I was an altruistic surrogate for some friends, carrying and giving birth to twins. It was an incredibly traumatic experience, and afterwards I had to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I never talk to anyone about my experience as I still find it utterly devastating.
We only ever hear about the positive stories in the media, pushed by the organisations that promote surrogacy. It is important that people hear about how surrogacy can go seriously wrong, and the life-long impacts of that on the women who offer their bodies to be used by others.
I became a surrogate for some friends. I naively believed that because the births of my own children had gone well, it would also be simple for a surrogacy pregnancy. I thought I’d done a lot of research and I did talk to some other surrogates before embarking on it.
However, I agreed to go ahead before I knew enough about the extremely intrusive and harmful medical procedures I would need to go through. I naively thought I would simply have the embryos implanted in line with my own menstrual cycle. I did not realise my own natural cycle would have to be chemically halted, and the amount of harmful and synthetic hormones I would have to take to create an artificial cycle that was in line with the egg donor’s.
Once I discovered the amount of hormones I would have to take, I felt like I could not back out and devastate my friends. I went ahead against my own better judgement and my internal instincts which were warning me – because I did not want to cause offence or upset my friends.
I was also persuaded to have two embryos implanted to increase the chance of successful implantation. I now realise I did not fully understand the increased risks for myself of carrying and birthing twins.
Looking back, I see that I subjugated my own health and safety to prioritise the desires of the intended parents. I also realise that my own psychological state at the time of making these decisions meant that I had a martyr complex and that I was too self-sacrificing. I completely deprioritised myself. This was due to a lack of self-esteem and assertiveness, and seeing my value lying only in how useful I was to others. I had an over-developed sense of ‘service.’
This is common in women, as female socialisation means that women and girls are encouraged and trained to put themselves second, and to prioritise other people, and to be ‘kind.’ This female socialisation and psychology needs to be investigated, researched and considered in the context of altruistic surrogates.
Throughout the pregnancy I experienced unexpected jealousy and anger from the intended mother who was upset that I could fall pregnant so easily. Both parents put pressure on me about how and where I would give birth. I had to be very assertive to make it clear that it was my body, and that the physiological process of birth works best when the mother feels completely safe and births in the way she is most comfortable with. I had to be very clear that the decision making lay with me alone.
I felt that they believed that to some extent they ‘owned’ me and my uterus, and that they ‘deserved’ to direct the birth because they saw the babies as ‘theirs.’
The birth ended up being extremely traumatic with one baby being admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and me suffering second degree tears.
Then a horrific two year nightmare began as the midwives moved quickly to blame me and make false claims that I prevented them from assisting in the birth. This blaming is a familiar experience to women who suffer traumatic births, in an NHS culture that will do everything it can to avoid liability in medical negligence claims. There were four separate investigations by the independent midwifery regulatory body who found all the midwives guilty of failure to intervene in an emergency, and failure to monitor foetal health during the birth. The trauma of the birth was compounded by the trauma of being blamed and then enduring multiple investigations over two years which ultimately exonerated me. Rather than moving on with my life after surrogacy, I was having to relive the trauma over and over during the investigations.
After the birth I was more or less completely abandoned by the intended parents, left to fend off the lies and victim-blaming by the midwives, left to endure the multiple investigations alone. The intended parents did not support me, nor did they defend me during the multiple investigations.
Most hurtfully I was not invited to the twin’s christening. I was used for my uterus, and then discarded when I was no longer needed. It was the most degrading and horrific experience. My mental health collapsed, and two years after the traumatic birth I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and received treatment.
I never talk about what happened to anyone, not even to close relatives, as I do not want to relive what happened to me. It wasn’t until the Law Commissioners’ consultation that I ever spoke about this.
I am left with birth injuries, incontinence, and with diastasic recti (separation of the abdominal muscles) which all cause me daily problems. I do not know what the long term health impacts will be of taking large amounts of synthetic hormones, nor the potential increased risk of breast cancer as I did not breastfeed the babies.
I am now completely against ALL surrogacy, both commercial (which is completely immoral in my view) and altruistic unpaid surrogacy. The potential for abuse is too great. Women should not be encouraged to endanger their emotional and physical health and safety for other people’s ‘need’ to have babies. Women matter. Women should not be encouraged to put ourselves second, and to risk our lives for other people.
I recommend that ALL surrogacy should be made unlawful as other countries have done. The law should not be changed to make it easier to exploit women, both women who are vulnerable through poverty and those who are simply well-meaning and ill-informed like me.
