Older women us­ing sur­ro­gates is a boom­ing in­dus­try — but with pay­ment banned in Bri­tain SALLY WIL­LIAMS in­ves­ti­gates the con­tro­ver­sial new destination for in­fer­tile cou­ples...

Daily Mail - - News - by Sally Wil­liams

Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes MAG­GIE SMITH

When I meet natasha Boroda, 30, in a stu­dio in Kiev, Ukraine, I’m struck by how well she looks. Beau­ti­ful hair, beau­ti­ful skin, red dress. her eyes gleam with ex­cite­ment, es­pe­cially when talk­ing about the fu­ture.

She’s preg­nant, of course. ‘To discover I was preg­nant was the hap­pi­est mo­ment,’ she says. She’d wanted more chil­dren, but wasn’t sure how it was go­ing to hap­pen — she sep­a­rated from her son’s father three years ago, be­fore Ar­tur was born, and hasn’t had a se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship since. But then this preg­nancy is far from usual.

Last sum­mer, natasha took a bus from her home town of Pry­luky in north­ern Ukraine and trav­elled two and a half hours to a clinic in Kiev. There she was told to lie on a hos­pi­tal bed where a catheter was threaded up into her uterus so an em­bryo could be de­liv­ered into po­si­tion. The em­bryo had been cre­ated in a petri dish a few days ear­lier, with the sperm of a man and the egg of woman natasha didn’t know, in the hope it would grow into a child whom natasha would give birth to, but prob­a­bly never see. The ba­bies of sur­ro­gate moth­ers are whisked away as soon as they’re born, to lessen the risk of at­tach­ment.

The big sur­prise is how easy it was. ‘I thought it would be painful, but when it was over, I said to the doc­tor, “Is that it!?”’

She later signed a con­tract with the sur­ro­gacy agency and was told the na­tion­al­ity of the prospec­tive par­ents: Bri­tish.

Ukraine, Geor­gia and the United States are just about the only coun­tries in the world in which com­mer­cial sur­ro­gacy is le­gal. In the UK, sur­ro­gates can be paid ‘rea­son­able

ex­penses’ to cover such costs as travel, loss of earn­ings and ex­tra food. France, Ger­many, Italy and Spain pro­hibit all forms of sur­ro­gacy, as do Ja­pan and Pak­istan.

For many years, South-East asia was a pop­u­lar sur­ro­gacy destination. But Thai­land barred for­eign­ers from pay­ing for sur­ro­gacy in 2015. nepal banned it, even when un­paid, later that year. and In­dia banned for­eign clients a few months later. For many Bri­tish cou­ples, Ukraine is now the place where their prayers may be an­swered.

Es­pe­cially older moth­ers. In the Uk, govern­ment guide­lines rec­om­mend doc­tors do not of­fer IVF to women over 40 on the nhS.

‘In Ukraine there is no age limit,’ says anas­ta­sia alek­san­drova, who runs the depart­ment which looks af­ter English- speak­ing clients at BioTexCom, the agency fa­cil­i­tat­ing natasha’s sur­ro­gacy. ‘We have a lot of women over 50. With the help of donor eggs, they be­come moth­ers and the women are happy, be­cause they have been strug­gling for 15 years and noth­ing worked.’

natasha seems to em­body all the para­doxes of the ideal sur­ro­gate. She is com­pas­sion­ate to­wards the in­fer­tile strangers and cares for the baby as her own. But is keeping her love in check.

‘I thought for some time about if I would be able to have a baby and then give that baby to strangers,’ she says of this, her first ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a sur­ro­gate. ‘But then I got used to the idea. The baby is not I am just a car­rier.’ natasha be­came a sur­ro­gate mother be­cause she thinks it’s a worthy thing to do, and be­cause she is paid a sum that seems huge in a coun­try where the av­er­age monthly salary is 110 euros (£98). natasha trained as a law and his­tory teacher. But teach­ers’ salaries are so low — 200 euros (£181) a month — she earns more work­ing in her local del­i­catessen.

over the course of her preg­nancy, from im­plan­ta­tion to birth, she will be paid up to 14,000 euros (£12,488) not in­clud­ing ex­penses — around 2,000 euros (£1,784) for food and ma­ter­nity clothes as well as com­pen­sa­tion any child­care costs.

