A surrogacy journey, jointly documented by Surrogate and Intended Mother.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Telling people

The last week or so has been filled with the joyous task of telling people that we are having a baby. I was terribly excited about it, as it's not something I thought I'd ever be announcing, but was slightly nervous as well. Up until then, the only people we'd told were close family and friends, so people we knew would be supportive and happy for us, and who already knew we were pursuing surrogacy and understood what it involved. I needn't have worried; everyone either of us have told has been delighted, interested, and generally lovely. 

When it came to telling people, I realised I needed to think quite carefully about my wording. "I'm pregnant" obviously was a no-go, and I opted for "I'm having a baby", and then swiftly following that with "it's not in here though" gesturing at my stomach. (I never noticed before, but people look at your stomach when you say you're having a baby, totally subconsciously I'm sure!) Everyone has reacted really well and most have asked questions which is nice as I love talking about it because this is my (albeit unorthodox)  pregnancy and I'm absolutely buzzing about it!

My biggest fear was definitely telling my workplaces. As you may have read in our FAQs post, intended mothers (women like myself who will become mummies through surrogacy) are not currently covered by any maternity rights whatsoever. Happily, the government has announced that this situation will be changing soon, however we don't know when this will be and it's unlikely to be before Little Hitch-Hiker enters the world. I have now had the conversation with my workplaces and both have been very positive and supportive so far.

Telling people has definitely made it feel more real. I do feel like a bit of a fraud receiving congratulations as it's Niki that's doing all the hard work, but she says I should just enjoy it! Making this blog public was a nerve-wracking but important step for both myself and Niki, as we're very keen to raise awareness about surrogacy and help correct some of the misconceptions that are out there. I really hope that it's helping; we've received lots of positive comments and messages about it which is reassuring.

I cannot believe that we're already 15 weeks in, and moving swiftly towards the half way mark. Niki's bump is even more prominent (and even more beautiful) and she can now feel LHH wriggling around on a daily basis. My mind is constantly occupied with LHH-ey thoughts (I suppose this is part of baby brain, albeit with no hormones involved) and I'm absolutely loving it. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Frequently Asked Questions

Both Niki & I have realised that the same questions pop up from time to time, so we thought we'd do a joint FAQ blog which hopefully addresses most of them. We may well add to this over time.

What is Surrogacy?
Surrogacy is when a woman carries a baby for a couple who cannot do so themselves. There are two types of surrogacy; host - where the child is genetically the "IPs" (intended parents - so Adam and I in our case) and straight - where the surrogate uses her own eggs therefore the child is genetically related to her and the IF (Intended Father). Cheese Teamcake are undergoing host surrogacy and so have been under Hammersmith Hospital in London for IVF treatment. Surrogacy is legal in the UK and becoming more common. It is however illegal to pay a surrogate (reasonable expenses to ensure the surrogate is not out of pocket are allowed). You can find out more about Surrogacy in the UK here.

Why Surrogacy?
Emily: I was born with Cystic Fibrosis, and knew at the age of 16 when my lung function dropped to below 60% that I wouldn't be able to have children. I became increasingly unwell and at the age of 21 was put on the waiting list for a double lung transplant. I was lucky enough to receive my life-saving new lungs in January 2007, and 2 years later, discussed the idea of pregnancy with my doctor. Unfortunately, post transplant pregnancies do not tend to go well and whilst some mothers and babies are OK, there are a high number of people who suffer rejection, which can be fatal. I was advised that pregnancy would put my life at risk so Adam and I started looking at alternatives. We stumbled across Surrogacy UK by chance and I'm so glad we did. Here was a chance to build a friendship with someone who wanted to be a surrogate to help others and hopefully start a family, but without endangering either myself or my unborn child.

Niki: We had a really easy time conceiving our two children and feel very blessed to have them. However I remember when I was contemplating starting a family with Steve, just the thought of having trouble conceiving was gut wrenching and I can't even begin to imagine what knowing you can't carry a child at all feels like. I just knew that those thoughts for me were just that, thoughts. For others it was a heartbreaking reality. This made me want to help.I am only 25 but Steve and I are both sure our family is complete. Why not share my unused fertility with somebody who needs it?
At first I looked at egg donation, but this process is anonymous at least in the first instance and I knew I'd be worrying about the life that my egg/s went on to lead. This lead me on to find SUK, their 'friendship first' and forming bonds ethos spoke to me and that is where my journey started.

