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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 16-Sep-14 11:12:27

Guest post: Surrogacy transformed my life - but is it morally acceptable?

Alice Jolly's youngest child is an egg donor baby born to a surrogate mother in the US. The novelist and playwright says that, despite her own joy, she understands people's misgivings about surrogacy - and argues that a commercial system would make things fairer.

Alice Jolly

Author of Dead Babies and Seaside Towns

Posted on: Tue 16-Sep-14 11:12:27


Lead photo

If surrogacy is going to exist then shouldn't it be fairly remunerated?

Surrogacy is everywhere. From the broadsheets to the day-time television sofa - everyone has a view, especially in light of the recent baby Gammy case. But there is one group who keep silent, who don't speak to journalists and who mind what they say, even to good friends. Those are the people who have direct experience of surrogacy.

I am one of them. I would probably be wise to keep my mouth shut – those who are opposed to surrogacy can be virulent – but it is hard to stand by and watch the mountain of misinformation about surrogacy grow. Again and again commentators focus on the one surrogacy journey that fails, without reporting on the 99% that succeed.

That's why I decided to put my head above the parapet and write a memoir about our experience. We are among the 99%, and surrogacy transformed our lives. Although we had a living son, we had lost four babies in five years – a stillborn daughter, four miscarriages. IVF had failed, and our attempts to adopt were bogged down in bureaucracy.

Before surrogacy we were shattered, and now we are happy. Lots of people assume therefore that I must be a passionate advocate for surrogacy. On the contrary - I'm a cautious one. I believe that surrogacy is a desperate measure for desperate times. No-one should be doing it unless they have no other option, and anyone who thinks it is easy is a fool. It took four law firms and a trip to the High Court for us to bring our daughter home from the States, where we had paid a woman to carry our egg donor baby.

Sometimes, I still struggle with whether surrogacy is morally suspect. What is at the root of society’s distrust and discomfort over it? It seems to be an innate feeling lots of people have - that a woman should not be able to give birth and then hand the baby over to someone else, despite the fact that most surrogates are now gestational surrogates and so have no genetic link to the child they carry.

Too often, surrogacy is something that poor women do for rich women. My husband and I went to America because we felt that women there would not be exploited... but, it's easier to be moral if you're well off.

When we were in the States with our surrogate, again and again I asked her: ‘Do you really want to do this?’ Even at the time of my daughter’s birth I was still unconvinced. How could she be okay with it? How could she be doing this momentous thing for me? It was only in the long days she and I spent together afterwards that I began to understand.

Our surrogate Mum is intelligent and wasn't struggling with money. She had plenty of other choices. She really wanted to be a surrogate and she enjoyed the experience so much she’s doing it again. Should the law stand in the way of a generous woman?

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. There is a thornier problem with surrogacy, to do with money and class. Too often, surrogacy is something that poor women do for rich women. My husband and I went to America because we felt that women there would not be exploited, but we could only go there because we had enough money. That enabled us to avoid the income inequalities which exist in India or the Ukraine and to ensure we didn't take advantage of anyone. As with lots of things, it’s easier to be moral if you’re well off.

The English legal system gets around the question of money by banning commercial surrogacy. Some would say this is right - that it’s a 'Good Thing' for us Brits to take a moral stand on it – but the UK system means we have a situation where a woman does the most important job ever, for free. Is this selfless love? Or slave labour?

If surrogacy is going to exist then shouldn't it be fairly remunerated? It doesn't have to be a question of love or payment - both can exist side by side, as I learnt from our surrogate. I know that I wanted to pay her. It can be hard to live with the knowledge that another person transformed your life and that nothing – absolutely nothing - you do will adequately compensate them. How much worse would I feel if she had done it for free?

One thing is for sure: international surrogacy isn't going away. The internet enables anyone to contact surrogacy agencies across the world. We couldn't stop it even if we wanted to - if a couple arrive at Heathrow holding a baby which is genetically linked to one, or both of them, are they really going to be refused entry?

It's complicated, going through the arguments I've considered a thousand times. But now I am about to go and pick up my living, lovely daughter from nursery. She is called Hope, and as soon as I see her tiny, laughing face it doesn't seem complicated at all. She is what leads me to conclude that the UK should create a system similar to that in the US - a system which is highly legalistic, but promotes fairness and protects everyone. A system which might encourage people to stay at home, rather than go to developing world.

Let's allow those generous women who want to be surrogates fulfil their desires, and give them legal clarity and fair remuneration. Let's support them in giving a gift, the value of which can't be expressed in words, let alone money.

Alice is currently crowdfunding her memoir - Dead babies and seaside downs - with Unbound. 50% of the proceeds of the book will be donated to The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (Sands). You can find out more and support the book here.

