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Grayscale photo of a person's refection from a puddle of water, as they walk .

They wanted a baby, she wanted to carry it for them—for a fee. It’s a common transaction but illegal in Canada, and the system here leaves both parties vulnerable.

One spring day, a woman living in a Canadian city emailed a couple she’d never met, who lived in another Canadian city, and told them she might be interested in carrying a baby for them. She’d seen their ad on Surrogate Mothers Online, a site that connects women who are willing to gestate other people’s children with people who need that kind of help.

She told the couple a bit about herself. She was in her early thirties and had just finished up a master’s. She was not a Canadian citizen, but was hoping to become a permanent resident. She did not smoke, drink or do drugs; she ate carefully and was into fitness. She gave them her name, and would like me to use it here, but for various reasons, including the fact that she signed away her right to ever tell this story, I’ll just call her Sophie Gil....