The Bri­tish cou­ple will pay the sur­ro­gacy agency ap­prox­i­mately 39,000 euros (£35,417).

natasha ad­mits she is mo­ti­vated by money — ‘it’s my son and his fu­ture that pushed me to do this’ — but she isn’t mer­ce­nary. ‘This isn’t a ser­vice or a job, I see this as help.’

But still she plans to keep the preg­nancy se­cret. ‘I’m go­ing to quit my job at the end of this year, so there is no need to tell col­leagues. and I don’t have too many friends at home.’ She goes on, ‘I don’t want to be mis­un­der­stood. There are peo­ple who think only moth­ers should carry a baby.’

Sur­ro­gacy and egg- and sperm dona­tion were sanc­tioned in Ukraine in 2002. Sur­ro­gate moth­ers have no parental rights over the child they carry. and, be­cause Ukraine is still re­cov­er­ing from near eco­nomic col­lapse fol­low­ing po­lit­i­cal un­rest, the cost is com­pet­i­tive. a sur­ro­gate baby costs more than $100,000 (£78,548) in the U.S.; around 40,000 euros (£35,682) in Ukraine.

The Min­istry of health­care in Ukraine doesn’t keep of­fi­cial records of sur­ro­gacy. There are no avail­able statis­tics. But Sergii antonov, a lawyer who spe­cialises in med­i­cal and re­pro­duc­tive law in Ukraine and the Czech Re­pub­lic, es­ti­mates that more than 2,000 sur­ro­gate ba­bies were born in Ukraine last year, ‘an in­crease of more than 300 per cent over the past five years.’

he says there are now over 40 re­pro­duc­tive clin­ics in the Ukraine; 20 of which of­fer sur­ro­gacy pro­grammes, with for­eign­ers ac­count­ing for 94 per cent of all clients in 2016-2017, ac­cord­ing to the char­ity Fam­i­lies Through Sur­ro­gacy.

Cur­rent Uk law states that the sur­ro­gate and her husband have le­gal rights over the child, even if the child is not bi­o­log­i­cally theirs. a parental or­der is re­quired in or­der for the child to be handed over.

and al­though ‘pay­ing for a baby’ is not al­lowed, lump-sum ex­penses are of­ten ‘dressed up as ex­penses,’ says re­tired judge Sir James Munby, for­merly the Pres­i­dent of the Fam­ily Di­vi­sion of the high Court of Eng­land and Wales. Costs can amount to as much as £15,000. he ar­gues Uk sur­ro­gacy is al­ready a thor­oughly com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity, and it’s ‘prob­a­bly bet­ter to . . . move to a proper sys­tem of reg­u­la­tion rather than pro­hi­bi­tion.’

BUT un­til the law is clar­i­fied, more and more Bri­tish cou­ples are us­ing for­eign sur­ro­gates. BioTexCom Cen­ter for hu­man Re­pro­duc­tion is si­t­u­ated be­hind se­cu­rity gates in kiev. It of­fers sur­ro­gacy, egg dona­tion and IVF to cou­ples from around the world.

With its se­ries of large ter­ra­cotta build­ings, or­nate stair­wells, shiny floors, cof­fee ma­chines and pot­ted plants, the feel is part hos­pi­tal; part well- oiled ma­chine. There are gy­nae­col­o­gists, em­bry­ol­o­gists, fer­til­ity spe­cial­ists, uni­formed med­i­cal staff, as well as a so­cial me­dia team for the pro­mo­tion of ‘pack­ages’ and ‘dis­count deals’.

The core of the busi­ness — egg ex­trac­tion, fer­til­i­sa­tion, em­bryo trans­fers — takes place in the main clinic. Sur­ro­gates de­liver the ac­tual ba­bies in sur­ro­gacy-friendly ma­ter­nity hos­pi­tals in kiev. Young women, some sur­ro­gate moth­ers, some egg donors, queue for check­ups and ul­tra­sound scans, each hold­ing fold­ers of med­i­cal notes.