By Alice Jolly

Twitter: @JollyAlice

AlleyCat11 Tue 16-Sep-14 12:14:07

It's not so much the moral question for me. If a baby is loved by it's parents & brought up well, biological or not doesn't matter. That's why I think adopting is a good thing.
My concern is with the science. This stuff is relatively new - surrogacy, IVF, other fertility treatments. Even the Pill. I do think it is messing with nature... At what cost?

todayisnottheday Tue 16-Sep-14 13:11:07

For me the only moral issue is the exploitation issue. I feel the UK has done what it does so often and slapped an elastoplast on a sticky issue because it can't/won't spend the time and money required to come up with a proper solution that enables and safeguards. Too often the UK shies away from issues that will create opposition or polarise opinion. My cynical view is that no government wants to risk votes.

The issue of being or using a surrogate is so highly personal and individual that generalised discussion is virtually impossible. Everyone on one side will know of a"bad" story, everyone on another will know a "good" one. I think there is a vague feeling that any child "handed over" should be subject to the same rules, investigation etc that an adopted or fostered child would, a feeling that being able to afford to use a surrogate isn't enough. Until that is addressed I don't think we'll get far.

Nuzza Tue 16-Sep-14 16:30:24

Thinking about it from the child's point of view, rather than any of the adults involved, reveals the deep problems with surrogacy. Many things make up a child's sense of who its mother is: the genetic connection with the biological mother is a real one, the connection with the woman in whose body the child lives for nine months is a real one. Severing either of these connections causes loss and is a real wound to the child, as any adoptive parent will tell you. When that loss can't be avoided, there can be healing and happy endings, as many adoptive parents will also tell you - but to deliberately set out to inflict those losses on a child simply to fulfil the wishes of adults can't be right.

MollyBdenum Tue 16-Sep-14 18:17:31

I think that some things can only be ethical if freely given, and payment beyond expenses is always likely to be exploitative. Sex and pregnancy/childbirth both fall into that category for me.

smellyfishead Tue 16-Sep-14 20:47:51

I personally believe commercial surrogacy would be a bad move for the uk. I think it would attract people to undertaking surrogacy because of the money I also think when very large sums of money are involved it becomes exploitative and often comes this sense of ownership over the surrogate by the intended parents. Although the women that wrote this article has a surrogate child, the child was born in the USA where commercial surrogacy is legal but costs anywhere from $20-80,000. There is nothing wrong with the way it works here in the UK in my opinion.

Alleycat-traditional surrogacy doesn't involve anything that messes with nature, it is literally self insemination with the intended fathers sperm.

Today- so by that reasoning, baring in mind the surrogate child has to be biologically related to at least one of the intended parents, should ALL parents have to undergo checks before they are allowed to take THEIR child home?!! hmm

How many "bad" cases are there? very few, but you generally only here about the bad, louise pollard was the latest but to be fair she was totally unhinged! The recent story in one of the national papers about a uk surrogate keeping one twin that she was asked to abort- they resurrected that story-it was 9 years ago!!!

Nuzza- surrogacy is different though, adoption often doesn't happen for months/yrs after a child is born, in surrogacy the child is handed to its parents immediately. most surrogates keep in touch with their surrogate familys and surrogate child are usually brought up in the knowledge they were looked after in someone elses tummy, it just cannot be compared to adoption, they are two very different things!

smellyfishead Tue 16-Sep-14 20:58:30

And its not the system or the fact its not commercial surrogacy here in the uk that makes people go abroad, its the fact there are very few surrogates compared to the number of intended parents!
The situation in Thailand though will probably make intended parents think twice before embarking on international surrogacy.

Yourfrenchiscrap Tue 16-Sep-14 21:06:15

I was a surrogate for friends last year (using donor egg).
It was truly incredible experience from beginning to end. From the start we had many discussions about all aspects from antenatal tests, and possible outcomes, to what would happen if they died whilst I was pregnant!
Our friends were totally involved in every part, attending all appointments, even reading all the pregnancy websites about the size and development of the baby. Just totally embracing the process and as a result making me feel comfortable and at ease with it all.
They were both present for the labour and that moment of her being handed to her as he came out was one I will never forget. There were many tears (even the midwife) and as I lay drinking tea and eating toast after watching them together I could only feel massively proud of what we had done.
After that there was a fairly robust assessment by social services and separate interviews about the process and how we came to be in that situation.
I'm not sure what the long term answer is, I don't ever want to see a situation where vulnerable women were forced or coerced into having babies for rich people. I'm not sure I do want the more business like model from the states to be in place here. Maybe the involvement of social services could start earlier in the process ( during pregnancy) so that there is a more open and honest communication from earlier. This perhaps could reduce the failure of surrogacies that are so highly reported and any potential problems could be spotted and dealt with.
We still see and speak to our friends fairly regularly, I have loads of lovely photos and my children have a great bond with her. I'm not sure how this will pan out in the future but I know they will always be honest with her about she came into the world.
Oh and financially I had my expenses covered and a few weeks off work. We did save some of this money and had a lovely uk based family break to enjoy my 2 own gorgeous kids. However we certainly weren't "paid" and neither would I have wanted to be. It would have made me feel extremely uncomfortable.