I also often think of the poor, young female student in Eastern Europe who had to endure egg harvesting and the life-long consequences of that, to pay for her studies. There is very little that is ‘ethical’ about surrogacy.
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37 thoughts on “I was an altruistic surrogate and am now against ALL surrogacy”
As a reunited adoptee, I’m not much for the rent-a-womb concept, whether or not the womb is paid for. I’m so sorry for all involved, especially those poor babies who lived nine months inside a woman who wasn’t naturally their mother. Thank you for sharing your story.
Carrying a kid for nine months makes you naturally their mother as far as I’m concerned.
How concerned you are doesn’t change the reality. The “donor” is their mother. You can’t actually donate eggs to someone else, they’re still your eggs and any resulting babies are your children.
Surrogacy is cruel to babies because it makes them think a woman is their mother who isn’t their mother.
Well, in the case of adoption what? Is the adopting mother not a mother in the nurturing sense of the word? Being a mother is more than expelling a baby through your vagina.
I agree, the biological mother is the one who gestates, an embryo is not a child until it forms in a woman’s womb. If nature were a bit more respected we would not need two concepts for a biological mother and a genetic mother, but being a mother is about gestation more than it is about DNA. Adoptive mothers are like step-mothers. Just because you raise a child doesn’t make it okay to pretend you’ve conceived them.
What is your opinion on the definition of mother? A mother is the “female parent” of a child. “Mothers are women who inhabit or perform the role of bearing some relation to their children, who may or may not be their biological offspring.” Also, does giving birth make you the mother of a child if you give the child in adoption and is raised lovingly by another woman since birth? I find hard to have to use “biological mother” for the first while “mother” for the second. I was adopted and I consider my “adoptive” mother my mother, plain, without “adoptive” qualifiers. The woman who expelled me through her vagina I have no connection with.
I am so sorry that you had such a terrible experience. Thank you for speaking out about what you went through, it is important to have a clear image of both sides before making a decision as big as surrogacy and I think you helped clarify the negative side in a way which only people with your unique experience could have done.
That being said, I disagree with your statement that surrogacy should be illegal. Elective single embryo transfer is encouraged by most reputable fertility clinics, a twin pregnancy is well known to have a much higher risk of major and lasting problems for both mother and children, and telling other women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies removes their autonomy. It is unfair to say ‘well, this was a bad choice for me, so you can’t have it either’ because every woman is in a unique situation, and should have the freedom to decide what is best for her. A simple example: someone with lactose intolerance drinks a large cup of milk and reacts poorly, so instead of deciding to personally stop drinking milk, they decide that milk should be illegal in their country and begin campaigning against it.
Excuse me but you completely downplay what the writer went through by comparing her experience and her subsequent ideological position to someone with lactose intolerance being anti-lactose. Are you serious? That’s incredibly offensive and shows that you’re not actually weighing up “both sides.” You should feel ashamed at this careless response.
Of course surrogacy agencies will say that surrogacy is fine…
Comparing lactose intolerance to giving birth to a child in an industry that views women as a literal incubator.
Not to mention the negative effects it has on the baby, who should be the most important person in the equation. It isn’t a right to have a child, people aren’t commodities to be traded for love or money. And I think it says something about the parents who are willing to put a baby through such trauma to validate their feelings.
Thanks for your contribution. I was wondering if you could expand on the idea that having a baby is not a human right, because people aren’t commodities. Somebody may argue that everybody has the right to education without education being a commodity (rather the opposite, a necessity). How would you argue this? And there anywhere in law explicitely said that having babies is (not) a right? Thanks for your answers.
These two articles explore these themes:
@NMN Those are great articles, thanks. I have three questions:
1. As far as I understood from reading them, there is not in existence a right to a child under international law. However, this could be different depending on country legislation, right? I believe in my country the right of gay couples to have children is protected.
2. Another question pertains the right to adopt (if the adoptive parent passes the criteria). Does the Nordic model oppose adoption? I think not, since they talked in the article about the amount of parentless children there are already born.
3. Is the Nordic Model against gay couples adopting?
4. Is the Nordic Model against the right of an infertile woman getting a treatment that could help her be fertile?
Thanks for your help in understanding the Nordic Model perspective.
