Thanks to surrogacy, I’m now a mum at 57

NZ Herald 1 April 2015
As a successful career woman in her thirties, the last thing on Caroline Griffiths’s mind was motherhood. But after falling in love at the age of 42, the desire for a baby became overwhelming. Persuaded by her husband Nigel that she did want a family after all, the couple spent the next decade or so trying, and failing, to become parents, spending in the process some pounds 80,000 on fertility treatments.

Last year, still desperate for a baby, they decided to seek a surrogate: a woman willing to be implanted with a donated egg, fertilised by Nigel’s sperm, and carry the pregnancy to term. In June, at the age of 57, Caroline finally got her baby. The longed-for child was delivered by caesarean section to a surrogate mother at a clinic in the Republic of Georgia, as the Griffiths waited anxiously in the ward next door. The little girl was whisked away to her “intended parents” before Ekaterine, the 32-year-old surrogate and herself a mother of two, had a chance to see her.

“I was devastated every time an attempt to have a baby failed, and my age was a shadow that hung over me,” says Caroline. “But now we have Grace a horrible weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

Thirty years after Kim Cotton became Britain’s first surrogate mother, the subject is rarely out of the news. Supermodel Elle Macpherson, already a mother of two, is reportedly set to have a third child at 51 via a surrogate, using her own previously frozen eggs. Actress Nicole Kidman, 47, had a daughter via a surrogate in 2010, and Sarah Jessica Parker, 50, had twins via a surrogate in 2009, conceived with her frozen eggs and her husband’s sperm.

Sir Elton John, 68, and his husband David Furnish, 52, meanwhile, have two sons via a surrogate, whom clothes designers Dolce and Gabbana controversially described as “synthetic” earlier this month.

But it’s not just celebrities who are making surrogacy fashionable. Recent figures from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) show that record numbers of UK babies are being born to surrogate parents – 167 last year, up from 47 in 2007. Like the Griffiths, many couples go to countries where, unlike in the UK, commercial surrogacy is legal. Data released earlier this month show that in the past three years more than 1,000 hopeful couples have travelled to a total of 57 such countries.

The process is not without controversy. Last month Thailand banned commercial surrogacy for foreign couples following the case of Baby Gammy, the twin boy an Australian couple allegedly left with his Thai surrogate mother following a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome. The Foreign Office warns couples about the lack of international regulation and the risk of commercial exploitation of surrogate mothers from poorer countries.

Surrogacy procedures explained

Egg donation

An egg donor is given daily injections of stimulating hormones to encourage the growth of more eggs for 10 days until she ovulates. During egg collection a needle is introduced through the back of her vaginal wall into her ovaries. The eggs are removed with a gentle suction pump and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory dish through in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Egg freezing

A woman can freeze her eggs for later use. Eggs are removed in the same way as they are for egg donation. They are dehydrated before freezing and can be stored for up to 10 years in liquid nitrogen at minus 196 degrees centigrade. When the woman wants to have a baby the egg is thawed slowly before being warmed up again and injected with sperm to fertilise.

Traditional surrogacy

The surrogate mother acts as both the egg donor and the surrogate, so is also the biological mother. The biological father gives a sample of sperm that is transferred into the uterus of the surrogate with a process called intrauterine insemination (IUI) in the hope that fertilisation will take place naturally.

Gestational surrogacy

The embryo is created using the biological father’s sperm and an egg donor through IVF, meaning the surrogate is not the biological mother. Resulting embryos are transferred into the surrogate mother’s uterus with a plastic catheter using a process called uterine embryo transfer (UET) around three days after fertilisation.

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