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Egg Donation and Surrogacy – Guest Post from Kat Howard @RadFem_KatH (short read)

After being a three-time egg donor through a British based egg clinic, and whilst preparing for my fourth round, I recently withdrew from the donor programme. Why? I had a few reasons – questionable treatment of my health by doctors, concerns over my own health, a changing attitude towards egg donation – but most of all, the support by egg donation clinics of surrogacy.

To provide some background, I became a first time egg donor at the age of 24. Whilst I admit freely my main motivation was money, I saw the decision as something positive, a choice I was making that would help another woman somewhere in the country. And I will acknowledge that the British egg donation process is far more transparent and far less exploitative than other countries. At all stages of the donation process, I had the probable risks explained to me, both long and short term. I was given genetic counselling, to make sure I fully understood the implications of egg donation should my eggs be used successfully. And whilst I know I donated for the money, egg donation in Britain carries a flat fee- £750. A good amount, yes, but nowhere near the exploitative amounts that egg donation can reach in countries such as America, where donations can be paid by amounts upwards of $7,500. Women are also limited in how many times they can donate- with 10 being the maximum. So yes, you can earn £7,500 in all, but this would be over a number of years, and few women donate this many times. I can honestly say I left my first egg donation cycle feeling happy with the process, and proud of what I had chosen to do, and I planned to donate the full 10 times (naïve, I know).

So why did I change my mind? I mentioned above a number of reasons, some of which have been spoken about by others. The long-term health risks for example are raised often by organisations, given that there have been links suggested between the egg donation process and increased risks of breast cancer due to the ovarian stimulants used in the process. Egg clinics and egg donation centres have attempted to argue against these, citing poor studies or external factors, but the potential for risk remains, given that there are few to no long term studies. In addition, my changing attitude towards egg donation has been one shared by many other feminists. I recognised it more as exploitative, especially in countries outside of the UK, where women can be coerced into the process either through external pressures, or financial means. These are often young women for whom the money may be a lifeline during a difficult time, and so feel they must donate despite the health risks. I noticed also how this was true even in the UK, with egg clinics targeting their adverts towards young women, some as young as university age.

On a more personal level, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with how my own physical health had been treated during the egg donation process. The average number of eggs usually taken per cycle is 12-16 I was told, yet during my first cycle I had 24 eggs taken. This left me so dehydrated that I had to be put on a drip, and the half-hour recovery time I had been scheduled for turned into 2 hours. The clinic needed no additional written permission to do this, I was simply deemed a ‘good donor’. During my second cycle, my heart rate dropped so much in the surgery that I had to be woken from the anaesthetic. This was only after however the surgeon debated putting me back under, so all the eggs available could be collected. This was decided against eventually, so I was sent home with only one ovary having had the eggs collected. The experience left me with a sense of guilt, as if I was responsible for this surgical failure. I remember breaking down in tears after they let me leave. Physically meanwhile, my body had to get rid of the other eggs in my next period, resulting in a far more painful and heavy experience than usual.

But the fundamental reason I am no longer an egg donor is the link between egg donation and surrogacy. In the UK, you cannot ask your donated eggs to be withheld from use in surrogacy. When you initially donate, you are told that you can ask for your eggs to not be used in any case, as long as it does not contravene the Equality Act 2010 protected characteristics. Yet, when I asked just before I planned to start my fourth cycle, if I could withhold usage from surrogacy, I was told no.

Well, not quite ‘no’ initially. I was actually initially told I could restrict the usage of my donated eggs. It was only when my partner (going through the process for the first time) asked and received a contradictory answer, that it became clear that there had been a ‘mix-up’ or ‘unintentional miscommunication’ in letting me know that I could restrict how my eggs are used, something that I suspect was an attempt to get me through a fourth cycle before letting me know.

Apparently, to withhold from surrogacy would be ‘indirect discrimination’ towards male homosexual couples, and single men. This is despite the fact that single men are not a protected characteristic, and it is not discrimination to be opposed to surrogacy. Being opposed to surrogacy is in no way a reflection of how I view gay parents (or single male parents, or heterosexual couples, all of which access surrogacy) but a moral stance against a practice that can have immense harm on women. I believe there is a huge difference between egg donation in the UK and surrogacy, the latter of which carries much greater risk to the woman carrying, emotionally, mentally and physically, and it should not be automatically assumed that all egg donors are supportive of such a harmful practice. The refusal to separate these two is incredibly alarming- women are ‘recruited’ into being egg donors through the promise of helping a fellow woman, and are at no point informed their eggs may be used for surrogacy unless they directly ask (as I chose to). Many women would feel less comfortable being egg donors knowing this means they would be supporting the practice of surrogacy, and this I believe is why this is not mentioned during discussions with egg donation clinics.

