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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We believe there are many women who are suffering in silence after having an unhappy, damaging or traumatic experience of ‘donating’ their eggs or being a ‘surrogate’ mother for the benefit of others. If would like to share your story anonymously, we’d love to hear from you.