Surrogacy transformed my life, but is it morally acceptable?

October 2, 2014
In 2011, the NGA team helped Alice Jolly and her husband to complete their family through US surrogacy after an incredibly difficult journey of repeated miscarriages and stillbirth.  Alice is a novelist and playwright (and author of soon-to-be published novel Dead Babies and Seaside Towns), and has written a guest blog for us, explaining why her experience has brought her to think that commercial surrogacy in the UK is the right ethical and moral choice.

By Alice Jolly:

If surrogacy is going to exist then shouldn’t it be fairly remunerated?

Surrogacy is everywhere. From the broadsheets to the day-time television sofa – everyone has a view, especially in light of the recent baby Gammy case. But there is one group who keep silent, who don’t speak to journalists and who mind what they say, even to good friends. Those are the people who have direct experience of surrogacy.

I am one of them. I would probably be wise to keep my mouth shut – those who are opposed to surrogacy can be virulent – but it is hard to stand by and watch the mountain of misinformation about surrogacy grow. Again and again commentators focus on the one surrogacy journey that fails, without reporting on the 99% that succeed.

That’s why I decided to put my head above the parapet and write a memoir about our experience. We are among the 99%, and surrogacy transformed our lives. Although we had a living son, we had lost four babies in five years – a stillborn daughter, four miscarriages. IVF had failed, and our attempts to adopt were bogged down in bureaucracy.

Before surrogacy we were shattered, and now we are happy. Lots of people assume therefore that I must be a passionate advocate for surrogacy. On the contrary – I’m a cautious one. I believe that surrogacy is a desperate measure for desperate times. No-one should be doing it unless they have no other option, and anyone who thinks it is easy is a fool. It took four law firms and a trip to the High Court for us to bring our daughter home from the States, where we had paid a woman to carry our egg donor baby.

Sometimes, I still struggle with whether surrogacy is morally suspect. What is at the root of society’s distrust and discomfort over it? It seems to be an innate feeling lots of people have – that a woman should not be able to give birth and then hand the baby over to someone else, despite the fact that most surrogates are now gestational surrogates and so have no genetic link to the child they carry.

Too often, surrogacy is something that poor women do for rich women. My husband and I went to America because we felt that women there would not be exploited… but, it’s easier to be moral if you’re well off.  When we were in the States with our surrogate, again and again I asked her: ‘Do you really want to do this?’ Even at the time of my daughter’s birth I was still unconvinced. How could she be okay with it? How could she be doing this momentous thing for me? It was only in the long days she and I spent together afterwards that I began to understand.

Our surrogate Mum is intelligent and wasn’t struggling with money. She had plenty of other choices. She really wanted to be a surrogate and she enjoyed the experience so much she’s doing it again. Should the law stand in the way of a generous woman?

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. There is a thornier problem with surrogacy, to do with money and class. Too often, surrogacy is something that poor women do for rich women. My husband and I went to America because we felt that women there would not be exploited, but we could only go there because we had enough money. That enabled us to avoid the income inequalities which exist in India or the Ukraine and to ensure we didn’t take advantage of anyone. As with lots of things, it’s easier to be moral if you’re well off.

The English legal system gets around the question of money by banning commercial surrogacy. Some would say this is right – that it’s a ‘Good Thing’ for us Brits to take a moral stand on it – but the UK system means we have a situation where a woman does the most important job ever, for free. Is this selfless love? Or slave labour?

If surrogacy is going to exist then shouldn’t it be fairly remunerated? It doesn’t have to be a question of love or payment – both can exist side by side, as I learnt from our surrogate. I know that I wanted to pay her. It can be hard to live with the knowledge that another person transformed your life and that nothing – absolutely nothing – you do will adequately compensate them. How much worse would I feel if she had done it for free?

One thing is for sure: international surrogacy isn’t going away. The internet enables anyone to contact surrogacy agencies across the world. We couldn’t stop it even if we wanted to – if a couple arrive at Heathrow holding a baby which is genetically linked to one, or both of them, are they really going to be refused entry?

It’s complicated, going through the arguments I’ve considered a thousand times. But now I am about to go and pick up my living, lovely daughter from nursery. She is called Hope, and as soon as I see her tiny, laughing face it doesn’t seem complicated at all. She is what leads me to conclude that the UK should create a system similar to that in the US – a system which is highly legalistic, but promotes fairness and protects everyone. A system which might encourage people to stay at home, rather than go to developing world.

Let’s allow those generous women who want to be surrogates fulfil their desires and give them legal clarity and fair remuneration. Let’s support them in giving a gift, the value of which can’t be expressed in words, let alone money.

Alice is currently crowdfunding her memoir – Dead babies and seaside downs – with Unbound. 50% of the proceeds of the book will be donated to The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (Sands). You can find out more and support the book here.

Twitter: @JollyAlice

Find out more about international surrogacy law from our website, and how we help create families through surrogacy.

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