I would not complete an egg donation cycle again, and am in the process of having my eggs destroyed by the clinic so they cannot be used in future. It’s hard to say if I regret the process. I like to think I have helped women somewhere be able to have the child they want, and if so I wish them well. I would certainly not advocate for egg donation, or ever tell another woman to go through the process themselves however. It carries far too much risk, and actively supports the narrative that women’s bodies and their reproductive capabilities are consumerist products, and that is not a narrative that can exist in a world of sex equality.

Breeders – quotes from Surrogate Mothers

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.

Surrogacy in the Media – a review of BBC Three’s “The Surrogates” (long read)

Surrogacy is often explored through TV soaps and dramas, the BBC’s The Nest being a recent example. This short series explored issues around the age of a surrogate mother and how much she is making her own choice, if it is an informed choice and if she being coerced by the wealthy, childless couple who take her under their wing. It was effective in examining how much your body is your own when you are carrying within a human being that ‘belongs’ to someone else and how far your motives are based on a previous trauma.

The BBC looked more closely at surrogacy in a real-life setting with The Surrogates on BBC Three. Here we explore their reasons for engaging with surrogacy. We recognise that quotes here can be taken out of context so we encourage readers to watch the programme (available on iPlayer) for themselves. We provide some background and including the reasons for the Commissioning Parents’ involvement in surrogacy, but wish to stay focused on the Surrogate Mothers.

Caitlin, single mother of two has Baby Joey, for her boss Kate and husband Matt.

Caitlin is the only surrogate mother featured who made the offer privately, and didn’t go through a surrogacy agency, though the couple applied to one after crowdfunding for the IVF treatment. Following the birth, Kate and Matt separate.

Kate employs Caitlin at a baby-related website company. Caitlin is a single mum of 2, having split 2 years ago from their father and she has been in a new relationship for a year. Kate has had two miscarriages and a stillbirth.

“One we had to terminate at 20 weeks, stillbirth at 32, miscarriage at 13.5 weeks. I felt relief at the miscarriage and decided to go for surrogacy. If we decided to try again the doc said there is no reason not to but I couldn’t go through that again. I don’t want to bring a child into the world with 9 months of sheer terror.”

The embryo was made from Kate’s egg and partners sperm and implanted into Caitlin’s womb. “If you are choosing somebody to have your baby then you want to choose the best possible attributes, a young fleshy womb, which is what Caitlin has” says Kate.

Caitlin does come across as being motivated by kindness and her ability to help “If someone needed something and you were in a position to give it to them you would. Surrogacy was never on my radar before as I didn’t know anyone who needed it…the selling point of me is I am very fertile.” Caitlin’s fertility is what drives her, but more as a reason to be embarrassed.

 “I worried that – I’m not sure jealousy is the right word – I felt really conscious I didn’t want to bring up my children in the office so as soon as I realised there was something I could maybe do to help I suppose I maybe jumped on that a little bit. I don’t have to be the bad guy I can be the good guy!”

(To this Kate replies “I don’t want you to feel that you have to rent out your womb just so you can talk about your amazing children!”)

When asked if she could change her mind prior to flying to the mainland for implantation, Caitlin said she had joked about going on the run but in a serious reply she said she didn’t think she could go on working with Kate if she changed her mind. Clearly quite a lot rests on her keeping to the agreement, both for her friendship and for her job, the income with which she supports her children.

We do not hear directly from Kate’s husband Matt but Caitlin’s boyfriend does feature before they split up, he jokes that “I have to ask Kate if I’m allowed to have sex with my girlfriend”. Towards the end of the pregnancy Caitlin is upset at the end of this relationship.

“There’s quite a lot of putting a brave face on. For me there wasn’t anything wrong with it [the relationship]. There was so much I was looking forward to at the end of the surrogacy, plans for the future, it has taken the shine off of it all.”

