Motherhood Unfiltered: The Realities of Parenting Through Surrogacy

Weekends were once wonderfully self-indulgent.

Perhaps a surprise trip to the fashion shop Bicester Village to indulge my passion for cheap Chloe, or perhaps a lie-in until 10am.

Perhaps even a stop for a glass on the way home.

But now that I have a three-year-old daughter and a baby girl who is three months old, we spend every Saturday in the park.

Getting two tiny people ready takes about an hour and a half, and the toddler never seems to be able to give up her scooter, which she eventually gives up on after two minutes.

In the meantime, the infant I’m carrying won’t relax in her cushy pram.

There’s a noticeable absence of a) beverages and b) Chloe when we eventually make it to the park.

To be really honest, there are times when the routine feels unbearably oppressive.

The total reliance, the clear limitations, the seemingly never-ending list of jobs that appear pointless.

Additionally, you’re working through all of this while feeling extremely exhausted from a string of sleepless nights.

These are the feelings I have, and I feel bad about having them.

I’m not the only mother who laments her daily circumstances, for sure.

The distinction is that after over ten years of trying to complete my family, both of my children are the very joyful conclusion.

My ‘journey’ into parenting took me to three different continents and required 32 donated eggs from three very kind women.

From those eggs, ten embryos were produced, from which I had five unsuccessful embryo transfers, and then four more to three separate surrogates, two of which managed to survive when it all appeared hopeless.

I believe that my children hold a very special place in my heart because they were both born through surrogacy.

Why, in fact, am I wasting valuable time writing this post when I might be staring at my miracle of a child and savouring each moment with all the gratitude that both they and my journey to motherhood deserve?I can see how acknowledging that parenthood can be difficult at times could make some people uncomfortable, especially among those who continue to criticise the custom of volunteering to become a parent and bear a child on behalf of someone who is unable to do so.

In fact, I had yearned for childcare so much that my husband and I both anticipated that I would cherish every single moment of it.

We even talked about it. We would somehow escape experiencing the typical difficulties of parenthood because of our journey through hell and back.

However, I’ve discovered that none of what I’m experiencing is what I would have predicted.

Because the highs and lows of parenthood are universal, regardless of the circumstances surrounding a child’s birth.

The same deep pleasures are mingled with the same profound frustrations, boredom, and loss of personal space, as well as more diversified cerebral stimulation.

Motherhood is idealised, I suppose, for every expectant mother.

The areas that smell nice and newly bathed.

The first chuckles and long lashes, you falling asleep cuddled in one other’s arms, and all the other things that popular culture as a whole has trained us to anticipate.

I also think that the longer it takes you to become a parent, the more intense this idealisation becomes.

I know that I spent many years sporadically wishing, then fervently hoping, then lamenting the loss of that idealised experience.

I was certain that I would always be appreciative of every moment when the time finally arrived.

I realise now how impractical that was.

As my second “miracle” baby cries for food at 3 in the morning and I remember that I’ll have to forgo my own recuperation nap the next day to keep my toddler entertained, I once again realise that parenthood, no matter how one got there, can be boring, exhausting, and, occasionally, downright awful.

It goes without saying that I never imagined having a family like this.

I most definitely did not anticipate that I would begin my 30s fighting breast cancer, that I would face infertility after overcoming the disease, and that I would rediscover the scarred, braver, slightly damaged, and mortality-aware version of myself.

It was considered’safe’ for me, then 35, to attempt to conceive in 2015, five years after my initial cancer diagnosis and halfway through remission.

After undergoing hormone-suppressive medication therapy for years, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and a mastectomy, I was given a year to try to get pregnant.

There was no indication at this time that it would be difficult for us to do so.

My spouse and I decided to pursue IVF in an attempt to give ourselves the greatest chance possible because of the stringent time constraint.

I had been persuaded that the chemotherapy was not likely to have harmed my fertility because of my advanced age and overall health despite the disease.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be completely false.

That was the moment my life collapsed once more, because I found out I had no ovarian function at all.

I had not been offered the chance to freeze my eggs before to treatment, as is customary for young cancer patients, due to the medical team’s negligence.

But now I wonder whether I would have been too afraid to freeze my eggs first and postpone treatment.

We tried IVF five times without success using donor eggs before we gave up and I started taking my cancer medicine again.

I felt ‘too old’ by then—nearly 37—to begin the family I had thought would be finished by then.

It was heartbreaking, but we couldn’t quite let go of our desire for children or accept the loss of such a significant financial and emotional commitment.

I knew that surrogacy would be the “fallback” option I didn’t want to use after each unsuccessful IVF cycle.

It felt so far apart from the prenatal experience I had dreamed of for myself, so impossible, with all the individuals involved unfathomable.

However, we counted ourselves very lucky to have been able to start a surrogacy journey that was incredibly difficult and complicated but, fortunately, ended happily.

