Surrogacy and Relationships

In this blog post I’m going to focus on surrogate’s partners and the role my husband has played in my journey as a surrogate. I would like to have persuaded him to write this as I’d love to know more about how he really feels about being married to a surrogate. As he prefers a chef’s knife or an Xbox controller to a keyboard, I don’t think he’ll be blogging so I’ll do my best.

I wanted to talk about how surrogacy affects a marriage and hope that sharing this experience is helpful to surrogates, partners and intended parents.

For better or for worse … in sickness and in health… just one month after making those promises to each other we set out on our journey to help create a family, not of our own but for another couple. Little did we appreciate just how far those vows would be tested on our surrogacy journeys.

Photo by Jasmine Wallace Carter on Pexels.com

Our family was complete; we both have children from previous relationships, but my husband understood my desire to share a little of what we have with other people. We could help another couple so, ‘why not?’

We often tell our girls; ‘anything is possible’ and it is one of our strong shared core values as a couple, we honestly believe that with hard work, determination and a generous sprinkling of luck; dreams are out there for the taking. During the low points such as reactions to medication, failed transfer and loss in our surrogacy journeys it has often been my husband reminding me of these values that has given me the strength to carry on.

There have been times I’ve found myself scrolling through my ‘fertility friend’ app realising it’s unlikely there is going to be any ‘spontaneous bedroom fun’ for us anytime soon. Surrogacy has a massive impact on your sex life and whilst there are ways and means of being ‘creative’, not being able to be intimate in a natural, normal and healthy way for a couple is a huge challenge. Whether you are starting IVF treatment, doing inseminations, in the two week wait, massively pregnant or post birth; surrogacy has the ability to put a stopper on any ‘spontaneous fun’ you may expect to as a married couple.  Things don’t necessarily work first time and something that can help is making sure there is the opportunity to take some time out between transfers / inseminations to give space for a couple to be a couple.

In traditional surrogacy (where the surrogate’s own egg is used) usually this takes place via home insemination and is not something that can be easy for a surrogate’s partner. Whilst it’s far away from anything sexual that you could imagine with syringes, cups and often a fair few giggles at the whole awkwardness it can still feel strange. My husband was not comfortable with inseminations taking place at our home, we all respected this and whilst this meant a 66 mile round trip every time, 4 times each cycle that being the difference between him being comfortable or not felt like the least that we can do considering the sacrifices he has had to make.

There are times when only a husband or partner will do; there is something about my hubby that makes me feel safe and gives me a comfort I can’t get from a friend, family member or even my IPs. When I experienced loss and awful stomach cramps, my husband spooned me all night and placed his large warm hand on my tummy. It was the only thing that helped, not his baby, not his dream but his wife. At difficult times when a surrogate leans on her partner IPs may feel like they aren’t being of help, by doing little things like sending a text to the surrogate’s partner or cooking a meal they are helping the partner to support the surrogate.

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One of my IFs was talking about relationships and he said, it is like sharing your relationship with another couple at times, emotionally you are linked to each other through the ups and downs and naturally you will want to spend time together to really get to know each other and share the journey together. It can present a strange dynamic at times.

Something that has helped us with that has been our Thursday ‘date nights’ with phones away and protected time for one another. Whilst surrogacy can be all encompassing at times, I make a conscious effort not to talk surrogacy for the one evening a week.  I certainly haven’t always got the balance right; it’s easy for surrogacy to take over we found relationship counselling really helped us reset and me to understand the impact on my hubby.  

Ultimately surrogacy has become more about friendship than it has been about creating families. We have been fortunate to have been on the journey along with couples who have developed their own friendships with my partner whether that’s through an avid love of Star Wars, camping, tequila or gin. Being an honorary Uncle and enjoying the pictures and cuddles from the little girl we helped create is a lovely reminder it was worth the sacrifices we both made.

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Whilst I can say wholeheartedly, I would support him to do something equally dangerous, challenging yet rewarding, I’m not sure he would actually ever ask this of me.

The love and respect I have for my husband in being there for me on the rollercoaster that is surrogacy is huge. Whilst I can say wholeheartedly, I would support him to do something equally dangerous, challenging yet rewarding, I’m not sure he would actually ever ask this of me. Hand on heart there are times where surrogacy has really tested our marriage, but it has made us stronger as a couple.  

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Why I don’t want to be paid… a surrogate’s voice

Last week a flurry of debate ensued prompted by ex family high court judge Sir James Munby and his assertion that as expenses are agreed after the fact they have been paid and always ‘waved thorough’ the rules around paying surrogates should be relaxed.

