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Surrogacy and IVF: what is surrogacy really like?

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The most recent London Egg Bank webinar, ‘IVF with Donor Eggs and Surrogacy’, continued a series of hour-long webinars providing educational discussions on the use of donor eggs in fertility treatment. The event, which took place on 10 November 2021 via Zoom, was designed to be able to highlight the ‘lived experience’ of those who have had children through surrogacy or using donor eggs, and of surrogates and egg donors themselves. It was chaired and moderated by Dr Kirsty Horsey, Senior Research Associate at London Women’s Clinic and London Egg Bank, with renowned expertise in surrogacy, who guided the audience’s questions to the panellists efficiently, allowing each to build on their specific expertise.

The Panellists

In the interest of providing a balanced and nuanced approach to surrogacy, the panellists brought together expertise from a variety of perspectives. Sarah Jones is Head of Surrogacy at SurrogacyUK, one of the UK’s four government-recognised non-profit surrogacy organisations, and has acted as a surrogate on five separate occasions. With over 18 years’ experience, Sarah was able to skilfully answer audience questions about the surrogacy process, from starting the journey, the types of relationships forged, and the NHS’s increased knowledge in how to care for and treat surrogacy cases.

Also in attendance, Linder Pott is on the Board of Trustees at SurrogacyUK and has acted as both a host surrogate with a donor egg and as a straight surrogate. Complementing Sarah, she explained the benefits of joining a surrogacy organisation, and what motivates surrogates to take part in these arrangements.

Alan Coates is a father of two children through surrogacy using donor eggs, and a member of SurrogacyUK. His answers provided insight into the perspective of an intended parent, demonstrating the importance and value of honest communication.

Finally, Andrew Spearman, Partner and Head of Family Law at Laytons ETL, was available to answer questions about the legal complexities of surrogacy law, especially those arising out of the parental order process (the court order that transfers legal parenthood to the intended parents from the surrogate after birth).

Alan Coates, his partner, and their baby

"Sarah noted the level of friendship she maintained with the families resulted in there never being a ‘grand reveal’ regarding her part in the children’s creation: it was part and parcel of their birth story."

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Surrogacy Relationships

Following introductions, Dr Horsey wasted no time, delving straight into audience questions about whether surrogates stay in touch with the families they help to create. Sarah, Linder, and Alan all answered with a resounding “yes”, explaining how friendship was at the heart of their arrangements and the surrogacy process—in line with SurrogacyUK’s ethos of surrogacy through friendship. Sarah noted the level of friendship she maintained with the families resulted in there never being a ‘grand reveal’ regarding her part in the children’s creation: it was part and parcel of their birth story. Similarly, Linder revealed that her close bond with intended parents was at the heart of her experiences, so she sees the children as often as she would with any other friend. However, each relationship between a surrogate and an intended parent will be different, and both parties should have a mutual understanding of each other’s boundaries and comfortabilities.

Alan’s discussion of friendship in surrogacy was the most revealing, as he personally felt that it would be unnatural to refer to his surrogate as something other than a “friend”. Later, when asked about “green flags”, all three emphasised the importance of a natural relationship forged between surrogates and intended parents.

Of course, like any other friendship, there’s potential for disagreements to arise. Sarah explained how the agreement drafted by intended parents and surrogates sets the foundation for the surrogacy process, anticipating potential issues later in the journey. Linder, agreeing with Sarah, shared her experiences of a point of discussion with her intended parents, and the importance of good communication and compromise throughout. Alan highlighted how the agreement provokes important discussions between surrogates and intended parents, while also providing emotional tools to help with resolving any arising tensions. Despite the agreement’s lack of legal enforceability, Linder highlighted its weightiness, as the culmination of “10 years of decision-making” in her case.

Linder Potts, Surrogate

Legal Parenthood

Surrogacy law states that the surrogate is the legal mother at birth, despite the fact that the baby is literally handed over to the intended parents as soon as possible, in a moment described by the panellists as “magical”. Due to the current law, the surrogate must go on the original birth certificate as the mother, and if she is married or civilly partnered, her spouse/partner is recognised as the second legal parent. However, the baby can still carry the intended parents’ last name. If the surrogate is legally single, however, one of the intended parents can be named the second legal parent on the birth certificate, if the surrogate agrees. Of course, once a parental order is granted, both intended parents (if there are two) appear on a re-issued birth certificate, and the surrogate does not.

This disconnect between legal recognition and lived reality highlights the importance of the parental order, which must be applied for within six months of the birth. Andrew explained the parental order, and how it allows for a transfer of legal parenthood to the intended parents. As a result of recent legal changes, single intended parents may also apply for parental orders—meaning no legal obstacles exist for single men or women wanting to pursue surrogacy, as long as they have a genetic relationship to the child. Andrew then continued to clarify some of the questions asked by the audience, explaining that while initially daunting, the process is relatively straightforward, provided you meet all the criteria listed. When asked about the possibility of opting for adoption instead, he stated that it was infinitely preferable to follow the parental order route – parental orders were created specifically for surrogacy, to avoid intended parents having to adopt the children they created.

 

Going forwards

At the end of the webinar, the feeling was that surrogacy was a fulfilling experience for all panellists. And, the surrogacy landscape may become even better after the review of surrogacy law currently being jointly undertaken by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission is completed in autumn 2022.

If you have any questions about surrogacy or egg donation, please do reach out to us at London Egg Bank. We can help you prepare for your future treatment, and, if needed, can help you find the best donor. Contact us on matching@londoneggbank.com for more information and keep an eye on our webpages for details of future events on surrogacy and egg donation.

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