By Sarah Jones, Trustee, Surrogacy UK
Since the first surrogacy laws were created 30 years ago, surrogacy has grown considerably. The UK Governments independent fertility regulator, the HFEA, reports that the number of IVF treatments being undertaken by UK surrogates has nearly tripled in the last 10 years.
Where are all the surrogates and how do I find one?
The rise of its popularity as an accepted type of fertility treatment may lie in celebrities such as Tom Daley and Kim Kardashian openly talking about their own surrogacy journeys, or it may lie in the popular TV shows incorporating surrogacy into its storylines. Whatever the reasons for the increase in popularity, it looks like UK surrogacy is going to keep growing.
Despite the recorded increase in the number of UK surrogates undertaking treatment, it is still constantly reported that there is a huge shortage of surrogates in the UK.
So how on earth do UK based intended parents find a surrogate and is it really like finding a needle in a haystack?
It’s true that there are not enough surrogates in the UK to meet the increasing numbers of people who turn to surrogacy to create or complete their families. However, the numbers of surrogates coming forward is increasing considerably year on year.
Surrogacy UK reports that it currently has 150 active surrogates within the organisation, and is set to increase even more in 2019, with stats showing 25 new surrogates becoming members in the 1st quarter of 2019 alone.
Its surrogate admissions department receives hundreds of enquiries from potential surrogates every year, and whilst it turns down one third of all surrogate applications due to medical or ethical reasons, the numbers making it through the application process are rising.
In addition to Surrogacy UK, intended parents can find surrogates through the other not for profit surrogacy organisations operating in the UK such as Brilliant Beginnings and COTS, or through independent surrogacy groups.
In short, there are hundreds of UK surrogates so whilst an initial enquiry or google search leads people to believe it is difficult to find one, there are some practical ways that any intended parent can find someone to be their surrogate.
Unfortunately, UK law prohibits people advertising for a surrogate or to be a surrogate. This law was set 30 years ago, to stop UK surrogacy turning into a commercial venture, however, with the rise of social media it has had the knock on effect that intended parents cannot use facebook or twitter to actively say they need a surrogate or to find surrogates looking for intended parents.
This easiest way to navigate this, is to join one of the three main surrogacy organisations. These are Surrogacy UK, Brilliant Beginnings and COTS. Each work a little differently in bringing surrogates and intended parents together so ask for information from all three to see which one suits you best. Each of these organisations will however, ensure that appropriate checks are done on all parties as part of their application process. In addition they will be able to provide you with advice, recommendations, information and support whilst going through your journey.
Surrogacy organisations are not yet regulated in the UK so intended parents should be wary of organisations that may have just been formed, or cannot provide references from members who have had a baby through them. Seek recommendations from the surrogacy community, or refer to the governments guidance on surrogacy, which was published in February 2018 and can be found on the gov.uk website.
Intended parents can join independent facebook groups and talk informally with potential surrogates, however intended parents should be cautious as with any connection made through social media. In addition, numerous checks should be done on all parties before proceeding further, to ensure that everyone is eligible to undertake surrogacy, that it is safe for all parties, and that the requirements of the legal parental order are met.
Another way to help find out more about surrogacy, or find a surrogate is to join the thriving surrogacy community. The surrogacy community is a group of intended parents, surrogates and families through surrogacy who come together to pass on best practice, recommendations and advice. It also provides much needed support to anyone going through surrogacy.
The largest surrogacy community can be found online via the Facebook group “Surrogacy UK – Information, Information Community Support” which has over 2.5k members. It is not a matching group, and private messages between members is strictly forbidden due to safety reasons, however it does provide up to date information on face to face social gatherings that happen every weekend in the UK.
The social get togethers are run by Surrogacy UK, but are open to non members, independent surrogacy groups, and other organisations. The socials can be pub lunch, picnics in the park and even camping trips which happen every weekend in locations nationwide. These socials allow people to meet, talk, network and make connections, with other intended parents, parents who have already been through the process and with surrogates, some of which are looking for intended parents to work with. Surrogates use these socials to meet intended parents in a relaxed way, ensuring that they have time to talk, get to know each other and make friendships that can lead to the creation of a surrogacy team. In addition surrogates have their own community, and private groups in which they talk positively about the people they meet at social events – so whilst an intended parent may not meet their surrogate at a social, they may meet someone who can recommend them to other surrogates.
One of the largest events on the surrogacy community calendar is the annual Surrogacy UK conference. It is the largest surrogacy event in the UK, attracting 600 delegates from around the UK, and incorporating over 30 surrogacy related workshops. Speakers range from medical professionals and legal professionals, to partners and children of surrogates talking about their experiences. It is a one stop shop for everything surrogacy related and proves to be one of the best networking events for surrogacy. Surrogates can be spaced out across the UK, so the conference acts as a way for them to meet each other and receive support from one another. It continues to prove so popular that approximately 100 active surrogates attended last year and resulted in a large number of surrogacy teams being formed shortly thereafter.
The next Surrogacy UK conference is set to take place on 21st September 2019 is recommended to anyone who is looking into surrogacy, as their next step towards having a child. More information can be found via the Surrogacy UK website.
Ultimately, UK surrogacy takes time, no matter how intended parents do it. Time to meet the right surrogate, time to start trying to conceive, time to obtain the parental order. No surrogacy journey is quick. Being realistic about the timescales needed is a key part in having a successful journey. It can take a few years for intended parents to complete their family.
However, UK surrogacy is still a viable option for most intended parents. UK surrogates are out there and can be found, and whilst it can take time, UK surrogacy can be the most wonderful experience. Allowing the intended parents to be present at antenatal appointments, to see every scan, to feel the movement of their child is an experience like no other. To be involved in their child’s pregnancy and birth is an experience every parent should have, whether or not it is with a surrogate, and working with a UK surrogate who you can see and visit regularly should be seen as a real positive to an intended parents journey to parenthood.
As they say, its not always easy but it is always worth it.
More information can be found on the Surrogacy UK website surrogacyuk.org