Oocyte Cryopreservation And Surrogacy: An Emerging Business Targeting Elite Women In China

摘要: In modern society, people are just beginning to be ready both mentally and physically for marriage when they turn 30. But during this time most people are in the crucial state in terms of their career development. Many women believe that getting pregnant would make you stupid for three years and something like that. It sounds silly, but marriage and pregnancy do play a huge role in women’s career development. We hope that oocyte cryopreservation and artificial insemination can help lengthen women’s career peak time.

(Chinese Version)

Xiaoman’s child is coming back from America in five months. At present, this baby is still growing inside Amanda’s womb. This year Xiaoman will turn 33, and she is able to become a single mom like her wishes to be, free of the pain brought by the delivery process and complicated marriage.

Xiaoman’s plan is definitely more relaxed than those who go to America to deliver the baby themselves. According to the plan, Xiaoman only needs to stay in America for two weeks. Through an overseas medical agency in Beijing, Xiaoman got in contact with an assisted reproductive hospital in Los Angeles. The agency had scheduled everything for Xiaoman, from the physical test, the egg acquisition, to artificial insemination. The biological father’s semen has already arrived at the hospital and is ready for the procedure. Xiaoman has never met the biological father, and either of them knows each other’s identity.

In 2013, Xu Jinglei was also in Los Angeles for oocyte cryopreservation. Her action created a big stir and attracted great public attention, especial among women of higher class. These women we are talking about here are those who have received college education and enjoy a relatively high salary. Now, Xiaoman is taking one step further by getting a surrogacy.

Xiaoman’s decision

On the second day in America, Xiaoman woke up early and drove almost three hours from the hotel to the hospital. Xiaoman didn’t eat anything or drink a single drop of water for the physical test. And she fainted during the blood examination. When she woke up, she found herself having been transferred to a private patient’s room with the doctors and translator by her side. They prepared energy drink and some food for her.

On that day, the doctor prescribed her some medicine for the surgery and put off the blood examination, telling her that she should eat something before coming to the hospital next time and that that won’t affect the egg acquisition or artificial insemination. In the following ten days, Xiaoman would need to give herself three injections of medicine that help her produce eggs everyday to insure the egg acquisition.

Eventually, Xiaoman had her first menstrual period in America, and that’s the time her child was born. Xiaoman went to the hospital for the very last time. The 20-square-meter hospital room was painted in milky white, with warm yellow light glowing inside. The hospital room didn’t reek of alcohol or disinfectant like those back in China.

Xiaoman laid peacefully on the bed. She didn’t really feel nervous or anxious. The doctors, nurses, translator, and anesthetist surrounded her, helping her adjust the bed and indoor temperature. At that moment, Xiaoman felt like the experience was even nicer than lying on a beach somewhere. As the anesthetic slowly entered her system, Xiaoman fell asleep. Then a thin needle pierced through her vaginal wall and acquired 30 eggs out of her body.

After 30 minutes, she woke up and saw the doctors and physicians were watching her. “Their smile felt even warmer than my parents’,” she said.

Xiaoman was lucky. The 30 extracted eggs were in perfect shape and that’s almost the best result she could get. When she finally left the hospital, a Chinese woman who came with her couldn’t have any usable egg due to age and physical factors. Xiaoman still remembers that the woman was crying all her way out of the hospital.

In China, assisted reproductive services like surrogacy are not yet recognized by the government, and therefore single women in China and only go overseas for Oocyte cryopreservation, surrogacy, and test-tube baby service.

The Human Assisted Reproductive Technologies Management Notice issued in 2001 stipulates: “The application of assisted reproductive technologies shall be conducted in medical institution, and for the sole purpose of medicine use.” The later human Assisted Reproductive Technologies Regulations also clearly stipulates that it’s forbidden to provide assisted reproductive services that do not follow the birth control law and regulation for couples and single women.

In 2015, Ministry of Public Health of China stated once more that single women in China are not allowed to use Oocyte cryopreservation and surrogacy service. To enjoy oocyte cryopreservation service, the applicant must show the ID card, marriage certificate and pregnancy permit.

On February 8th 2017, the National Health and Family Planning Commission of the People's Republic of China emphasized on the topic of surrogacy, stating that the country would crack down surrogacy.

What angers these women is that the Human Semen Bass Protocols do not forbid men from storing their semen.

The policies bound women’s reproductive rights with marriage and family, and traditional ethics also object those that give birth to children without a husband. The advancing technologies and the lagging policies are inevitably nurturing a grey market of surrogacy and egg trade in China.

Luckily, Xiaoman found a feasible way to achieve her goal.

