This week in the UK it is Infertility Awareness Week which aims to bring awareness and change to help the estimated 3.5 million+ people in the UK going through some kind of fertility challenge. This equates to roughly one in six couples in the UK. Our Calon Law directors have been through their own surrogacy journey so we understand the process well. We support the UK Fertility Network in their aims to support couples with their infertility challenges.
The WHO defines infertility as “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy…” but in reality this does not cover every case of infertility. The term infertility can cover many challenges couples and individual face to complete their family. This does not always mean that there is an issue with the reproductive system, as is the case with some surrogacy journeys.
So a little about us and our infertility journey. My wife suffered from childhood cancer and the chemotherapy she received at the time sadly damaged her heart muscle. She was advised at a young age she should not carry a child as the strain on her heart would be too much and the daily medication she takes is toxic to a foetus. Her fertility however was unaffected so the only way we could have a child of our own was with surrogacy.
So in 2016 we began our surrogacy journey, beginning with our local IVF clinic. To say this was terrifying is an understatement. So what does it involve? A LOT of injections that have to be mixed and injected at home. Our first round went on for around 6 weeks, with 2 injections a day. That’s almost 100 injections, it’s fair to say she was feeling sore. With each passing week it’s more and more stress. Are we doing it right? Are the follicles growing ok? Do I exercise more? Do I rest more? What more can I do? The answer was always, not much you can do but hope. That feeling of helplessness just grew with each week, and from my point of view I was completely useless. Watching my wife going through such a painful and emotional experience and I couldn’t do anything to help was hard.
So then it was a surgical procedure to collect the eggs which they would then fertilise in the lab. Then the long wait for the results. We started with 20 eggs. Great! On day 3 a call from the clinic. Only 5 had fertilised. Ok, that’s disappointing but still some hope, though we are now feeling horrible and my wife starts blaming herself. Day 5, another call. Only 1 is considered viable and is frozen, the rest are destroyed. From 20 to 1. It feels like hope has been lost. There’s tears, lots of them. I’m trying to console my wife that it’s still 1 chance and it only takes 1, but inside I’m devastated. I dare not let her know that. Now though, we need the help of a surrogate to carry our child.
So what is surrogacy?
Simply put, surrogacy is where another woman helps to carry a child to term for another couple or individual. Most commonly this is when a woman cannot carry, or for a male same sex couple. There are 2 types of surrogacy. Gestational, or host, surrogacy is when the surrogate has an embryo implanted into her by a clinic often with the Intended Parents (IPs) embryo. The other is straight, or traditional, surrogacy where the surrogate donates her own egg and the sperm from one of the Intended Fathers.
Surrogacy in the UK is legal and there are a number of organisations that can help with a surrogacy journey. Surrogacy in the UK is altruistic, so it is illegal for a surrogate to profit from a surrogacy arrangement. However the IPs are expected to cover any reasonable expenses the surrogate may incur as part of the pregnancy. In the UK the law recognises the birth mother as the legal guardian of a child at birth, this would be the surrogate instead of the IPs. This outdated law is currently under review as it is widely recognised to be unfit for purpose. Much is made in the media and dramas that a surrogate can keep the child should she wish. Although this is the case it almost never happens, but sadly the handful of cases get the most media attention.
We joined one of these organisations, SurrogacyUK, in 2017 which encourages a friendship first ethos. They are all about building a network of friends going through a similar experience to us to support each other. Without the people we have met through this organisation it’s fair to say we would have given up long ago. How it works is we attend social days that fellow members host around the country, both IPs and Surrogates can attend. It’s then a case of chatting and making friends. At some point we will then be picked by a surrogate who wants to get to know us better. We then spend at least 3 months meeting, chatting and going through a comprehensive agreement form together to ensure all parties are clear on their wishes for the pregnancy. Should everyone in the team agree they’ll then proceed with trying to conceive.
So, how can you help if someone you know is suffering from infertility?
Don’t try to help with suggestions, just listen. Many couples may have privately suffered with baby loss, miscarriages and failed transfers. Remember that these couples are often feeling very fragile, and certainly don’t try to make a joke of it! Reach out and make sure they are ok.
Examples of what not to say: “Just relax and you’ll get pregnant”
“Are you sure you want kids? You can borrow mine if you want!”
“Maybe God didn’t intend you to be parents” (yes, we’ve even heard this)
“Have you thought of adoption?”
“You’ve already got 1 child, why put yourself through the pain?”
So what can you do to help?
Research online about infertility.
Be interested in what they’ve got to say, but don’t probe too much. Let them take the lead
Whatever their decision, support it without question
Ask them what they need if you feel it appropriate
So where are we in our journey?
After 6 long years, 4 rounds of IVF, a cost we are trying not to think about, countless disappointments and bumps along the road, we now are at a point where we have the right kind of bump! We are now 24 weeks pregnant!
We cannot thank our surrogate Katie enough. We are in regular contact and have been to all the scans together to watch our little baby grow.