Both Niki & I have realised that the same questions pop up from time to time, so we thought we'd do a joint FAQ blog which hopefully addresses most of them. We may well add to this over time.
What is Surrogacy?
Surrogacy is when a woman carries a baby for a couple who cannot do so themselves. There are two types of surrogacy; host - where the child is genetically the "IPs" (intended parents - so Adam and I in our case) and straight - where the surrogate uses her own eggs therefore the child is genetically related to her and the IF (Intended Father). Cheese Teamcake are undergoing host surrogacy and so have been under Hammersmith Hospital in London for IVF treatment. Surrogacy is legal in the UK and becoming more common. It is however illegal to pay a surrogate (reasonable expenses to ensure the surrogate is not out of pocket are allowed). You can find out more about Surrogacy in the UK here.
Emily: I was born with Cystic Fibrosis, and knew at the age of 16 when my lung function dropped to below 60% that I wouldn't be able to have children. I became increasingly unwell and at the age of 21 was put on the waiting list for a double lung transplant. I was lucky enough to receive my life-saving new lungs in January 2007, and 2 years later, discussed the idea of pregnancy with my doctor. Unfortunately, post transplant pregnancies do not tend to go well and whilst some mothers and babies are OK, there are a high number of people who suffer rejection, which can be fatal. I was advised that pregnancy would put my life at risk so Adam and I started looking at alternatives. We stumbled across Surrogacy UK by chance and I'm so glad we did. Here was a chance to build a friendship with someone who wanted to be a surrogate to help others and hopefully start a family, but without endangering either myself or my unborn child.
Niki: We had a really easy time conceiving our two children and feel very blessed to have them. However I remember when I was contemplating starting a family with Steve, just the thought of having trouble conceiving was gut wrenching and I can't even begin to imagine what knowing you can't carry a child at all feels like. I just knew that those thoughts for me were just that, thoughts. For others it was a heartbreaking reality. This made me want to help.I am only 25 but Steve and I are both sure our family is complete. Why not share my unused fertility with somebody who needs it?
At first I looked at egg donation, but this process is anonymous at least in the first instance and I knew I'd be worrying about the life that my egg/s went on to lead. This lead me on to find SUK, their 'friendship first' and forming bonds ethos spoke to me and that is where my journey started.
How much does Surrogacy cost?
Surrogacy is expensive, but not for the reasons people think. Firstly and most importantly, it is illegal to pay for surrogacy in the UK. Surrogates can only receive reasonable expenses for carrying a baby, and this is important as they should never be out of pocket for doing such an incredible thing. Elements such as maternity wear, child care. pregnancy vitamins, loss of earnings and travel to appointments all need to be covered. IVF is also very expensive and so the two combined mean that Surrogacy can really add up.
How did your partner react?
Niki:When I first mentioned to Steve that I was thinking of becoming a surrogate he was quite against the idea. However he did hear me out and the conversation ended with him promising to read a bit more into it and keep an open mind. I'd have never have continued on my journey without his support so if he'd have told me he didn't like the idea then I wouldn't have gone ahead.
Luckily, once he'd read the in-depth information pack SUK send out to potential surrogates and joined the forum to ask a few questions he was fully on board. He'd have struggled more had this have been a straight surrogacy arrangement (so my egg and artificial insemination of sperm) but as we ended up in a Host arrangement he is 100% happy with our decision and is as thrilled as I am about helping Emily and Adam.
Will you get Maternity leave?
Emily: Sadly, due to a ridiculous loophole in the law, I am not eligible for any maternity rights. My work place may try and help me as best they can but it is up to them whether they do anything (even grant me unpaid leave) at all. Adoption leave exists to protect those who didn't physically give birth but who are adopting a baby, but surrogacy was somehow overlooked and is still not included. Niki will qualify for maternity leave which is vital as she will need it prior to when the baby is born and for a recovery period afterwards, allowing her to recuperate and focus on her children and husband. In September, Surrogacy UK submitted a claim to the High Court highlighting the discrimination IPs face and calling for a judicial review. Cheese Teamcake aim to support this as much as possible and all of us feel very strongly about it. You can find out more by clicking here and if you feel this is unfair, you can sign a petition to help draw attention to the matter here.
Niki: I am entitled to the same amount of maternity leave as if I were carrying my own child. However I don't intend to take my full allowance as I won't have a baby to look after. I will take enough time to re-cooperate and reconnect with my own family before returning to work, probably in the region of 8 weeks post par-tum. If I could give my remaining allowance to Emily, I would. I urge you all to sign the above petition and get behind the cause as it is grossly unfair.
Edited to add new government plans to introduce leave for parents who have a child via a surrogate:
Do you worry that the surrogate won't hand over the baby?
Emily: When I first started looking at surrogacy, before I really knew or understood it, it was of course a concern that passed through my mind. From an outsider's perspective, it is hard to understand how this wouldn't be a problem. I can honestly say now that I don't have the slightest doubt that our baby will be coming back to us once it's born. The main reason for this is knowing Niki. Niki is doing this because she wants to help another couple experience the joys of having a child. She falls pregnant easily and so if she and Steve wanted another child of their own there would be far simpler (and more enjoyable!) ways of conceiving rather than going through weeks of injections, scans, patches and pessaries. Niki has 2 beautiful children and a happy family and just happens to be incredible enough to want to create the same for someone else.