1. The right to family life is recognised under international law. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.” However, this does not equate to the right to a child by any means. The buying and selling of children is absolutely forbidden under international law, along with stealing children and coercing someone to give them up. Yes, gay couples have the right to found a family – but for obvious biological reasons this is a little complicated and having the right to found a family does not mean that anyone else has an obligation to provide them (or anyone else) with a child.
2. Nordic Model Now! is not opposed to adoption – however, we recognise that it is not without difficulties for all the parties. Adoption is necessary when the mother and/or father is unable or unwilling to look after the child. We believe that this is fundamentally different from surrogacy where the child is deliberately created with the intention of being passing to someone else. We touch on this in this article:
3. Nordic Model Now! is not against gay couples adopting children. Many of us are gay.
4. Nordic Model Now! is not against infertile women receiving treatment that could help her be fertile.
Thanks, that clarifies all the questions except the last 🙂 I would have thought that the Nordic Model would not consider a right to be helped to have children (fertility treatments), as having a child is not a right. I’m a bit confused there. It follows logically from all the premises.
Just wondering whether it is ethical for a woman to become single mother using a sperm bank. Thanks.
I think you missed the whole point, she is questioning the “altruism” of those women giving a great example of it. Of course, in a really small portion of those women, there could be some who are genuinely altruist and aware of all what it implies, but is it a good reason to put at serious risk the majority of the women who decide to be a surrogate mother?
I feel your pain and i pray that you’ll be able to overcome it. Women are not objects and definitely womb cannot be rented. There are lots of complications related with surrogacy. Such sufferings must not be sugarcoated. A couple’s desire to have children does not trump women’s health. One can always adopt.
¿cuál sería la solución? las leyes no se respetan, y en forma clandestina las que mas pierden siguen siendo las mujeres, la experiencia en México, tras algunos intentos de regularizar, es que los procedimientos se siguen haciendo, tanto para nacionales como para extranjeros, las edades, a pesar de que se ha intentado homologar 25 a 35 años, siguen siendo rebasadas y encontramos chicas de 18 y hasta de 39 o más años gestando para otros, para algunas chicas se ha convertido en su forma de sacar adelante algunos proyectos y no sólo buscan cómo convertirse en gestantes, sino que repiten la experiencia una y otra vez, hay buenas experiencias, hay experiencias difíciles, tristes, de abuso, hay una delgada línea entre disponer del cuerpo y convertirlo en objeto, ¿cuál es la solución? ¿leyes que vigilen? ¿leyes que garanticen la integridad de las gestantes? ¿modificar la forma en que las mujeres socializamos para dejar de anteponer nuestro bienestar por el de los demás? ¿cuánto nos tardaremos y qué tiene que pasar para generalizar este pensamiento? ¿políticas económicas que mejoren las condiciones y haya otras opciones de salir adelante y cumplir metas, sin recurrir a alquiler del vientre? ¿cuál es la solución?
I to, have been a very similar situation. Surrogacy is the gift that allows jealous women use and abuse another women, and throw her away once she’s gotten her possession. The IPs who treat surrogates like this clearly have psychological issues resulting in jealousy and inadequacy.
Pregnancy is always a life-or-death experience for a woman, even in western health systems. That will never change. And every pregnancy takes its toll even “uncomplicated” ones.
Legal action for damages:
You have paid a terrible price for your altruism in mental, physical and financial terms, I think that you should obtain full financial compensation from the genetic parents for the predictable injuries to your body. Yes, these injuries were predictable when (1) two, not one, embryos were implanted, (2) the parents applied pressure on you to do their bidding and (3) you were not in control during labour and delivery. Your career at work and your ability to care for your own family were and still are impaired because of your impaired health. You need MONEY: you need proper care now (perhaps surgery?) and in the future and financial security from your loss of earning power. I would take legal action, because the genetic parents have not compensated you. They have shown no understanding that you did not volunteer to be injured and that you expect to be treated with legal and financial respect both before and after the birth. UK law says that no one can agree to be physically injured without legal consequences, unless they are paid AND fully understand all the risks. You didn’t understand all the risks. This is part of the law of “tort”. Please consult a solicitor, perhaps Leigh Day who are always interested in new areas of law. It is not a medical negligence case. You sustained injuries as a result of the actions of the genetic parents for which you have not been compensated.
This would be a ground-breaking case, and I think that it is high time that surrogate women should be properly compensated for their sacrifices, at least in the UK. Success in this legal action would have a “dampening” effect on the popularity of surrogacy in the UK and Europe, So it is doubly important to bring this case.
