Surrogacy in the UK

Hands touching pregnant belly

Surrogacy offers a way for a couple to have a baby when they are struggling with infertility and often brings positives to both the couple and the surrogate mother. Here's what you need to know before you get started

What is surrogacy?
Is it legal in the UK?
Cost of surrogacy in the UK
How does surrogacy work?
What happens after birth
Can a surrogate keep the baby?
Surrogacy laws
Using family as surrogates
Becoming a surrogate
Finding a surrogate
Useful contacts

What is surrogacy?

Surrogacy is when a woman agrees to carry and give birth to a baby for another couple. It has only been legal in the UK since 1985 (and since 2010 for same-sex couples). So it’s a relatively new phenomenon and the government is currently consulting on the legal processes at the moment, in order to try to make it more streamlined and offer the best legal protections for all parties.

If you’re considering being part of a surrogate arrangement, either as the surrogate mother or a parent-to-be, there’s a lot to consider. We’ve answered some of the main questions here. However, before doing anything more, you’ll want to contact support organisations and talk to others who've been there to find out more about the realities and ensure you’ve considered all the potential pitfalls.

Dark warnings aside though, when everything goes to plan and both parties are happy, it’s a wonderful thing. Surrogates tend to say that being able to give a couple the gift of a child was one of the high points of their lives, and for couples who have struggled with infertility, that gift is obviously life-changing.

Why do couples use a surrogate?

Most people who use a surrogate to have a baby do so because of medical issues but there are many other reasons people might make the decision, too. Reasons for going down such a route may include but are not restricted to:

  • Premature menopause
  • Having had a hysterectomy (perhaps due to illness)
  • Problems with the uterus
  • A medical issue that means pregnancy would endanger the mother’s health or even threaten her life
  • Having had several failed attempts at IVF
  • Being in a same-sex (usually male) relationship
  • An infertile couple finding that adoption is not an option for them, perhaps due to age or circumstance

Yes, using a surrogate is legal but there are strict restrictions on finding and using one, and then surprisingly little legal protection for the intended parents once the process is underway.

You aren’t allowed to pay a surrogate, though you can cover any expenses she incurs, which can include things like travel, time needed off work, clothes for the pregnancy, and anything else related to the pregnancy that she would otherwise pay for. You can’t advertise for a surrogate, nor advertise to be a surrogate. No third party is allowed to profit from the arrangement either.

What is the cost of surrogacy in the UK?

There are no fees for a surrogate because it’s illegal to pay for one. However, some of the agencies that exist to match surrogates and couples do charge a fee to cover the costs of their service (including meeting everyone to match them, counselling for both parties and drawing up agreements. Fees can range from £4,000 up to more than £12,000.

Don’t forget that there is also the cost of any assisted conception needed (eg IVF or artificial insemination). And then, of course, couples are expected to cover the costs of their surrogate. These costs are usually agreed in advance and can be paid either in one lump sum or in instalments.

How does surrogacy work?

It's a wonderful thing to do. I've been a host surrogate, and am currently attempting the journey again.

Some couples use a surrogate who is known to them, perhaps a friend or family member. Others find someone they don't know, either independently, often via specific chat forums, or with the help of one of the non-profit organisations or agencies that exist to match surrogates with couples. These can be a good idea because they have lots of experience of matching couples with potential surrogates, know where all the pitfalls may lie and can often also offer counselling before and throughout the process for everyone involved. However, many charge extortionate matching fees, so many people look to finding a surrogate independently. While the agencies can offer lots of help and support along the way, going with an agency doesn't actually buy you any more legal 'stability' than an independent arrangement.

ultrasound

How does a surrogate get pregnant?

A surrogate pregnancy requires assisted conception (unless you’re in a low-budget soap opera). Depending on circumstance and the reasons for using a surrogate, this can be done using the intended couple’s sperm and egg – or just one or other of those – or it can be done with donor sperm and egg, or using the egg of the surrogate.

Gestational surrogacy

Gestational surrogacy (also known as ‘host surrogacy’) is where the baby is conceived using the intended couple’s own eggs (and often sperm) and the embryo is transferred to the surrogate via IVF.

Traditional surrogacy

The traditional (or straight) method is where the surrogate’s own egg is used and fertilised in the womb using a syringe (usually at a clinic) with the father’s sperm, or sometimes donor sperm.

Obviously, any assisted conception treatment always has risks and is not always successful, so this may be the beginning of a long journey.

How involved can you be in a surrogate pregnancy?

