hope. A collaboration: Sarah Hildebrand (photographs); Gerhild Perl; Julia Rehsmann; Veronika Siegl (essays). Translated from German into English by Alexandra Cox.
©2018 Christoph Merian Verlag, photographer, authors, translator. ISBN 978-3-85616-860-5
Ten Months, by Veronika Siegel (extract)
Month Zero. It’s sort of like a switch
“Want to hear why we’re doing the surrogacy programme?” asks Zhenya. She continues before I can even reply: “Everyone in the world’s really nice and I’m being a surrogate mother for ‘noble’ reasons? No such thing. We’re all about the material side. There’s nowhere else in Russia you can earn a million roubles.” She is sitting in front of me in a T-shirt and white underpants, with one leg crossed over the other, and looking me defiantly in the eyes. That’s the attitude here, says Zhenya, adding that maybe it’d be different if single mothers didn’t have it so hard in this country. Six years ago, she says, she’d not have understood how someone can carry a child to term and then give it away. As time’s gone on, though, she’s realized that you just have to be emotionally prepared: “It’s an internal process. It’s sort of like a switch. You make your decision, and it works.”
Month Zero. A good income
Two concrete prefabricated buildings are next to the clinic: tall brown and white buildings, surrounded by trees and a playground. Apartment no. 38 is home to surrogate mothers, egg donors and sometimes patients, who come to Moscow specially for their examinations. The stairwell looks dirty and worn, but everything in the apartment is clean and new. Several scraps of paper bearing instructions and demands hang on the kitchen walls. Sonya puts dates on the table and tells me to help myself. Her blonde hair hangs in straggles over her face; she looks tired. By Moscow standards, the 20,000 roubles a month that the surrogate mothers get during pregnancy is a low salary. If one lives ‘in the regions’, as Sonya does, it is a good income, though. She earns less than half of this sum in her job as a kitchen assistant and her husband, an electrician, not much more. Together they have to look after two children and his elderly mother, who shares the one-room apartment with them. She would like to invest her earnings from the surrogacy in an apartment of their own, for added security in times of financial crisis. After all, these crises happen in Russia now and then. Sonya explains that the embryo transfer is scheduled for tomorrow, following her two-week ‘preparation’ phase. This preparation involves hormonal stimulation, during which the cervical mucous membrane is built up so that the embryo can implant itself firmly. Sonya is enjoying the time away from her family and domestic duties: “Well, you know, we’re women. At home we’d never be taking a moment’s rest, always tidying up and cleaning. Here we have a bed, television, Internet and can get up when we want. Sometimes we even go into town together.” Yesterday, she paid her 59th visit to the Lenin Mausoleum on Red Square with a few other women.
Month Zero. I was shocked
There is almost no stopping Evgeniya’s flow of words. In a loud voice she describes her first examination and thinks that she now has to wait a few hours until the medical committee’s decided whether or not she’s ‘suitable’. In actual fact, she’s a trained chef and baker. She has never liked these professions, but she had to support her mother financially from an early age, and that was the best option at the time. They haven’t had it easy, Evgeniya continues, as her father died early on. “He was a weak person, not a real man. Not man enough to say: Come on, man, let’s stop drinking and find some work.” A few years back, a work colleague asked her if she would carry a child for her. “I was shocked,” Evgeniya tells me, particularly as she had not yet had any children of her own. Now that she needs the money, she’s considering the idea again. “Some people buy themselves a car or an even better apartment; for me, it’s a matter of getting by.”