We heard from surrogacy lawyer Natalie Gamble a solicitor who also runs a surrogacy agency that payments are ‘in the interests of women’ and Kim Cotton of COTS on Twitter that expenses are ‘fabricated’.

I wanted to add my voice to this debate as a Surrogate and explain why I do not want to be paid and feel that anything other than expenses is dangerous step towards commercialism of surrogacy in the UK.

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In this blog post I’ll address some of the questions and issues that have arisen during this debate. Whilst this is my personal perspective having experienced surrogacy first hand I’m aware many of my ‘surro sisters’ feel this way and I hope to give a voice to altruistic surrogates here.

You are putting yourself through so much surely some financial compensation would be appropriate?

It’s our dream too… as surrogates we set upon our journeys with a shared hope, we want to create and complete families. Surrogacy isn’t a job, it’s a passion and the relationships we have with the parents are based on trust and friendship. Anything more than expenses changes the dynamic and would make me feel like an employee. It’s a huge responsibility looking after your friends’ baby but to be being paid for that would make me feel like I was working for the parents rather than being a friend with a shared dream.

Natalie Gamble recently stated on twitter that US surrogates (who do receive compensation) say that when you work it out to an hourly rate it is such a tiny amount. When you start thinking about compensation and working things out to an hourly rate you actually realise how ridiculous it is, there is no financial amount that would be appropriate to ‘compensate’ someone for surrogacy so why try to put a price on it? A surrogacy journey is not just the surrogate, it affects our husbands and partners, our children, our hobbies, our whole lives. There is no ‘pause’ button in surrogacy, you aren’t a nanny who can take a day off now and again.  This is why surrogacy relationships should be based on friendship.

You may have read my earlier post where I explained how loss has affected me as a surrogate. It is now 9 months since I lost my friends’ little boy and I think about him every single day, there is no amount of financial compensation that could have covered this, I find peace knowing that my friends are still there for me because our relationship is based on trust and not a transaction.

If the parents want to treat you, why not?

Most intended parents have had to face terrible inequalities in their journey to parenthood, due to disability, illness or simply falling in love with someone of the same gender.

As a surrogate I am acutely aware of the sacrifices my friends have had to go through in order to become parents or step towards that dream. In a situation where, lavish gifts are permitted or payments above expenses allowed, further inequalities are created and surrogacy could become beyond the means of intended parents who are so deserving of the opportunity to be parents.

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Wouldn’t it be easier for you if you didn’t have to keep evidence of expenses?

Yes of course it would but no woman goes into surrogacy for an easy life! Believe me, when you have been up 3 or 4 times during the night, can no longer see your toes and your kids haven’t been able to wrap their arms around you for a hug for the past 3 months; expenses are no bother! Keeping a spreadsheet up to date and collecting receipts to ensure evidence is available for the parental order is the easy bit of the journey. I am proud to be able to account for my expenses and share these with the intended parents. At Surrogacy UK surrogates are given advice to ensure that expenses are appropriate and specific to the individual.

Moving to a system with a ‘flat fee’ based on an average may lead to some surrogates; such as those with several children of their own or a high loss of earnings actually being out of pocket as a result of a surrogacy journey.

The law needs to be reformed, surely, we have to consider payments at the same time?

Actually no, as a surrogate I am passionate about legal reform on issues such as having the correct parents recognised from birth on the birth certificate. These legal changes can be made without the need to impose a system of fees / compensation or payments. These are very separate issues and those who lump them together are doing a disservice to reforming the law and tackling the concerns of intended parents and surrogates.

Recently we have seen improved government guidance for health professionals and individuals in relation to surrogacy. These documents were created by working groups with representatives for the surrogacy community, surely some clear and concise guidance in relation to expenses could follow a similar route?

Can’t we just have two systems in the UK?

I don’t believe that an altruistic and commercial system of surrogacy can run side by side in the UK.

I can not see how the two systems would be differentiated. As a surrogate I deal with a lot of misunderstandings even with the current system.

There are two questions I get asked all the time; are you doing it for your friends? Do you get paid?

I am proud to answer that yes I am helping my friends and no I don’t get paid.

Any element of commercialism would mean contracts and lawyers, surrogacy would naturally become more expensive and I do not believe these changes would in fact give any additional protection to intended parents.

The rare challenging cases which make it to the high court are more often than not international rather than UK surrogacy cases and family judges have shown some discretion in how the law has been applied in those cases.

If there is an argument for two systems the appropriate two systems to reflect custom and practice would not be to offer a commercial option in the UK, but to offer a different approach to compensation where this is legal in the surrogate’s country of residence in comparison with UK surrogates whom can only have expenses covered.

