HYDERBAD, India,— April 27, 2010 -- Victor and Mary Hui-Wee tried for more than 20 years to have a child, testing the limits of medical science. They attempted in-vitro fertilization at least three times, with no success and $45,000 in medical bills.
After finding it difficult to adopt in the U.S. because of their age (she is 43, he is 48) , the couple left their home in Kalamazoo, Mich. and traveled half way around the world to India. The couple joined a growing number of Americans who are hiring Indian women to be surrogate mothers to their babies.
Another of those Americans, Brad Fister, came to a hospital in Hyderabad, India after he and his partner Michael Griebe were unable to arrange a surrogacy in the U.S.
"We had a lot of legal complications with the surrogate," said Fister.
An agency called 'Surrogacy Abroad' offered him a simpler solution and a second chance, arranging everything for roughly $50,000 -- less than half of what it usually costs in the U.S.
Using Fister's sperm and a donor egg, an embryo was created and implanted into a surrogate.
The surrogate was prohibited from using her own eggs out of concern that she might feel an attachment to the child.
Nine months later, Fister and Griebe had the baby girl of their dreams they named Ashton.
India is one of the few countries in the world where international surrogacy is available. Other countries include Panama, Malaysia, Ukraine, Georgia, and Guatemala.
In Hyderabad's Kiran Hospital, as many as 15 surrogates are pregnant at any given time.
Critics call places like these "baby factories," and claim that the women who carry the babies are vulnerable to exploitation. Most of the women are poor and uneducated, and live in cramped conditions in the hospital which they're allowed to leave only once or twice a week.
International Surrogacy Gives Women Opportunity
But surrogacy can also be a life-changing opportunity for Indian women.
Rama Devi is a 28-year-old mother of two who used to make just $2 a day as a shop assistant.
"I was having serious financial problems," said Devi, according to an ABC News translation. "I thought this might be a good way to help my family."
As a surrogate, Devi will earn $6,000 for carrying a baby, paid out in installments during the course of her pregnancy, ABC News was told. The money she says will be enough to pay off her debts and educate her children.
The rest of the $45,000 cost of a surrogacy package is split between the hospital, which receives roughly $20,000, and an agency like 'Surrogacy Abroad,' which takes around $15,000.
Reproductive tourism is now a $500 million business with hundreds of clinics across the country offering surrogacy.
There is concern, though, that with no legislation governing the industry and so much money on the table, commercial surrogacy has also become a breeding ground for unethical practices. There are reports of couples being swindled and of dermatologists masking as fertility doctors to cash in.
"What happens is infertile couples are very easy to exploit," said Dr. Aniruddha Malpani, an infertility specialist in Mumbai, India. "A very common racket is to say, we will take the payment and then at 14 weeks, 'Oh, I'm very sorry to tell you that the woman miscarried.'"
But for many couples, the benefits of a successful surrogacy far outweigh any risks.
Mary and Victor Hui-Wee's Indian journey ended blissfully with a beautiful baby boy.
"It just was a dream come true to actually see him," said Mary Hui-Wee. "And he's ours. He's beautiful."