We are thrown into the waiting room with Emma and Jane who are attending an IVF consultation for a gestational surrogacy arrangement. The childhood friends are laughing and reminiscing about how it all came about.
The relaxed attitude shared by Jane and Emma provides a light-hearted podcast on surrogacy, which is likened to 'extreme babysitting’ and acting as human 'oven'. The 20-minute story is pleasantly surprising, not least because of the relationship between the surrogate, Jane, and the commissioning couple, Emma and her partner.
Eleven and a half years before the podcast, Emma was diagnosed with cancer and told she had only a few years left. But, a year and a half later, she was cancer-free. Emma had undergone treatment involving a hysterectomy and chemotherapy. Emma and her partner at the time, now her husband, froze eggs and embryos before the cancer treatment. Then, after Emma was clear of cancer for five consecutive years, they decided to try to build a family.
Unfortunately, Emma and her husband were unable to sign onto any UK charities to be matched with surrogates, because lists opened so infrequently and at short notice. Their disdain at the £70,000 cost of commercial surrogacy in the USA was also clear. Soon their luck changed and they successfully joined the list with the charity Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy (COTS). Unfortunately, as a result of differing expectations and medical issues, the arrangement they began developing ended after 10 months.
It was only after this failed surrogacy arrangement when Jane, a childhood friend of Emma's, offered to become their surrogate. The podcast explores their relationship during this time and also features an interview with the charity Surrogacy UK.
The podcast feels like a coffee table discussion with a free-flowing structure and interjections from Emma, Jane and the interviewer, Luke Jones. This makes for comfortable listening, even while introducing some of the major challenges around surrogacy in the UK.
Sarah Jones, a trustee of Surrogacy UK, is introduced halfway through the programme. When asked whether the laws for surrogacy are fit for purpose, she answers succinctly: 'No!'
Jones explains that because of the nature of the UK's legal system, there is a requirement for a high level of trust between the couple and the surrogate. There is always a risk that the commissioning couple could walk away at any time, leaving the surrogate responsible for the child. Regulating the costs paid to surrogates is also an issue. This can vary from £5,000 to £15,000 and is completely unregulated except for the rather vague term 'reasonable expenses'.
Jones also mentions other problems, including pre-birth orders; access to surrogacy for single parents; and access to surrogacy for couples using double gamete donation. Currently, the Law Commissions of England, Wales and Scotland are reviewing pre-birth orders. It may be that in future, the commissioning couple will have legal parenthood of the child from birth.
Unfortunately, this message is hidden within the podcast. It felt unexpected to leap from the stories of Emma and Jane to Jones' expert interview. This did not entirely detract from the tone of the podcast but it was a noticeable shift.
In addition, if you are interested in learning about the negatives of surrogacy arrangements, this may not the podcast for you, because problematic issues are discussed sparingly. However, it was an informative episode that educated the listener on the law and social issues around surrogacy arrangements.
With hindsight, hearing from both Emma and Jane was valuable because it gave a voice to the statistics and the legal criticisms. This was a benefit of the podcast because it was in equal parts humorous and shocking such as Emma agreeing to 'cut the cord' on the day of the birth as genetic mother of the baby.
I would recommend this podcast for anyone interested in understanding the perspectives of both commissioning couples and surrogates in the UK. Comparatively, where the podcast Two Beards and a Baby offers a unique insight for how a married same-sex couple approached surrogacy, this podcast provides a unique insight into the arrangement between two friends entering into a surrogacy agreement.
Carrying My Friend's Baby is available on iPlayer.