Traditional surrogacy — where a surrogate provides both the egg and the womb —makes many people deeply uncomfortable. It seems like a primal attachment is being severed. Is it?
Over the years, I have written a fair amount about surrogacy. But most of it has been about the experiences of surrogates, the experiences of intended parents or the laws that govern (or fail to govern) the practice.
A lingering unknown is how the people born through surrogacy feel about it. This seems particularly urgent in cases of "traditional" surrogacy — where a surrogate not only carries a pregnancy to term for someone else, but also uses her own egg to do so. That means that the child born is as genetically related and gestationally connected to her as her own intended children.
What is it like to be that child?
Gee Roberts was born 21 years ago as the result of a traditional surrogacy. Her parents, working through an agency known as COTS — for Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy — were chosen by a surrogate who agreed to conceive and carry a child on their behalf. In accordance with UK law, there was no payment for this. Below, my conversation with Gee.
You were born through traditional surrogacy. Tell me a little about your family and yourself.
There's my mum and dad that raised me. My dad is my biological father as well. We have a very good relationship. We're very similar — both nurture and nature make us very similar. And we're very close.
My relationship with my mum growing up was more difficult, but not due to surrogacy — just due to being different people. We are now very close.
In terms of my relationship with my surrogate mother, Suzanne, she's very important to me, but she's more of an auntie-type figure or close family friend. I would never see her as a parent. But she's definitely someone who's important in my life.
I'm 21. The oldest child of Suzanne's is 25 — that's her own son. She had another surrogate child before me, with a different family. He's 23. My youngest half-brother — also her own son — is 11.
How does it feel to meet up with her own children who are not just biologically hers but who were raised by her as well?
I see them as half-brothers. We are related and we have elements that are quite similar. I have a really good relationship with them. The youngest one is so much younger and he's really enjoyed having me as an older sibling-type figure. His brother who he was raised with has flown the nest. But I show quite an interest in him, and that's quite nice for him. We just get on really well.
So you have never had the thought: she raised them, why not me? That's something that concerns people about traditional surrogacy — that the surrogate children will feel abandoned somehow.
I was never meant to be raised by her. I was meant to be raised by my parents, and I was. I don't feel any sense of rejection or that she didn't want me. I was never hers. I was my mum and dad's. So I never ever felt any of that.
How often do you meet up with the surrogate branch of your family?
We see each other probably four or five times a year. Once a year we go to the annual meeting of the surrogacy agency I was born through. For the last three years I have been one of the speakers at the meeting. All of my surrogacy family come. That includes my surrogate mother, her two children, her other surrogate child, along with his parents and my parents. All of the family connected through surrogacy will come.
We also meet up at Christmas and at Easter. In summer, it's generally meals together, because we're scattered all over the country. We meet somewhere centrally for lunch or something. When I was growing up, we used to go to theme parks, adventure places, laser tag type places. It was just us playing with each other.
Do you ever meet one-on-one with your surrogate, or always in the context of family?
Always in the context of family. I don't think I've ever seen her without my parents there. I'm sure I could if I wanted to, but we just tend to invite everybody when we do that type of thing.
Do you ever want to see her alone?
I've not really ever felt the need to. I'm sure it would be lovely to see her alone — it's always lovely to see her. But I've never felt the need to see her without everybody else there.
How did you learn you were born through surrogacy?
I always knew. I had a book written by my surrogate half-brother's mum. It was called 'My Mummy's Tummy Is Broken' and it introduced everyone from our family. My parents always referred to Suzanne as my 'tum mum.' I came from her tummy, so it always made sense.
How important do you think it is for a surrogacy-born child to know right from the beginning?
Absolutely vital. Honesty from the beginning is the most important thing, I think. I remember at primary school — I must have been four or five — and we were asked to draw a picture of our parents. And I drew a picture of my mum and dad and then my tum mum. The school was very confused as to why I'd drawn two mums. They called my parents in and asked what was going on. When my parents explained, it made total sense. Even at such a young age, I understood that I had my parents, but I also had my tum mum.
Your surrogacy was done without any money changing hands. Would it have made a difference to you if it had been a commercial surrogacy? Say, if your parents had paid $100,000 so that you could come into existence?
I think it would. I was born out of love from these people coming together to create me — my parents' desire to have a child and Suzanne's kindness and willingness to help someone in the world. That makes me feel very positively about my experience. If it had been a more commercial agreement, I would feel a bit more like I had been purchased or that my family could have me because they had the money. And I'd have to live up to that expectation.
What do you mean by 'live up to' some expectation — because of the cost?
Yeah, I think so. Because most people that are born don't have the pressure that they cost their parents X, Y or Z. A lot of couples don't have to use finances to have a child. You can imagine a situation where two people are so fundamentally desperate to have a child that they could put themselves in financial difficulties. I think if that had been part of how I was brought into the world, I would feel like I had to live up to the value that my parents had transferred for me.
Do you have the chance to discuss things like that with other surrogacy-born people? Do you have a network of any kind?
No. I've really struggled to find a network. I've been trying within the UK to get a bit of a group going for surrogacy-born people and I've really struggled to find many at all actually.
Even at the events I've been invited to, there haven't been many surrogacy-born people. There are young children — maybe under 10 — but I haven't met any older children born through surrogacy at any of those meetings. So I don't know where they are. They must be out there. But I have not come into contact with any other than my half-brother.
Can you speculate why that might be?
I don't know. Because the agency my parents chose is very focused on the honesty and the transparency of surrogacy. So it would be a surprise to me if it was because the people that were born through surrogacy didn't know. Because you'd imagine that parents that didn't want to be honest with their children wouldn't choose COTS — they would choose a different agency that had different values. Maybe these people are just content, and just don't feel that desire to engage with it more actively.
Is there anything that you would like to say to people who are on the fence about whether this should be done at all?
It's certainly not had any negative impact on me. And I would like to think that me being here has had some positive impacts on other people. I'm a medical student. I'm going to spend my life helping other people.
It's amazing to be born out of the love of many people. It doesn't bother me at all that it wasn't conventional or wasn't how most people are born. I think it is amazing.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Sarah Young. "Is surrogacy legal in the UK, how does it work and how much does it cost?" The Independent. 2019.
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