Following our doctor’s suggestion, we travelled to the United States so that we might benefit from the well-established, strictly regulated system and legislation that safeguard intended parents and surrogates.

After three unsuccessful matches with possible American surrogates, we returned home and met Rebecca, a British woman who had contacted me on Instagram and expressed her desire to assist us.

I felt hopeless because it was our seventh attempt and the last embryo we had.

We realised that we couldn’t keep trying and failing indefinitely.

Yet then, whoa! In 2020, our first daughter was born.

We were happy only after we allowed ourselves to think that she had been born safely.

I said, “I think it might take me a little while to realise that she’s mine.”

But to be honest, it felt evident by morning two.

It is undoubtedly true, though, that facing hardships head-on can make admitting to hard times awkward, particularly if one has an unusual or challenging path to parenthood.

I didn’t mention at first that not every second I’ve spent with my kids has been enjoyable.

I conducted some uncomfortable, socially awkward NCT follow-ups during lockdown, but these women had come together because of their common experience, which naturally turned into opportunity to talk and lament about the difficult times of being a mother.

It didn’t feel like the safest place to communicate my own sentiments of unhappiness and doubt, my sometimes absurd levels of self-consciousness, with someone who couldn’t hope to relate to a pregnancy, or sympathise about the physical experience of birthing or breastfeeding.

I know that no mother ever really knows what she’s doing, but I worry that because I’m the mother of surrogate children, people will look at me more closely.

Will people think I don’t understand my infant if I fuss over a nappy? Is it because we aren’t bonding properly if I make her cry? Even though I couldn’t wait for my older daughter’s grandparents to meet her in those first few days of lockdown following her delivery, I was happy that I could get proficient at burping my younger daughter before my mother caught me in the act.

Sure, even my mother.

I needed to find someone who could relate to my struggle—that delicate conflict between being grateful for a miracle child and feeling anxious about the common problems that come with being a parent.

It took us nearly a year to become her legal parents and to finish the court process for a parental order.

According to UK law, up until that point, the surrogate is the mother and, in the event that she is married, the father.

The health visitors were somewhat perplexed by this and had me listed as Rebecca’s baby’s foster parent.

I had to apologise for my complicated parenting style and give the explanation for the hundredth time since her birth, even if it hurt.

I went back to work at Liberty as the global head of content a few short months after we received the official birth certificate with my husband and me listed as the parents.

It was as challenging as I had anticipated to balance parenting and resuming my job, but I discovered that it made both aspects of my life more meaningful.

My busy yet exciting day at the office was beautifully contrasted with my family’s after-work activities.

I was finally getting the balance I had been lacking, but even so, I still dreaded the moment the caller ID would pop up ‘Nursery’ in the middle of a work meeting.

I reassure myself, and I know deep down that it’s okay to lament the absence of creche and the persistent social convention that the mother should give up her job to take care of the family.

It is therefore OK for me to be annoyed at being compelled to reach out and save my dear child.

However, not everyone views it that way.

One reader commented on a post by asking, “Why would she go to so much effort to have a child and then shove it in nursery for someone else to bring up?” I have written about the difficulties I faced starting a family.

I am aware that this is considered trolling, but it’s absurd to say that a nursery is the same as a mother abandoning her child.

I can’t completely reject the (extreme) point of view, though, because it has some merit.

Specifically, am I being unfair to my child if I am stressed, angry, or even sad at the idea of missing work or my plans to take care of my sick daughter? Or harsh on oneself?Whether the dilemma is any different if you place “longed for” between “my” and “child” is the more important question here.

Simply put, no.

Parenting a surrogate child, or any child born through IVF, adopted, or fostered, for that matter, doesn’t feel any “easier” to me.

Like many parents, two years later we overcame the shock and awe of bringing up the first child to try for another, which for us meant beginning the surrogacy process anew.

This time, we used the UK’s non-profit organisation My Surrogacy Journey.

It was a fast-paced encounter that, amazingly, went well the first time.

That carried with it even more guilt—that we should have focused less on it because it was simpler and we had a three-year-old to keep us busy whenever we had free time.

Seeing our two girls together now, I can honestly say that this incredible journey has been worth every minute.

Because I’ve never felt guilty, not even when I’m trying to handle tantrums or getting up every 30 minutes to assist each child on occasion.

All the bad luck that led us down this path does not lessen the fact that we are incredibly fortunate.

And because I’m happy with how our family came to be, I’ve decided to talk about my surrogacy experience and the day-to-day reality that followed.

Readers of my Substack newsletter, The Mother Project, who recognise the complexity of parenthood, have brought me great consolation in recent years.

who recognise that my challenging life circumstances have moulded me into the person I am now, and I can bear them with great gratitude, even though I still detest the grind of constantly pleading with a three-year-old to go to bed before the baby wakes up.

This is my reward for all my hard work, just like every mother ever was, regardless of how she got there.

It is as boring, ordinary, and normal as it gets, and I couldn’t be happier about that, to be candid.

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