Priya wants a baby. She is able to get pregnant, but always miscarries. Trying and losing again and again is taking a toll on her and her marriage.
Asha wants a better life for her son. He’s only six, but reads and writes both English and Telugu. His school has advanced him two grades, but he’s still not challenged. If they had more money, she could send him to a private school for a better education.
A House for Happy Mothers tells the story of these two women — one in San Francinsco and one in India — in alternating chapters. Their lives are connected via a program that connects women who are looking for a surrogate with Indian women who are willing to do the task for money.
Asha and Priya both mean “hope,” which is what they end up bringing to each other: the hope of a baby for Priya and the cash that will give Asha’s son a hopeful future, but it is not without a price.
Being so far in California while her baby grows and develops far away in India is hard for Priya. Whenever she got pregnant, she worried about losing the baby. She has the same fears and worries for her baby that Asha is carrying, and she feels a total loss of control. This worry and stress affects her relationships with her husband and her disapproving mother. She also is torn between gratitude for the program and guilt over using Asha’s body and poverty for her own benefit.
Every woman goes to stay at the House for Happy Mothers in their last month. Asha’s sister-in-law, who was a surrogate before and recommended Asha to the program, says it’s sort of a like a vacation. Meals are prepared for them, they take yoga and computer classes, and they don’t have to take care of anyone else, but Asha knows she will miss her children and her husband. When Asha has a mild complication, she ends up going to the House for Happy Mothers to stay in her second trimester, so she can be under observation. Fortunately her family has come to stay nearby, so they can still visit every day, but the idea of giving up this child growing inside her is hard and is compounded by her loneliness.
Whether this is exploitation or a way to help impoverished Indian families is a point that is discussed often throughout the novel. That theme, plus the interpersonal relationships made this a really enjoyable read. There are also interesting little interludes in between the chapters that are excerpts from an online surrogacy chat page that shed more light on the feelings that infertile women using a surrogate experience.