The stress of the break up leads Kate to be very worried about the baby. She takes Caitlin for a scan. Kate recognises that her worries are based on her own experiences of her stillbirth, “We are having the scan as we are very, very worried about Caitlin and I need to know that the baby is ok. I would start to feel really, really nervous if we were getting towards 40 weeks…(to the Dr) is it worth discussing doing a sweep? I feel really bad I’m like ‘let’s do that’ and it’s not me that has to do it!”

Though a light-hearted moment in amongst the anxiety, it is a timely reminder of whose body it is, who is carrying the baby and who has to endure the pain and discomfort of the procedures.

During labour Caitlin seems to want to make the experience for Kate and Matt as easy as possible, by minimising her response to pain, “ I was trying to look like I wasn’t in pain or struggling, Kate had quite a good look on her face but Matt looked so very worried sometimes. When I opted for pain relief they were relieved!”

The employer/employee power dynamic is recognised by Kate also “I’m pretty sure I have let her get away with more than I would normally” and Caitlin’s maternity leave and return to the office is not mentioned, nor are the ‘expenses’ that Caitlin is claiming.

The only time expenses are mentioned in any details are in Emma’s story.

Single mother, Emma , to 2 year old Jacob, living in a studio apartment is using her own egg for a married gay couple, Kevin 35 and Aki 40. .

Emma explains her family background and her financial motivations to provide a home with a garden from Jacob. When detailing her expenses, she points out that Kevin and Aki pay for her son to go to a childminder two days a week, that life insurance is a ‘must’, and she compares it having a company credit card and that the client is the baby.

Compared to national average, Emma’s quoted expenses are low at £7,600 (roughly half of the lower end of the average is £15-20k) but she does say she will have to ask for more as she cannot be expected to fund a pregnancy as it’s not hers.

“We risk death, illness and surgery. I thought quite a few times that I could die. The money takes away the edge off being a surrogate, we definitely don’t do it for financial gain.”

Emma seems proud of her ability to decompartmentalise, “I think you need to have a certain mindset, you know from the beginning it’s not your baby. I’m not giving away something personal which sounds silly as it’s my egg. I create loads of eggs every month so what’s one egg to help someone? Because I know it’s not my baby I feel like I’m not giving it away I’m more handing it over to the original parents.”

(Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have and generally only one egg is released each month.)

This is discussed more when she speaks to her best friend as Emma’s future role in Baby Mia’s life doesn’t seem to be clear. She hopes the fathers will involve her and she appears to consider this arrangement as a life long friendship, a new form of family even. Perhaps she is seeking some paternal figures for her son and considers the arrangement to be a more of a co-parenting situation. She wants Baby Mia to know who she is and offer a female presence as she grows up, but this is contradicted by her earlier statement and her rejection of the word or role of mother. Emma says her baby girl won’t feel like her daughter but she seems conflicted when in the next sentence she says the baby will have her genetics so if her daughter grows up to be arty or show an interest in nature she will think “that comes from me”. Her feelings are confused, wanting to recognise the biological connection but also distance herself, perhaps as an act of self-preservation.

It is later on that we learn how the surrogacy process for Emma has had a profound emotional impact, to the point of ‘healing’ her previously suicidal thoughts.

“Before meeting Kevin and Aki I felt very very low, living alone, dealing with Jacob as a single parent it all evolved from that. Even though I had my son I felt that my life didn’t actually have much meaning. I didn’t want to continue with life. Building that connection with Kevin and Aki and the realisation of what I could do for them as well has given my life a whole new meaning. From the moment we knew we were pregnant, seeing the happiness on their faces, has slowly healed me a little bit.”

Post-natal depression isn’t mentioned but this statement demonstrates that Emma had several mental health concerns before entering into this surrogacy arrangement and though they met online through an agency there is no mention of any counselling or therapy she might be able to benefit from to help her deal with her feelings. She already has plans to give Baby Mia a sibling. More on Emma’s surrogacy pregnancy and her surrogacy arrangement is here.

It is difficult to examine the next example centring the surrogate mother, as the commissioning parent’s narrative dominates this part of the documentary. After he connects with one woman at a ‘social’ (who he rejects as she isn’t willing to get pregnant as soon as he wishes) he meets Faye, who I shall focus on, but before doing so it’s was striking how often the word ‘need’ was used by David.