The ‘clients’, mean­while, cou­ples who’ve been through years of in­fer­til­ity’s hopes and misses, wait in an ad­ja­cent build­ing in a room with leather so­fas and pas­tries.

Sixty-three cou­ples were seen this af­ter­noon, here af­ter ex­haust­ing all other op­tions. I was picked up from the air­port with a Bri­tish and a French cou­ple; each with a long tale of grief about how they got here.

‘Sur­ro­gacy was our last hope,’ says Stacy owen, 42, who works in ed­u­ca­tional gov­er­nance and lives with her husband in Sut­ton, Sur­rey. They had twins with a Ukraine sur­ro­gate last year.

They had tried very hard to get preg­nant. The good news: Stacy con­ceived. The bad news: she mis­car­ried. again and again.

af­ter ten mis­car­riages over 12 years, and ‘thou­sands of pounds on ex­pen­sive drugs’, Stacy and her husband set­tled on sur­ro­gacy. They went to the Ukraine be­cause ‘it’s cheap, the law is tight and it’s a three-hour flight from the Uk.’

The cou­ple paid 30,000 euros (£24,244) for an ‘all in­clu­sive guaran­mine.

The VIP pack­age in­cludes a cook and house­keeper — and par­ents can also choose the sex of their child

teed pack­age’ plus an ex­tra 3,000 euros (£2,724) as they had twins. (BioTexCom has with­drawn the Econ­omy pack­age, and now of­fers Stan­dard, 39,000 euros (£35,417) and VIP, 49,000 euros (£43,710)).

The sur­ro­gate mother was 20 and had a two-year- old son. ‘We flew out at 37 weeks be­cause twins are of­ten born early, but they didn’t ar­rive un­til 39 weeks and 5 days. It was a nat­u­ral birth. Ev­ery­one was like, “Are they ever com­ing?”’ She goes on, ‘By the time the sur­ro­gate got home, she’d been away from her son for nearly three months. Quite a sacri­fice.’

Stacy is still in con­tact with the sur­ro­gate. ‘She did something won­der­ful for us and I’d like the chil­dren to know who she is. Noth­ing should be hid­den about that. It was such a unique, un­con­ven­tional and joy­ous ex­pe­ri­ence.’

BioTexCom’s Anas­ta­sia, a prag­matic 36-year-old with hoop ear­rings and dark nail pol­ish, ex­plains how it works. Like all Ukraine’s agen­cies, BioTexCom prac­tises ‘host’, not ‘tra­di­tional’ sur­ro­gacy (where the sur­ro­gate’s egg is used with the man’s sperm). In other words, the clin­ics deal with sur­ro­gates hir­ing out their womb.

Sur­ro­gate moth­ers are nor­mally no younger than 20; no older than 38. And be­fore they’re al­lowed to be­come sur­ro­gates have to un­dergo back­ground checks and med­i­cal test­ing. This in­cludes an in­ter­nal ex­am­i­na­tion to ensure her uterus is in good shape and she’s free of STDs. Once ac­cepted, they are not al­lowed to have sex un­til af­ter the 12th week of preg­nancy ‘ so as not to en­dan­ger the preg­nancy’, says Anas­ta­sia.

She needs to have had at least one baby of her own. ‘Preg­nancy is un­pre­dictable,’ Anas­ta­sia ex­plains. ‘I know of a case where there were com­pli­ca­tions af­ter birth and the sur­ro­gate mother lost her uterus. To lose your abil­ity to have your own fam­ily is not a good thing.’

Sur­ro­gates car­ry­ing ba­bies for UK cou­ples also have to be sin­gle. ‘The le­gal process is sim­pler for the par­ents,’ says Anas­ta­sia. If the sur­ro­gate is sin­gle, the child has a good claim to Bri­tish na­tion­al­ity.

