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Chinese couples who are unable to have children are turning to a surprising place for help these days: the United States. By hiring American surrogates, Chinese couples get around a ban on surrogacy in China. They also get around the country's birth limits. And in doing so, they guarantee their children something many wealthy Chinese want these days. That's a U.S. passport. NPR's Frank Langfitt has more.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Tony Jiang and his wife, Cherry, live in Shanghai and couldn't have children naturally. First, they turned to underground hospitals in China for surrogacy. It didn't go well. Tony says one of the surrogates ran away.
TONY JIANG: It was almost Chinese New Year's break. She became so homesick, so she fly back home. My wife was just two or three days away from embryo transfer. That was really ridiculous and disappointing.
LANGFITT: So, Tony got online and found a fertility clinic in Orange County, California. Three years and $275,000 later, Tony and Cherry have a son and two girls, which, had they all been born in China, would've broken the law. The couple now works for the clinic, connecting it with Chinese clients, the vast majority of whom, Tony says, suffer from infertility. Others clients have included homosexuals and those barred from having a second child. Tony's first clients were a couple, both Communist Party members, who worked at a government-owned firm.
JIANG: They already become leaders in their companies. How could leaders, you know, violated this kind of regulations? You could be easily laid off if somebody know you already have two kids.
LANGFITT: The wife had nearly died giving birth to their first son. The couple did have a second child through surrogacy, who, because he was born overseas, didn't violate Chinese law. Still, they're very cautious about appearances.
JIANG: Only their closest friends, relatives, know they have two boys. All their colleagues, leaders or their boss don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Passport.
LANGFITT: Chinese women routinely fly to the U.S. to give birth, so their children can get an American passport and enjoy the benefits that come with it, including clean air and a U.S. education. Birth tourism is so common, it provided the plot for a popular movie last year called "Finding Mr. Right."
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AMY KAPLAN: My name is Amy Kaplan, and I'm the director of West Coast Surrogacy and West Coast Egg Donation.
LANGFITT: Kaplan says Chinese surrogacy took off in recent years through word of mouth. Her clinic, which helped and now employs Tony Jiang, saw their first Chinese client in 2009.
KAPLAN: And as I look at it now, those incoming clients that are waiting for a surrogate, we currently have 47 percent from mainland China.
LANGFITT: There are no hard numbers on Chinese surrogacies. But Kaplan figures, in California alone, there are perhaps several hundred right now. She says her firm only works with clients who can show a medical need for surrogacy, not those who just want a passport for their kid. Kaplan says perfectly healthy couples have forged medical records to try to meet the requirements.
KAPLAN: The surrogates are putting their own health at risk for another person. And for immigration reasons, to me, that's just not - that's not ethical.
MARK: I know what is my dream, to have a baby. For my status, to have a baby is not easy.
LANGFITT: This is a Shanghai businessman who gave his English name as Mark. His status is gay, which is still pretty taboo in China. So he went to America to quietly start a family. Last year, he had a daughter, Yifan.
MARK: When I hold her, look at her, my heart was expanding. She looks exactly like my mirror image.
LANGFITT: Mark, who is 34, chose the U.S. because it gave Yifan a clear, legal identity, including an American passport, which she can use to attend school there in the future. Like many Chinese his age, Mark is disappointed with China's education system.
MARK: For Chinese school, you are not allowed to have a free talk. So you just sit there quietly, just passively receiving knowledge. But in U.S., it's different, be more innovative, creative and a free spirit.
LANGFITT: When Yifan reaches high school, Mark plans to move to America and educate her there. Chinese parents often have specific concerns and novel demands of their American surrogates. At first, Tony Jiang did.
JIANG: I remember very clear about, you know, how panicked I was in the first 12 weeks.
LANGFITT: When his surrogate, a woman in northern California named Amanda Krywokulsky, was carrying his first daughter, Tony was worried about radiation. Amanda remembers.
AMANDA KRYWOKULSKY: Once the pregnancy was confirmed, they had asked about me wearing a, like a lead apron kind of when I used the microwave, which I thought was kind of weird.
LANGFITT: Tony says some couples apply the principles of traditional Chinese medicine to pregnancy and childbirth, which clash with American behavior.
JIANG: I saw my surrogate when delivering. She was chewing ice, so that's quite weird. Most of my clients actually don't understand or don't suggest their surrogates to drink icy water during pregnancy because they believe these cold things could arouse miscarriage.
LANGFITT: Some of Tony's clients even tried to have lifestyle provisions written into the surrogacy contracts.
JIANG: Don't eat seafood, don't drink ice water, limit activities in the first four weeks at least. And they say, I will pay you four months' salary last if you can bed to four weeks. People raise these kinds of ridiculous provisions. But finally, they understand the situation and they let it go.
JENNIFER GARCIA: My name is Jennifer Garcia. I'm a surrogacy case coordinator at Extraordinary Conceptions in Carlsbad, California.
LANGFITT: Garcia says some Chinese clients don't just want American surrogates. They also want American eggs.
GARCIA: They all say the same thing: tall, blond, blue-eyed and pretty.
LANGFITT: She says they see an egg from a tall woman as a way to genetically trade up for stature.
GARCIA: Because I know in the Asian culture, people are a little bit shorter. They just want really tall children and strong boys. And they're thinking that the Caucasian girl is stronger and taller, therefore, they'll have stronger, taller children.
LANGFITT: Garcia and other clinicians expect Chinese demand for American surrogates to continue to grow even with the recent relaxation of China's population policy. There was a rush to conceive children earlier this year, the Year of the Horse, which according to the Chinese zodiac, is especially auspicious for boys.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News.
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