David is a single man. After an attempt to co-parent with a friend ended in miscarriage, he pursues surrogacy. He says “as a gay man I don’t have access to a woman” (though the same could be said of any single man) and “as a gay man I don’t have access to female bodes, that’s not part of my experience.” He had previously considered adoption but his child needs to be part of him and to have a genetic connection.  His view is that “everyone deserves to be a parent if they want to be a parent”. And that surrogacy is his only option, but this is because he has rejected others.  “I need this to happen…I feel it in every fibre of my being, I need to be a Dad.”

Faye, is the mother of two young sons, with her husband Lee. Faye and David feature here on BBC’s Woman’s Hour.

She may have been drawn into the ‘surrogacy community’ almost by accident, but again to fill some kind of void.

“I saw a facebook thing of surrogates and there were people doing selfies in the car on their way to socials, I just absolutely fell in love with all these lovely looking people that would make amazing parents and I thought how would I feel being a surrogate, can I do it can I do it?”

She appears to seek to prove to people that she is strong and not overly-emotional by being able to give a baby away.

“I’m a very emotional person but I don’t see that as a negative, I want to prove to other people that I am strong enough, I can do this. But I feel like it is also about the injustice for amazing people who want to be parents but can’t. I want others to have what we’ve got.”

(It may not have been her intention, but framing David’s sexuality as an injustice is an interesting viewpoint. One I may expand upon that in later blog…)

Faye sees her bond to be with David, not the baby and she also places value on her fertility and what her body can do but as a great favour for someone else,  “society’s view of women is that we are driven by our hormones and emotions to be mums and they have no idea that when hosting a pregnancy for someone else your bond can be with that baby’s parent rather than the baby, there’s so much more depth to it.”

Later we learn more about Faye’s deeper purpose, perhaps similar to Emma, that through the surrogacy she is looking to heal, to look at herself differently.

“I used to be a social worker. I hit a breaking point in the last few years. I was having a lot of therapy, focusing on self esteem. I put my dog first before my needs! It’s just how I was raised really. I think about having a low opinion of myself does have an impact on this, like now, going into surrogacy it’s occurred to me that maybe I felt so shit about myself that I kind of wanted to show people that I am a nice person I can do nice tings, and that would make me feel more positive.”

Maybe surrogacy is a form of therapy for Faye and there is something in her childhood that has meant she has little self-worth.

“I get this opportunity to show my boys this important thing that money doesn’t matter but relationships and kindness and helping others is important.”

Children can extract all manner of messages from an act adults carry out. Another message could be that women are vessels for men.

One very poignant moment for me as a viewer was when Baby Miles was in David’s arms but still connected via the umbilical cord, as she lay in the birthing pool, naked and exposed and supplementary, as the focus shifts from her body and the baby within, to the baby is no longer a part of her. The documentary showed even extended family coming to see Baby Miles, before Faye is shown holding him.

Maddie 29 and Alex and Rich and Baby Hannah form a team through Surrogacy UK (who, incidentally, are mentioned several times throughout the documentary series and they are directly involved with the Law Commission’s work and the APPG Surrogacy reform group).

“The ultimate dream is just to be useful to someone who desperately wants their own child and can’t without some help.”

Maddie has two sons and is in a same-sex relationship, as they chose to go for home insemination using Maddie’s egg, Baby Hannah is half-sister to her children.

It’s possible that her family background is at the root of her involvement in surrogacy, “what the opposite of a nuclear family? I see what I’m helping Alex and Rich to do is something I have never really known. They have been married a long time they are bringing a child into a very conventional – even though they are two dads – progression of a relationship.”

They agree to try home inseminations every month for 6 months and this takes it emotional toll on Maddie as it is only towards the end of that period she becomes pregnant.

“I feel like I might be leading them on even though I’m not. They’ve let themselves imagine it now so to think that might not happen just feels really cruel. It’ss hard not feel hopeful and not protect yourself, it’s a lot of conflict, you need to be quite strong. It’s quite stressful!”

When asked about whether she has revealed any of this to Alex and Rich she says no s  “none of it, they would be really upset, I just want to do it for them”. There is an element of delivering on a promise and, perhaps similar to Caitlin trying to hide her pain and put a brave face on, hiding your true emotions and worries. Maddie is thrilled when she does get pregnant and laughs that she “can’t pull out now too late for that!”

At the birth when Hannah was on rather than inside her body, her immediate reaction was to hesitate, she seemed to want Alex and Rich to touch her first. Maddie was looking right at them for their reactions.

