Like many Americans who want to become parents, Crystal Travis' journey to motherhood wasn't easy.
Her career delayed having a family. In 2007, at 45 years old, fertility issues led Travis and her husband Colin McRae to turn to surrogacy. But in the United States, the price of having someone else carry a baby to term often exceeds $100,000. Travis and McRae couldn't afford it.
So the couple researched cheaper options online. Two weeks later, they were on a plane to India, where surrogacy can cost between $20,000 to $60,000, depending on the types of services and the clinic. Less than a year after that, they welcomed their first child, a son named Mark, into the world.
"The one thing that I remember about it was when Mark came out, is they said, 'He's beautiful. He looks just like you,'" Travis remembered. "And I said 'thank you.’”
Since 2010, Travis has helped more than 600 couples build their families through her consulting service, World of Surrogacy.
"When we started that process, you know, six and a half years ago, it wasn’t a billion-a-dollar-a-year industry,” said Travis. “Now, it’s a different story. And they say probably more because it’s a cash-and-carry industry."
When money isn't an issue, global surrogacy also goes in the other direction.
Surrogacy is banned in China. So when Tony Jiang and his wife, who live in Shanghai, discovered they couldn’t have children on their own, they decided to look overseas, and ended up traveling to a surprising place for help.
“I already tried illegal underground surrogates in southern China, which turned out to be a total failure,” Jiang told America Tonight. “So that’s why afterwards I would try to explore international surrogacy industry. I checked with the surrogates from India, Ukraine, and Thailand. They had the solution in California.”
Three years and $275,000 later, Jiang and his wife now have three children: a daughter and a twin boy and girl, who were all born from the same surrogate. If they had been born in China, Jiang and his wife would be in violation of Chinese law. But the children were born in The Golden State; they’re all American citizens.
The government has already relaxed its one-child policy, permitting couples to have two children if at least one spouse is an only child, like both Jiang and his wife. But Chinese couples who have more than two children still face heavy penalties, so surrogacy is attracting the Chinese parents who can afford it to come to the U.S.
"It means that they’re getting their children with foreign passports," said Jiang. "So they don’t bother registering that newborn as a Chinese citizen."
Soon after his children were born, friends began asking Jiang for help. Before long, the young father was in the business of babies, setting up his own surrogacy agency, DiYi Consulting, which has helped nearly 100 couples since it began operating in 2012.
In addition to skirting China’s child restrictions, American surrogacy also opens a window for emigration. Upon turning 21, children born in the U.S. can apply for green cards for their parents.
Jiang pointed out another advantage in the American surrogate experience: gender selection.
Many Chinese seeking American surrogates request boys because male children are still culturally preferred. That’s possible in the U.S., where gender selection in technically straightforward through in vitro fertilization.
"It’s not commercially open or allowed in greater China region,” Jiang explained. "Especially for those couples already having a girl or a boy and they are doing further family building, gender selection will be very essential to them."
Three of the nearly 100 Chinese couples Jiang's agency has helped are gay, but he said infertility is what has motivated most of his clients to seek out surrogacy.
According to the Chinese Population Association, some 40 million Chinese citizens are infertile – about 12.5 percent of people of childbearing age. That number has quadrupled over the past 20 years.
But surrogacy in the U.S. is only available to those who can afford it. Jiang said a basic package, including one IVF cycle, costs between $120,000 and $170,000.
“I think 90 percent of my clients are private business owners," Jiang said. "They have very high income. Also, maybe some middle class and above."
Although there are no official statistics on the number of Chinese parents who come to the U.S. for surrogacy, agencies say it's growing rapidly. All they have to do is point out the growing number of American surrogacy clinics and agencies that are hiring Mandarin speakers and developing websites in Chinese.