Mama1980 Tue 16-Sep-14 21:15:13

I am very conflicted on this issue. I have two birth sons and two adopted daughters, my youngest dd was placed in my care the day she was born with the consent of her bm under a sgo, her adoption was finalised by the time she was 6 months old.
But still she suffered a loss, her birth mums body the security of her heartbeat was taken from her. Attachment had to be formed, it happened very quickly by the time she was a week old she was howling if anyone but me touched her. Basically the same way things would have been handled if she was a surrogate baby.

It was all done and as 'cleanly' and as quickly as possible, But can we say with any certainty what damage the severing of that bond early as it was will have? And to willingly inflict that uncertainty on a child at the will of adults can that be right?

I had a emergency hysterectomy after the birth of my youngest ds to save my life, would I have liked other birth children-yes. But knowing what I know about adoption and the issues my daughter may or may not face I would not consider surrogacy as a option.

Having said that if someone acts freely and all are in legal and moral agreement,and especially if the surrogate remains a part of the child's life then maybe it can be a happy answer for everyone involved....

smellyfishead Tue 16-Sep-14 21:23:28

But yourfrench, generally in surrogacy social services are not involved, unless requested the by either the surrogate/intended parents. No surrogate or intended parent I know has ever had social services involvement. In my experience most "failed" surrogacies are due to Not taking enough time to get to know each other and not covering all the issues that surrogacy could throw up before embarking on the journey - eg decisions over tests, if doing ivf-decisions on how many embryos to transfer, opinion on reduction etc etc

If anything needs to change in the UK its the agencies that organise/facilitate/advise on surrogacy, all that I know of are corrupt, devious and milk intended parents of money charging hundreds of pounds for tests that can be done without consulting an agency, for annual subscriptions etc

Indy surrogacy is the way forward, there is no need for a agency at all as long as all the things they would do are carried out eg CRB checks, std/sti checks, blood tests etc.

todayisnottheday Tue 16-Sep-14 22:02:42

Smelly, can I ask that you take the time to re-read my post please? I was commenting on how I think things are (or are perceived to be) not how I feel they should be. As I said I don't think we'll advance as a country on this issue unless perceptions are changed.

Nuzza, I don't think I quite agree. Of course a new born has a connection to the person who carried them. However I don't think being transferred to another, caring, parent immediately at birth will have a long lasting effect. Of course one day there will probably be a conversation or the information will become known and the handling of that is delicate and individual. There is definitely potential for harm there and I'm sure it's something parents of adoptive and children from a surrogate pregnancy think over very carefully. I'm not sure it's really harming a child for the sake of a parent.

Yourfrenchiscrap Tue 16-Sep-14 22:08:34

Smellyfish, all surrogate babies go through essentially the adoption process so there will have to be some social services intervention, even light touch. We had to do it as part of the legal process, we didn't request it!

Beepbeepnow2 Tue 16-Sep-14 22:35:06

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

smellyfishead Tue 16-Sep-14 23:10:36

yourfrench- as beep says, usually there is no social services involvement, who got them involved in your case? did you use a lawyer? - afaik its illegal for any law practitioner to offer anything other than advice in regards to surrogacy!

today- yes sorry I realise after re-reading your post, I think its because a lot of people are ignorant when it comes to surrogacy and most believe what they read in the press. There are a lot of people who don't understand that this is not getting pregnant and giving the baby away, its carrying a baby that is biologically related to at least one of its parents and is never the surrogates child. I think perceptions of surrogacy would change if people were better informed, but that doesn't make for a good story in the press, they are only ever interested in scandalous stories which make surrogacy look bad!

janeoflanternhill Wed 17-Sep-14 00:17:39

I think social services are only involved in the 'step-parent adoption'; that is, in the adoption of the baby by whichever intended parent is not genetically related to the baby (and who will therefore have to adopt as a step-parent).

EileenFLong Wed 17-Sep-14 06:10:20

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

Beepbeepnow2 Wed 17-Sep-14 06:49:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

QOD Wed 17-Sep-14 08:08:27

I had social services involved. The court appointed a Guardian Ad Litem, it was a non negotiable part of huge process of the Parental Order (which is part of the Human Embryolgy Act of 1984) ... Makes me giggle that I still remember that .... Dd is coming up for 16 though and we were the first ever in our Court, hospital, GP surgery, midwife teams surrogacy case.

So you're not "right" smelly, perhaps it depends on area, how many cases they've had etc?