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In this debate it is important that we do not forget that surrogacy is about creating human lives, those little people whom the intended parents trust us to care for, nurture and bring into the arms of their loved ones. Mutual trust and respect (with guidance and support) rather than contracts and fees should be the foundations of a surrogacy relationship. For love… not money.

 

I would (with much sadness) walk away from surrogacy if a commercialised model was introduced in the UK and I’m confident I would not be alone in this.

How it feels .. the two week wait

 

Here we are once again… in the two week wait, this is our fourth cycle and it doesn’t get any easier. I thought I would share with you how it really feels to be a surrogate during that agonising period between transfer/ovulation and being able to test …

 

  1. Signs & symptoms

You find yourself picking up on signs everywhere.. a significant date, a rainbow; recently we have had some amazing sun rises and huge orange moons; yes I know this is probably due to it being august or some rational astronomical explanation but I’m lookingrainbow

 for hope wherever I can find it! Then come the physical symptoms … watery mouth, sore boobs, peeing a lot, the mixed bag of old wives tales are amazing perhaps some based on truth but otherjust strange. 

 

 2. To POAS or not to POAS

Whatever you do never, ever ask this question to a group of surrogates.. POAS (peeing on a stick) is a surro sister’s answer to pretty much everything (see symptoms above!) Surro sisters love nothing more than squinting at vague lines on a pregnancy test and yes.. believe it or not there is even an app for that!

 If you test early you run the risk of an early disappointment, perhaps a chemical pregnancy or if you are on IVF meds they may still be in your system however curiosity is an incredibly powerful impulse and in most surrogacy situations you have jumped through so many hoops just to get to this point!

With TS (traditional surrogacy) as you may be trying month after month the idea of just waiting for nature to take its course can actually be quite appealing after a while too.

 It can also be a wonderful experience to share the testing itself with the couple that you are helping, whether that’s a pot with your sample and they dip themselves or joining in via Skype. 

  1. Tests, tests, tests

Now, if you’ve made your mind up you are ready to POAS (or had your arm twisted by fellow surrogates desperate for a squint!) which test should you use?

It seems that what works for one person doesn’t always work for another however most surrogates swear by a FRER (First Response Early Response) which claims to be able to detect hormones up to 6 days in advance of a missed period. Most surrogates tend to have more than one brand in, just in case and it’s the most amazing feeling ever when those words ‘Pregnant’ come up on the digital tests!20180910_055747

 4. Sharing the news

This is such a double edged sword in surrogacy, you get to share the highs and the lows. When you are close to your couple it feels heartbreaking to think that they may be holding out hope all the while you know it hasn’t worked. However it does allow you to prepare for the news so that you can focus on comforting your friends if it is bad news. On the other hand to find out together at the same moment can be so special whether that’s over skype, together or on Christmas morning over the phone!

 

  1. Who to tell?

This is so personal to a particular team. Some will feel that the more good wishes and good vibes there are, the more they will feel supported. Other people will want to keep things private and not share things too far.

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Whatever you decide it’s worth remembering that there are other people invested in your surrogacy dream. I mentioned to my teenager daughter I was going to write this blog post and she was upset that I hadn’t told her I was in the 2WW. ‘Even if it doesn’t work out I’ll be here to support you and understand if you are bit more ratty than normal’ she said, I suppose I have not wanted to get her hopes up so I’ve perhaps been a little over protective of her feelings.

 

Well writing this has given me a temporary distraction from our team’s own two week wait …. Fingers crossed!

How it feels … the loss of a surrogate baby

I wanted to share my experience because I couldn’t find stories like mine at a time when I wanted to feel less alone. I guess it’s a fairly unique experience to loose your friends’ baby…

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By now I should have given birth, I should be chilling out at home resting and looking forward to pictures and texts from the guys coping with night feeds, black poos, getting the wind up and all that comes in those first few days of parenthood. There are none of these, when I visit their house it should have piles of muslin cloths and a nursery and that new baby smell but it doesn’t.

On Christmas morning I was able to give my friends the best present they could possibly imagine. I called them to let them know that they were going to be Daddies! It had worked … the positive pregnancy test we were all so hopeful for and as a team our journey was heading in such an exciting direction.

As a surrogate it’s a huge responsibility knowing that your friends are trusting you to take care of their little one. You live your life differently when carrying someone else’s baby, of course you take the vitamins and cut out the caffeine but your behaviour changes too, you don’t dash through that amber light at the roundabout, you are acutely aware of how much this little person means.

