Surrogacy in the UK is a topic most tend to shy away from, and I feel this social awkwardness is down to a lack of understanding. What is Surrogacy? Which countries can practice in this beautiful act of kindness and selflessness?
If you’ve ever read any of our blogs or have been following our TwoDads.U.K social channels you would have seen that we’re passionate about Surrogacy. It brings dreams to reality, it builds families and it completes those who felt they had a missing piece. I’ve seen and witnessed the effects of the joy, love and happiness it can bring, and similar to some of the challenges with infertility, being gay used to come with challenges and pain of its own when it comes to the pursuit of fatherhood. Heartache, devastation, a feeling of being incomplete and utter sadness are all emotions I’ve experienced whilst on our fertility journey.
As part of the work we do myself and Wes speak at events, up and down the country. The Royal College of Nursing, fertility conferences and large corporates such as HSBC, are just a few of who we’ve presenting to. We love educating others about UK Surrogacy, and Same Sex Parenting, and most people we speak to normally shy away from the topic of Surrogacy. It’s either something that’s incredibly curious or is something that can be uncomfortable to talk about. With more TV Production companies making documentaries at the moment about Surrogacy, and more TV Dramas announcing Surrogacy themes in their script writing, even BBC Radio is covering a story in The Archers, it’s clear that surrogacy is being more openly discussed. Even the extreme end of the scale, Margaret Atwoods novel has been adapted for TV, The Handmaids Tail, the dystopian drama has made a comeback. And this is a reminder of what Surrogacy is not. So, I thought it fitting that I write about the beauty of Altruistic Surrogacy here in the UK, and bust some of those myths.
The frustrating issue is, surrogacy is currently underpinned by an outdated law, first published back in the 80’s following the first commercial surrogacy arrangement in the UK, and at the height of Section 28 making its mark (if you’re gay or an ally to the LGBTQ community you’ll know exactly how horrific that was), it’s therefore no major surprise that gay couples weren’t allowed to apply for a parental order until 2010.
It’s called ‘The Surrogacy Arrangements Act of 1985’. It’s fairly inflexible and obviously hasn’t fully moved with the times, although there have been a few tweaks here and there thanks to campaigning and legal challenges by the likes of Natalie Gamble from NGA Law. The law is currently under reform and the Law Commission and Scottish Law Commission have published a consultation paper on proposed changes for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The consultation, all 475 pages is a thorough piece of work, doing its best to be inclusive and modern, paying respect to both intended parents and surrogates. There have been a series of engaging consultation meetings at every corner of the UK, several attended by me as an observer and recently as a contributor at their London event along with other Surrogacy advocates and allies. The consultation events were well attended and had members present from within the Surrogacy community and those who are opposed to it, it made for some very interesting debates – and I’m pleased to report feedback was mostly positive. The general public have been able to contribute to the consultation which ended on the 11th October, and its likely this won’t get to Parliament until late 2020.
It may sound odd to point this out but surrogacy in the U.K is not illegal, despite what the perception may be, certainly some of the events we’ve spoken at believed UK Surrogacy was in fact illegal. Whilst commercial surrogacy in the UK is illegal, Altruistic Surrogacy is practiced freely in the UK. Fertility Clinics tend to mainly offer Host or Gestational Surrogacy (usually with donor eggs) supported by reputable, Surrogacy programs.
The Alternative to Host Surrogacy is Traditional Surrogacy, often practiced outside clinics using home insemination methods and therefore less regulated and lower odds of pregnancy vs. a FET with a 5 Day Blastocyst. Reasons for choosing Tradition Surrogacy (TS) or Gestational Surrogacy (GS) may come down to a number of factors. These may be budget, (total costs for UK Surrogacy ranges from £10k – 35K on average, the later being a GS journey with donor eggs and surrogates expenses), Surrogates circumstances or perhaps the overall Intended Parents preferences. Intended Parents can cover the cost of reasonable expenses of their surrogate, which is paid in approximately ten equal installments, following a confirmed pregnancy. Surrogates expenses vary between £10k – £18k based on the individual, but on average are around £12k for the pregnancy term. Some can obviously be greater depending on the surrogate’s personal situation and home life. Expenses are usually discussed at the beginning of your GTK (Getting to Know), the period of time where your building the crucial foundation, as the most of amazing journey of lives unfold. Whichever option works for you, TS or GS both are perfectly adequate at producing a family, and creating those dreams we’ve all yearned for.
One of the challenges with UK Surrogacy is who is the legal parent at birth. When a child is born as a result of UK Surrogacy the Surrogate is the Legal Mother, and if married her partner is the legal father, regardless of genetics. Even when a surrogate using donor gametes, she is still the legal parent at birth. Intended Parents have to wait six weeks and one day to submit a parental order (PO) to the courts, where their case is examined and a CAFCAS Officer is assigned. Our PO was then granted around 11 weeks after our submission, so by the time Talulah was 5 months old, she was legally ours and it was a joyous occasion in Court, something we’ll never forget.
A UK Surrogate currently has a period of six months to withdraw consent which in our opinion is unacceptable (unless there are serious child welfare issues), and the proposed law changes have also significantly reduced this to a possible 6 weeks. But is even 6 weeks too agonizing to wait for Intended Parents, nervously poised, with fingers crossed praying the relationship between all parties doesn’t break down and the worst happens? These cases are very rare (around 5 High Court cases in the UK in 30 years) but it’s worth mentioning we advise all Intended Parents to seek legal guidance at the start of your journey like we did. The proposed changes also suggest legal advice may be a necessity, and many clinics are actually asking for this as standard practice now anyway. We used the services of Beverly Jones from JMW Law who is a renowned Family Lawyer based in Liverpool and UK Surrogacy expert too. Parental order applications continue to steadily rise in the UK, year on year growth with respect to Surrogacy births – and this is only expected to rise.
Most people also ask where they even begin exploring Surrogacy in the UK or how do you even begin talking to surrogates, apart from our services to the Intended Father community (via www.twodaddies.co.uk) there are a number of excellent supportive organisation specialising in UK Surrogacy, all are Not For Profit and the one organisation we work with mostly is Surrogacy UK although there are a couple of other alternatives one being Brilliant Beginnings. However, if working with an agency isn’t your thing, you can ‘go alone’ and navigate your way around Surrogacy independently like we did, and hundreds of other couples do each year. You just need to be sensible, well prepared and equipped with the best advice.
As it’s currently illegal to advertise for surrogates in the UK, Surrogates often approach the ‘not for profits’ for information or are referred via a close friend or family member of someone from within the network. The fact you can’t advertise for a surrogate is a challenge, given the ratio of IP’s to Surrogates. We spent years researching the safest independent options and found that some of the reputable online networking communities (such as Facebook Closed Groups, and SurrogateFinder.com) were an excellent starting point for us, providing all the other important preparation was factored in too. Surrogacy UK also have regular weekly networking events for members and non-members too which are very popular.
We have shared information similar to this at our Surrogacy Information Events, the most recently was in October which again was a sell out and designed exclusively for Intended Fathers. However if you weren’t able to attend or if you are considering exploring surrogacy, we have developed a number of networks and contacts and nothing would give us great pleasure in extending our support, please contact Michael or Wes.