Jill Hawkins announced this week that she plans to retire from her role as a surrogate mother in the UK. Jill, a 48 year old legal secretary from Sussex, has given birth to ten surrogate babies and given unimaginable joy to the childless couples she has helped over the last twenty years.
Jill’s legacy puts surrogacy in the spotlight again, at a time when there has never been greater debate about the the practice of surrogacy around the world. There continues to be strong demand for surrogacy and Jill’s commitment and dedication, as the UK’s most prolific surrogate mother, gives real and meaningful insight into the practice. Her views stand as clear affirmation of the positive benefits surrogacy can bring to both surrogate mothers and childless couples alike and her views paint an altogether different picture from much of the recent negative coverage, particularly of Indian surrogacy which has once again raised concerns about exploitation, ‘baby buying’ and organized ‘baby farms’.
In an interview with The Telegraph this week, Jill said “I love doing this. I meet amazing couples who are heartbroken and I want to make them happy. It will be hard to walk away”. Interestingly, she says of foreign commercial surrogacy “I can understand why most women in this county might find the idea of an organized baby farm abhorrent. But I don’t have a problem with it. These women are host surrogates, they aren’t using their own eggs. I know from personal experience that it’s perfectly possible to detach yourself and not feel as though it’s your baby”.
She said of her own motivations, “It’s hard for someone who really longs for a baby to understand that I don’t, but this whole journey began because I personally wanted to experience pregnancy, not be a mother”. She also tellingly and poignantly said “People talk about the gift of life, but surrogacy has saved mine so many times. It has given me purpose, a vocation that brings happiness. I become part of a couple’s life and, if I’m honest, it’s been a way of distancing myself from my own life, my own problems. The newspapers called me a baby factory and said I got depressed because I gave up my babies. But they weren’t mine – having them was the best thing I’ve ever done”.
As a lawyer who practices in the field of fertility, parenting and surrogacy law, I often get asked about the reasons why a woman would want to offer herself as a surrogate mother and carry a pregnancy for someone else. Many intended parents worry that a surrogate mother will change her mind and want to keep the baby and the fact that surrogacy agreements are not enforceable in law in the UK as a matter of public policy. Those battling infertility are often understandably concerned that their longed for and much-wanted baby might not end up in their care and that they might somehow be held to ransom by a surrogate mother, with little or no legal rights of their own. Jill’s legacy and views stand as testament that many surrogate mothers want to help someone else achieve their dream of parenthood, and that they are motivated by a personal enjoyment of pregnancy and a strong sense of altruism.
I met Jill in person, when we were both interviewed on BBC Breakfast TV in January 2011. Jill was forthright, upfront and eloquent about her experience and role as a surrogate mother in the UK. She was proud of her contribution and legacy and her passion and dedication as a surrogate mother was palpable. Jill’s experience shows that surrogacy is not a one-way street that favours intended parents and exploits surrogate mothers. Jill’s experience shows that surrogacy is a complex, rewarding and deeply personal experience that creates a life-changing legacy in the form of a baby. It brings joy, a much wanted-baby and a sense or purpose. It also gives childless couples the opportunity to have a genetic child of their own.
That said, surrogacy can raise complex legal issues and problems, particularly in cases of foreign surrogacy and on occasions when domestic surrogacy agreements breakdown. English law dictates that the surrogate mother is always the child’s legal mother at birth and her consent and co-operation is required for intended parents to obtain full legal parental status for the child by way of a parental order. A surrogate mother is therefore at the heart of the process in every sense.