As for prospec­tive par­ents, the com­pany does not ac­cept un­mar­ried or same sex cou­ples. Cou­ples need to have proven in­fer­til­ity. For ex­am­ple, at least four failed IVF cy­cles. And the baby needs to be ge­net­i­cally re­lated to at least one of the par­ents.

The sur­ro­gacy pack­age in­cludes trans­port and ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion, as the process of get­ting pass­ports and con­firm­ing na­tion­al­ity for the baby can take up to four months for the UK.

Sur­ro­gates and prospec­tive par­ents are matched by doc­tors. ‘They go on such things as blood group com­pat­i­bil­ity,’ says Anas­ta­sia. Con­tact be­tween both par­ties is down to in­di­vid­u­als.

Anas­ta­sia says there is of­ten sus-

Sur­ro­gacy was our last hope. We paid £27,000 for an ‘all in­clu­sive guar­an­teed pack­age’ and came home with beau­ti­ful twins

pi­cion on both sides. ‘Sur­ro­gates are afraid the cou­ple will change their mind and not take the baby. Cou­ples are afraid the sur­ro­gate will not give the baby to them.’

Cou­ples want to know if the sur­ro­gate is healthy, lives in a safe area, has a good sup­port sys­tem, what her chil­dren will think when she re­turns empty-handed from the hos­pi­tal. ‘Some cou­ples say, “We don’t want the sur­ro­gate to eat meat at all, we want her to be ve­gan and hike two hours a day.”

‘And I ex­plain: “A sur­ro­gate mother has her own life: she is help­ing you, she is not serv­ing you and you should re­spect her lifestyle,” ’ says Anas­ta­sia.

Some things must be agreed on: for ex­am­ple, how many em­bryos will be trans­ferred (triplets are not per­mit­ted); if a Down’s preg­nancy will be ter­mi­nated. Those who buy the VIP pack­age, which in­cludes a house­keeper and cook for their stay in the Ukraine. can also choose the sex of their child.

Kateryna Hobzhyla, 34, is preg­nant with her fourth child. ‘I love chil­dren,’ she says. The man­ager of a su­per­mar­ket in Uzyn, a small town in north­ern Ukraine, she talks of her son, Con­stan­tine, 18; and of her two daugh­ters, Anna, 12 and Polina, six. She shows me pho­to­graphs of a birthday cake she baked for Polina, an elab­o­rate con­fec­tion of ic­ing and sweets.

She is an af­fec­tion­ate mother, close to her chil­dren, which is why she can’t eas­ily ex­press her feel­ings about the baby she is car­ry­ing — her first ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a sur­ro­gate.

‘It’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult,’ she says, of not see­ing the baby af­ter labour. ‘Even though the baby is not ge­net­i­cally my baby I am car­ry­ing it in my heart.’

Kateryna stud­ied cook­ery at col­lege be­fore get­ting mar­ried to a busi­ness­man at 17. She di­vorced her husband four years ago be­cause he had be­come abu­sive and vi­o­lent. She sub­se­quently lost her fam­ily home, which was owned by her mother-in-law and now rents a small apart­ment.

Her plan with the sur­ro­gacy money is to buy a flat, ‘a home for my two girls.’ Not that it was an easy de­ci­sion. ‘I had to be ready men­tally,’ she ex­plains. In the end the per­son who re­as­sured her was her son, Con­stan­tine. ‘He said, “I am your son. The baby inside you is not your child.”’

The clinic ar­ranged a Skype call with the cou­ple she’s having the baby for. ‘I could see it was dif­fi­cult for the in­tended mother be­cause she won’t carry her own child. She was silent. Only the father talked to me.’ He quizzed Kateryna on her health and how she feels and asked if they could buy Christ­mas presents for her chil­dren. ‘When I saw them I re­alised I’m do­ing something great. They made me feel like an an­gel.’

Nev­er­the­less Kateryna is keeping the preg­nancy se­cret. She says she’ll pass the preg­nancy off as weight gain, ex­plain­ing that when the bump is re­ally big she’ll be in Kiev, where all sur­ro­gates are moved in prepa­ra­tion for de­liv­ery. When she re­turns home with a flat tummy, she’ll say: ‘I’ve got fit’.

