FROM ITS POCKMARKED EXTERIOR WALLS and stark interior, you’d never guess that the pink three-story building tucked in a narrow alley a few blocks from the train station in the fast-growing city of Anand houses India’s most successful surrogate childbirth business. But this is the place they raved about on Oprah. Nowadays, thanks to the endorsement of daytime TV’s leading lady, the Akanksha Infertility Clinic fertilizes eggs, implants and incubates embryos, and finally delivers contract babies at a rate of nearly one a week.
Doctor Nayna Patel, Akanksha’s founder, has just finished washing up after delivering twins by cesarean section. A team of nurses ushers me into her office from an adjoining one where I’ve had a chance to peruse a stack of press clippings lauding her accomplishments and contributions to international fertility. For the last three to four years, Patel has been the subject of dozens of gushing articles in addition to that game-changing 2007 Oprah segment, which all but heralded Patel as a savior of childless middle-class couples and helped open the floodgates for the outsourcing of American pregnancies. Patel took the publicity to the bank—autographed photos of Ms. Winfrey are displayed prominently throughout the clinic, which claims a waiting list hundreds deep and receives at least a dozen new inquiries from potential surrogacy customers each week.
The doctor, clad in a bright red-and-orange sari, sits at a large desk that covers about a third of the room. Heavy diamond jewelry dangles from her neck, ears, and wrists. Her wide grin projects a mixture of politeness and caution as she beckons me to sit in a rolling office chair. I showed up here without an appointment, fearing Patel would refuse to see me if I phoned in advance: Despite all the laudatory press, in the weeks prior to my visit a spate of critical articles had appeared, focusing on the clinic’s controversial practice of cloistering its hired surrogate mothers in dormitories. Among the claims: Akanksha is little more than a baby factory. “The world will point a finger at me,” Patel responds when I ask about the criticism. “She will point, he will point. I don’t have to keep answering people for that.”
As if to prove it, she politely evades my questions for 20 minutes, and then escorts me out. I had hoped to get her take on the residency units, but it’s not a topic she cares to discuss.