By Torty (@ivf_lawyer)
Torty couldn’t wait to be a mum and, despite a chronic bowel condition, felt positive that it would happen for her soon. After several years, six failed rounds of IVF, thousands of pounds and endless tears and heartache, she and her husband turned to surrogacy. This piece is the first in a series of columns from both Torty and her surrogate, Poppy, sharing their surrogacy story and what it’s like to pursue surrogacy in the UK.
I’m often asked; “what led you to surrogacy?” A simple question with a not so simple answer!
At the age of fourteen I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and in my teens and early twenties I had a number of major abdominal surgeries. Whilst Crohn’s Disease itself does not necessarily impact fertility, surgery leading to significant amounts of scar tissue in the abdominal area can.
I got married at twenty-nine and soon after, came off some of my medication which you can’t be on when you’re pregnant or trying to have a baby. My very proactive (and truly wonderful) specialist nurse arranged for me to see a gynaecologist who specialises in women with inflammatory bowel disease. She told me that if I wasn’t pregnant within six months, to see my GP and she felt that I should ‘definitely’ qualify for IVF on the NHS if needed. I felt reassured that if I wasn’t able to get pregnant naturally, then I would be eligible for fertility treatment and IVF was BOUND to work. How naive I was!
Six months passed and I went to see my GP. She arranged for my husband and I to have all of the basic fertility tests. The outcome of those initial tests was that they couldn’t find anything ‘wrong’ with me (apart from the obvious severe chronic illness) but my husband’s semen sample meant that we were unlikely to get pregnant naturally. Despite this, and despite the reassurances from my GP that we would be very likely to be eligible for IVF on the NHS, our funding application (and subsequent appeal) failed.
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We had been trying to get pregnant for over a year at this point, and decided that we didn’t want to wait any longer, so we registered with a fertility clinic to start the ball rolling with privately funded IVF. We’ve always felt incredibly fortunate that, with the help of our family, we didn’t have to wait. Particularly given how long our journey has ended up being!
We were very lucky that our first egg collection produced 18 eggs and 9 embryos. Our doctor cheerfully told us that this was an amazing result, and that our ‘whole family’ was frozen at the clinic. Unfortunately, our first embryo transfer didn’t work. I was absolutely heartbroken, but still optimistic. We went into our second transfer thinking that this would be the one. It wasn’t.
Over the next two years we went through four more embryo transfers, numerous tests and experimental treatments (not to mention thousands of pounds!) but nothing worked.
In the meantime, my health deteriorated dramatically. For a long time I had wanted to believe that IVF had to work eventually, but we reached a point where we had really tried everything. I couldn’t continue to put my life at risk by staying off the only medication that kept me healthy.
I know that my wonderful fertility doctor was as gutted as we were when she told us that any further treatment was really just a waste of our precious embryos. She said she had never felt so sure before that one of her patients needed surrogacy in order to have a chance at having a baby. Surrogacy was already on my radar but hearing these words from our doctor – this being our chance to have a family – sealed the deal. We decided to put all of our eggs in one basket (literally) and fully focus on surrogacy.
So here begins our surrogacy story. When we started researching surrogacy we quickly learned that in the UK, commercial surrogacy is not legal and altruistic surrogacy is the only option. Altruistic surrogacy means that you can’t pay someone to carry a baby for you (reasonable expenses are allowed, but this is based on the surrogates actual losses – for example, travel costs for appointments; loss of wages; and maternity clothes). We did consider travelling abroad to a country where commercial surrogacy is legal (and sometimes therefore faster to make a match), but ultimately decided that for various reasons we wanted to explore whether surrogacy in the UK would be a possibility first.
We didn’t know anyone who felt able to do this for us so we needed to find a stranger who would like to carry our baby – no biggy. Made all the more complicated by the fact that advertising either for, or to be, a surrogate in the UK is illegal.
Further, under UK family law when a baby is born via surrogacy, the surrogate (and her husband, if she is married) will be named on the birth certificate as the baby’s legal parents.
The intended parents – in this case, us – then have to apply to the courts for a parental order in order to gain parental responsibility over the child. Even though the embryos are ours so the baby is biologically half me and half my husband, they would not legally be ours at birth.
The process seemed more than a little daunting – I often found myself bursting into tears thinking we would never become parents. After everything we had been through, this really was my worst nightmare. My husband would pick me up every time and remind me how lucky we already are to have each other, and would reassure me that we would be parents one day, one way or another.
Eventually, after exploring several options, I joined some Facebook groups for surrogacy in the UK. I had been told by others in the IVF and surrogacy community that this was a perfectly safe and valid way to meet surrogates (and also to form a support system of other intended parents).
I joined the groups and uploaded a profile with some photos of my husband, myself and our two super cute sausage dogs (that that was surely a good way to get some attention..!)
It felt incredibly overwhelming, and there were (a lot!) more tears, as I felt like there was no way that a surrogate would ‘choose’ me when there were so many more deserving couples in the groups.
Little did I know that a wonderful lady had seen my profile, and had an inkling that we were the couple for her!
Thanks for reading the first column in Torty’s Surrogacy Journey. To be continued!