'Hearing successes is, I think, just so powerful'. These are the words of Anna Buxton, a mother through surrogacy and interviewee on the Fertility Podcast episode 'Surrogacy Abroad and in the UK'. As she discusses, such stories were once difficult to come by for those facing infertility. The very existence of this podcast, therefore, reflects how far things have come. An episode that is clearly designed for those considering entering a surrogacy arrangement, it is a rich source of information on where prospective parents might find others who have been in the same boat, and how they too might find success. It will not necessarily, however, reassure them that it will be smooth sailing.
The episode is split into two halves. Both interviewees are parents through surrogacy, who are remarkably transparent about how their families came to be. Though their experiences may have been very different in many ways, the common thread through both interviews is the need for support when conceiving through surrogacy. From feelings of isolation to struggles with mental health, no topic is off-limits in this candid exploration of the process.
The conversation with Anna is perhaps the more personal of the two. She discusses her motivations behind using transnational surrogacy arrangements (travelling first to India then California), her experiences of the process, as well as how she continues to bring her children up with a knowledge and understanding of their heritage. A particularly striking feature at each stage is the degree of personal responsibility she assumes towards the people that carried her children. Even now, she sends a letter and photograph to the clinic in India each year for both her surrogate and her children on her daughter's birthday.
One of the most common arguments offered by those who oppose surrogacy is that it dehumanises the gestational carriers involved; turns them into nothing more than a vessel or a faceless womb to be used and then disposed of. This is perhaps of greatest concern in the context of so called 'fertility tourism' to lower income countries. Indeed, a series of high-profile scandals subsequently led India to shut down the commercial surrogacy industry for international parents.
Anna's story shows, however, that a more ethical approach is possible. Her experiences serve as an important reminder of what intended parents themselves can do to help assuage the potential problems with surrogacy. Of course, there are limitations to this. There is some discomfort in her admission that she has no way of knowing whether the surrogate receives the letters. The fact she and her husband had to visit ten clinics before finding one that met their ethical standards also serves as a stark reminder of the need for formal regulation. Nonetheless, though there may be much that intended parents alone cannot fix, striving to treat their surrogate as well as possible and challenging unethical practices will doubtlessly push the industry in the right direction.
Naturally, taking responsibility for one's own surrogacy journey in this way is challenging for intended parents. It requires, among other things, a strong grasp of the process, the potential pitfalls, and professional support for all involved. For intended parents that perhaps feel (understandably) overwhelmed by the prospect, the second interview on this podcast will likely be of particular interest.
Mike Ellis, one half of Two Dads UK, discusses 'My Surrogacy Journey' – the agency that he and his husband have set up to offer precisely such support. Through their two-year subscription service, they hope to 'change the landscape' for not only intended parents, but also surrogates and egg donors in the UK, US and Canada. They aim to do so by providing accurate, clinical information in a way that is streamlined and comprehensive. The challenges with accessing this kind of support are often particularly pronounced in countries like the UK, where third parties are prohibited from facilitating these arrangements for a profit. This organisation is therefore a welcome step towards providing an all-inclusive approach to surrogacy case management – and one that those considering surrogacy in these countries should doubtlessly explore. See BioNews 1068 to read more on Two Dads UK own surrogacy journey.
As already noted, this is a podcast principally designed for those considering whether surrogacy might be an option for them. That is not to say, however, that those who are not directly affected by infertility cannot learn from it. Intended parents should not feel they have to buy baby items online because they are not pregnant, nor be confronted with uncomfortable questions in-store. Of course, the fact that there is more internal support for those embarking on surrogacy is important. As atypical family formation becomes more common, however, we also owe it to all those involved to encourage understanding and transparency about topics such as surrogacy. Though this podcast is perhaps too specific for this purpose, certainly offering a platform to those who have had these experiences is a trend which ought to continue.