, women’s rights groups have expressed frustration that Mr. Zhang is receiving less criticism. Women are often blamed for reproductive decisions made with their partners, said Feng Yuan, a women’s rights activist and co-founder of a women’s rights nonprofit group in Beijing, leading to tighter restrictions on the services women use. “The main topic of the debate is about surrogacy, but Zheng Shuang seems to be the only target, and netizens avoid Zhang Heng,” Ms. Feng said, using a term for internet users in China.
Single Chinese Women Head Overseas to Freeze Their Eggs
China prohibits fertility treatments for unmarried women. As a result a growing number of single Chinese women have gone abroad to have their eggs frozen as a way to keep their option of having children in the future open. According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China, assisted reproductive technologies are denied to “single women and couples who are not in line with the nation’s population and family planning regulations.” Even married women must provide proof of marriage, a license to give birth and evidence either of infertility or of medical treatments that could impair fertility, such as chemotherapy. [Source: Sinosphere, New York Times, August 30, 2016]
In 2016, the New York Times’s Sinosphere reported: “The restrictions have been driven in part by population controls that have been in place since 1979. The recent easing of those controls, allowing all families two children, do not apply to unmarried women. “There is still a lack of enthusiasm for reproductive technologies, because the government is worried about the negative impact on its population policies, and possible problems like a black market for human eggs,” said Wang Hongxia, a researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences specializing in urban and demographic development. “So the solution was to ban them at the cost of reproductive rights for certain groups, like unmarried women.”
“Determined single women circumvent the law by leaving China. Among them is Ye Qinmin, 39, an interior designer in Shanghai who had her eggs frozen at a reproductive clinic in Canada. “The government shouldn’t have a say about my ovaries just because I’m not married,” she said. In addition, Ms. Wang said, “The idea of women having babies out of wedlock is in conflict with the sense of moral order within the society.”
“Medical consultancies have begun to capitalize on this trend, bridging the gap between Chinese citizens and foreign fertility clinics. “We’ve seen a 10 to 15 percent annual increase in demand for services in the U.S. in the last three years,” said Yang Jie, the marketing director of Travel Healthcare, an agency in Shanghai that cooperates with Oregon Reproductive Medicine. The agency assists clients with visa applications, airport pickups, housing, translators, even Mandarin-speaking drivers. “Whatever our clients need, we will arrange for them,” Ms. Yang said.
“She added that Travel Healthcare also held seminars and promoted its services to employees of major companies in Shanghai. Some American clinics have also set up offices in China. Six doctors at HRC Fertility, a California-based chain of clinics, established Mengmei, which now has offices in 10 Chinese cities. Its website reads: “We offer reproductive services to L.G.B.T.s, H.I.V. patients and single women to help them achieve their dreams.” “Most of our clients are affluent and well-educated Chinese women in their 30s,’’ said Deng Xuyang, Mengmei’s chief executive. “They are open enough to seek the service and can afford it.” In the United States, egg freezing typically costs between $11,000 and $16,000, and annual storage fees range from $450 to $600. “We partner with different companies to reach out to potential clients,” Mr. Deng said. “We also work with real estate groups to combine open houses abroad with visits to our clinics.’’
“According to data from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, 33 out of 51 clinics in California provide services tailored to Chinese clients, such as documents and websites in Chinese, and Chinese-speaking staff. However, the rising popularity of the procedure among Chinese women has not yet matched its outcomes. According to Dr. Kevin Doody, the society’s president-elect, from 2009 to 2014, the number of egg-freezing cycles in the United States rose from 568 to 6,165. For this same five-year period, however, the live birthrate from thawed eggs was just below 24 percent, he said in an interview. Both the quality and quantity of a woman’s eggs decline over time, especially after the age of 34. And the procedure can have side effects.
Story of Chinese Women Who Had Her Eggs Frozen
Sinosphere reported: The anesthesia was administered, and Lu Yi gradually lost consciousness. Over the next 30 minutes, a doctor retrieved eight eggs from her body. They were transferred to a liquid nitrogen storage chamber. Ms. Lu has a business degree from Stanford University and founded a company in Shanghai that connects Chinese cancer patients with American medical specialists. But like many other women, she has found it difficult to pursue both career and family. “I knew at some point I might want to have children, but definitely not now,” said Ms. Lu, who is single. [Source: Sinosphere, New York Times, August 30, 2016]
“So last year, at the age of 34, she decided to have her eggs frozen.“That there even was such an option was unknown to much of the Chinese public until 2015, when the actress Xu Jinglei posted on Weibo that she had gone to the United States to have her eggs frozen in 2013. “It was the first time that many of us learned that this technology exists,” Ms. Lu said. “We thought, if she can do it, why can’t I?”