How much does Surrogacy cost?
Surrogacy is expensive, but not for the reasons people think. Firstly and most importantly, it is illegal to pay for surrogacy in the UK. Surrogates can only receive reasonable expenses for carrying a baby, and this is important as they should never be out of pocket for doing such an incredible thing. Elements such as maternity wear, child care. pregnancy vitamins, loss of earnings and travel to appointments all need to be covered. IVF is also very expensive and so the two combined mean that Surrogacy can really add up.

How did your partner react?
Niki:When I first mentioned to Steve that I was thinking of becoming a surrogate he was quite against the idea. However he did hear me out and the conversation ended with him promising to read a bit more into it and keep an open mind. I'd have never have continued on my journey without his support so if he'd have told me he didn't like the idea then I wouldn't have gone ahead.
Luckily, once he'd read the in-depth information pack SUK send out to potential surrogates and joined the forum to ask a few questions he was fully on board. He'd have struggled more had this have been a straight surrogacy arrangement (so my egg and artificial insemination of sperm) but as we ended up in a Host arrangement he is 100% happy with our decision and is as thrilled as I am about helping Emily and Adam.

Will you get Maternity leave?
Emily: Sadly, due to a ridiculous loophole in the law, I am not eligible for any maternity rights. My work place may try and help me as best they can but it is up to them whether they do anything (even grant me unpaid leave) at all. Adoption leave exists to protect those who didn't physically give birth but who are adopting a baby, but surrogacy was somehow overlooked and is still not included. Niki will qualify for maternity leave which is vital as she will need it prior to when the baby is born and for a recovery period afterwards, allowing her to recuperate and focus on her children and husband. In September, Surrogacy UK submitted a claim to the High Court highlighting the discrimination IPs face and calling for a judicial review. Cheese Teamcake aim to support this as much as possible and all of us feel very strongly about it. You can find out more by clicking here and if you feel this is unfair, you can sign a petition to help draw attention to the matter here.

Niki: I am entitled to the same amount of maternity leave as if I were carrying my own child. However I don't intend to take my full allowance as I won't have a baby to look after. I will take enough time to re-cooperate and reconnect with my own family before returning to work, probably in the region of 8 weeks post par-tum. If I could give my remaining allowance to Emily, I would. I urge you all to sign the above petition and get behind the cause as it is grossly unfair.

Edited to add new government plans to introduce leave for parents who have a child via a surrogate:

Do you worry that the surrogate won't hand over the baby?
Emily: When I first started looking at surrogacy, before I really knew or understood it, it was of course a concern that passed through my mind. From an outsider's perspective, it is hard to understand how this wouldn't be a problem. I can honestly say now that I don't have the slightest doubt that our baby will be coming back to us once it's born. The main reason for this is knowing Niki. Niki is doing this because she wants to help another couple experience the joys of having a child. She falls pregnant easily and so if she and Steve wanted another child of their own there would be far simpler (and more enjoyable!) ways of conceiving rather than going through weeks of injections, scans, patches and pessaries. Niki has 2 beautiful children and a happy family and just happens to be incredible enough to want to create the same for someone else.
Understanding surrogacy better in general also helped alleviate these fears very early on (prior to meeting Niki). On joining SUK, it became clear very quickly that all these ladies have researched and considered surrogacy and the implications of it all very carefully. They always refer to it as "giving the baby back" and never consider the child to be theirs to keep in the first place. At SUK, surrogacy is first and foremost about friendship, and developing a bond between you as a team. We are so lucky to have such a loving and caring family looking after our Little Hitchhiker until he or she is big enough to come home with us.

Do you worry that you will form a bond and not want to hand the baby over to the Intended Parents?
Niki: Quite simply. No. To say I won't form a bond with the baby I am carrying is difficult, I think it's only natural to bond with a foetus you spend so many months nurturing, however the bond is very different to that of the bond you form with your own children. The most important thing here for me is the mindset you go in to surrogacy with. I already know this baby isn't mine, I knew that well before meeting Emily and Adam and have had the mindset of 'giving the baby back' right from the start. If you enter surrogacy wondering how you'll cope with 'giving a baby away' well then surrogacy possibly isn't for you.
Another important thing for me is the bond I've formed with Emily and Adam themselves. This alone makes it impossible to even consider the baby as your own as I am simply looking after it for two very good friends whose excitement at becoming parents I'm sharing. All I can picture when I think of the birth is them holding the child they have so long wished for, and that already makes this journey a very easy one.

