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Maternity Tourism—It's a Thing

Photograph by Getty Images

The most ambitious travel I did during my pregnancy was to travel to Argentina for my honeymoon when I was eight weeks along. And true confession, we came home early because I started feeling sick and freaked out. During my pregnancies, I preferred to remain close to home, rarely traveling beyond my area code. Admittedly, I was never a big traveler and being pregnant squashed what little wanderlust I had.

On the other end of the adventure spectrum, record numbers of Chinese women are traveling to the United States in the middle of their pregnancies, not to see the sights (though many of them do), or take in our rich cultural traditions. Nope, they’re here to have their babies, and it’s a whole thing. It’s called “maternity tourism.”

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Women who participate in “maternity tourism” are mainly wealthy mothers from China who want their babies born on U.S. soil so they will have American citizenship. The mothers pay anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 for lodging, transportation and food. In some cases, they pay even more for their medical care. One company, YouWinUSA, advertises $38,000 for fees to guide a pregnant woman through the maternity tourism process.

There’s so much about “maternity tourism” that confuses me.

I’m thinking that the federal government might want to get involved here and get a piece of these profits, not shut down the operations.

First, the mother-tourists interviewed said they do it because they want their babies to have access to the American educational system. I thought the American educational system was famous for being average or below-average when compared to other countries, including China. For all our handwringing over the state of American education, these women pay thousands of dollars to leave their homes and travel across the globe, just so they can have babies entitled to an American education down the road.

That's not my idea of a serene birthing plan, but then again, I’m not trying to raise children in China, where pollution, repressive politics and food shortages loom over my family.

While I chose nesting and having a baby shower with close friends, these globetrotting mothers opt to visit Disneyland (because that’s super fun when you are about to give birth), shopping malls (where better to get fried food and maternity pants in one place?) and, on some occasions, a firing range (what’s more American than guns?). I don’t understand it, but then again, I’m not willing to have a baby on foreign soil.

Second, our government, it turns out, is not so keen on these birth plans either. In fact, on Tuesday, federal agents stormed more than 30 “maternity hotels” in Southern California. While it’s not a crime for a foreign-born woman to have a baby here, the feds suspect there might be widespread visa fraud, conspiracy and other crimes.

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I’m thinking that the federal government might want to get involved here and get a piece of these profits, not shut down the operations. I’m pretty sure tourism is a good way to make money (think Las Vegas year-round or New Orleans during Mardi Gras).

The future for maternity tourism is unclear now that the feds are cracking down. For me, the only maternity tourism I want to do is to my local Costco, where I can put my feet up on an indoor picnic table and feast on a big slice of pizza and a free lemonade.

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