The decision to become pregnant is a big one. For many of us pregnancy is an amazing experience (with a few downsides admittedly!), culminating in the arrival of your child, and the promise of many magical years ahead. However if you had the chance, would you consider going through a pregnancy for someone else? A surrogate pregnancy is the ultimate act of giving, going through morning sickness, backache and tiredness, the risks and the ups and downs, along with time away from your own family, all to give another couple the chance to become parents? Here’s one woman’s amazing story….
The journey to become a surrogate begins
Surrogacy is one option for fertility challenged couples thanks to amazing developments in medical science. But it is by no means an easy option, emotionally or physically, for either the surrogate or couple. It is one of those subjects that seems to spark opinions that clash. I certainly received my share of negative and positive comments throughout my surrogacy journey which started at the beginning of 2013.
I was married, with two young kiddies who at the time were both in nursery for a few days a week. I had known about surrogacy ever since the episode on the TV series friends, where Phoebe carries her brother’s triplets. In my own friendship group there was a friend who knew she may have trouble conceiving, and so surrogacy was something we knew about and made plans to help each other should we ever need it. As it turns out, my friend is undecided about children altogether, which got my husband and I talking about whether we could offer help to other couples who wanted children but weren’t able to carry a baby.
We decided it was something we could learn more about and after a little online research we had arranged to meet a representative from COTS (Childlessness overcome through surrogacy), to come and tell us more. This is a non profit organisation of which you can become a member. They do not match people, but you have to complete a lengthy questionnaire which forms the basis of your profile, and does channel people to be better suited for example through location, or type of surrogacy, or specifics like non smokers. So any surrogate that chooses to continue through COTS is offered a batch of profiles. If there’s a couple you like the sound of, your profile gets sent to them to consider.
Finding a match – who is the right couple for you?
So here we were, with about 12 couples on ‘paper’. I knew I could only be a host surrogate (where you carry an embryo that it not genetically related to you) rather than a straight surrogate (where you are using your own egg to carry a child for someone else). So anyone needing a straight surrogate was sadly put to one side. As were smokers. And proximity was important as I didn’t want to travel too far for clinics. This left about 5 profiles. This part was exceptionally hard. At this point all you have is a photo and small glimpses of the struggles encountered by these couples that perhaps identify why they are hoping to find a surrogate. It feels like an immense amount of power that you really don’t want. My husband and I struggled to decide between two. Thankfully fate intervened and one of the couples had been chosen by another surrogate which meant they were now going through a ‘get to know you’ period to decide if they were right for each other.
From this point things happened at super speed. COTS got in contact with the couple and we had our first telephone conversation. They seemed so lovely. We liked how involved they were with children through their work, and the same things seemed to be important to us both, like healthy lifestyles and healthy eating. It sounds strange I guess as its really none of my business how another person raises their child, but I didn’t want to carry a child for someone who was going to smoke around them or feed them crap food. And I wanted a couple who were around children and familiar with the challenges children bring. In England, the surrogate mother is the legal mother before a parental order is applied for between 3-6 months post birth. And although I highly doubt it has genuinely ever happened where a couple don’t keep their baby (horror stories are in abundance in America – But really I doubt they are genuine) this was the main concern of all our families. Our parents asked “what if they don’t take the baby?” “what if they die and you are left with the baby” “what if the baby is born with a health condition?” – their concern came from a place of protection and love, and I guess most of these dilemmas are pacified with your knowledge in choosing the right people to help, talking through all the scenarios and feeling confident in each other.
Working out the finer details: expenses, legalities and health
We had been ‘getting to know’ each other for about 6 weeks when my sister announced her wedding date in 2014, and as I didn’t want to be pregnant at her wedding it meant we either waited until after the wedding, or had two natural cycles to try before. As we’d spent lot of time together, they’d met our kids and we’d had numerous phone calls, we all felt there was no point waiting! And so we let fate decide the outcome. Our couple (known in the surrogacy world as IPs – Intended Parents) were already with a fertility clinic and so we arranged to start the counselling and initial tests.
Both my husband and I, and the parents spent a session or two with the counsellor to check how we each felt about surrogacy, and see if they felt we were compatible to make it through this emotional journey. Blood tests and scans confirmed I was fit and able to help, and my GP was also required to sign off on a surrogacy pregnancy. At this point COTs held what they called an agreement meeting, which really is a chance for you all formally to record your decisions about various things; how you would handle a miscarriage, how you would handle a health issue at a ultrasound screening, planning for the birth, what would happen if the baby was still born or you needed a hysterectomy.
An agreement of expenses is noted, although this really is already agreed between you while you get to know each other and talk about how the pregnancy and birth might affect you. COTs have assisted in hundreds of surrogacy journeys, and their guidance is between £12,000-£15,000 to cover the period before, during and after birth. This will vary in each journey naturally, but may include, childcare, loss of earnings, vitamins, travel to appointments, legal fees such as additional clauses to a surrogates Will. Things like life insurance continues well into the post natal period and you need to plan potential additional expenses such as health aspects relating to birth complications.
None of this is legally binding, and whatever method you use to make an agreement it’s important to know and trust each other because all of it is really done on good faith. It’s really quite awkward as a surrogate (and I’m sure also as an IP) to talk about money. It shouldn’t be, but it is. My advice, just be open and honest, really look into all aspects of financial areas that may be affected and talk about them. Ask other Surros and IPs; “What did you do in this scenario?”
At this point I would love to mention that there are some amazing surrogacy communities on facebook (and some bad ones!), but also Surrogacy UK is an amazing organisation where you can join as a non member to share and receive advice. Don’t jump into anything. I’ve heard of people asking too little and running into money trouble and really getting in a pickle and stressed out, I’ve heard of people asking for a little extra to treat their family to a small break to make up for mummy not being her usual self while pregnant and recovering. Try not to judge (especially if you are reading this as a non surrogate and thinking HOW MUCH?!), everyone is different and at the end of the day it’s a match between those involved and each is different – remember this is also part of a good match. If a surro’s expenses are too much because of childcare, or issues with time off – maybe it’s not right, and there are others who might have less expenses. Just talk it through, as with all of the other aspects and make sure you are all in agreement and happy. I hate to make this a big part of the write up – but it is the part that so many people ask about (even though they shouldn’t – would you ask someone how much earnings they lost being off work?).