Many of the dozens of surrogates I have encountered over the last decade share a common trait – a refusal to give up. Kate Fruin-Smith is a great example.
Yorkshire-based, Kate was about 31 when she first looked into surrogacy. She was motivated to do so by her own need for a sperm donor as one half of a lesbian couple. Carrying a child for someone else would be a way of giving back.
Surrogacy teams call these arrangements ‘journeys’ because they ups and downs of such complex birth plans require not only emotional maturity but perseverance. “You go through so many highs and lows” Kate admits. “So it becomes a journey you go on together”.
“Surrogate Mother it’s not a phrase I like” Kate Fruin-Smith admits. “I’m not a mother of that child” She prefers the US terminology ‘carrier’.
Kate’s first surrogacy involved a recipient couple she met via social media groups. They grew to know each other over nine months. Kate then took six months to fall pregnant. She opted for straight (or traditional) surrogacy meaning she donated not just her womb but her eggs. However things did not go to plan. Once pregnant, Kate experienced a slipped disc so was immobile for months. It was an incredibly tough pregnancy. Yet looking back on it, Kate has no regrets, “seeing the difference it made in her recipients lives – Some things are worth the risk” she shrugs.
I ask Kate did she worry about bonding with the child she was carrying, given it would be genetically hers. “Bonding with the child never crossed my mind.” Having parented her partner Rebecca’s child from birth, Kate explains that “it’s not the DNA that makes that family, it’s parenthood.”
After her first successful journey, Kate still felt she had more to give and met another UK couple Tracey & Pete in 2016, which again led to a healthy birth. That journey made global headlines back in March 2017, when a story that revealed Tracy & Pete worked successfully with two UK surrogates simultaneously.
By now Kate was ensconced in the UK surrogacy community, co-moderating a very popular independent surrogacy support group on Facebook. She undertook home insemination for a gay male couple – an unsuccessful journey, followed by gestational surrogacy using the last embryo of a UK couple of Indian heritage – again it was unsuccessful.
In March 2019 Kate offered to carry for Jason, a single UK man she had known for years through the community. The UK had just passed a law allowing single intended parents to access surrogacy domestically. Yet the revised UK law was too new for the UK clinics to have workable protocols for a single male. So Jason opted for the IVF & embryo transfer to occur in Cyprus – a popular choice given its affordability and quicker processes. A first appointment in a UK clinic can take six weeks to arrange.
By now Kate’s own eggs were too old to be viable. Jason had the choice of a relatively inexpensive clinic donor – but this would be an anonymous exchange. Jason preferred a known donor. It would cost substantially more, and meant flying a donor from South Africa, but for Jason it meant he was able to meet his donor in Cyprus. Following egg retrieval and IVF, Jason was excited to learn he had six viable embryos.
Overseas transfers can be logistically hard for the carrier – their Cyprus clinic wanted Kate to undertake an ultrasound two days after her period, before travelling for transfer. Finding a Yorkshire facility that would accommodate this proved impossible – so instead Jason organised for Kate to travel to a London ultrasound facility. The results were good and the pair flew to Cyprus for a four day trip.
A week later their embryo transfer, the blood results showed a positive pregnancy. Jason was cautiously hopeful.
But by Day 12 Kate’s markers for pregnancy had plummeted. It was unclear what was happening. Jason remained hopeful, but as weeks of uncertainty wore on, he knew the chances this was a healthy pregnancy were declining.
After a four week rollercoaster of uncertainty, Jason & Kate travelled to Rotherham for a scan. Jason’s last shreds of hope drained away – an ectopic pregnancy was diagnosed – a condition that put Kate in grave danger of a fallopian tube rupture unless treated. Kate was put on bed-rest. A methotrexate injection terminated the pregnancy, but came with the risk of intense side effects. Kate needed continuous monitoring – there was still a risk of a rupture. Ultimately Kate spent eight weeks off work.
“It’s been a horrible couple of months” she admits, not least because she felt she was letting down her workmates. Her partner Rebecca helped Kate through, as did the UK surrogacy community she is such a vital part of.
Now it has happened once, there is a higher risk of another ectopic. And the doctors have told Kate she needs to wait at least three months before a further attempt. Yet she remains undeterred. Kate is adamant she will undertake a further transfer for her friend Jason.
Fortunately Jason has been able to cover Kate’s additional lost wages, but there have been surrogacy teams where the intended parents are financially ill-prepared. Jason had done his research and knew all too well that things can go wrong – he had just never contemplated ectopic pregnancy.
How has their relationship thrived in the face of loss? Both agree that communication and trust are essential.
Not all journeys have such ordeals. Adam & Fionnuala engaged recently in surrogacy in Greece. Richard and Dario had a great experience in the US. They are just some of the surrogates and parents who will share their extra-ordinary journeys to parenthood in the UK, Greece, USA, Ukraine and Cyprus at Growing Families upcoming seminar in London on 16 November 2019. Similar seminars will run in Dublin, Berlin and Stockholm the same week.