Do you worry you won't bond with the baby?
Emily: No, I really don't. When I was born, I was rushed to another hospital to undergo a fairly major operation and was kept in the SCBU there. My poor mum had had a C-section so was unable to come and visit me at first, and then once she was able I was still not able to go home for some weeks. My mummy and I have an incredibly strong bond and she had all that to contend with. From the moment our baby is born, Adam and I will start building that magical bond and relationship that all new parents - by whatever means, "normal" pregnancy, surrogacy or adoption - have to create. I am positive that we will feel as excited, overwhelmed, nervous and in love as any new parents.

Will you let the surrogate hold the baby?
Emily: Short answer = of course! To me, it's logical. This wonderful person has just gone through months of pregnancy and then labour to give you a child, the least they deserve is a cuddle! But interestingly, not all IPs feel the same, and some arrangements (not made through SUK I hasten to add) are much more business like. Niki is not just a surrogate to us, she and her family are now dear friends. They are the reason we have a baby on the way and we would love them to remain a part of our (and our child's) lives. We intend to continue our friendship as it has been, and for our child to grow up knowing how special Niki, Steve, Jack & Beth are to us, that Niki "looked after" him/her till s/he was big and strong enough to be born and come home with mummy and daddy, and what an amazingly kind and loving thing that was to do.

Will you want to hold the baby?
Niki: Of course! The same way I'd certainly want to cuddle my Sister's/best friend's baby, but not until Emily and Adam have had their precious first bonding moments. I strongly believe the first people the baby comes into contact with (in ideal circumstances) should be it's parents. That inital bond/skin to skin time is so important and It's for this reason the baby will go straight to it's parents.
I will have my cuddles later on.

Whose is the baby in the eyes of the law?
Niki: When registering the baby myself and my Husband will be named on the birth certificate, although baby will be registered with Emily and Adam's chosen names and surname.
Once the baby reaches 6 weeks old Emily and Adam apply for what's called a Parental Order with mine and Steve's consent. The courts get involved with this and must be satisfied that the surrogacy arrangement was all legitimate and that only reasonable expenses were paid. This can be a lengthy process but once completed all legal rights for the child transfer to Emily and Adam and they will be issued with a new birth certificate declaring them the legal parents.

What happens after the baby is born? Does the baby have to stay with the surrogate?
Niki: As soon as the baby is born it will become the responsibility of Emily and Adam. With the aid of a carefully pre-arranged birth plan, provisions will be made for Emily to stay in the hospital with baby should we not be discharged straight away. Once discharged from hospital the baby will go home with Emily and Adam. Although the surrogate is legally responsible for the child at this point, the parents privately foster their child at their home until the parental order is granted.We will both get separate post natal midwife care, myself to check I am recovering after the birth and baby to carry out all the after birth checks and tests.

What reactions do you get when you tell people?
Niki: I've had mostly positive reactions but there has been a few negative ones. I've been called stupid, selfish, heartless and been told it's just 'not right'. I've also had people question my motives ('because it's got to be about money, right?') and my ability to cope with it all.
My Mum for one was totally against the idea and avoided the subject at all costs when I first approached it. She's since met Emily and Adam and has had lots of time to process the whole idea and, in her words although she will never fully understand why or how I am doing it, she will support me and is proud.
Most people just don't understand and have lots of misconceptions about how it all works, mainly because of how the Americans go about it and from what they've seen on the TV. On the whole, once I've explained things and put forward my reasoning behind wanting to do it (usually in a very lengthy conversation involving lots of questions) people are really very supportive.

Getting his/her wiggle on

It seems like an age ago that we were all sat in the room, getting funny looks from the receptionists who had just seen my notes and waiting for the sonographer to call us all in for the 12 week scan, and what a magical scan it turned out to be!
After a few delays Little Hitchhiker appeared on the screen and it wasn't long before s/he gave Mummy and Daddy a little wave. I really do struggle to find words to describe the emotion in the room at that point, but complete and utter jubilation probably comes close.
We were so lucky to get a fantastic sonographer! Having had many ultrasounds previously I know that the time she spent just showing Em and Adam the various views of the baby and the effort she went to to get me jiggling so they could see the baby move was above and beyond that of a normal scan appointment.
We all came away from the hospital 100x more excited about everything than we were previously and it's been so nice watching Em and Adam let themselves believe this is actually happening and that they are actually going  to be parents in a matter of months.

