Following the review of BBC Three’s The Surrogates it felt appropriate to hear from some Surrogate Mother’s from America, where the commercial surrogacy is an industry is strong and growing as state law is being changed to allow it. In order to maintain this growth, more and more women will be required to give birth to children who are sold under contract. In the UK, where currently commercial surrogacy is illegal, surrogacy agencies like COTS and Surrogacy UK, hold waiting lists of ‘intended parents’ and they encourage women to sign up as surrogate mothers, so their ‘non-profit’ businesses can thrive, if not simply survive. Could we expect an exponential increase in demand if law reform allows for babies to be bought? We welcome comments from readers below.
Here we will introduce the women featured in ‘Breeders’, a short film on surrogacy in America, we will give a brief explanation of their individual situations but rely on the quotes to tell their stories themselves.
Gail, a 40 year old single woman who didn’t have any children, was persuaded to have a baby (twins as it turned out) for her brother, Sean and his wife.
“I said I would donate eggs but not carry the children but over the next 18 months they convinced me. It was discussed several times that they would pay me $22,000 to do this and I had told them I didn’t want any money. At the very beginning our relationship was good, we expected a happy ending. Once I become pregnant the relationship between my brother and I became very tense. About a month into the pregnancy it completely fell apart. My brother was consistently telling me I was fat that, I was lazy. At one point he made me mow the yard at 4 months pregnant with twins, he wanted me to paint the house. It blew up and as as I was leaving he asked about the babies…he turned around to me and said “well I’ll get some other stupid female to have my children”… “Sean called me and asked if he could talk to me. We met and he suggested that I have an abortion, and that I could go back to Texas. He actually said that this was not going how they had planned it and that they would get another surrogate to have their children.”
Gail continued with the pregnancy, gaining weight rapidly and was rushed to hospital one night. She had an emergency C-section 2 weeks before the twins were due.
“I had three doctors in the ER one said I was minutes way from death, another said I was in a coma and having seizures, and the other said it was the worst case he had ever seen. During the next month our relationship declined, I had no money, no job, no place to live and I was being refused to see my children. My lawyer told me that I was the mother, that I did have rights and that no judge would deny me my rights to my children. The judge did rule that I was the mother of my children but those rights don’t seem to mean anything as I only get the children every other weekend . I am not involved in schooling or any decisions made abut the children.”
“I think all surrogacy should be banned. It’s buying and selling of children the surrogate is not regarded as a human being I have been classified as an incubator I have been discussed. I don’t have a name. I am a surrogate uterus.”
Heather already had experience of being a surrogate mother when she entered into an agreement with a new couple. Sadly, after several attempts and miscarriage, her third pregnancy for them ended their relationship.
“The first pregnancy showed foetal development issues with the first, in the second pregnancy she had all three remaining embryos transferred and miscarried a single foetus. The commissioning mother did another egg retrieval and a third pregnancy resulted in a baby boy with an extremely rare developmental birth defect of brain development. As she had done previously, the commissioning mother walked out of the scan appointment.”
“They did decide to terminate the pregnancy. The doctor who did the original ultrasound agreed to do the termination herself. Yes it was their child but it was my body and the procedure was being done on me…it dawned on me that it was my decision, I was the one who had to give my consent to take this little boy’s life. I’m also a mother, what would I do for my own child? I talked to a Dr, (a world renowned schicephaly expert) this doctor had said after seeing the scans there was no reason this little boy wouldn’t live a pretty normal life. At that point I said that’s it, I don’t decide who lies and dies, I can’t do it.”
Heather explains that she didn’t agree to the termination and was told by the commissioning father that she was going to suffer consequences for not obeying their decision. The state law where Heather lives did not permit abortions after 22 weeks.
“Partly I was waiting for that window to close before I started speaking with them again. I did get an attorney at that point…we never started out with a contract, contracts always come in at the end. The pregnancy continued on, they made it very clear they didn’t want this baby and so I didn’t know what was going to happen but I couldn’t take this baby home. A woman had stepped up, she had another little boy with the same condition and she wanted him. We wanted to be able to go back to them and say this was the decision I had made to keep the pregnancy but if you don’t want him here is someone who does. The lawyer started making contact and then they said they want him, he’s our son we want to take him.”
Despite early contractions at 32/33 weeks the labour was halted but Heather went into labour at 35.
“I was already ready to deliver so I told mom (the commissioning mother) and she said her sister was coming from town and she was going to be there and then that was it I didn’t hear from her. About 12 hours later I did finally hear from her and she said she was too sick to come….she told me her husband had been in the waiting room overnight and I said why didn’t I know why didn’t he come in…somebody should be here for him so can we please ask Dad to come in the room? She said I don’t know how he feels about that he’s queasy, and I said please. So dad did come in the room and I was very upset and angry and I was so sad for this little boy. I did convince Dad to stay in the room during delivery and he did cut his cord and they took him over to the warming table and cleaned him up and getting ready to walk out of the room and I said please, can I please see him? The nurse brought him over to my side and held him up and I nearly jumped out of bed to try to get a look at him. And that was it. They walked out. I have never seen or heard from them since. I think about him every day.”
