What was your journey to surrogacy?
After Ed and I got married, we started trying for a baby straight away and three months later, I was pregnant. We were thrilled, but at eight weeks I had a ‘missed miscarriage’. The pregnancy was over but my body hadn’t got rid of it, so I had to have a ‘dilation and curettage’ (D&C) to remove tissue from the uterus. The D&C didn’t work, so they had to do it again. We were told we could try again as soon as we felt ready and, the next month, I was pregnant.
We couldn’t believe how lucky we were, but I had another miscarriage at eight weeks followed by the same operation. A few months after the miscarriages and D&Cs, I knew something was not right because my periods never returned and I was in a lot of pain. I was diagnosed with Asherman’s syndrome – adhesions or scarring in the womb – which was caused by the scraping process of the D&Cs.
I had five operations but after 18 months the doctors told me they had done everything they could. I would never carry a pregnancy. Surrogacy was then quite a quick decision: given that I had viable eggs and Ed had viable sperm, it felt like the natural option for us.
How did you find out about the surrogacy process?
While the doctors were supportive, there was no clear source of information telling us how and where to do it, so we spent a long time researching. In the UK, surrogacy is largely through charities such as Surrogacy UK. We spoke to the charities, including Brillliant Beginnings and COTS, and went to a conference, where we spoke to women who’d been surrogates as well as couples who’d had babies through surrogacy. We also spoke to lawyers about the legal framework, both in the UK and abroad. The process is different in every country, so there’s a lot to get your head around.
How does it work in the UK?
Surrogacy is legal, but it cannot be advertised or commercialised. You are not allowed to pay someone to be your surrogate (although you can pay pregnancy-related expenses) or advertise surrogacy as a service. There are some wonderful charities who support surrogates and intended parents, but there are also many more people looking for surrogates than there are surrogates.
After researching our options in the UK, we started looking abroad because of the uncertainty around how long it would take to find a surrogate in the UK – we were told a minimum of 12 months, but possibly much longer. Like many women who arrive at surrogacy, I’d already had a hard time. I was also 34, so doctors were also telling me, ‘You’re getting older.’ It felt like a holding pattern and, after everything we’d been through, we couldn’t handle that.
Where did you look abroad?
There were only two places where the process was both legal and well established: India and the US. At the time, the US was out of the question because the costs were so high, so we researched India. While I was incredibly comfortable with the idea of surrogacy, I had read both positive and negative press about surrogacy in India, so we thoroughly researched it ourselves. We spoke to couples who had done it and then went to India. We visited ten clinics in three cities and spoke to charities before finding a doctor and charity in Delhi that were doing amazing work in terms of supporting surrogates and teaching the women skills. It was a whole programme centred around bettering women’s lives.
How did the process work?
We were matched with a surrogate and introduced via Skype, using a translator. We started the IVF stimulation process in the UK, then flew out to India, where my eggs were collected, the embryos created and transferred to our surrogate. Before the transfer, we met our surrogate, Chaphala, in person. I remember how nervous we both were, but we started chatting and it felt right. We talked about her two children, and Ed and my desire to build our own family. Two embryos were transferred, and one took. During the pregnancy, communication was mainly through the doctor, but we also got videos and pictures along the way from Chaphala.
What was the most difficult part of the process?
It was incredibly stressful waiting for news. It’s like giving your baby to someone else to look after for you – if a message was late coming through, I panicked. The pregnancy was uncomplicated but at 37 weeks we went to Delhi to be there for Chaphala’s final scans and appointments and then of course to be there for the birth.
When did you hold your daughter for the first time?
Straight away. When Isla was born, we were waiting in a room next door. She was brought through and placed in our arms. We couldn’t believe it – it was magical.
Does Isla know her birth story?
Absolutely. We have talked about her story since before she could understand it and continue to do so proudly, consistently and repeatedly. We explain to her that my tummy is broken, so another mummy helped us by growing Isla in hers. She knows it took a lot of love to bring her into the world.
Did you use the same surrogate for Isla’s siblings?
No. By then, the law had changed in India and foreigners were no longer allowed to do surrogacy. We researched our options and decided to try in the US.
Finding a surrogate there was a bit like dating. You write a profile; the surrogates write a profile; you share profiles and, if you match, you go for it. It’s obviously a little more complicated than that – you need to agree on lots of pregnancy-related factors – but the most important factor is liking and respecting each other. When I spoke to Holly, I knew she was right for us. Her husband was supportive and her children knew – it was a family affair.
We went out to the US to meet Holly and her family, and were excited to get started. I had already found an IVF clinic in San Diego, close to where Holly lived, so everything was ready. Given how established surrogacy is in California, the legal part was relatively uncomplicated and only four months after meeting, we transferred two embryos to Holly and the twins were conceived.
What was different this time around?
It was more personal because the communication was between me and Holly, rather than the doctors. This probably made me more stressed because, if she didn’t call or Whatsapp every day, I was worried. She was amazing. Because California is eight hours behind the UK, she knew as soon as she woke up to get in touch. I think that’s why we clicked – she knew how to handle me and my stress!
How was the birth this time?
Holly and I came up with the birth plan: it was going to be me and Holly together with Ed and Isla waiting in one room, and her husband and children waiting in another. Then, at 34 weeks, Holly went into labour. I got a call at 10pm from a doctor saying, ‘I don’t want to alarm you but we’re doing a C-section in 20 minutes.’ I managed to get a flight and got to the babies about 18 hours after they were born. It wasn’t the birth plan we wanted, but both the babies and Holly were healthy, and for that we are forever grateful.
As a family of five, we stayed in San Diego for two months. Although surrogacy is a well-trodden path in California, the paperwork is still complicated, from agreeing the medical insurance to applying for American passports. This time also gave us the opportunity to spend time with Holly and her family. We all felt it was important for her children to see us with the babies, the family they created, and appreciate the magnitude of what their mother had done. She said that after having her own children it has been the best experience of her life.
What do you wish you’d known about surrogacy before you started the process?
There are so many different parties involved – doctors, agents, charities, lawyers, insurance companies – but there is nowhere to go for everything. I wish there had been more transparency and that I’d had someone to talk to. We did find people – the most helpful were people who had done it before – but we had to put a lot of work into finding them, at a time when I was going through so much physically and emotionally. As anyone who has been through IVF knows, it can be a brutal and expensive process. The stress and cost of surrogacy on top of that can make it feel like an insurmountable prospect. When I talk about how we created our family, so many people say, ‘My goodness, my friend is in this situation,’ and I end up talking to other women about it. Talking to someone who has done it before and had success is really helpful.
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