From China to U.S., families navigate laws and COVID rules for surrogacy births : NPR



Chinese families navigate a maze of laws and COVID rules to have babies in the U.S.

October 22, 20226:00 AM ET

Emily Feng at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., March 19, 2019. (photo by Allison Shelley)

Emily Feng

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, California — Inside a three-story pastel mansion in this quiet suburb south of Los Angeles, Auntie Wang cradles a 2-week-old baby girl named Echo.

“The more time you spend with her, the more she is attached to you,” says Auntie Wang, who moved to the United States seven years ago from China. “You hold her, play with her, engage with her and look, she responds to you.”

The agency she works for, called Fat Daddy, specializes in these services for clients in China — where providingsurrogacy is effectively prohibited.

The company is one part of a well-established industry centered in California that also includes the controversialservice of bringing Chinese mothers to the U.S. to give birth to their children, known as “birth tourism.”

But for nearly three years, the whole industry has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic and China’s travel restrictions, which have been among the tightest in the world. In 2020, Beijing completely shut the country’s border to contain COVID-19 and has never fully reopened them.

That has meant Chinese parents cannot fly to the U.S. to meet or vet their surrogate in person. Instead, clients have had to send their reproductive samples — eggs, sperm or both — via special delivery to the U.S. so the surrogacy can take place.

For Chinese parents with the financial means, a popular option remains the U.S., where surrogacy is legal in most states.

“America has everything. America is a good country — as long as you know what you want,” says one Chinese birth tourism agent based in California. He does not want to give his name because China bans providing such services.”Having children in the U.S. will always bring advantages, because America is a country for immigrants.”

It is difficult to know how many Chinese couples use surrogacy services in California because the state’s health department says it does not keep track. But NPR spoke to several agencies that suggested there were hundreds, if not thousands of cases in the state a year.

The co-founder of Fat Daddy, Zheng, says there are many reasons clients want to use his company’s services.

Having a baby, even via surrogate in the U.S., also grants the child coveted American citizenship. Perhaps surprisingly, Zheng says the growing competition between the U.S. and China has actually made American citizenship more attractive to many families.

“In the foreseeable future, China and the U.S. will definitely be the two strongest countries in the world,” he says. “If the U.S. is not the first, then China will be and it will definitely be a win-win situation for your children in the future if they have both these nationalities.”

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