“If you and your husband, wife or partner are having a child through surrogacy you will not normally be eligible for statutory maternity or adoption leave. However you will be eligible for unpaid parental leave once you have got a parental order.” So says the DirectGov website advice on Maternity Leave.
Why? There is clearly a level of discrimination taking place here. Having a child, a baby, through whatever means…giving birth, adopting or with the help of a surrogate mother, should be considered equal upon the baby’s arrival and the family should be supported by Government policy. Parents of surrogate babies should be able to take time off from their employment with the right to maternity or paternity leave and a job to return to afterwards. Bear in mind that surrogacy is almost always a last resort, taken by couples who would otherwise be infertile. They struggle with infertility and the extra burden of financial cost associated with IVF and surrogacy, and then are not even awarded the equal rights to mothers and fathers who are fortunate to create a family in the ‘normal’ way once the longed-for baby is born. Although a woman who has given birth should of course be entitled to a period of physical and emotional recovery, the year of maternity leave currently in place in the UK is mostly focused on the care of the infant and the family bonding, and this is the same however a family is created. Even after getting a parental order through the courts, only unpaid parental leave is available to mothers and fathers of surrogate children.
Personally I handed my notice in to my employer when I found out that we were lucky enough to be expecting twins with the help of a surrogate. I felt that it might have been possible to plead my case for some sort of discretionary maternity leave, but it was highly unlikely that it would have been commensurate with the enhanced benefits I would have been entitled to if I myself had given birth. I would also have been forced to discuss a lot of personal information which, at that point, I didn’t feel able to do. It was a difficult decision, and ultimately has meant that I have chosen my family over my career and income…a choice that other women are not forced to make.
I signed an HM Government e-petition entitled ‘Maternity rights for mothers of children born through surrogacy’ which is trying to bring about policy change in the UK. It needs 100,000 signatures to be considered and is a long way off that number currently. Please help by adding your name to the petition too.