Understanding surrogacy better in general also helped alleviate these fears very early on (prior to meeting Niki). On joining SUK, it became clear very quickly that all these ladies have researched and considered surrogacy and the implications of it all very carefully. They always refer to it as "giving the baby back" and never consider the child to be theirs to keep in the first place. At SUK, surrogacy is first and foremost about friendship, and developing a bond between you as a team. We are so lucky to have such a loving and caring family looking after our Little Hitchhiker until he or she is big enough to come home with us.
Do you worry that you will form a bond and not want to hand the baby over to the Intended Parents?
Niki: Quite simply. No. To say I won't form a bond with the baby I am carrying is difficult, I think it's only natural to bond with a foetus you spend so many months nurturing, however the bond is very different to that of the bond you form with your own children. The most important thing here for me is the mindset you go in to surrogacy with. I already know this baby isn't mine, I knew that well before meeting Emily and Adam and have had the mindset of 'giving the baby back' right from the start. If you enter surrogacy wondering how you'll cope with 'giving a baby away' well then surrogacy possibly isn't for you.
Another important thing for me is the bond I've formed with Emily and Adam themselves. This alone makes it impossible to even consider the baby as your own as I am simply looking after it for two very good friends whose excitement at becoming parents I'm sharing. All I can picture when I think of the birth is them holding the child they have so long wished for, and that already makes this journey a very easy one.
Do you worry you won't bond with the baby?
Emily: No, I really don't. When I was born, I was rushed to another hospital to undergo a fairly major operation and was kept in the SCBU there. My poor mum had had a C-section so was unable to come and visit me at first, and then once she was able I was still not able to go home for some weeks. My mummy and I have an incredibly strong bond and she had all that to contend with. From the moment our baby is born, Adam and I will start building that magical bond and relationship that all new parents - by whatever means, "normal" pregnancy, surrogacy or adoption - have to create. I am positive that we will feel as excited, overwhelmed, nervous and in love as any new parents.
Will you let the surrogate hold the baby?
Emily: Short answer = of course! To me, it's logical. This wonderful person has just gone through months of pregnancy and then labour to give you a child, the least they deserve is a cuddle! But interestingly, not all IPs feel the same, and some arrangements (not made through SUK I hasten to add) are much more business like. Niki is not just a surrogate to us, she and her family are now dear friends. They are the reason we have a baby on the way and we would love them to remain a part of our (and our child's) lives. We intend to continue our friendship as it has been, and for our child to grow up knowing how special Niki, Steve, Jack & Beth are to us, that Niki "looked after" him/her till s/he was big and strong enough to be born and come home with mummy and daddy, and what an amazingly kind and loving thing that was to do.
Will you want to hold the baby?
Niki: Of course! The same way I'd certainly want to cuddle my Sister's/best friend's baby, but not until Emily and Adam have had their precious first bonding moments. I strongly believe the first people the baby comes into contact with (in ideal circumstances) should be it's parents. That inital bond/skin to skin time is so important and It's for this reason the baby will go straight to it's parents.
I will have my cuddles later on.
Whose is the baby in the eyes of the law?
Niki: When registering the baby myself and my Husband will be named on the birth certificate, although baby will be registered with Emily and Adam's chosen names and surname.
Once the baby reaches 6 weeks old Emily and Adam apply for what's called a Parental Order with mine and Steve's consent. The courts get involved with this and must be satisfied that the surrogacy arrangement was all legitimate and that only reasonable expenses were paid. This can be a lengthy process but once completed all legal rights for the child transfer to Emily and Adam and they will be issued with a new birth certificate declaring them the legal parents.
What happens after the baby is born? Does the baby have to stay with the surrogate?
Niki: As soon as the baby is born it will become the responsibility of Emily and Adam. With the aid of a carefully pre-arranged birth plan, provisions will be made for Emily to stay in the hospital with baby should we not be discharged straight away. Once discharged from hospital the baby will go home with Emily and Adam. Although the surrogate is legally responsible for the child at this point, the parents privately foster their child at their home until the parental order is granted.We will both get separate post natal midwife care, myself to check I am recovering after the birth and baby to carry out all the after birth checks and tests.
What reactions do you get when you tell people?
Niki: I've had mostly positive reactions but there has been a few negative ones. I've been called stupid, selfish, heartless and been told it's just 'not right'. I've also had people question my motives ('because it's got to be about money, right?') and my ability to cope with it all.
My Mum for one was totally against the idea and avoided the subject at all costs when I first approached it. She's since met Emily and Adam and has had lots of time to process the whole idea and, in her words although she will never fully understand why or how I am doing it, she will support me and is proud.
Most people just don't understand and have lots of misconceptions about how it all works, mainly because of how the Americans go about it and from what they've seen on the TV. On the whole, once I've explained things and put forward my reasoning behind wanting to do it (usually in a very lengthy conversation involving lots of questions) people are really very supportive.