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  • Zara Shettima

The Surrogacy Guide - Guest blog post by Zara

Becoming a surrogate was something I believe was on the cards for me from an extremely early age. In high school, a close friend found out she had a condition which may have prevented her from carrying her own children, and without a second thought, I said I’d have one for her. I didn’t even know there was a name for carrying another’s child at the time, but never having been particularly maternal myself, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make. Until then, infertility wasn’t ever on my radar. All of our sex education classes were focused on methods of protection, and how to prevent falling pregnant, and never the fact that according to the NHS, “around 1 in 7 couples will have some difficulty conceiving” and the options available to those who struggled.

Fast forward a few years and you could say my partner and I were lucky in the fact that we became pregnant without trying. My first child was a happy accident, conceived at the most inconvenient of times, and despite me not really managing to get my head around the whole situation until he was delivered into my arms, when he finally arrived, he made my world complete. Parenthood certainly had its struggles in the early days but the cuddles, smiles and unconditional love more than made up for it. Being a mother brought out a whole side of me I never knew I had and made me have a greater understanding and empathy for those who unlike me had always longed to become parents, but for them it seemed like an impossibility.

The first couple I carried a child for I met in 2009. I felt I had given my body ample time to recover from having my own son, increasing my chances of a healthy pregnancy with any surrogate baby I might have. Because this couple lived so far away, in the early stages our relationship grew mainly through emails, and we’d occasionally meet in person when they visited their family in the next county. As they hadn’t even gone as far as to have eggs collected yet when we first met, we had almost two years of getting to know one another and so during that time we became firm friends, and I had no qualms about helping them to have a child- I knew they’d make amazing parents.

The first transfer (of one embryo) was a day of high energy, we were excited, nervous and naively positive after so long of a build-up, convinced it was 100% going to work. I promised to call the parents the morning of the pregnancy test, and I’d announce the result as I saw them. Disappointingly, it was negative.

For the second transfer, after speaking with the consultant, it was agreed that this time I’d have two embryos placed. We were a lot calmer for this visit, the novelty had lost its edge. Not wishing to get our hopes up, we went through the process again, a little more subdued but still taking the time to take some photos in our gowns and paper hats. We again were directed to the little flash on the screen, showing the embryos had been inserted, and I remember laying back and looking at the print on the ceiling of a deserted island, overgrown with palm trees on a calm sea, willing for the babies to stick.

Fortunately, this transfer was a success and after the 2ww we had two strong and clear lines on testing day. At the six-week scan however, to mark discharge from the IVF clinic, it was found that I had only one embryo and another empty sac. For the first trimester, the pregnancy progressed as normal, however at the scan, it was found that the baby had a high nuchal translucency measurement – indicating an increased likelihood of downs syndrome and other potentially life limiting conditions. Here was a situation I hadn’t envisaged at all. I felt strangely detached from the situation in the sense that this wasn’t my baby, however I felt it my job to attempt to provide reassurance, despite being completely out of control. I think situations such as these only serve to highlight the importance in having a clear surrogacy agreement in place even before the first attempts at pregnancy are made, as well as life insurance for both parties. Between the three of us, we had to navigate the decision as to whether or not to accept the offer of an amniocentesis, weigh up the risks and all be on the same page. During the surrogacy agreement, we had discussed all of this and had decided that ultimately it would fall to my decision as it was my body looking after their child, however I felt strong enough to allow them to make the choices and I spoke on their behalf. It is slightly disconcerting being questioned on medical procedures for a baby that in no way feels like your own. Medical staff would also be concerned about asking me questions whilst the parents were out of the room to ensure I was not being coerced in any way. There was a lot of trust between us that I would adhere to their wishes, and also that I would be honest with them if there was any situation making me feel uncomfortable.

Ultimately, the baby was born a healthy weight, full term but with the need for an operation which saw her whisked 50 miles away within hours after her birth. As we had been so forward with our planning and had requested appointments with the Head midwife from around 20 weeks pregnant, any obstacles which may have had the potential to arise were pre dealt with. Our lovely midwife made instant arrangements for us to register the birth on the hospital premises. This immediately gave the father equal parental rights to myself and so he was not only granted permission to accompany his daughter to the forwarding hospital, but to provide any and all consent to medical treatment in my absence. I also wrote a quick statement to confirm that I (as the “mother”), granted these same rights to his wife, but thankfully due to them both arriving at the next hospital, babe in arms and clearly a couple, this statement was never required. The operation was a complete success, and I provided breastmilk for around 6 weeks after the baby’s birth in order to assist with her healing. The tests came back negative for downs syndrome and my fist surrogate baby is now a beautiful, vibrant, talented 11 year old.

I love that there’s so much information available now, way more so than when I first embarked on my journey, both online and via reputable agencies such as COTS, Surrogacy UK, Brilliant Beginnings and My Surrogacy Journey. For anyone considering surrogacy I feel agencies are essential for both Intended Parents and surrogates. They provide advice, information and support like no other source, and the opportunity to discuss your own individual circumstances with people in exactly your situation in invaluable. They also hold regular social events where you can meet others face to face and see real life success stories as well as discover the pitfalls to avoid. Agencies are extremely important for guidance and have members who between them hold decades worth of experience.

Despite all this, some people are reluctant to join up to agencies, whether they are not sure about committing and paying membership fees before knowing 100% that this route to parenthood is right for them, or they wish to approach their journey independently. Agencies may feel intimidating to approach initially for some, I know personally it felt like a huge step into the unknown when I first applied. Social events may again feel a little daunting to attend and there may be questions people feel awkward asking or wish to remain quite private in the early stages until they understand more about the process.

For this reason, I wrote ‘The Surrogacy Guide’. This book is the one I wish I and my intended parents had throughout my three surrogacy journeys. It can act as a support to both surrogates and their intended parents throughout their journey, explaining step by step what to expect along the way.

The book came about due to my never-ending desire to help. During the labour of my third surrogate baby, I haemorrhaged quite seriously, and it was suggested that I probably shouldn’t carry any future babies. Such is my passion towards surrogacy and the joy it can bring, I decided to write this book to hopefully help others achieve their dreams of becoming surrogates/parents themselves. I’d love for people once reading ‘The Surrogacy Guide’ to realise that surrogacy may actually be a less complicated route to having children than they previously thought.

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