The four sisters stand gossiping underneath the washing line, the growing baby bumps visible under tightly-fitting tops.
But the unemployed Hernandez sisters are not looking forward to the birth of much-wanted babies. Instead, they are ‘wombs-for-hire’ – willing to put their bodies through agony in order to earn thousands from desperate Europeans, prepared to pay more than these single mothers could earn in 20 years for their chance to have their own biological child.
This is a family business – one which is not discussed outside the walls of the home, just one cog in Mexico’s secretive, and sometimes corrupt, surrogacy industry.
‘Our neighbours accuse us of running an infant trafficking ring,’ shrugs Martha, who is four months pregnant with a baby being ‘bought’ by a gay Frenchman.
‘But we’re all unemployed single mothers taking care of our own futures.’
It was oldest sister Milagros who first stumbled across the ‘rent-a-womb’ business in 2013, ‘through word of mouth, which is how everything gets done here in Tabasco’, the impoverished state where they live – and where the trade is booming.
The decision she made was purely practical: the Hernandez family is a sprawling one, all living in close quarters, and money is more than tight so ‘the whole family needs to be put to work’.
If that means renting out their wombs or working other jobs to bring in money to support the family, so be it, says Milagros.
But what doesn’t come naturally to the sisters is handing the babies over to their new families, despite the fact that they have no genetic link.
The sisters even breastfeed the children for the first 10 days of their lives – making an already strong bond even more difficult to break
Paulina has already watched her sisters handing over their babies to their clients at the end of the pregnancy. Seven weeks into her first surrogacy, this young mother-of-two says she is ‘dreading the moment when she has to give away the child she has raised’.
But Milagros is pushing those thoughts to the back of her mind.
‘Following the full term, I’ll give birth in a Villahermosa clinic with the two fathers present,’ she said. ‘I’ll breast feed the babies for 10 days, after which I’ll hand them over to the clients. That’s always the most difficult part.’
Milagros spoke of the pain she suffered when her first clients, an infertile couple from Sinaloa in western Mexico, cut all ties between her and the baby boy she carried for nine months.
‘I still wake up in the middle of the night wondering where he is and what he might be doing,’ she told MailOnline. ‘I hope that my current clients will allow me to keep in touch once I’ve handed their baby over.’
‘You have to separate yourself emotionally from the pregnancy,’ adds Martha decisively.
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Already a mother of three, all by different fathers, she laughs as she tells MailOnline that the ‘fun of sex is the only thing that’s missing from the surrogacy experience’.
However, it was not until she brought back the £11,000 she earned from her first successful surrogacy that Martha, the next eldest sister, decided to follow in her footsteps. Soon, Maria, 27 and a mother-of-three, and Paulina, the youngest at 22, realised they too could earn a living this way.
After all, the average £10,000 pay-off is following a successful delivery, as well as having all living expenses covered by the client throughout the nine-month pregnancy. The women’s brother, who works for minimum wage in the state capital, would take nearly 10 years to equal the amount.
‘As a young single mother from a poor background in Villahermosa, your job options are either waitress or prostitute,’ said Milagros. ‘Surrogacy was an easy way to ensure a future for my own children.’
The family matriarch Lourdes – who stands watching her granddaughters from the door, looking far younger than her 81 years – nods in agreement.
‘I’d rent out my own womb if I could,’ she said, readily admitting to encouraging her granddaughters to rack up as many pregnancies as possible before they hit the candidacy cut-off age at 35.
‘A woman can earn a fortune for doing something which comes naturally.’
But then again, she seems to be ignoring her own advice, proudly showing off a picture of her first surrogate baby.
Her client – the little girl’s father – still regularly sends pictures of his two-year-old daughter Sara – not her real name – over Facebook, a practice she desperately hopes will continue.
‘I felt as if Sara was my first daughter, you know from the start that she’s going to be taken away, and so you try to separate your feelings from the reality, but in the end there’s nothing you can do about it,’ she admitted.
‘When they handed me the baby after I gave birth, even though she was very white and blonde, I saw her face and thought she looked like me. It was a very odd feeling, like brain and heart arguing.’
The feeling was compounded when Martha ended up spending three days alone with the little girl, who had come early, and reminded her so strongly of her first born.
‘The days I spent alone with her in the private clinic made me feel love towards the baby that I knew I shouldn’t feel.
‘When the father arrived he wanted to spend as much time as possible with the baby, and I suppose I did feel a little jealous in my heart, even though my brain was telling me not to. Even though I wasn’t genetically related I still felt a very strong connection.’
She remembers the day they parted: ‘I just tried to concentrate on the time I had left to spend with her. When they left I kissed her once more and they left for the hotel.
‘For about a month after they left I was very sad. I would wake up in the night expecting to hear Sara crying for me, but there was nothing.
‘I just tried to pour everything into my sons.’
But for Martha, she believes that what she will gain is much more than she will lose.
She may be mother to three boys, but there are only two living with her in the two-room annex on the second floor of the family home.
The youngest, Angel Eduardo, is living with his paternal grandparents as they refuse to allow him to live ‘in squalor’ with his mother.
But now, with the £14,000 she received from her first client, she will finally be able to move out. Her new home should finally be ready next month.
Yet what these women are earning is small change in an industry which is worth £90million a year in Tabasco state alone – the vast majority of the sum going to the agencies, which can charge £48,000 for their services, and pay the women just £10,000.
It is a hugely under-regulated industry, which has seen falsified medical documents, legal battles over offspring and even forced abortions – something Milagros knows all too well.
Milagros’ first surrogacy attempt was a secretive one three years ago. She was promised her £16,000 for a successful delivery, but was then asked to abort when the clients got cold feet. For this, she was promised half the fee, but it never came.
It still hurts her to talk about it, and it is only recently that the Tabasco state government has taken measures to crack down on the industry, passing a reform on January 13 to put serious restrictions on surrogacy tourism in the Gulf of Mexico state.
But it may be too late: the practice became common in impoverished neighbourhoods such as Gaviotas, a poor district in the centre of Villahermosa, where ‘everyone knows a woman who has sold her womb to a gringo’, according to local man Omar Tejeda.
‘This entire community was turned into a f * * *ing factory for foreign babies,’ he told MailOnline, speaking from his front garden in the centre of the district. ‘No woman would ever admit to it, but it was obvious when the baby never appeared after her pregnancy.’
As for the Hernandez sisters, they have found a way around any new regulations which may be brought in to curb their earnings.
Maria, 27, was approached directly by a Dutch couple – something she hopes will not only get her around the regulations, but also eventually earn her more money.
‘I came into contact with the couple through word-of-mouth,’ Maria, seven weeks pregnant and already a mother-of-three, told MailOnline. ‘The couple were in Mexico looking for a surrogate and they found me.
‘They made all the arrangements for the operation, and they’ll be dealing with the legal issues of a birth certificate when I hand the baby over in November. Any agency advice is purely consultancy, and only our names appear in any paperwork.
And Milagros, who has already had two caesarean sections, is already thinking about her next client, who she hopes to meet in about March of next year, six months after she gives birth in October.
‘I’ll continue renting out my womb for as long as I can,’ she said.
‘I’m sacrificing my own body to secure a future in a country where nothing comes easy.’