Secondly, I worry about your mental grief and your body’s grief at not suckling the babies. You were denied the euphoria of the hormones produced naturally by your body to bond with the babies, make milk for them and get contractions to shrink your uterus. You were robbed of this natural healing and mental and physical regrowth. Again you should be compensated by the genetic parents for these mental injuries (which you have called PTSD but which go further than that).
Don’t be cowed by any existing legal agreement with the genetic parents. They are richer than you and of course they will try to intimidate you. The law exists to redress this imbalance of power.
Please consider crowd-funding. Many people think that surrogacy is always wrong, that infertile people or same sex couples should accept reality, and they will back you. And, as you know Sweden has banned surrogacy. I would donate to help you.
I am a “transwidow”, so I now a lot about undue pressure and putting up with totally abnormal situations. I was tormented by a mentally disordered transsexual husband with increasing intensity for 14 years. I am finally speaking up.
Good luck and keep fighting. You are right.
Thank you for sharing your experience here. Women are so close to death when they give birth, and are particularly at risk carrying multiples. Pregnancy, labor, and delivery have life long consequences as you point out here. I particularly value your words about “service” and your critical analysis of the ways women are socialized to give to others in problematic ways. I will assign your narrative in my Health Care Ethics class when we discuss the ethics of surrogacy, with specific attention given to the women whose bodies are being used.
I am interested in what are radfems proposing. What would be the solution? Prohibiting surrogacy? This sounds too extreme. What do radfems want regarding this issue? Complete prohibition?
Prohibiting slavery and selling humans’ organs is too exreme for you?
Hi, been following this topic. How about case by case? Some women may want to do it voluntarily, like my sister would want to do it for me, even though she is rich, and I cannot have babies. Why everything must be so extreme? So are you equating African-American slavery with surrogacy? You were born into slavery. I think it’s a bit unfair.
Surrogacy is prohibited in France for many reasons. One of them is the psychocological repercussions on a woman who carried a baby for nine months, then returns home with nothing but a reminder. And the repercussions on a baby who heard a woman’s voice through none months, then gets separated at birth from the only true source of comfort that he has known; the smell and voice of the woman who carried him.
The link that remains cannot be erased. From an energetic point of view, it is a great blow that you deal to both baby and surrogate mother when you separate them. The wound of abandonnement takes its roots there.
This article is spot on. Especially in the martyr complex. When you think that you can actually be desperate enough to do this for money… shiver.
I understand, as a mother, how difficult it is not to be able to have your own child. It is heartwrenching, and a trauma in itself. A trauma than can be talked about, and dealt with with professionnals. Surrogacy transfers this trauma onto another person… and the baby.
Adoption, I guess, is the only way in this case.
It’s tough, really. But renting another’s body is just too dangerous, in too many ways.
So thank you for posting this. I hope you get better.
If you are interested in phytotherapy or need a little help, drop me a mail and I’ll gladly take a little time for you.
I wish you the best.
Delphine RESCH (www.guerisoeur.com)
“And the repercussions on a baby who heard a woman’s voice through none months, then gets separated at birth from the only true source of comfort that he has known; the smell and voice of the woman who carried him.”
I think this is overly exagerated. Babies given for adoption who grew up in loving families, never imagined they were adopted or that their adopted mothers were not such until they were told. I accept that for the biological mother it must be a trauma, but not for the baby that grows up to be an adult if they are taken care of by a loving parent. The world is full of adopted children who never knew were adopted and never felt anything “weird”. Speaking an adopted child, now a woman, who never imagined she had been adopted. Never had any trauma whatsoever.
For that reason we should also prohibit adoption (people giving kids into adoption after birth): “the repercussions on a baby who heard a woman’s voice through none months, then gets separated at birth from the only true source of comfort that he has known; the smell and voice of the woman who carried him…).
I agree with the comment above regarding adopting mothers: Being a mother is more than expelling a baby through your vagina.
As a woman who never grew a foetus to term, even if I had had the money I would never have expected another woman to do the growing for me. Having children is not a human right. If it was, the fact I was in a long term relationship but not married would not have mattered at the time. It did. There was no investigation simply because I wasn’t married. I am pro-choice when it comes to abortion but I do not think women should be “renting out” their uteri to enable anyone else to have a child. There are so many children growing up in care in need of a family, those who want children should adopt. If they are found unfit to adopt, they shouldn’t be having children anyway.
I always advise people to co-parent instead. Extra parents can be great. Losing your mother/birthing parent is not