‘I’m not worried about handing over my surrogate baby’
Every week, a woman reflects on motherhood – whether she has children or not It’s seen as the ultimate selfless act, but for Jenna, the decision to be a surrogate mother was a no-brainer…
‘i’m not worried about handing over my surrogate baby’
for many people, being a surrogate mother would be totally inconceivable. But for me, ever since I had my first child three years ago, it’s something that I’ve always believed I could do if there was good reason to. I genuinely enjoy being pregnant, I’m 29 so still fit and young, and the birth of both of my children felt manageable; or at least enough to consider doing it for somebody else.
And yet I wouldn’t have thought it would be my cousin Laura who I would help have a baby. I’m very close to her and I’ve known her partner Rhys since I was small – we were at nursery, school and then college together. But, until last year, I had no idea they were struggling to conceive.
I was pregnant with Florrie, my second daughter – who’s now 14 months – when Laura told me about their fertility problems. They’d already had several unsuccessful cycles of IVF, which had been heartbreaking, and when the last cycle also failed, they resolved to start looking at other options. The topic of surrogacy came into focus, and another family member told Laura to talk to me first. Our tentative conversations started from there.
I decided fairly quickly that if I could, I’d like to try and help them have a baby. But as I was pregnant, we agreed to wait and see how we felt after I’d had my child. We decided that if there’d been any complications during the birth, we would’ve shelved the idea altogether.
Luckily, my daughter’s birth was straightforward and I recovered quickly. So just six months after having her, we started fertility treatment for the surrogate pregnancy. I was on maternity leave and I figured it made sense to do it while my body was still in the zone.
Any soul-searching I had surrounded the decision to use my own egg. This would mean that ‘ biologically’ the baby would be Rhys’s and mine. Despite being on-board with me carrying another couple’s baby, my husband Martin was understandably concerned.
But because the issues lay with Laura’s eggs, the only alternative would have been finding a donor egg – something that comes at major expense. I knew I didn’t want any more babies of my own and that our family was complete, which helped me make the decision. And I was able to convince my husband that, in my head, I was thinking about this only in practical terms – that I didn’t see a future baby as ‘mine’. Besides, I’m a big believer it’s not just genetics that make you a parent, and surrogacy is very much a means to an end.
Often, when a surrogate conceives using her own egg, they’ll do so by home insemination – the ‘turkey-baster’ method that gets a lot of airtime. That didn’t really appeal to me and my husband wasn’t up for me doing that either, so we used the fertility clinic that had been treating my cousin.
We had a medicated cycle of IUI to improve our chances. Rhys’s sperm was placed into my womb around the time of ovulation after I’d been injecting myself with fertility drugs for a fortnight. The injections were undoubtedly the worst part for me – and my heart went out to Laura who’d had to endure so many cycles of this. When I moaned and felt ultra-hormonal, Martin reminded me we were lucky this was our only brush with fertility treatment.
I got pregnant straight away, but – eight months on – it’s not been totally without apprehension. Overwhelming responsibility is part and parcel of every pregnancy but with surrogacy, it’s amplified. Handing over a healthy, much-wanted baby was now all down to me but, luckily, at the 12-week scan, everything looked good. Laura and Rhys were relieved, and thrilled – as was I.
Keeping them involved at every stage has felt natural. Laura’s been at all the midwife appointments and scans – at 20 weeks we found out they’ll be having a baby girl, who they’ve named Alice. We bought a Doppler so they can hear the heartbeat and I video the bump moving during the day and message it to them. Laura’s even had a baby shower and is preparing to breastfeed by taking medication that induces lactation.
The baby is due in four weeks and amazingly my three-year-old daughter Aoife understands I’m just helping, and
the baby in my tummy is Auntie Laura’s. It’s the curiosity of strangers and acquaintances that occasionally throws me. My work colleagues were shocked to see I was pregnant again – I had to sit them down to explain the scenario. It’s meant I’m the subject of office gossip for sure, but I’ve tried to just block it out. I’m entitled to full maternity leave, but I’ll probably only be off until January – my company cover statutory maternity and Laura and Rhys will cover the shortfall in my pay.
The most common question I get asked is how much money I’m being paid. That’s actually illegal in this country and only my expenses can be reimbursed, but it’s also missing the point. I like being pregnant and I’m giving my cousin a baby. I don’t need anything else.
My midwife has been working for 18 years, yet I’m her first surrogate, which feels special. We’re opting for a water birth and Laura wants to have immediate skin-to-skin with the baby, so she’ll probably end up in the pool with me. I’ve told her it won’t be pretty, but she insists she’s not squeamish.
I’m really not worried about being engulfed by overwhelming emotion when I hand over their baby. I just know it won’t happen. Even though it’s an emotive act, being a surrogate involves thinking practically – right now, all I can think about is being able to sleep, going back to the gym and getting my body back.
I’m going to step away and let Laura and Rhys enjoy the newborn bubble. They’re the parents and it’s not my place to message them constantly or drop by unannounced. They’ve waited so long for this and it’ll be their time to bond as a family. They know where I am if they need help or advice and I’ll follow their lead. I’ll be Auntie Jenna, but Laura and Rhys will explain everything to their daughter in time. We all agree it’s better if she understands how she came about as early as possible, so it’s not a shock when she’s older. Laura also believes that it’s important for others to know that life isn’t black and white and not everyone can have a baby at the drop of a hat.
I realise not everyone could do this, but for me it’s simple, I’m giving two people I love the best gift possible. How can that be anything but positive?
I’m going to step away and let them enjoy the newborn bubble
Right: Jenna records her growing bump for the expectant parents. Below: with eldest daughter Aoife. Below left: with her cousin and mum-to-be Laura