Alex and Rich are allowing me to be part of their family biologically with my DNA and it feels really good that they want that as part of their child.” A sense of validation maybe, to have been chosen, to be good enough. I think it’s possible that Maddie was ‘paying it forward’ with this surrogacy arrangement and as a lesbian she feels she can be useful to another same-sex couple. There is more on Maddie’s story here.

Jemma is a full time mum of three, married to Steven. We meet Jemma at the end of her first surrogacy pregnancy (known as ‘Baby K’ for Sunny and Shayla) and before her second surrogacy pregnancy (Baby Jasper for Jamie and Kitty).

Though Jemma claims that “the reason why I wanted to become a surrogate was to help create a family and a friendship with a couple that was lifelong”, but her language changes as she talks about it being an addiction, that there is a an emotional ‘high’.

“it’s my thing, my buzz, it’s my kind of high…It is so addictive, and when I spoke to surrogate before I had Baby K I understood that it was very very addictive but now I’ve had her and I’m living that euphoric feeling of how we all feel….I am officially addicted to surrogacy.”

Though not motivated by money the difference of status between her and the intended parents, at least for the first surrogate baby she has is notable. She remembers the day her family met them at their home.

“There was this huge driveway and Madison was in the back of the car going mummy they are bloody rich! Gosh how the other half live, they’ve got all of this and they’ve not the the one thing that is really important to them.”

Jemma is very honest about how this gives her a sense of power.

“You’re powerful, it’s a powerful thing to have [fertility]. Their future is literally in your hands…I made a family, who can say that? That pride is like a drug…you see what you’ve done and you want it again.”

It is unsurprising that in desperation to remain in the world of surrogacy she needs to be pregnant again so we with her family at a ‘social’ just two weeks after giving birth. Later she is constantly checking her phone when her mandatory 3 month wait period is up as she is eager to offer herself again, this time for Kitty and Jamie who she is ‘falling in love with’…”I want Jamie’s baby right now!”

Jemma’s involvement in surrogacy is also based on her fertility but very much as a super-power. She says she is “quite an in your face character”, telling jokes (“but it’s not my baby….they looked at me like I was on drugs!”) and at the heart of her humour is the truth: surrogacy is a transaction, even if it’s not a financial one.

“When you’re in a room full of people who potentially you could make very, very happy it makes you feel very powerful. I look at IPs [intended parents] and I think what are you going to give me? I know what I can give you. I think what are you going to give my family?”

Jemma is seeking connections with others to have fun, she does not want to be buried and bogged down in the emotion and trauma of surrogacy, she clearly seeks friendships similar to those she lost in her 20s and in exchange she will give them a baby. “In my 20s for few years I was a stripper, I would party hard …For me it was all about being with my friends…and having  good time. As soon as I got pregnant…and I wasn’t going out drinking every weekend those friends slowly went away and you realise that they aren’t proper friends, trues friends at all. I was very, very lonely.,,

Surrogacy did bring out the person I was back then definitely but I never went into surrogacy thinking I would make the friends that I have I never ever, ever expected to meet these couples who I feel now would never walk away from me.”

Jemma understands that these new ‘friends’ will be prevented from leaving her because they owe her for the great favour she has done for them. When she secures a verbal agreement with Kitty, she jokes “They’re mine!”

Jemma is the only serial surrogate we see in the documentary and at 33 she has a few more years to have more babies for others, but what happens when you can’t do it anymore? After 3 of her own and the 2 she gave away could have a 6th, 7th, 8th pregnancy to keep getting her ‘high’. Her validation centres around her fertility and her baby making abilities, none of which lasts forever. For more on Jemma’s story see here.

So as a viewer, at the core of their reasons, I can see these women want to Be Kind or exert some kind of power or revel in their ability to have babies; they may be hoping to heal some emotional or mental difficulty, or seek friendships that can’t be lost, or be a part of someone else’s family so to expand their own.

Putting aside the ‘expenses’ or so-called altruistic surrogacy which the BBC presents here, there is a strong sense for me, that it remains transactional in nature and it is the baby at the centre of the exchange.

Welcome to Stop Surrogacy Now UK.

As our first blog we wanted to introduce ourselves and the reason why we formed.

We are a grassroots group, formed through discussions on social media to run a single issue campaign against the practice of surrogacy. We are feminist, partisan and non-religious group of women. We are keen to work in coalition with other groups that aim to oppose this exploitative practice.

