Maternity Tourism is Weird



Angelina Jolie gave birth to her daughter, Shiloh, in Namibia. I guess she thought it would be cool. But a number of Chinese women are flocking to the US to give birth and then returning home.

When I see a bunch of pregnant women entering a building together, I generally assume that they’re all going to a Lamaze class. But now I idly wonder if they’re maternity tourists.

Apparently, according to the New York Times, a row of connected town houses in San Gabriel, California were home to women from China who had paid tens of thousands of dollars to deliver their babies in the US, making their infants automatic US citizens, and then flying back to China.  The children, once they turn 21, would also be able to petition to get their parents US citizenship.

Maternity tourism “resorts,” complete with kitchens full of bassinets, may not be so uncommon. The Center for Health Care Statistics estimates there were 7,462 births to foreign residents in the US in 2008. “It is worse than illegal immigrants delivering a baby here,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told the New York Times. “The phenomenon of coming to the US and then leaving with people who have unlimited access to come back is just ridiculous.”

I know it’s totally not “in” to remember things that happened more than 10 seconds ago in our Internet-fueled universe, but didn’t Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie do this exact same maternity tourism thing in Namibia to have their daughter Shiloh back in 2006? (Yes, I used to have an US Weekly addiction.)

Little Shiloh was born in May 2006 at the four-star Hansa Hotel at the edge of the Namib desert, giving Shiloh a Namibian passport (which, I assume, makes her African American). “We are eternally grateful to the Namibian people,” Pitt said at the time. “Namibia is one of Africa’s best kept secrets–until we came of course.” Ha ha, oh, Brad, you’re such a kidder. I remember how you used to joke back when we were dating…but I digress. So Brangelina stayed in Namibia a few days and then returned to the US. Apparently, no problem. And the media basically behaved as though this were a totally understandable concept, to go to the edge of a gorgeous African desert to have your gorgeous African child.

The Shiloh thing, to my mind, was pretty weird (even though I have always wanted to go to Namibia…no joke). If anything, regardless of your politics on immigration, the Chinese women are more comprehensible. They’re simply reaching for the possibility of a better life for their children. I realize the women in question are well-to-do, but having recently come back from China, I can tell you that money can’t buy you love, democracy, or freedom of expression.

The story has many dimensions, but it makes me truly appreciate that my daughter will be born this summer, without crossing an ocean and without fear, in a place where freedom and possibility are the societal ideals.

Ah, New Jersey.

Jordana HornJordana Horn is a contributing editor to Kveller. She is a journalist, lawyer, writer, mother of five (pregnant with her sixth), travel aficionado, and self-declared karaoke superstar. Before her life got too crazy, she was the New York correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. She has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Forward and Tablet. She has appeared as a 'parenting expert' on NBC's TODAY Show and FOX and Friends. She enjoys writing about herself in the third person and, one far-off day when everyone is in school, hopes to get back to work on her novel.

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