Thanks to shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and sensational tabloid headlines, surrogacy often gets bad press. But there is a much more positive side to the story: that of friendship, community and the joy of helping to create a long-awaited family.
Sarah Jones, President of Surrogacy UK, is a four-time surrogate mother who discovered surrogacy 20 years ago when she investigated to become an egg donor.
“Back then, egg donors had to be anonymous,” Sarah said. “I didn’t like the idea of not knowing anything, so I put it on hold. When I came back a few years later and Google searched for an egg donor, surrogacy came up and I considered it to be the same.
Jenna Newell, a mother of two, recently became her cousin’s surrogate mother. Her own fertility issues led her to become a surrogate mother. “When I was younger I was told I would be lucky if I could conceive naturally, so I always said if I could then I would like to do surrogacy.”
But how does it feel to be a surrogate mother? Jenna and Sarah explain everything …
Surrogacy is not just for nine months
Unlike other countries, where surrogacy is a transactional process, here in the UK the law does not allow money, other than expenses, to pass through the hands. This means that the whole process becomes much more about friendship. Most surrogates stay in contact with NPs (Intended Parents) and the babies they produce.
“We want a lifelong relationship,” says Sarah, who stays in touch with her four surrogate babies and their parents. “We don’t want to live in each other’s pockets, but we do want to meet from time to time.”
There are more substitutes than you think!
Speaking to Kate Thornton on the latest episode of Question time on white wine, transgender couple Jake and Hannah Graf explained how they started the journey, but finding a surrogate is difficult.
“The legislation is basically about protecting the surrogate and preventing it from becoming an industry like it has become in many other countries, which is a good thing,” Jake told Kate on the podcast.
“But at the same time, it makes it really, really hard for people like Hannah and me to find someone.”
Sarah thinks there is a surrogate for each IP. “There are at least 150 active surrogates on Surrogacy UK right now – and this is just an organization,” she explains. “There is no shortage of surrogate mothers in the UK. You just have to wait a little longer, because it’s based on friendship.
So what advice could Sarah give Hannah and Jake in their search for a surrogate mother? “The community is really the best resource,” she says. “Surrogates talk to other surrogates, so you might not meet your surrogate, but you might find another.”
Jenna also recommends getting the word out independently through her friends, family, and the many Facebook groups that exist. “Don’t rush,” she said. “Chat with different people and get to know them first. “
Trust is so important
Surrogacy isn’t just about producing a cute baby at the end of it; it is also about creating a respectful relationship between the surrogate mother and the future parents. “It’s usually based on trust and friendships because of the way the law is structured – and it works best that way,” says Sarah.
Jenna agrees that honesty is so important on the surrogacy journey. “I wouldn’t want people claiming to be pregnant and not mentioning surrogacy,” says Jenna, who says trust and respect are also essential.
“I didn’t want to be in the labor room,” she says. “I went to a unit run by midwives. It is also important to trust me.
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Surrogates are soul mates
As the law prohibits payment in the UK, surrogates here are doing it for purely altruistic reasons – and this is something that binds them permanently together for life.
Surrogacy UK has a very large community of surrogate mothers who stay long after they retire. “We have breaks and meetings just for surrogate mothers – we call ourselves the Surro sisters,” says Sarah. “We are soul mates and we don’t have to explain why we do it – this understanding binds you together”
Jenna agrees it’s a big community and a small world. “When you are a surrogate mother, you find that other surrogate mothers live in the same area as you. A surrogate mother I met lives just 20 minutes from my house – it’s a whole new world.
The law still needs to be improved
While it’s great that payment is illegal in the UK, there is still a way to go to improve the surrogacy experience in this country. For example, the birth mother (and the father, if married) must always register the birth.
“One of your official obligations as a parent is to go and register your baby and that is taken away from future parents,” says Sarah. “They should be the ones doing it. It’s something you have to do, but you wish you didn’t have to.
However, new laws have been proposed. If adopted, PAs can register the birth. “The Law Commission looked at it (the current law) and everyone said it was not the surrogate’s role to do it,” Sarah explains.
As for after birth, some hospitals do not allow surrogate and new parents to leave separately and may in fact call social services as this is considered an abduction.
Jenna says she was very lucky to have a forward thinking unit to give birth. “We each had a private room…” Jenna said. “I asked them to compose a hospital group for my cousin for their memory box and they went further and formed a special group with my cousin’s name matching the baby’s name. They also sent them back separately from us.
There will always be those who judge
Sadly, both Sarah and Jenna were negative from people when they found out they were surrogates.
“I’ve had comments,” Jenna said. “How much do you get out of it?” Where is your red cape? I could never give my baby!
As Sarah tells anyone who wonders how they could give the baby after carrying it for nine months: “You don’t give it, you give it back to their parents”
Jenna’s cousin was also the subject of scathing comments as an intended parent about how surrogacy would save her figure. “She was as expected, it’s not about saving my figure,” Jenna explains. “She would have loved nothing more than carrying her own child.”
But the end result is worth it!
The best time to be a surrogate for Jenna was when the baby was born and her cousin burst into tears.
“Seeing their faces when she was born… was very moving,” she said. “Just seeing them have this family they wanted so badly was amazing! “
As Intended Parent Hannah Graf told Kate Thornton during White Wine Question Time, “I really hope that person is here. Hope we connect with them and hope the stars align… I think anyone who is ready to be a surrogate by definition is an amazing person.
If you are looking to be a surrogate or intended parent, visit Surrogacy UK or COTS Surrogacy for more information.
Hear from a couple, Jake and Hannah Graf, as they place their pregnancy hopes on surrogacy in the latest episode of White Wine Question Time.