The dream for most couples is obviously that they’ll be in close contact with their surrogate, get regular updates and perhaps attend scans, appointments and the birth. Some families stay in touch with their surrogate forever – they become part of the family. Others prefer a bit more of a ‘clean break’. It’s worth thinking in advance about how involved you all want to be and making sure everyone is on the same page and has similar hopes and expectations.

What happens after a surrogate baby is born?

Despite the media having you think otherwise, the surrogate process is very successful here in the UK and there have only ever been a tiny number of cases that have not gone to plan.

As the baby’s birth mother, regardless of whether the baby is biologically hers or not, the surrogate is the legal parent at birth until the couple have successfully applied to court for a parental order. This order transfers legal rights to the couple and must be applied for within six months of the birth. To apply for this order the following must be the case:

  • One half of the couple at least must be genetically related to the baby (so you used either the mother’s egg or the father’s sperm).
  • The couple must be in a relationship and either married, in a civil partnership or living as partners.
  • The couple must be living with the child and have a permanent address in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man.

To apply as a single person, you must be genetically related to the child and have them living with you in one of the areas mentioned above. If neither of the intended couple is genetically related to the child (in the case of using the surrogate's egg or donor egg, and donor sperm), the only route to go down is adoption, which is a longer process.

mother holding newborn

Can a surrogate mother change her mind and keep the baby?

Legally, yes. However, it’s very rare. When it does happen it tends to make the headlines so it perhaps feels more common than it is. If you have counselling or speak to one of the organisations that exist to offer support and information, staff there should be able to talk you through all this and reassure you.

Be aware no agreement is legally binding, so it doesn't matter what organisation or agency you are with, they offer nothing more than guidance/advice. It is totally possible to do it indie-style, that way you avoid agency fees which can be very high.

Surrogacy laws in the UK – what they mean

In the UK you aren’t allowed to pay a surrogate to carry a baby for you but you can pay her expenses.

Once an agreement has been made and the surrogate is pregnant, she is the child’s legal parent and remains so until after the birth (even if your donated egg was used) when you can transfer parental rights via a parental order or formally adopt the child. The law says that, even if you have signed an agreement with a surrogate and paid her expenses, she is still the legal parent, so while it’s obviously necessary to do those things, they don’t buy you any security legally.

The government is currently looking into changing the law slightly to give everyone a bit more protection. What the changes will be we don’t yet know but what's being looked at is clarifying what expenses can be paid, and changing the law so that the intended parents automatically become legal parents at birth unless the surrogate objects. This would negate the need for getting a parental order or adoption papers after the child is born.

Can a family member be a surrogate?

Yes, some couples do use a family member (or friend) as a surrogate. There are pros and cons to this scenario. On the one hand, it can speed the process up if you don’t have to find a surrogate. Also, having someone you know and are close to may give you reassurance and you’re more likely to have more involvement through the pregnancy. It may also mean you feel you have more of a ‘genetic connection’ to the baby, which might help during the pregnancy when it’s often easy to feel a bit left out of the process if you aren’t carrying the baby.

On the other hand, many women (both those hoping for a baby and those intending to be surrogates) say they feel family or friends arrangements can ‘muddy the waters’, and if things go wrong, it can be at the expense of that relationship as well as the possibility of becoming a family.

It’s worth having some counselling sessions together before anyone gets too excited about things, just to talk the realities over in a ‘no pressure’ way first and to make absolutely sure everyone is happy and has aired any concerns thoroughly.

Obviously, if you’re using your own sperm, the male half of the couple can’t use his sister or other close female relative as a traditional surrogate (using the surrogate’s own egg) due to the risk of chromosomal issues and potential abnormalities. Phoebe on Friends really should have clarified that.

Becoming a surrogate mother

If you’re considering being a surrogate, whether that’s just something you’ve decided you want to do and are looking for a couple you can help, or it’s because you know a couple who want to conceive that way, the first step is to make contact with some of the organisations and charities (see below).

They’ll be able to fill you in with all the information you’ll need, put you in touch with the necessary agencies and chat to you about how the whole process works.

How to find a surrogate

Because you aren’t allowed to advertise for a surrogate, your best bet is to make contact with specific organisations and charities. Some agencies offer matching services, where you can meet potential surrogates. There are also lots of online forums that are worth a look and will have good advice about how to begin.

Mumsnet’s Surrogacy Talk topic has lots of advice and information from both surrogates and parents-to-be who have been through it already or are currently involved in it.

Organisations with more information

Surrogacy UK
COTS (Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy)