You can probably tell by the hair styles in the book jacket photo that these guys were some of the earlier UK pioneers of modern surrogacy! Rona Walker (not her real name) was expecting her first baby when disaster struck – tragically her baby was born prematurely and did not survive, and she subsequently suffered a severe postpartum hemorrhage which led to a hysterectomy. She and her husband were devastated, and it wasn’t long before she looked to surrogacy as a way to create their longed-for family. Despite having had a hysterectomy, she retained functioning ovaries. I can relate to Rona in her desire to use her own eggs and her husbands sperm to produce their own genetic child with the help of a gestational surrogate. But whereas this is exactly what I went on to do, Rona was thwarted by British law, which states that surrogacy cannot be undertaken for commercial gain. This law is still largely in force, but back in the 1980′s the issues were so muddied that IVF doctors felt that they might be prosecuted if they took on surrogacy clients.
Despite the ideal medical solution being available in the form of IVF, Rona and her husband needed to look to traditional surrogacy instead. Also called straight surrogacy, this is when the surrogate’s own eggs are used, usually together with the commissioning father’s sperm, and the baby is therefore genetically related to the surrogate. Much of Rona’s story is about the committment, and often bizarrely hilarious situation of her husband’s sperm deliveries in order to conceive with their surrogate. Their relationship with their surrogate was intense, with them living together at times.
Much of their surrogacy journey was shrouded in secrecy, fearing that if social services got wind of the imminent birth then their child would be taken in to care. Although seemingly paranoid, even over twenty years later many intended parents are vulnerable to thoughts such as these. Both Rona and her husband needed to adopt their baby to make them the legal parents, whereas today a parental order is more suited to the surrogacy situation.
I enjoyed reading this story, written in a very human way and full of touching moments. But it was the drawing of comparisons between surrogacy in the late ’80s and today which fascinated me the most. How much has changed, and how much has stayed the same. Even though IVF and parental orders are now available to intended parents, many of us still journey through surrogacy in private, fearing what repercussions might exist otherwise. And as demonstrated even this week with a new UK parliamentary bill for equal maternity rights for mothers through surrogacy, two decades later there is still much to be done to make surrogacy a fair and transparent way to parenthood.