But she has told her older daugh­ter. ‘I ex­plained I’m a kind of in­cu­ba­tor. I said, “If we take an egg from a chicken and put it in an in­cu­ba­tor and keep it warm, a chick will hatch.” Anna ac­cepted this and asked when they’d have their own house. She said, “Mummy is do­ing a good thing.”’

Elena Oucharenko, 37, an artist who runs cre­ative work­shops for chil­dren, lives in Borzna, north­ern Ukraine, with her son, Misha, 13. She is in the early stages of preg­nancy with a baby she’s car­ry­ing for a Bri­tish cou­ple.

Last year she had twins for an Ital­ian cou­ple. ‘ I treated the preg­nancy the same as with my son,’ she says. ‘I stroked my belly and spoke to the ba­bies. I said, “Mum and Dad are waiting for you. They love you very much.”’

She gave them names from Ukra­nian fairy tales. ‘One was very ac­tive, and I called her “bunny”; and the other was qui­eter and I called her a name which means something very sweet and nice.’

THE girls were born in May 2017. Elena didn’t see them or even hear them cry. ‘ It was a Cae­sarean and I was se­dated. I woke up with­out a belly, with­out the ba­bies.’ She was given pills to sup­press her milk sup­ply. ‘I knew I wouldn’t see them, but yes, I had a few days when I was up and down and ready to burst into tears at any mo­ment.’

She hadn’t had any con­tact with the cou­ple. She only knew they were Ital­ian. Then, about three days af­ter giv­ing birth, she met them. ‘ They were vis­it­ing the ba­bies in the hos­pi­tal and the father fell on his knees and was cry­ing. I saw something I had never seen be­fore: pure hap­pi­ness.’

She con­tin­ues: ‘They asked if I wanted to see the ba­bies. I said yes.’ She smiles, ‘My baby girls are beau­ti­ful.’ She is still in touch with the cou­ple, who live in Turin. ‘I have pic­tures, starting from when they were one month old, she says. ‘They feel like fam­ily.’

Elena is sav­ing the money for her son’s ed­u­ca­tion. He is good at lan­guages and she wants him to study at a univer­sity aboard, ‘most likely Italy’. The most important thing is my baby — my son — and the cou­ple I’m go­ing to help.’

How­ever there is pro­found anx­i­ety in Ukraine sur­round­ing the ethics of women sell­ing their wombs in a global mar­ket­place.

‘With ad­vances in science, tech­nol­ogy and the ease of air travel, cross-bor­der sur­ro­gacy is very dif­fi­cult to reg­u­late and po­lice,’ says Sam Ever­ing­ham, global direc­tor of Fam­i­lies Through Sur­ro­gacy.

Iryna Sysoyenko, a Ukrainian deputy (MP), has co-au­thored a Bill to ban for­eign­ers from us­ing sur­ro­gates, or at the very least to stop cou­ples from coun­tries where the prac­tice is il­le­gal, as in Spain. ‘We don’t want to be seen as a coun­try where you can fly in, choose a woman and have a baby,’ she has said.

Anas­ta­sia sees it dif­fer­ently. ‘Our women be­come sur­ro­gates be­cause they want to take con­trol of their lives. When I am ac­cused of ex­ploit­ing women, I say: “Well, yes, of course, it would be much bet­ter if she left her fam­ily and went abroad to earn lit­tle money and get ex­ploited there.”’

‘There are women who are des­per­ate and do it for the money,’ ad­mits Elena, her hand on her grow­ing belly. But not all. She views it dif­fer­ently. ‘I see it as mu­tual help: I am help­ing the cou­ple; the cou­ple are help­ing me.’

Kateryna ad­mits it’s dif­fi­cult. ‘Even though the baby is not ge­net­i­cally mine, I am car­ry­ing it in my heart’

Preg­nant: Elena, Kateryna and Natasha

Dou­ble joy: Stacy Owen with sur­ro­gate twins Aleah and Eli

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