Transnational reproduction describes the process of using assisted reproductive technologies to create babies for parents residing in a foreign country. By questioning what factors drive transnational reproduction, this investigation will explore and problematize the ideologies and justifications which underpin the global reproductive market. It will question the human rights and ethical implications of this phenomenon, and investigate how incomplete legal frameworks fail to protect the people involved. Historiographically, the project draws on the work of feminists and postcolonial theorists. Arruzza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser locate the root of gender oppression in capitalist societies within the subordination of social reproduction to production for profit. Deomampo demonstrates how transnational reproduction is underpinned by racialized ideologies which reflect and reinforce local and global inequalities. These analyses will inform an exploration of how transnational reproduction results from a residuary colonial architecture which views subaltern women as tools in a global chain of labor, to be employed and exploited for the fulfillment of Western capitalist desires. 

The project employs a transnational perspective, going beyond the nation-state as a category of analysis, and drawing attention to the “in-between areas”, often neglected in traditional historical analyses. Comparative history will be used to analyze particularities – cost disparities, standards of care, cultural considerations, ethical and legal frameworks – which differentiate transnational reproduction processes according to country. Beyond comparative history, Subrahmanyam’s conception of connected histories will be employed to connect the disparate processes that culminate in transnational reproduction at both the micro- and macro-historical levels. 

Desai calls attention to many issues emerging from the global surrogacy industry. In her novel, intending parents travel to India to receive their baby, a product of their egg and sperm shipped to India. Luckily the English couple’s embryo is processed through Indian customs, without being stopped or sold to a third party, and safely implanted in a surrogate. However, the decision to be a surrogate is not easily accepted in India, and the woman’s agency in this situation is questionable. The money she will earn is her prime motivator, but her husband takes most of the proceeds. Commercial surrogacy is justified on the basis of mutual benefit – intending parents get a baby, and surrogate mothers earn money. However, surrogates receive less than half the money intending parents pay clinics, and this money is not enough to lift them out of poverty. 

Another alarming trend is the abandonment of children born to surrogate mothers in foreign countries. ‘Motherland’ illustrates one such case, that of Brigit, the product of an American couple’s embryo implanted in a Ukrainian woman. Despite facing significant developmental challenges which resulted in her abandonment, Brigit survives, but her parents send a letter requesting she be put up for adoption. This correspondence is legally inadmissible in Ukraine and Brigit is left without citizenship, in a country that lacks the medical and social resources she needs. Brigit is one of many children who find themselves in this legal gray area without parents or citizenship. Commercial surrogacy companies such as BioTexCom, whose registration in the Seychelles prevents Ukranian government oversight, escape prosecution by denying responsibility. 

Since commercial surrogacy for foreigners was banned in India (2017) and in Thailand (2015), the industry has relocated to Ukraine. A lack of transparency limits the availability of figures representing the industry’s scale and nature; furthermore, parents subjected to predatory commercial surrogacy practices often avoid legal action. Lamberton argues persuasively for the implementation of an international standard for the effective regulation of surrogacy to protect women and enable abandoned children to be granted automatic citizenship. Without a global framework, babies slip through the cracks, intending parents are taken advantage of, and surrogates are used without consideration for their mental or physical well-being. This money-making enterprise relies on desperate parents, vulnerable surrogates, and incomplete legal frameworks. Anything is a commodity in a free market – even reproductive rights and human beings. 


ABC Australia, ‘Commercial Surrogacy Exploiting Women Of The Developing World?’, The Baby Makers, Journeyman Pictures, 6 May 2014, <> [accessed 4 March 2021]. 

Arruzza, Cinzia, Bhattacharya, Tithi, and Fraser, Nancy, Feminism for the 99 Percent: A Manifesto (London, 2019).  

Bayly, Christopher, Beckert, Sven, Connolly, Matthew, Hofmeyr, Isabel, Kozol, Wendy, Seed, Patricia, ‘AHR Conversation: On Transnational History’, American Historical Review, 111: 5 (2006), pp. 1441-1464. 

Deomampo, Daisy, Transnational Reproduction: Race, Kinship, and Commercial Surrogacy in India (New York, 2016).

Desai, Kishwar, Origins of Love (New York, 2012). 

Hawley, Samantha, ‘Motherland: Ukraine’s Commercial Surrogacy Industry’, Journeyman Pictures, Youtube, 31 August 2019, <> [accessed 4 March 2021]. 

Lamberton, Emma, ‘Lessons from Ukraine: Shifting International Surrogacy Policy to Protect Women and Children’, Journal of Public and International Affairs, 31 (May 2020),  

MacCarthy, Julie, ‘Why Some of India’s Surrogate Moms Are Full of Regret’,  Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR, 18 September 2016, <> [accessed 10 March 2021]. 

Subrahmanyam, Sanjay, ‘Connected Histories: Notes Towards a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia’, Modern Asian Studies, 31: 3 (1997), pp. 735-762.

(Project Proposal) Transnational Reproduction: The Commodification of Reproductive Rights and Human Beings