Surrogacy: Our Family's Journey is a personal account of author James Phillip's emotional journey from contemplating fatherhood, deciding to embark on a foreign surrogacy arrangement through to conception, pregnancy and eventually, birth and parenthood. The book is written in an informal, unpolished, blog-like style and provides an easy but thought-provoking read.
The initial chapters focus on the author's gradual decision to have a child and the thought process which led to the decision to do so by way of surrogacy: a decision, interestingly, informed and strengthened by a close godparent-child relationship. The author played an active role in the care of his goddaughter (they refer to each other as 'dad' and 'daughter') prior to his decision to start a biological family of his own. An interesting 'sub-plot' in the book is the comparison between the road to biological parenthood, and the bond with the unborn babies and subsequent children to the continued loving relationship the author has with his non-biological godchild. The theme of biological and psychological parenthood is also addressed when having started the surrogacy process while single, the author meets his partner and subsequently they embark on the final stages of the process as a couple, with the book addressing their respective roles and emotions.
The book then moves on to consider the initial decisions to be made in terms of where to undertake the arrangement, and who the correct people are to undertake the journey with. These chapters provide insight into the early considerations of an intended parent looking to embark on the surrogacy process, such as key attributes of an egg donor and a surrogate, and how the many different factors will weigh in the mind of the individual involved.
Following a detailed account of the interviews with prospective donors and surrogates, the main focus on the book thereafter is the relationship between the intended father and surrogate, with a close bond formed. The detail of the relationship and communication offers food for thought for anyone contemplating the process and pondering the respective merits of a close or more detached relationship. It also explains the added emotional complications for someone involved in an international arrangement, and the anxiety which can come with language and cultural barriers, time differences and geographical distance.
The early stages of the author's experience coincided with the well-publicised 'Baby Gammy' case in Thailand (see BioNews 765) where international attention was focused on the Thai surrogacy market, after an Australian couple had twins using a Thai clinic and surrogate, but took only the healthy twin back home with them after the second was diagnosed with Down's syndrome. The allegations made by the two parties raised concerns about the regulation and potential abuse of the system in Thailand, and many clinics were closed while the matter was considered. The book covers the uncertainty the resulting regulations had for foreign nationals (see BioNews 791), though the impact on this particular family was less than for some, given where they were in the process, and the close personal connection they had developed with their surrogate.
The final stages of the book focus on the long-awaited birth, offering honest insight into the unique position of an intended parent in the immediate aftermath, and the inevitable anxiety as to how the surrogate will react once the baby is finally born. The account then moves to the period of adjustment when the long-awaited dream of parenthood becomes a reality, and the different practical challenges it poses.
The book offers a raw and realistic account of the disappointment that comes from failure in the process, subsequently balanced with the incredulity, joy and wonder of a successful pregnancy and eventually becoming a parent. Whilst for the most part, the book focuses on the emotional journey an intended parent goes through, rather than being a practical guide through the process, many of the later chapters give anyone contemplating surrogacy a good picture of the realities of having a child through surrogacy – from trying to liaise with doctors, the frustration of limited visiting hours and the many administrative tasks.
Again, whilst not intended as a practical guide, the detailed account of the author's daily experience offers valuable insight to the reader as to the realities of the final stages of pregnancy, the birth and post-birth period and what can be done to ease the process. It does not touch upon, other than in passing reference, the legalities of becoming a parent by surrogacy, or the emotional experience of applying for legal parenthood which seemed a notable gap in an otherwise comprehensive account of what an intended parent may experience in the route to becoming a parent.
This account of surrogacy focuses on the emotional aspects of the journey to parenthood through this method – the hopes, highs, disappointments and anxieties, rather than being a practical or technical guide. It is a deeply personal account, with the author disclosing heartfelt communications shared with family, friends and those involved in the process at the time. It provides a useful insight into the complex and conflicting emotions of being so closely involved yet at times removed from conception and pregnancy, and will inevitably prove thought-provoking for anyone considering surrogacy in terms of what they want from an arrangement and what may work best for them.
For those of us involved in the process in another way, it offers invaluable insight into the emotional rollercoaster our clients face during the process and how they may best be reassured along their journey. There are many books which focus on either the practical or scientific aspects of surrogacy, and this book offers an unusual and uncensored insight into the complex emotional dynamics of parenthood, attachment and loss in surrogacy arrangements which are not covered in academic or technical publications.