Nine out of the 30 eggs from her successfully joined with the semen and became fertilized eggs. It’s five boys and four girls. These eggs were then store in a container in -196 Celsius. The nine eyes looked like three planets in the microscope, waiting to nurture life.

When the policies in China are limiting such services, the market of overseas assisted reproduction services becomes hotter. The consumption upgrade driven by technologies is disrupting individuals’ perception on reproduction and life.

There are four major groups of clients in the overseas oocyte cryopreservation market, among which the group of single young women from cities is becoming larger and larger.

Single young women’s fashionable lifestyle

As China’s single population in first tier cities continues to rise and the second child policy takes effect, medical agencies related to overseas assisted reproductive services started to emerge massively since early 2016 in first tier cities. To date there are over ten agencies that have gathered quite a scale. Most of these agencies are actually business expansions of study abroad agencies. They possess a compatible client base, which is young people, as well as are able to reach medical resources overseas.

And to these agencies’ surprise, it’s actually single urban women group that becomes the ever-growing group that demand for such service. Other groups include families that lost their child, families ready for a second child, and lesbians.

Chen Erdong, founder of a Shanghai-based Oocyte cryopreservation agency, even thought that: “Overseas oocyte cryopreservation service is becoming a new lifestyle. It’s just like brunch or high tea.”

Oocyte cryopreservation technology was developed in the 80s. However, the low temperature would harden the cell and therefore the fertility rate had always been low. Early this century, researchers started to adopt the intracytoplasmic sperm injection method and the fertility rate was greatly improved.

Vitrification technique came after that. It shortens the freezing time. Now it only takes one second to lower the cell’s temperature from human body temperature to -196 Celsius while keeping the cell in good shape. In the past the whole process took two hours. This increase the success rate by nearly ten times.

Safety and success rate of overseas oocyte cryopreservation service are no longer a concern for Chinese clients.

Youyi who just signed a contract with the agency is now 25 years old. She graduated from an Ivy league university with a master degree and works as a market and sales personnel at a big company in Shanghai. She plans to go to America for oocyte cryopreservation this Spring Festival, which saves her from being nagged by relatives and families and blind date setups.

“It’s like the first day of the summer vacation and you have already got all the answers of the homework. The only thing that’s left is to write them down on the homework when you have time.”

It costs ¥200,000 to do the oocyte cryopreservation. But for young women with high salary who have received western education and a well off family background, that won’t cause much of a trouble to their financial situation. Technology and capital have provided the freedom that women in the past could never dream of. And they gain a sense of achievement defying the natural law.

“Many girls would feel that the pressure of marriage comes from the outside. However, this pressure now is gradually coming from the inside, slowing shaping your opinions on love, marriage and romance options. Individuals are becoming part of the tradition, and naturally abandon personal freedom,” Chen said.

Xiaoman is steps ahead of other girls and more determined. She has always wanted to be a single mom.

In early 2015, a mass wave of loneliness hit Xiaoman like never before. All her besties have already married someone and some even have kids now. Every time they got together, the conversation was always about kids and their relationship with the mother in law. What’s more, Xiaoman was tired of all the blind dates set up by her families and the pressure of marriage on her. That’s the moment Xiaoman started to feel that maybe it’s time to make her wish in the past a reality: have a mixed race child.

At that time, there was very few agencies in China that offer such services. It took Xiaoman quite some time to find one with successful cases of single woman having oocyte cryopreservation and surrogacy in America.

The first step is choosing a semen provider. Xiaoman chose a semen bank in California. Semen banks are categorized into three categories, with a price of tens of dollars, over one hundred dollars, and two hundred dollars. Every semen donor has a detailed info page that shows their personal information and family. They even have their childhood photo there. “It’s like shopping on JD and Taobao. That’s how I felt when browsing through all those men on the display,” she said.

Xiaoman chose the donor mainly based on the appearance. In the end she picked an American white man that’s 189 cm tall and with a master degree in Biology. The donor looks like Salvatore from Nuovo cinema Paradiso on his childhood photo.

“Look at this one. He is handsome, but looks sort of sad,” Xiaoman showed me another man she put on the list. “We Chinese say you can tell somebody’s future when he reaches three years old. I think from a guy’s expression you can see into his heart.” However, from my point of view, the boy only looks a bit “sad” due to the low light condition.

The second step is find a surrogacy mother. That was a greater challenge for Xiaoman when she came back from the U.S. Surrogacy mother is the most expensive part of the whole process and requires more energy and attention.

In America there are only four states that have legalized surrogacy. That’s also why Xiaoman picked the hospital in L.A. The cost of surrogacy is around $150,000 to $200,000. Xiaoman doesn’t really trust black Americans and Latin Americans, so she could only choose from a few white surrogacy mothers.