I was with DD daily from conception to birth (and onward) other than when we left our surrogate to babysit alone for 2 weeks at about 6 months whilst we went on a last ever holiday grin so there was never any attachment issue. Perhaps dd may have turned to my friend if we had laid down and put her in the middle due to milk/hormone smell? But she turned to my voice over anyone's from the moment the Midwife brought her to us.

What I think is wrong with the whole UK baby scenario is that there is no longer ANY stigma in girls having abortions, in girls keeping their babies (however unable they may be to parent), SS are so slow to remove first children/sibling groups so so few newborn babies are available for adoption.

My social worker actually said to me, on an unannounced home visit when DD was about 10 weeks "but I really don't understand why you didn't just adopt" which I found to be a supremely weird thing for her to say.

I am a bit unusual in as that our surrogate OFFERED, it was her idea, she was a friend, we had a relationship. We did pay for everything of course, maternity clothes, child care blah blah,treated her to stuff, all that.

I can 99.99999999 recurring state that dd is unaffected by her conception. My only 0.111111111111 is that maybe when she falls pregnant herself one day she may wonder how her birth mother could give her away? But you know, one of my friends DD's is the result of rohypnol drug rape, who is going to find out when she is 18 ... (Adopted) ... Who will be less affected? The child born because, and ONLY because they were wanted so much? They would Never have been conceived unless that was so? Or the one who's birth mother finally discovered she was pregnant at 5 months but hadn't had sex for 8? And finally realised what that weird weird experience was?

Commercial surrogacy, I have no issues with donor eggs being carried by a surrogate, I am less certain about the issue of perhaps very poor Indian/Romanian whatever women being paid to give up their own egg, that does seem more of a forced issue.

To be honest, NOONE that's a right to make declarations on what is right or wrong until they have walked a mile in someone else's shoes.

Congratulations on your daughter Hope

QOD Wed 17-Sep-14 08:09:30

Just to reiterate, I meant we left her to "babysit" at 6 mths pregnant! Not when dd was 6 mths ,,,

smellyfishead Wed 17-Sep-14 19:59:40

QOD ahh I see, your surrogacy was 16 years ago! I know hundreds of surrogates and intended parents and nowdays SS are not involved unless someone asks them to be!

ArsenicFaceCream Wed 17-Sep-14 20:00:28

What I think is wrong with the whole UK baby scenario is that there is no longer ANY stigma in girls having abortions, in girls keeping their babies (however unable they may be to parent), SS are so slow to remove first children/sibling groups so so few newborn babies are available for adoption.

So you think young women keeping their own children should be deliberately stigmatized in order to ensure to supply of newborns available for adoption?

What a charmer you are.

ArsenicFaceCream Wed 17-Sep-14 20:08:45

To be honest, NOONE that's a right to make declarations on what is right or wrong until they have walked a mile in someone else's shoes.

And this^ is a deeply facile and unintelligent line of argument, which rather tramples over the thrust over the OP without even nodding towards it.

A great shame, as the guest post was insightful and considered and i'd be very interested to read the forthcoming book.

OddBoots Wed 17-Sep-14 20:13:50

I've had three host surrogate pregnancies, a boy for one family and two girls for another and it has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

I am happily married with two children of my own, we're comfortably off and I have a great career that I love. I am completely fulfilled but being able to combine my love of being pregnant with the chance to help couples become parents (and children become siblings) was absolutely wonderful.

I genuinely do not thing the children came to any harm by having mothers who didn't give birth to them, I played recordings to them in the womb of their parents reading stories and bonding happened right before my eyes in the delivery room and in the days after. It's no hushed up secret and the children are still a big part of my life.

I would do it again in a heartbeat if my health was up to it.

ArsenicFaceCream Wed 17-Sep-14 20:24:03

What do you think causes the shortage of UK surrogates Boots?

OddBoots Wed 17-Sep-14 20:36:55

I think there are multiple factors.

I think it is a different frame of mind to use your own egg but if you don't you need IVF and that bit is incredibly intrusive, time consuming and pressured.

I think the image of it can be off-putting, surrogates are either made out the be angelic creatures which feels like a huge thing to live up to or money-grabbing baby sellers which is incredibly hurtful.

There's also the painful task of telling people who have all their hopes on your shoulders that it hasn't worked (particularly hard after IVF) or sometimes sadly that you are having a miscarriage or there is a serious problem.

A surrogate I knew died in the delivery room, it turned out that her death was a tragic undiagnosed problem that could have happened at any time but with surrogacy more than your own pregnancies you are very aware that there is a (small) risk to your life, this is highlighted through the requirement for wills and life insurance.

Anyone going into surrogacy has to think through these issues before starting because if they don't their not going into it with informed consent and all that is in addition to finding the right couple.

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