I was nervous for the first scan, we arranged an early one just to give us that reassurance. Then we saw the little flicker of a heart, beating away, I will never forget their faces in that moment, it was starting to become real.

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Seeing that little heartbeat on the screen, I was so relieved and hopeful.

 

The weeks passed and we shared time together, the boys began shopping, the nanas started knitting and my belly grew. .jpg We attended appointments and everything looked good. Towards the end of the first trimester I had some spotting but an additional scan showed no issues. We began to plan for a homebirth and I would let myself daydream of that moment I would see my friends hold their baby for the first time. We braved terrible snow to attend the 12 week scan appointment, I had to do lots of jumping around to get baby into the right position to take all the measurements but we go there in the end. It felt like such a milestone that everything was looking well and baby was growing.

In the days that followed I had a call from the midwife asking that I repeat the blood test as there must have been some contamination, I really didn’t think much of it as everything was fine but then the call came in… The blood test indicated issues with some levels in my blood and an increased risk of Edwards, Patau Syndrome or Triploidy. I s20180311_112427hared the devastating news with baby’s daddies. Between the three of us we googled and researched, I was on a train journey that afternoon and it was impossible to hide my tears from the other passengers and actually I didn’t really care as my heart was breaking at the thought of what might be ahead for us all.

The options (if you can call them that) to find out more were a blood test or CVS whilst we had always know we wanted to avoid any invasive testing now we were faced with such a difficult decision. The respect my friends treated me with and way we were able to talk and come to an agreement together meant so much, their baby, my body – we decided on CVS as this would give us a definitive answer.  Both the guys and my mum were there and the staff were so kind, the CVS procedure involves a long needle to take cells from the placenta.

It was a huge blow to find that the test hadn’t worked and the cells they had taken were normal female cells, my cells not placental. We had to go back to the hospital for additional detailed scans. Whilst they weren’t able to tell us conclusively which condition was there the consultant explained that the brain was developing abnormally. He said that continuing with the pregnancy could present a risk to my health and it was unlikely baby would survive to term.

When you decide to be a surrogate you do so to create life, giving up your own life to some extent, your time, impacting on your family but with that goal of creating another family. I was devastated.

On 25 March in the morning, at around 16 weeks pregnant, labour began, I felt so relieved that things were happening naturally but at the same time so sad that the dream was coming to a premature end. I knew however would rather give birth early than not at all, it would help me say goodbye.

Having never experienced miscarriage I didn’t realise it would feel like labour normally does, it was such a difficult time for my husband driving me to the hospital and seeing me breathe through the pains which were becoming more and more regular. My mum and the guys met us at the hospital and I was so grateful they had a little room on the edge of the labour ward for us. Shortly after arriving into the room, I just knew it was time, time to let go and let this little one be born. I told the boys it had happened it was over and we held each other and cried. In their own grief they took care of me and we shared the loss together. The midwife was incredibly kind and we had the opportunity to say goodbye. The baby was a little boy and the hospital did little things like giving us a bracelet with his name and a memory box for each of us. I was appreciative that baby’s grandmothers were able to come in and see him. There were so many people invested in our journey with their own hopes and dreams.  20180329_171717

I was exhausted and pleased to me home. I was in so much pain physically and emotionally. After a day or so out of hospital the pain continued and I began to bleed very heavily and pass very large clots. Once again my incredible husband had to rush me to the hospital, the guys met us there along with my lovely mum. We talked about the options of continuing to let things pass naturally or to have an operation to remove anything left. Now was the time to listen to my husband I knew he was talking sense when he encouraged me to get that assurance everything had passed and know that things were over. I had been able to give birth naturally and now I needed to look after myself and get back to my own children and being a wife.

So at 36 I had the first operation of my life and my first general anaesthetic.  When I came out of theatre my sister and the guys were there for me. I was so grateful and feel so fortunate to have such support. I was kept in hospital and one of the guys stayed with me overnight. Despite their baby having passed they were still there for me; one with me and the other took my daughter to school early the next day.

We now know from the PM results that he had triploidy and had the pregnancy continued there would have been a serious risk to my health.

Over the days and months that followed the support I have had has been incredible, I’m grateful to be part of Surrogacy UK and have a community of my surro sisters who have supported me, listened to me and just been there for me whilst I have needed it most.

Such a mix of emotions; guilt at the impact on my family, gratitude for all the support, love for my friends who were there for me no matter what and incredible sadness at the loss of the little boy in whom we had invested so many hopes and dreams.

Time has passed and we have made our way beyond the due date now, the loss has affected all of us in different ways but our friendship is strong.