We oppose all forms of surrogacy on the basis of women’s and children’s rights and exist to campaign against the Law Commission’s proposed reform of the Surrogacy Act (1985) in England, Wales and Scotland.

 surrogate

[ˈsʌrəɡət]

NOUN

  1. a substitute, especially a person deputizing for another in a specific role or office.

“she served as a surrogate for the President on a trip to South America”

synonyms:

substitute · proxy · replacement · agent · deputy · representative · factor · stand-in · standby · stopgap · fill-in · relief · understudy

Surrogacy is the social practice where a woman is ‘used’ for her body, her fertility and reproductive capacity to grow and birth a baby without the intention of being a mother to that child and giving that baby away, or ‘gifting’ that child to ‘Intended Parents’.

We see Surrogacy is the sale of a child where any profit is made. No amount of pretending its gestational service’ changes the reality. Commissioning parents want a baby not a service, the baby is the ‘end product’.

Surrogacy as a practice developed from the demand of wealthy, infertile people to have exclusive parenthood of a biological child.

1) exploiting women as baby making machines does not advance womens rights

2) The child’s right to have a relationship with all its parents are disregarded

3) It perpetuates that same old structural injustice where poor/ vulnerable women are used for the benefit of the wealthy – the power imbalance in surrogacy is a key argument

‘Using a surrogate’ means replacing the only mother a child has ever known.

“People who seek a surrogate have a very specific desire…it is not only a desire to raise a child, but also a demand that the mother be absent.” ~ Kajsa Ekis Ekman “Being and Being Bought”

Gestational Surrogacy is where the mother is implanted with a pre-fertilised egg and it is placed in her womb as an embryo. Traditional surrogacy is where the woman has her own egg fertilised by the sperm from the man who is commissioning the pregnancy or by donated sperm. Either way, it is her egg, her genetic material and she, and any children she has or will have, are genetically related to the baby.

Commercial surrogacy is where money changes hands and it has been an illegal practice since the Surrogacy Act banned it in 1985. Altruistic surrogacy is defined by the Law Commission as an “arrangement in which neither the woman who becomes the surrogate, nor any surrogacy agency involved, makes a profit, and the arrangement is not enforceable as a matter of contract law.”

However, the issue of expenses and what constitutes as expense of the pregnancy is a grey area as what can be considered an ‘expense’ can become a benefit or be classified as a ‘profit’. The Law Commission defined commercial surrogacy as:

“A surrogacy arrangement in which the woman who becomes the surrogate and any agency involved charge the intended parents a fee which includes an element of profit. A commercial surrogacy arrangement may also be characterised by the existence of an enforceable surrogacy contract between the intended parents and the surrogate.”

On page 356 of the Law Commission’s document, ‘other expenses’ listed include mobile phone payments, holidays and gifts.

Building families through surrogacy: a new law

So what’s our problem with it? Well, there are several…

The Law Commission’s proposals include:

  1.      The removal of the legal rights of the Surrogate Mother at birth

This is the key proposal which essentially drives UK law towards a commercial model. Currently the parental order process requires a parental order application to be made within 6 months of the child’s birth. The surrogate mother, or birth mother, maintains parental rights, is named on the birth certificate (along with her male partner if she has one) and she can change her mind at any time.

A court order is required to remove the birth mother’s parental rights with her consent and parental responsibility is given solely to the commissioning parents.       

The Law Commission propose to reverse this and to apply a model already used in jurisdictions that allow commercial surrogacy. A Pre-birth order grants the commissioning parents sole parental rights, ‘ownership’ and custody of the baby at birth.

If the mother wishes to reverse this and claim parental rights, the onus is on her to lodge an application to the court within a short period of time. In England and Wales this would be 6 weeks, in Scotland 5 weeks. Judging from her likely hormonal, post birth state, this allows no time at all to make such a lifelong decision that is the opposite of what you have previously agreed to. She would need to find a lawyer and pay the required fees so they can represent you, submit paperwork and prepare for a legal battle. It would be necessary to do all this during a period of recovery from birth. Its important to note that a mother cannot decide to keep her baby, it is the courts who will be making that decisision in the ‘best interests’ which is usually in favor of the baby buyers because they are wealthy and usually have immediate custody of the child post birth.

