After suffering the sarcastic gibes of her parents-in-law over her infertility, the last thing Anita Das wanted to do was adopt a baby. 'My mother-in-law used to taunt me about the pathetic diet my parents must have given me as a child,' Ms Das said, reflecting on how desperate she was to start a family. Her plight is an unfortunate one in India, where an infertile woman is an object of pity and contempt. For the same reason, adoption carries a stigma in a place where a biological child is infinitely preferred to an adopted one. Ms Das' parents-in-law forced her to try all manner of fertility 'cures' including strange potions, gurus and astrologers. None of them worked. IVF was ruled out on the grounds of expense. Adoption was the last resort and it scared her. 'I didn't want my child to be treated differently by my in-laws from the other children in the family,' said the 37-year-old New Delhi graphic designer, whose baby is due in June. 'It would have been too hurtful. Adopting an embryo was the perfect solution for me. The embryo is someone else's, but who is to know? They'll think it's mine.' India is already known as a centre for low-cost fertility treatment using the latest techniques. But embryo adoption is emerging as the preferred alternative to fertility treatment such as IVF, which can be an expensive and prolonged process for many would-be parents. Adoption is lengthy and entails a tedious legal procedure. Also, most children up for adoption are a few years old, whereas couples tend to want a baby. So instead of adopting a baby, couples are now taking another woman's embryo, in a process referred to as 'adoption'. A woman has the embryo implanted in her womb using state-of-the-art medical technology, carries it through pregnancy and gives birth to the baby. The embryos are sourced from frozen stock supplied by women undergoing IVF treatment for their infertility. They often produce many eggs, and therefore many embryos. These leftover embryos are frozen and stored. If the woman becomes pregnant, she has three choices: she can keep the extra embryos in case she needs another one later, donate them for medical research, or donate the unwanted embryos to other infertile couples. At a clinic in Mumbai, couples trying the treatment have either undergone IVF and failed; do not wish to try IVF because of the cost; or the woman, given her age, cannot afford to wait a year or two to see if IVF works. Some also have decided that waiting for an adoption baby is too long. And in a sign of the potential for the medical procedure, couples have started coming in large numbers from overseas countries where embryo adoption is far more regulated. Even in countries where it is allowed, doctors are bound by legal or medical restrictions regarding the number of embryos they can transfer to a woman's womb. In Britain, doctors are not allowed to transfer more than two embryos, meaning the procedure has a lower chance of success. In India, patients can simply discuss with their doctors their needs and the number of embryos to be transferred. A law is waiting to be tabled before parliament in India, but it is expected to focus on issues such as donor anonymity rather than regulating the number of embryos. Apart from the latest medical technology, India offers far cheaper prices than many other countries. An embryo adoption treatment costs up to US$4,000 in India, compared with up to four times that price in the US. Wendy Duncan, 40, gave birth to an Indian baby with brown skin, black eyes and black hair in Lincolnshire, England, in 2005. She had flown to the Mumbai clinic run by Aniruddha Malpani and his wife, Anjali, because her British doctors refused to implant more than one embryo. Doctors say one risk of implanting more than one embryo is that if all of them happen to 'take', then a woman can give birth to twins, triplets or quadruplets. Also, because Ms Duncan already had a teenage daughter from an earlier marriage, she could not get IVF treatment on Britain's National Health Service. Ms Duncan was 38 at the time and her doctors did not believe she should risk an embryo implant procedure that could lead to more than one baby. 'Dr Malpani agreed to implant more than one and I was happy because I wanted to be sure of one succeeding,' Ms Duncan said. 'I couldn't keep coming to India. It has been such a wonderful experience. My daughter Freya is a joy and I am grateful to him.' Dr Malpani implants as many embryos as his patients are comfortable with, to make sure that at least one will 'stick'. 'Having a multiple pregnancy is not an ideal outcome, but then nor is not getting pregnant at all,' said Dr Malpani, whose patients have doubled during the past five years. He now performs between 50 and 100 embryo adoption procedures each year, and estimates that half of the patients who see him for the treatment are foreigners. The pregnancy rate in many Indian fertility clinics when, say, four embryos are transferred, is 45 per cent. It is a non-surgical procedure and requires no hospitalisation. If the woman's womb has been prepared beforehand, the transfer of the embryo takes just 10 minutes. Because all the embryos in Indian clinics are from Indian women, couples wrestle with the usual questions when they decide on adopting an embryo. What will the baby look like? What kind of intelligence or personality will the baby have? What about the baby's genetic inheritance? Sometimes, they ask to see a photograph of the donor couple to try to get an idea of what to expect, but Dr Malpani said he refused to provide such pictures, in an effort to protect the privacy of the donor couple. 'I tell my patients that even their biological child might not look like them,' he said. 'Even if they saw a picture, they can't be sure what the kid will look like. I tell them that their child will end up laughing like them and talking like them because they've raised the child.' Ms Das knew the child would look Indian. 'I'm hoping the baby won't look too different from me and my husband because no one in my family knows we've done this,' she said. 'But even if it does, babies can look different from their parents, so it won't, I hope, arouse any suspicions.' An American couple, Paulette and Paul Cordoni of Modesto, California, were unfazed by the idea of having an Indian embryo, despite both adoptive parents having blond hair and blue eyes. Ms Cordoni came to Dr Malpani's clinic last year after thoroughly researching the clinic and contacting several of his other US patients. Ms Cordoni, 34, wanted Dr Malpani to transfer six embryos into her womb. The process worked and in November she gave birth to a boy, Vincenvo, who, surprisingly has blue eyes. 'I'm so thrilled. But even if he'd had black eyes and black hair, he'd still be our baby and I'd still be his Momma no matter where the embryo came from,' Ms Cordoni said from California. 'He looks just like his Daddy, it's amazing.' The only information that most embryo adoption specialists in India give about the donors are their height, skin colour, blood group, age, and the colour of their eyes and hair. Rishikesh Pai, an infertility specialist at Batra Hospital in New Delhi, said he was reluctant to transfer an Indian embryo into the womb of a couple who were both white, like the Cordonis. 'Even if the couple are willing, I hesitate because the child might suffer emotional pressures and conflicts later in life from looking so different,' he said. 'I feel more comfortable giving Indian embryos to Asian or Arab couples or mixed race couples.' As he spoke, a British woman called on another line. She wanted to come to New Delhi for embryo adoption, but wanted to know if she could see a photo of the donor. Dr Pai declined politely, explaining that the anonymity of the donor was important. Rita Kapoor, 39, wished she had come to India years ago. She described the journey from her Birmingham home in England to a Mumbai infertility clinic as 'very stressful'. But having tried several cycles of IVF in Britain, she realised she was running out of time to start a family. 'My doctor in India was wonderful,' Ms Kapoor said. 'She has given me the greatest gift I could ever have. My son is one year old. I had no reservations about the procedure because I had read up on it on the Net and knew what to expect.' Dr Pai is now treating so many foreign couples that he plans to open a clinic in Goa, so foreigners can have a holiday and get an embryo. He said that when they first arrived in India, the couples could be anxious and sceptical. 'They think India is a land of snakes and elephants,' said Dr Pai. 'They are worried about Indian doctors, their qualifications and their scruples. When they talk to me and see me, they are reassured.' For Dr Pai, the biggest thrill of his work is when he opens an e-mail from patients who have returned home and sees an attachment. 'I know it's a photograph of their baby,' he said. 'That's my job satisfaction.'