What it's like to be a gestational surrogate

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 Photo: Getty Images

Even as a small child, the concept of giving birth to someone else's baby wasn't foreign to Renee Golland – she can remember telling her sisters, even when she was young, "If you can't have a baby, I'll just have one for you".

Fast forward to November 2014 and Renee was about realise this dream – not for her sisters, but for another very deserving couple. She was acting as a gestational surrogate, carrying the biological child of a husband and wife who had been on an eight-year battle with infertility and the loss of a baby at 29-weeks gestation.

Renee when 7 and half months pregnant as a surrogate.
Renee when 7 and half months pregnant as a surrogate.  Photo: Supplied

It was while pregnant with twins and in hospital the first seeds of surrogacy were sewn. A fellow patient had been forced to undergo a life-saving hysterectomy after a c-section, leaving Renee wondering, "What if she hadn't completed her family? Where would she have turned next if she desperately wanted another child?"

Even before she'd birthed her twins, Renee began looking into the complex and sensitive subject of surrogacy, and soon learnt it's an often misunderstood and taboo topic.

"There are so many misconceptions about it - people don't even think it's legal," she says.

"And there are other people who say 'how much are you getting paid?' and when I say I'm not, they ask  'why would you do it?'. But if your body has the capacity to do something happily and healthily, why not do it?"

While commercial surrogacy, where the birth mother profits from having a baby, is illegal in Australia, altruistic surrogacy is permitted everywhere except the Northern Territory. And although each jurisdiction has slightly different laws, all permit the birth mother to be reimbursed for her pregnancy-related expenses.

But for Renee, the experience of being a surrogate brings with it rewards worth far greater than any amount of money could.

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"While you're not getting anything tangible out of it in financial terms, you're getting so much out of it personally. Your kids learn about what it's like to do something for somebody else because you want to, because you are passionate about it, or because you want to help."

Finding the right couple

While its more common to offer to be a surrogate for a family or friend who is unable to conceive, many online communities exist where men and women share stories of their infertility and struggles to have children, hoping to find a surrogate. It was here Renee found the couple she most wanted to help.

"It was really important for me to have a friendship with them first, and to establish a real rapport," she says. "First and foremost I needed to trust them implicitly with my kids, because if I couldn't do that then I couldn't carry a child for them. We spent a good six months getting to know one another, and then the process again took six months.

"You get to know a lot about people in a really intimate way when you are talking about things like carrying a baby for them. You've got to discuss a lot of tough topics."

As for the feelings involved, Renee said she marvels at how her body – and heart – understood surrogacy.

"When you're pregnant with a baby that's not yours, you know it," she says emphatically. "The pregnancy is very similar in terms of your body and everything, but your mind knows that the child you are carrying is not yours.

"I never had any maternal feelings, even though I had a fierce protective instinct towards him, and urge to grow him as best as I possibly could."

And grow him well she did, eventually giving birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.

Giving the baby to his parents

The baby's biological parents were on hand to be the first to receive him after Renee gave birth to him.

"It felt absolutely normal and natural for him to be going to them first," she recalls. "The birth was just as special as the birth of our own kids."

While Renee's experience was a truly positive one, and she still shares a special bond with the family from her first expedition into surrogacy, she warns this isn't always the case for others.

"Not every surrogacy journey will be a brilliant one. No surrogacy journey is without its hurdles at least at one stage," she says.

For anyone interested in travelling down this same road she has this advice: "Do your research and become familiar with state laws. Talk to people and clinics, utilise services that can offer you assistance and join online groups and ask questions. You need to find out all the really positive things of being a surrogate or using a surrogate, and also the difficult things you might come across as well. You've really got to go into it eyes wide open."

The final thing Renee wants you to know about surrogacy is the most special of all. "It doesn't just bring a couple together, it brings families together," she says.

"That's why it's not 'giving up a baby' – it's going into something with the intention of creating something beautiful."

For more information on surrogacy in Australia

You can also read Renee's personal surrogacy journey on her blog.