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Book Review: The Mother Project – Making it to parenthood the (very) long way round

12 July 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1103

The Mother Project: Making It to Parenthood the (Very) Long Way Round

By Sophie Beresiner

Published by HarperCollins

ISBN-10: 0008456860, ISBN-13: 978-0008456863

Buy this book from Amazon UK

I've followed Sophie Beresiner's award-winning column in the Times, The Mother Project, throughout my PhD, with her pieces providing an intended mother's perspective of surrogacy.

Her column started with announcing her surrogacy plans to her family and friends in June 2018 and book 'The Mother Project: Making it to parenthood the (very) long way round' is both prequel and supplement to the weekly column, starting from her breast cancer diagnosis at 30.

Written in the first person, the book reads like a long chat with a friend who's sharing her fertility journey over the course of an afternoon. Despite this style, The Mother Project is not a light read: it is raw, gritty, and will leave the reader needing to catch a breath before moving on to the next part of Sophie's mission. Although you feel for Sophie throughout The Mother Project, she does not indulge in any self-pity. I was taken aback by the sheer strength needed to go through so much heartbreak, while continuing to persevere despite it all.

As a cancer survivor in London, the IVF postcode lottery is not in her favour, meaning that she must opt for private treatment. Wanting to pursue anonymous egg donation, she decides to travel to Russia for a €7500 egg donation package. After numerous failed attempts to conceive with donor eggs, and an inability to tolerate the fertility drugs, Sophie turns to surrogacy. I found her refreshingly honest answers to the usual surrogacy questions ('What about exploitation?' 'Why don't you just adopt?') poignantly written, without any of the usual cushioning.

If her column provided a glimpse into the surrogacy roller coaster, the book pulls back the curtain and reveals all. Her frustration with the legal framework regulating surrogacy in the UK, her experience with Russian egg donation, and a desire to have some sort of guarantee, guides her towards surrogacy across the Atlantic. Sophie takes us through choosing the right agency for her, making sense of the associated costs, and the timeline. Once signed with a surrogacy agency she refers to as 'The Agency', she talks about the awkwardness of having to sell herself to potential surrogates for the chance of becoming a parent. After two false starts with unsuitable matches, Sophie then mysteriously hints at the importance of needing a good agency, suggesting perhaps The Agency is too good to be true.

With eighteen fertilised donor eggs and a new match, Melissa, it seems good news might be on the horizon. However, these fertilised eggs are not all viable, leaving Sophie with five embryos. After a few medical setbacks, Melissa ghosts her. Being abandoned in surrogacy is a possibility, however, more often, the intended parents leave the surrogate, rather than other way around.

If you didn't know that Sophie's story ends with her being a mother, then at this point in the book, the heartache is almost too much to bear. Confronted with a £50,000 bill – before even having a baby to bring back – Sophie breaks down, feeling like she's 'basically been tricked into a surrogacy journey that [she was] never going to be able to complete.' As with every previous setback, Sophie wipes the tears, and is more determined than ever. Her drive is tested to almost breaking point, and after some time, she's matched with the surrogate Lydia, who seems perfect. However, as Sophie admits herself, she shouldn't have hoped because this IVF cycle – like the last five – is unsuccessful. Sophie pushes past, and they keep trying – each time without luck. However, as Sophie and Lydia's lives became more intertwined, red flags kept creeping up, with Sophie noticing cryptic Instagram posts hinting at instability in her personal life. I was struck by how Sophie was able to share the complex emotions underpinning this relationship, with unabashed frankness.

While her journey with Lydia is ongoing in the USA, she answers an Instagram message from a potential surrogate, Rebecca, in the UK. Instantly, they connect, and Sophie feels guilty for 'cheating' on Lydia. The pros of pursuing American surrogacy are no longer as obvious to her.

After two years, four surrogate matches, two painful surrogacy relationship dissolutions, and 'an eye-watering, life-limiting amount of money', Sophie's foray into American surrogacy ends. Her British journey with Rebecca is just starting, not without some difficulties as Rebecca must have the embryos transferred in the USA.

The Mother Project delves into motherhood, demonstrating the extent to which intention is at its core. She showcases the unwavering desire and need for something that 'should' come naturally, and how she would go to amazing extents to achieve her mission. Whether you're curious about surrogacy, on the fence about it, or vehemently opposed to the practice, I would highly recommend this book, as it will challenge your understanding about motherhood, and lead you to question the legal frameworks in place, here and abroad.

Buy The Mother Project: Making It to Parenthood the (Very) Long Way Round from Amazon UK.

The Mother Project - Making it to parenthood the (very) long way round
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