In surrogacy, women are encouraged by those around them not to bond with their baby, often they will not consider the baby their’s. Heather doesn’t know what happened to her son*. She was experienced, she knew what to expect from the first surrogacy, she knew she was giving a child she had grown away.
“I did bond with him I did make that motherly connection. I felt like the mom…I had to be the mom, I felt this need to protect him, it was my job to protect him. I made that connection, that bond, and I don’t regret it. I told both couples in the beginning, I’m not looking to perform a business transaction I feel like for the second couple, right from the get go, it was a business transaction. Right from the beginning they wanted to pay someone to have their baby…looking back I feel like these children were bought.“
*Heather gave birth to him so I will respectfully use language that recognises her and the mother.
More words from Heather can be found here.
Tanya was a surrogate mother for a same-sex male couple as she felt that this would be a way to separate herself from the role of ‘mother’. With children of her own, this was her first and only experience as a surrogate mother.
“I had no idea how I was going to feel up until I went to the hospital I thought I would be fine. She was born and the first day I was ok. By the next morning I remember being bewildered almost like ‘what is happening here, I mean what is happening here?’. I was watching the nurses teaching her dad how to give her a bath and realising firstly, that they had to teach him how to give her a bath because first it wasn’t natural and second because I wasn’t going to be there to do it. My OB came in and asked me a couple of questions about how I felt and as he was walking out, he took steps backwards and he looked at me and mouthed “are you ok?” and me being like [pause] No. I’m not ok.
This is someone who watches babies being born everyday and he saw it. He’s probably delivered thousands and thousands of babies, he delivered my almost 16 year old, and he could see better than anyone else I’m certain saw that connection between a mother and her baby and this was the first time he had ever seen anything like that before. I was also seeing my daughter holding this baby and she wasn’t ok either. She loved babies, I mean what was I thinking? I had had two daughters at that point and when my second daughter was born it was the biggest thing that had happened in her whole life. How on earth did I think I could just give one away and she would be ok with it. She was very young but I thought, why didn’t I ask her? I’m certain she would have said no. That’s when it all occurred to me, it’s more than me.”
On her return home Tanya began to think of what the impact was on the baby.
“From being a baby and spending 9 months in my womb and five days in my arms and then being taken away. From being a perfectly happy baby to a baby who is colicky and screaming for hours and hours every single night. She was like that for months… but the first time I saw her after she was born, about two months later, and I hadn’t been there for very long at all. I was holding her and she fell asleep on my chest almost immediately. When she was with me she was more than happy to be cradled and sleep and she would sleep on me. So not only was it difficult for her as a newborn to be separated from the only thing she knew and was comfortable with, but how it would affect her as she grew up?”
“It all fell apart when she was about 6 months old, they took her and moved and I didn’t know where she was for months and months and moths. It took private investigators to find her and from there it went to the court, she wasn’t an idea we could write on paper. She was a real baby.”
Tanya was able, through the courts, to secure some kind of access or visitation rights to her child. She recalls a conversation when her daughter was 5 years old.
“I remember being in my car and driving on my way to the airport and we were talking. She was caught up and focused on looks, “we have the same hair mum, we have the same eyes”. Every day her whole visits were full of the ways we were alike or different, and talking about my other children. And in her little head, not being able to understand it, just as innocent as can be, she turned round and said “why did you give me away?”
Tanya’s emotion is tangible. I will finish her story here with
“When you look at surrogacy you have a couple that wants a child and then you have someone who is willing to have the child for them. Other times you have egg donors and sperm donors there’s a ton of people who get involved but what I think it never addressed, and all to often not thought about, is the child. This child’s foundation of existence is a contract, an agreement and more often than not money. That’s not in the best interest of the child at all we should not be able to accept money for a child.“
Tanya also spoke about being active in surrogacy forums and chat rooms where members can talk together and get advice. When she started expressing concerns, she got a lot of push back to the point that she was deleted and blocked and not able to engage. As a dissenting voice she was ejected and silenced.
The transactional nature of surrogacy is a common theme expressed by surrogate mothers as it is the foundation upon which the whole process is built. Some ‘surrogacy journeys’ are more shocking than others. One that is etched on my mind is this one . Veronica echoes the same sentiments heard in ‘Breeders’. She says it is a business arrangement and agrees with the interviewer that it is 100% the buying and selling of babies.
In response to the film, other women who have been surrogate mothers have been interviewed.
‘Breeders’ is available to watch on Amazon Prime and Vimeo.