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Five days after her caesarean section, Nancy boarded a night bus in the southern Mexican city of Villahermosa and made the 10-hour journey back to her home in the capital. Instead of a baby, she nursed a wad of bills buried in a blue handbag she never let out of her sight.

The cash was the final instalment of her 150,000-peso (£7,000) fee to be a surrogate mother for a gay couple from San Francisco. After a traumatic year that included being all but abandoned by the agency supposedly looking after her, and being falsely accused of demanding additional cash to hand over the baby, Nancy was not so sure it had been worth it. “I just wanted to get my money, go home, rest and forget about it all,” said the 24-year-old, sitting in her tiny apartment in a poor barrio of Mexico City. “And now the money is all gone.”

Nancy’s story says much about the southern Mexican state of Tabasco’s emergence as the world’s most dynamic new centre of international surrogacy, fuelled by the tightening...

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