In the last month I’ve been asked twice if I could be pregnant. (No, it wasn’t the lockdown pounds, although I would forgive those who thought it was.) The first was when we were getting your wrist X-rayed Grace (don’t ask) and the second was when I went for my Covid vaccine. Both conversations went along the following lines.
Nurse – Is there any chance you could be pregnant?
Me – No.
Nurse – Are you sure?
Me- Yes. I’m sure.
Nurse – When was your last period?
Me – oh about 7 years ago and I don’t have a uterus either so when I said I was sure I’m not pregnant, I wasn’t just guessing, I’m pretty certain.
Actually, the last part isn’t entirely true. I normally just say the no uterus bit and I’m much more polite about the whole thing but there was a time when I was so angry that I would have preferred the filter that naturally appears in these kind of circumstances to have been turned off.
At some point over the next couple of months I decided it was time to test the surrogacy waters. I dug out some of the leaflets that had been sitting in a pile since we brought them back from the hospital seven months earlier. I picked up the one titled Cancer and Fertility. There were sixty six pages starting with what fertility is and how cancer treatment might effect it. I started at the beginning.
“Some cancer treatments are unlikely to affect your fertility. Others may cause fertility problems during treatment or for a short time afterwards. Some treatments cause long-term or permanent damage to fertility.”
It turns out I was in that last group and there wasn’t any waiting to find out so I didn’t need to read anymore in that particular section. I went back to the contents page, ‘Other Options for having child’ was perhaps a better place to start. I flicked through to page 48 where I would find the information I needed. There was a subsection ‘Surrogacy’ and the following paragraph.
“Surrogacy means a woman, called the surrogate (host), becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby for you…….. Surrogacy laws in the UK are quite complicated. Organisations such as Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy (COTS), Surrogacy UK and Brilliant Beginnings can give you more information and support”
And that was it. Not a great deal to go on but at least a signpost to other resources out there. I put down the booklet, opened the laptop and searched for the agencies mentioned. I clicked on the link to the first one. At the top of the page it stated that membership was temporarily closed to new IPs. What was an IP? I read on. Turns out an IP was me, an Intended Parent, it also turned out there would be a fair few acronyms I was going to have to become familiar with quickly if I was to navigate these uncharted waters.
I scanned the pages, trying to take in as much information as possible before moving onto the next. I was slowly starting to piece together how this all worked, although each of them seemed to do things slightly differently. Ultimately, it was illegal to advertise for a surrogate so they each used different ways to introduce surrogates and IPs. The way one agency worked was they would pass on the profiles of those looking for a surrogate to “unmatched” ladies. Another, would organize social events with both surrogates and IPs so they would be given the chance to get to know each other informally. To be completely honest I didn’t feel comfortable with either of the options. The thought of having to sell ourselves on paper or at a social event filled me with anxiety. How could I possibly convince anyone how amazing we’d be as parents when I’d never felt so low in my life. I’d never been the life and soul of the party and didn’t know how I’d ever compete with anyone who was. I also hated the thought of having to prove to a potential surrogate that we were somehow more worthy than any other couple out there looking to match. I opened the forum page on one of the agency sites and spent a while reading through multiple threads of couple after couple who’d been looking for years and never found anyone. Although one thing the agencies all had in common was their large joining fees, it transpired non of them could guarantee you would ever find a surrogate.
I clicked through to a page with more information about the cost of surrogacy. Back then we were both working full time and had positions of responsibility so we probably had the most disposable income we’ve ever had to date. Despite this, even if we did manage to find someone out there that was willing to carry for us, this was going to be expensive and a lot more than we had saved. In the UK surrogacy is altruistic and a surrogate can ask only for expenses, but even this was on average between eight and fifteen thousand pounds at the time. On top of this, although the NHS had funded the embryo creation their support stopped there and so any new clinic costs would have to be financed by us. Moving the embroys to somewhere with a surrogacy license, keeping them frozen, carrying out all the necessary checks and balances and then the transfer could be another ten thousand. The maths wasn’t difficult, even before adding agency costs we were looking at potentially twenty five thousand pounds. We’d just taken on a second mortgage and had a huge renovation in front of us. I was so angry, cancer had really fucked up our plans. In the last six months more friends than I could count on two hands had fallen pregnant, for free. But here I was, not being able to get through five minutes of each day without cancer breathing down my neck reminding me that my carefree life was no more and also if we wanted the family that we so desperately did we’d have to pay significantly for that pleasure.
I closed the laptop. I wasn’t ready for this.
It’s 8pm and you’re both supposed to be getting into bed but instead the room is filled with the sound of your giggling as you prance naked round the bedroom to The Greastest Showman soundtrack. Last week lockdown was lifted and for the first time in what seems like forever we could see people we know again. You’ve both been so happy to see friends and family and despite the fact it’s about ten degrees colder than this time last year the sun is shining and it feels like we’re taking baby steps towards normality. We’re also just about to launch Series 2 of our podcast The Intended Parent after gaining sponsorship from Macmillan. I’m so proud to be backed by such an amazing organization and that we are able to give anyone who listens an insight into a world that was once so alien to me. If we can help anyone navigate those surrogacy water with a little more ease than we did or educate those who have questions then we’ve done our job.
I sometimes wish I could take a snap shot of this life and send it back to 2014 me sitting on that sofa not knowing the first thing about surrogacy or whether she’d even make it to the end of the year let alone 2021. She may never be pregnant but here she is with two incredibly beautiful daughters and the second series of a podcast all about her journey to this point. It’s not going to be straightforward but here, in this picture, is the world she’s going to make.
Forever and always,