As if that wasn't a huge enough deal, on November 8th, a day short of 13 weeks I rudely interrupted Em and Adam's evening by sending a late night Whatsapp message that was far to important not to share.
I felt their baby move!!!!
I was told I'd feel movements earlier this time but wasn't expecting it to be at 13 weeks, I even had to do a quick Google to make sure it was even possible. With this being my third pregnancy there was simply no mistaking those first flutters though, the tiny pops under the skin that tell me LHH is getting his/her wiggle on.
As expected they were hugely excited and LHH continued his/her party while I drifted off to sleep.
I've felt movements most days since and jut can't wait for the time when Em and Adam will be able to feel them from the outside.

For me it can only get more and more exciting from here. Tangible changes are now happening and LHH's developments will be very visible from here on in.
Next Milestone: 20 week scan!

Monday, 5 November 2012

The big one: 12 week scan

Friday 2nd November was a very very important day; LHH was 12 weeks and we had our dating scan booked. I was absolutely terrified. I had managed to get myself into a state of semi nervous breakdown in anticipation of what the day might bring. I think it's a self-preservation thing; I still cannot believe we're actually lucky enough for this to be happening, and that it is really true. It gets more real (and more exciting) each time we hit a new landmark though.

We drove up to Coventry early Friday morning and went straight to Niki and Steve's for a cup of tea and quick catch up before heading to the hospital. As we walked into the woman's unit, I kept feeling like I shouldn't be there or I was there for someone else, and it felt incredibly exciting as well as nerve-wracking.

Adam Niki & I booked in and then sat down in the waiting room, next to all the other couples. Adam was fab, chatting away and making us laugh, whilst I worried quietly to myself and tried to process it all. After a while we were called in, and the three of us walked down the corridor to the scanning room. Yet again, we were incredibly lucky and had a lovely sonographer, who not only didn't make a fuss about Adam and I both being in the room, but was genuinely kind and interested in our rather rare situation.

Niki got herself settled and then the computer decided to build up the anticipation by freezing and making us all wait before the scan could begin. She took the probe and moved it onto Niki's abdomen and I grabbed Adam's hand, almost terrified to look at the screen. Then suddenly she said "congratulations guys, there's your baby" and there, clear as anything, was our little hitch-hiker, tiny, perfect, and (to my shock - goodness knows why I hadn't really thought about this) moving around merrily.

As we clutched each other's hands and I sobbed "oh my god" repeatedly (I'm going to have to come up with something more creative for these magical moments) she took the various measurements she needed to and everything was perfect; our wonderful friend is doing an amazing job of keeping LHH safe and warm. Niki lay quietly, letting Adam and I absorb everything, and I squeezed her shoulders tightly and said "thank you" for the millionth, but definitely not the last time.

Watching the screen was just incredible - I know it's real, I know that there's a baby there and that it's ours, but somehow watching it just makes it really real. I think the sonographer was generous with her time and she really was supportive and (quite rightly) pointed out that Niki is in fact an angel.

12 weeks is of course a huge landmark, and the following day was mine and Adam's 5th wedding anniversary. We had a celebration that evening with special friends and family, and it was so wonderful to be able to introduce Niki and Steve to people and celebrate properly. Seeing as Adam did all the talking at our wedding (not sure that's ever happened since) I did the speech, and got a few lines in before breaking down in tears when it came to saying the words "we're having a baby". I still can't believe I can say it out loud.

In my speech I thanked some incredible people who are responsible for getting us this far and who were there to celebrate with us - my transplant consultant and our IVF consultant, our amazing families who are just always always there, and of course Niki, Steve, Jack and Beth - I don't think I was able to put into words how much what they are doing for us means to us but I did try.

On Sunday, we got to listen to the baby's heartbeat via a doppler. It was just the perfect end to a truly magical weekend. I do keep thinking I'll wake up in a minute as this is all too good to be true, but it is real, and I just need to enjoy this amazing time and appreciate all the hard work and kindness that has got us this far.