“Ms. Lu was in the 1 percent of patients who experienced ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome from the medication that promotes egg growth. “I looked like I was eight months pregnant by the end of day five,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I would be able to continue. But I kept telling myself, I must go on, I will go on.”
“Ms. Lu chronicled her experiences on WeChat, the microblog service, and received more than 100,000 views. She also set up a group chat with more than 100 Chinese women who were either considering or were in the process of having their eggs frozen. “We share information, support each other,’’ Ms. Lu said. “Some even go to the U.S. together for the procedure.”
“Ms. Xu’s account of her own experience set off a public debate in China over access to fertility treatments. CCTV, the state broadcaster, responded to her statement with a six-minute segment on egg-freezing that reiterated the restrictions. But a Weibo poll conducted after the show attracted more than 83,000 respondents, with nearly 80 percent voting against the ban on egg freezing for unmarried women. For now, Ms. Lu continues to focus on her company, while holding onto the thought that she has bought herself more time to attend to her personal life. Looking back on her decision to freeze her eggs, she said, “It changed nothing and everything.”
More Chinese Seek In-Vitro Fertilization and Sperm Banks
In the Mao era infertility treatments other than herbal remedies didn’t really exist. Today if you have enough money, many of the treatments available in the West are also available in China. The first fertility clinics opened up in the late 1990s. Demand increased and there wre almost 200 of them in the 2000s. Some couples sought treatment to have twins or triplets as way of getting around the one-child policy.
More than 40 million Chinese are now considered infertile, according to the Chinese Population Association. The incidence of infertility quadrupled between 1993 and 2013 s to 12.5 percent of people of childbearing age. Some of these are seeking in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment — in which an egg and sperm are combined in a laboratory dish and the resulting embryo transferred to a woman's uterus — in China and abroad. . [Source: Alexandra Harney, Reuters, Sep 22, 2013]
Louise Watt of Associated Press wrote: “China's decision to allow all married couples to have two children is driving a surge in demand for fertility treatment among older women, putting heavy pressure on clinics and breaking down past sensitivities, and even shame, about the issue. The rise in in vitro fertilization points to the deferred dreams of many parents who long wanted a second child, but were prevented by the One-Child Policy. That, in turn, is shifting prevailing attitudes in China regarding fertility treatments — formerly a matter of such sensitivity that couples were reluctant to tell even their parents or other family members that they were having trouble conceiving. "More and more women are coming to ask to have their second child," said Dr. Liu Jiaen, who runs a private hospital in Beijing treating infertility through IVF. [Source: Louise Watt, Associated Press, May 29, 2016]
“Liu estimated that the numbers of women coming to him for IVF had risen by 20 percent since the relaxation of the One-Child policy, which came into effect in 2016. Before, the average age of his patients was about 35. Now most of them are older than 40 and some of the women are fast approaching 50, he said. "They have a very low chance to get pregnant so they are in a hurry. They really want to have a child as soon as possible," he said. “ Over the past two decades, IVF technology has developed rapidly in China. In 2014, 700,000 women had IVF treatments, according to the health commission's Women's and Children's Department, which said in a statement that demand for all types of fertility treatment had risen following the policy relaxation, including the use of traditional Chinese medicine.
“Chen Yun is 39 and was in the hospital waiting to have the procedure for the first time. She and her husband already have a 7-year-old son and their families are encouraging them to have a second child. "We are coming to the end of our childbearing years. It may be difficult for me to get pregnant naturally because my husband's sperm may have a problem, so we want to resolve this problem through IVF," she said. Chen said she hoped having a brother or sister would make their son happier, more responsible and less self-absorbed."We had siblings when we were children. I had a younger sister and we felt very happy when playing together," she said. "Now that every couple has one child, two generations — parents and grandparents — take care of the child. They give the only child too much attention." If her son has a younger brother or sister to look out for, he may not "think too much about himself like a little emperor," Chen said.
“Also under pressure are China's sperm banks, which already suffer shortages owing to a reluctance to donate among young Chinese men unwilling to father children they won't know or fearing their offspring may turn up at their door one day despite donor confidentiality. "The relaxing of the one-child policy certainly gave an impetus to the demand for sperm as more women, usually aged around or above 35, came for assistance," said Zhang Xinzong, director of the Guangdong Sperm Bank in southern China.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2021