Crucially, this proposal is in direct contradiction of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children to the Human Right Council which states that “to prevent the sale of children in the context of altruistic surrogacy…the surrogate mother must retain parentage and parental responsibility at birth.”

  1. The removal of the requirement to have previously given birth.

It is not possible for a woman to provide informed consent if she has not previously experienced pregnancy, and even if she has, every pregnancy is different so a woman cannot be guaranteed a smooth pregnancy even if her previous pregnancies were uneventful.

Surrogate pregnancies require the mother to sever the natural emotional bond that forms and there are physical difficulties to consider. We will explore this in future posts.

  • No limit on the number of times a woman can be a surrogate mother.

It will not be written into law how many times a woman can be a surrogate mother and we have concerns over the reasons why a woman might consider doing it once, let alone undergoing the process numerous times.

Pregnancy takes its toll on a woman’s body and ‘serial surrogates’ take risks with their own lives. Women who have been surrogate mothers express their connection to surrogacy as an ‘addiction’, a ‘high’. The Law Commission offers no protection for these women, no upper limit of how many times a woman can be pregnant and no time limit in between pregnancies. The Law Commission relies on fertility doctors and surrogacy agencies (where applicable) to advise on the dangers and best practice.

Dogs are more protected in law through breeder licenses, with a limit of no more than 6 litters per dam and the Kennel Club limit registrations to no more than one per year.

  1. No limit to the number of embryos transferred.

Whilst the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) recommend a ‘one at a time’ approach, there are no legal restrictions on how many embryos can be transferred into a woman’s womb. The decision rests with the commissioning parents and the woman as to how many she agrees to carry.

However, there have been instances of women in the UK being flown overseas for more embryos being transferred than the number that she has been agreed to grow and give birth to. Due to the cost of IVF and the surrogacy arrangements a woman can be coerced, however gently, to agree to carry more than what she is truly comfortable with. When it is a matter of how many eggs you can fit into a ‘basket’, a buy one get one free deal is very attractive.

Prior to commercial surrogacy being banned in India, it was known for up to five embryos to be transferred into a woman’s rented womb. In America where commercial surrogacy is legal in most states, multiple embryo transfers can be made, followed by foetal reduction’ and it is legal in some states to select which embryos to kill (with a fatal injection to the heart in vitro) based on their sex.

  1. Lifting the ban on advertising

Currently it is illegal to advertise your ‘services’ as a surrogate or advertise that you seek a surrogate mother. From the proposal document:

“This means that all parties are currently at risk of committing a criminal offence by, for example, posting on a Facebook group that they “may be willing to enter into a surrogacy arrangement”;129 or are “looking for a woman willing to become a surrogate”. 130 It does not matter whether the advert in question is for an “altruistic” or “commercial” surrogacy arrangement.” (page 250).

Whilst it is not illegal to advertise for egg and sperm donors there are serious considerations to be made around this and around advertising for surrogacy. It is clear from this proposal alone that the Law Commission seeks to commercialise surrogacy in the UK and make it easier to rent a womb and buy a baby.  Allowing advertising will significantly increase the risk of exploitation of vulnerable women. To allow advertising and not put any proposals in place to protect women is indicative of how women are viewed as part of the surrogacy process.

We feel there is a deliberate omission around egg and sperm advertisements, both are heavily connected to surrogacy and this particular proposal is supported by surrogacy agencies who would benefit from the lifting of this ban, especially when it comes to ‘replenishing’ their stock of surrogate mothers as commissioning parents out number surrogate mothers.

Whilst the Law Commission say they do not want to encourage ‘surrogacy tourism’, points 1, 2 and 3 represent a total failure to consider the protections women might need. All of these proposals are designed to enable surrogacy.

With this campaign, we hope to raise awareness of the proposals ahead of the draft Bill being published and encourage critical thinking towards surrogacy and what these proposed changes would mean.


We invite anyone who has experienced ‘surrogacy regret’ to contact us, whether you have had a surrogate pregnancy, miscarriage or failed attempts at IVF or articifical insemination; whether you have given birth to a surrogate-born child, or are an adult born through a surrogacy arrangement. We would also like to hear from partners or children of surrogate mothers, or surrogate mothers who have given birth to children for family members.

We recognise that your stories are not often shared in the general perception of surrogacy but you can share this with us anonymously, safe in the knowledge that we respect your privacy.

Please contact us at stopsurrogacynowuk@gmail.com.