The surrogacy deal is mutual. The mother Xiaoman likes might not like Xiaoman. The agency translated all the materials in to Chinese for Xiaoman. Every surrogacy mother has 20 – 30 pages of information, and Xiaoman had to read all of them to make a decision.

The first surrogacy Xiaoman approached questioned Xiaoman’s decision of not carrying the baby herself. Xiaoman replied her with a long letter, explaining that women that get pregnant without a husband are discriminated and suffer from injustice in China, and that surrogacy would make her status less controversial. Xiaoman also mentioned in the letter that the baby would have America’s citizenship and that would be beneficial. However, her letter couldn’t convince the surrogacy mother.

The second surrogacy mother she approached decided to leave for a long trip the day before signing the surrogacy contract. So it didn’t work either.

In the end, Xiaoman signed the contract with Amanda. Amanda has a bachelor degree and works for the USPS. In her free time, she is also a yoga coach. Amanda talks in a soft and beautiful voice. Besides all that, Amanda is a single mom as well. In Xiaoman’s opinion, Amanda is the perfect surrogacy mother she can hope for.

A market of billions

Chen Erdong has been considered “women’s friend” for years. In early 2016, he expanded an oocyte cryopreservation business from his original study abroad agency.

Although the new business is not making money yet, Chen Erdong has strong faith in the business as he was able to amass 30 seed users in one year. At present, he is supporting the oocyte cryopreservation business with the money from his study abroad business.

Chen believes that in the future, oocyte cryopreservation would become a mainstream choice for elite women. “I could have a partner, but he doesn’t have to be my husband. I choose to have a baby, and I could do it in a modern way.

For instance, you pick a sperm donor from the semen bank, and use your egg to have a baby. When this baby comes into the world, you will have less pressure. And you don’t have any responsible from the biological father. The only thing you have to do is take care of your baby.”

During all these years being a women’s friend, Chen Erdong had witnessed many elite women around him that were around 30 years old going through anxiety from marriage. Before these women turn 30, the pressure is there but doesn’t really inflict great anxiety. But when they do turn 30, that becomes a completely different story.

This makes them the weridos in society. They are kidnapped by the pressure from society, traditions. Under these circumstances, they tend to be very easy with their marriage choice, or even reckless. They are like people drowning in the sea, and they will grab whatever they can get their hands on to stay alive.

Oocyte cryopreservation technology in some way eases their anxiety. “It’s like a failsafe. You buy it and you can leave it be.”

“I think it’s the world’s best failsafe,” the 42-year-old actress Xu Jinglei said on her Weibo. In contrast to that, the founder of a Beijing-based overseas assisted reproduction agency believes that oocyte cryopreservation is so much more than that.

“In modern society, people are just beginning to be ready both mentally and physically for marriage when they turn 30. But during this time most people are in the crucial state in terms of their career development. Many women believe that getting pregnant would make you stupid for three years and something like that. It sounds silly, but marriage and pregnancy do play a huge role in women’s career development. We hope that oocyte cryopreservation and artificial insemination can help lengthen women’s career peak time.”

“In modern society, people are just beginning to be ready both mentally and physically for marriage when they turn 30. But during this time most people are in the crucial state in terms of their career development. Many women believe that getting pregnant would make you stupid for three years and something like that. It sounds silly, but marriage and pregnancy do play a huge role in women’s career development. We hope that oocyte cryopreservation and artificial insemination can help lengthen women’s career peak time.”

From Chen Erdong’s perspective, this service market will be worth billions in China in the future. He plans to garner 200 more female clients in 2017 with his 30 seed users. “In the long run, if we can have a stable client flow of 10,000 every year in China, the market will already be huge.”

The final step

Ever since she made the decision of becoming a single mom, Xiaoman has been posting her progress on Weibo. This also gets her many doubts and even nasty attacks from Internet trolls. In every post’s comment section, there are always people expressing concern for the kid’s mental health in the future. And there are also people commenting that Xiaoman must be a very difficult woman to live with and she couldn’t find a man. Some even question Xiaoman that if she’s playing god and trying to make a perfect pet. There are also feminists and LGBTQ people supporting her choice.

Xiaoman never paid much attention to those comments and the labels she got from others. Right now, the only thing that has captivated her heart is her child overseas that’s still growing up in the surrogacy mother’s womb. She believes her child will be proud of what she is doing now, that his mother has the money and capacity to pull all these off and bring him to the world.

She also strongly believes that this family will give more love to the baby. “Surely, this doesn’t sound perfect. But there no such thing as a perfect family to begin with. At least, I can make sure that my child is not in a terrible one.”

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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Liu Peng, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Garrett Lee (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.

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