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The gift of surrogacy

What do Elton John, Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicole Kidman have in common? They all have children born through surrogacy. So what exactly is surrogacy and how does it work in the UK?

The gift of surrogacy
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Despite the hyped up media coverage of these celebrity stories, the fact remains that surrogacy is not a common phenomena in the UK.  The Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority (HFEA) defines surrogacy as: “…when another woman carries and gives birth to a baby for the couple who want to have a child”.

“We do have specialists in surrogacy but we still don’t see a lot of cases. And normally when we do see them there are absolutely 100% genuine medical reasons for it,” said a spokesperson at The London Bridge Fertility, Gynaecology and Genetics Centre.

Surrogacy as a gift or pay-for service…

The rareness of surrogacy can perhaps be partly attributed to the UK’s strict surrogacy laws that make commercial surrogacy illegal. It takes a very special woman to voluntarily give her time, her body and emotions and sometimes even one of her eggs, to give birth to someone else’s child…

Despite their being no financial incentive, there are women in the UK willing to volunteer as a surrogate mother. Liz Stringer from Talsarnau, Gwynedd has been a surrogate mother six times. “It’s the kick you get from helping people become parents,” she told the BBC1. She added there were not enough surrogates, “… about 40 a year, although of these many will be trying, but not all of them will be pregnant.”  

As a result, many Britons are turning to the services of American surrogates who can expect to receive between $35,000 and $50,000 for their services.  “People can be desperate,” said Amanda Bromhall from Sutton who has also been a surrogate mother six times. "People ring me up and say 'can you help me have a baby?' and when I tell them I can't at the moment they say, 'I'll pay you lots of money'. They think if they throw money at me I will help them. They think they can buy a child," she told the BBC2.

The long road to surrogate motherhood…

For these UK women who volunteer for surrogacy, there’s a long journey to undergo before they deliver a baby. First they must submit to a number of medical tests such as vaginal ultrasounds; and meet a number of conditions: be under 42, with an uneventful medical history and have already had kids of her own. Then there are two types of surrogacy requiring different insemination procedures.

  • Host or gestational surrogacy combines the genetic material of both the intended parents (egg and sperm), and became a possibility following the breakthrough of IVF in the 1970’s.
  • Traditional or straight surrogacy combines the egg of the surrogate mother with the sperm of the intended father and the pregnancy is achieved by artificial insemination. 

Due to fertility drugs that must be taken there are higher risks associated to these pregnancies, such as an ectopic pregnancy or ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome. And the average success rate of IVF is at best only 32.2% according to the latest figures released by the HFEA. Then of course, follow the health risks associated with any pregnancy and childbirth…

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Posted 25.05.2011

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