Article provided by Dr Geetha Venkat, Harley Street Fertility Clinic
Surrogacy is a word that is often whispered in hushed tones, with slight embarrassment at even the thought of contemplating something so complex.
Maybe this is because people aren’t really sure what it is, who can do it or whether it is even legal here.
The Harley Street Fertility Clinic team is at the forefront of surrogacy in the UK and we would like to talk about it with you, so you can decide if it is something you would like to know more about and be involved with.
What is surrogacy?
Surrogacy is an incredibly selfless arrangement where a woman agrees to become pregnant and give birth to a baby for someone else, who is, or will become, the parent of that child.
Is surrogacy legal in the UK?
Yes, surrogacy is legal in the UK and something an increasing number of patients ask us about. The one thing to note is that while surrogacy is legal, even if you have a written agreement it cannot be enforced by the law, something we are working with partner organisations to change.
Why do people choose surrogacy?
Surrogacy can be the family route for women with a medical condition that makes it impossible or dangerous for them to get pregnant and give birth. Examples include:
- absence of a womb or irreparable damage
- recurrent miscarriages
- repeated IVF failures
Surrogacy is also becoming more popular with same-sex couples who want to have a family, and can be used by single people who want to have their own child.
How do you find a surrogate?
There are various ways you can find a surrogate. The most obvious is to ask family and friends, as there could be a fairy godmother waiting in the wings who is willing to help you make your family unit, and life, complete.
If this isn’t an option, you can use organisations like Brilliant Beginnings, Two Dads or Surrogacy UK as they connect surrogates with intended parents, and support them through the stages of the journey.
How successful is surrogacy?
Success rates depend on many factors, including the surrogate’s ability to get pregnant, the quality of the sperm being used, and the success of the treatment being used, e.g. IVF.
It is, however, the age of the woman whose eggs are being used that’s the most important factor influencing surrogacy success.
Are people paid to be surrogates?
You can only pay a surrogate in the UK reasonable expenses and this is something we suggest you look at from the start and agree.
Figures of £12,000 to £15,000 are typical (often with variable costs like travel and loss of earnings in addition) plus other payments if the surrogate miscarries or delivers twins.
We would suggest going via Brilliant Beginnings for advice and support in this area as they can take you through the complex path to success.
How many people use surrogacy in the UK?
While accurate figures about how many Britons have had children via surrogacy aren’t available, the process is on the rise.
At the Harley Street Fertility Clinic, we believe this increase is due to a combination of factors including same-sex marriage being legislated and more people wanting to become a solo parent. We also know that generally, women are waiting until later in life to have a family and then finding it harder than they imagined to conceive which is where a surrogate can help. There are also cases where women have cancer treatment and then aren’t able to conceive and carry a child to term, but they have frozen their eggs and/or have a partner whose sperm can be used by the surrogate.
What about maternity and paternity pay and leave?
You and your partner may be eligible for adoption pay and leave and maternity / paternity pay and leave if you use a surrogate. If you’re not eligible for paid leave, you may be able to take annual leave but would need to talk to your employer about this.
What about a surrogate’s rights?
Every pregnant employee has the right to 52 weeks’ maternity leave and to go back to their job afterwards.
What a surrogate does after the child is born does not affect their right to maternity leave.
Who are the legal parents of a baby born to a surrogate?
As the law currently stands in the UK, the surrogate and her spouse are the child’s legal parents at birth, something that can cause a whole host of issues.
So, how do you become the child’s legal parent?
If you want to become the legal parent of a child born by surrogacy, you have to apply for a parental order or adoption.
If you are doing so as a single person, you have to be genetically related to the child, if you are a couple, at least one of you must be genetically related (the egg or sperm donor).
If neither you, or your partner are related to the child, adoption is the only way you can become the child’s legal parent.
Applications must be made to the courts before the child is six months old, you must be living in the UK, and the child must live with you too.
Do be aware that the process is different if you live in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
How do you become a surrogate?
There are women in the UK who would like to give back and become a surrogate themselves and offer the chance for someone to be a parent.
Being a surrogate is an extremely generous, selfless act that can make someone’s dreams come true and change lives.
We are in awe of the women who do this and work hard to ensure they have the emotional and medical support they need before, during and after the process, which can be intense as well as rewarding.
- The general requirements for being a surrogate in the UK include:
- Aged over 21 and under 40
- Being fit and healthy
- Having a BMI of between 19 and 28
- Having given birth before and not wanting anymore children yourself
- Having a solid support system in place
- A clean criminal record and no dealings with social services is vital
- Only non-smokers and non-drug users are considered
- Being happy to go for treatment at a fertility clinic – surrogacy isn’t an NHS option
What are the types of surrogacy?
There are two types of surrogacy:
Traditional surrogacy is when the surrogate carries a baby to term that has been conceived using her own eggs, meaning there is a genetic link between surrogate and child.
Gestational surrogacy is when the surrogate carries a baby that she has no genetic link with. This means an embryo that has been created using the eggs and sperm of the intended parents, or by donated eggs or sperm, is transferred to her womb and she then carries the baby to term.
There is no doubt that surrogacy is a massive commitment for all involved, and people need to think about the implications and expectations involved.
We work with Brilliant Beginnings who enable surrogacy in the UK and also support and mentor women who wish to become gestational surrogates. Together we run seminars so people can get to grips with the realities of surrogacy.
For anyone who is thinking of becoming a surrogate or exploring surrogacy, get in touch with Brilliant Beginnings or the Harley Street Fertility Clinic, and the teams will be happy to help with advice and details.
Harley Street Fertility Clinic is offering free consultations for 15 and 17 August. Find out more here.
About the author
Dr Geetha Venkat is a doctor specialising on fertility treatments. She has more than twenty years of experience in various fertility clinics around Harley Street and is currently appointed as the medical director of ‘Harley Street Fertility Clinic’.
Her focus has been to tailor treatments to the needs of her patients while incorporating the latest developments in the discipline. Dr Venkat presents her work regularly in conferences and has published articles in many medical journals. She has also contributed two chapters to a book called ‘Donor Egg IVF’, published in 2008. She offers advice to the community on fertility matters in television and radio programs.