Writer Sophie Beresiner documents her surrogacy journey in her new book The Mother Project, which British Vogue’s beauty director Jessica Diner read “cover to cover in two sittings, heart in mouth, following every twist and turn with anticipation”. “The journey to motherhood can be more complex for some than others,” says Jessica. “And The Mother Project shines a beacon of light for those who might be hoping to overcome adversity to arrive at the same outcome.” Below, Sophie shares the biggest lessons she learned on the road towards starting a family.
Art is made in hindsight
If fully embracing the wonder of surrogacy is an art form, well, everything I fretted about seems entirely irrelevant now that I’m out the other side. Every worry I had about us bonding, or anxiety about the birth, or how I would feel about looking at my daughter and not seeing any part of myself in her perfect face. Even spending a disproportionate amount of time thinking what that face could possibly look like. In hindsight, with the benefit of having and loving the baby I’d longed for all this time, really, who gives a f*ck? Of all the things I wish I’d known before I started, I would’ve had a really great head start in the (self-imposed) race to acceptance had I known this.
You don’t have to carry a child to be a mother
Well, duh. This really should go without saying, since adoption, fostering, even fathering sometimes counts as mothering too, but when it’s me? When it’s my own ability to be, and feel like a mother? I had extreme doubts. They came down to insecurity, inexperience and militant infertility, all the “ins”. Would I ever feel like her mother if I didn’t spend nine months “knowing her from the inside”? YES is the obvious answer, but of course I didn’t know it at the time. Would I be able to love her unconditionally from the moment she was born? Yes, or at least, I think so! Is the answer, because I was drowning in a whole host of other complex emotions in that moment, but I’m pretty sure one of them was overwhelming love. And terror. And what the hell? Someone expects me to keep this tiny thing alive now, with zero qualifications? But I’m told that’s a common thread among all new parents, whether they carried, adopted, fostered or fathered the child themselves, or not.
The UK can do better (but it is trying!)
When we were first embarking on our surrogacy journey we were scared out of doing it in our own country because the UK upholds some, let’s say, archaic laws compared to America, where everything is highly regulated but also commercialised. Now I can clearly see the pros and cons of both countries, but I wish legally the UK would catch up with its own societal and cultural progression. Firstly, for the first six weeks, the surrogate could change her mind and keep the baby if she wanted to, regardless of our biological connection to it, even if the eggs were mine. Genetically I’d be the parent, but legally I wouldn’t be. But that’s moot here because it wasn’t my egg. It was my husband’s sperm though, so is he “Father” on the birth certificate? Nope. That role goes to the surrogate’s husband. The only way Mr B would get a legal look-in would be if the surrogate weren’t married. Then he’s drafted in as back-up Father. I could take a DNA test to the High Court to prove paternal parentage and they would still rule against him. See? ARCHAIC. But the law commission is working on reform, so we patiently wait. And hope.
Infertility acceptance is like a staircase
From experience, I look at it like this: Fertility is like a staircase, descending from a beautiful bedroom where scheduled but romantic sex happens and a baby is made. Ah, that was nice. Nice and normal. The next step down is probably a gruelling schedule, one that the other half gets quite irritated with (“I am not a MACHINE”), and eventually, a baby is made. If not? Process, deal with it, step down into IVF. And so on, until you get to an infertility diagnosis, that you have to process and deal with before you can step down into egg donation. Process, deal with it, embrace it! Ah, fail, then step down again into surrogacy. (My staircase was a grand one). Surrogacy was the step in this infertility journey that excluded me from the whole process. Surrogacy meant remortgaging the house, becoming the most interesting person at the dinner party, working out the simplest explanation for any uninitiated friends and acquaintances, but also, ultimately, it meant relief. I would not have to be solely responsible for all this repeated failure, and I could give my broken system a break and still be a mother, universe willing.
Nobody needs a surrogacy social
Until recently they might have thought they did, because in the UK it’s illegal to “advertise” for a surrogate, so how else do you meet one? If you aren’t lucky enough to know someone who would perform this enormous, incredible, entirely selfless act of extreme kindness, what do you do? Go to a social event, much like a singles night at your local village hall, but with 60 desperately single women to every available man. It’s like the Hunger Games, but hopefully with the creation of life at the end, rather than violent destruction of it. But only for a couple of the successful intended parents who battled their desperate peers to win the surrogacy match.
That felt horrendous to me, to us, having to persuade someone to choose me over someone else in that context casts a bit of an ugly shadow on the whole thing. Not only would I have to be on my best behaviour, it would be better-than-YOU-behaviour. And an “every man for himself” compulsion among a room full of sad, infertile couples doesn’t sound like a party to me. Unless they have tequila. But that was then. Now there is a new, not-for-profit organisation in the UK that wants to do things differently. My Surrogacy Journey also sees the issue with surrogacy socials – they don’t want anyone to win a popularity contest, they want to match the right couple with the right surrogate in an entirely supportive and considered way, and my goodness, I am here for that. It’s the sigh of relief this country has been waiting for to be honest, and definitely the route we will take for number two. About that…
Surrogacy is like childbirth
Bear with me on this one, but it definitely is its own kind of labour. Although ours lasted a good few years rather than the traditional 24 to 48 hours, and it wasn’t as intensely physically painful (so I’m told). But just like actual childbirth, you forget the pain. You have to, or your beautiful, battled-for child would never have a hope of a sibling. Now that we are a year into knowing and loving our daughter, are we ready for another one? Well, no, is anyone ever ready to start all over again? But we want to, and so we can only try. Here goes, eh?