'I love giving the gift of a child to a couple that can't have one'

It can be a magical experience – or a degrading disaster. Jerome Taylor hears a surrogate mother's story

Artist Gina Scanlon was half way through illustrating a book for a client when she decided that she wanted to become a surrogate mother to help him have a child.

As someone who had never had difficulty conceiving, the Pittsburgh-based artist was pregnant with her third baby at the time and relished the feeling of having a tiny life form slowly growing inside her womb. But every time she went to her client's house, she was wracked with guilt.

Each day as she sat down to draw, the man and his wife would talk about their heartbreaking but ultimately futile attempts to have a child of their own. Over the years they had spent a fortune on IVF treatment but had miscarried every time.

"I felt so guilty for being pregnant when they were trying so hard to have a child themselves," she recalls. "I absolutely adore being pregnant. So I did some research into surrogacy, talked it through with my husband and then asked the couple whether they would be happy with me carrying one of their fertilised embryos."

In the end the couple declined and decided to adopt. But since then the 41-year-old artist has given birth to three surrogate children for two couples who desperately wanted a child of their own but for various biological reasons simply could not.

Her first experience of being a "gestational carrier", as the multi-million dollar US industry somewhat clinically prefers to call surrogate mothers, was for Tom and Jeff, a same sex couple from New Jersey whom she delivered twins for in 2006. Four months ago she was back in the delivery room giving birth to a baby boy for a heterosexual couple that she had met through one of the hundreds of agencies that help link surrogates with childless couples.

"My experiences of the two pregnancies couldn't have been more different," says Mrs Scanlon, who regularly gives talks to women who are considering becoming surrogate mothers. "The first time, the whole process was an absolute joy. I became very close friends with Tom and Jeff and we're still in contact. But the second time round was an awful experience. Instead of treating me like a human being, like someone who was trying to help them have a child, they treated me like a product, like my body was some sort of baby-making factory and nothing more."

For many people the whole idea of carrying a baby in one's womb for nine months only to give it away will always remain deeply controversial. When Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick announced earlier this week that they were having twins in the summer through "the generous help of a surrogate", it made global headlines.

The Parker-Brodericks were the latest in a line of Hollywood couples to take the surrogacy route and the more cynical celebrity blogs have gleefully suggested that, for the elite of Los Angeles and New York at least, surrogate birthing is simply the ultimate expression of being too posh to push. But for hundreds of relatively wealthy but otherwise ordinary families in the States, where surrogacy laws are less strict than in Britain and Europe, women like Mrs Scanlon are their final chance to have a genetically-related baby of their own.

In US pop culture the surrogate mother is often disparagingly portrayed as an uneducated, money-grabbing piece of trailer trash, something supporters say has done terrible damage by attaching a needless stigma to the surrogacy process.

"That image couldn't be further from the truth," says Mrs Scanlon. Those looking for surrogate mothers are equally varied. Tom and Jeff (they have asked The Independent not to print their second names) opted for surrogacy because of Jeff's cultural background. A gay couple living in New Jersey, they had always wanted to have children but Jeff knew his parents, who come from Taiwan, desperately wanted their grandchildren to be directly related to them.

They sourced eggs from an anonymous donor which could be fertilised with Jeff's sperm in a lab and then set about finding a womb. Using Melissa Brisman, a specialist in America's reproductive laws who runs the East Coast's largest surrogate agency, they were put in contact with Mrs Scanlon.

"We were incredibly lucky because we found Gina almost straight away. Some people have to wait years to find a suitable surrogate," says Tom. "What really impressed us was that in Gina's file was a photograph of her family and her husband Brian. The fact that he was supportive made us much more comfortable so we agreed to meet Gina and became close friends."

The result of that meeting is Ivory and Iris, a pair of beautiful two-year-old girls who can boast that they have two fathers and an "auntie" who brought them into the world.

"We always wanted the surrogate mother to play a part in our kids lives," says Jeff. "It's good that alongside us they'll have a strong female figure as they grow up."Tom and Jeff will the twins everything as soon as they can.

In stark contrast to the happy relationship that she has with Ivory and Iris, Mrs Scanlon is unlikely to ever again to see the boy she gave birth to earlier this year. His parents collected him within 24 hours of her giving birth and they no longer talk.

"The second couple were incredibly domineering," she says. "My doctor became so exasperated that he eventually banned them from attending my appointments. That experience has been difficult I guess because I didn't have the same level of closure."

But despite her less than satisfactory second surrogacy, Mrs Scanlon says she has no regrets.

"Being a surrogate mother is incredibly taxing on your mind and body but it is also the most wonderful and rewarding experience. You are giving the gift of a child to a couple that for whatever reason can't have one themselves.

"Never through either of the two pregnancies did I have ever have an issue with the idea of handing over the baby because that was the ultimate goal," she says. "The whole reason I was doing what I was doing was to provide someone else with their child – a child that isn't even yours in the first place."

Things of course are often more complicated if the mother is directly related to a surrogate child. But contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of American women who agree to be surrogates are not, in fact, related to the child they carry.

There are very few agencies that are willing to deal with genetically-related carriers because of the legal problems that can occur if there is a disagreement between the two parties. So most surrogates are simply women who agree to give their womb to an fertilised egg that is not theirs.

The real reason surrogacy works and is popular in America of course is that, unlike in Britain, wannabe parents are, under some state laws, allowed to financially reward their surrogates. But the money, advised Mrs Scanlon who agreed to become a surrogate mother the second time around because her husband had to undergo extensive surgery, should never be the only reason.

"If you think you'll be able to remodel your kitchen after a surrogate birth, you're probably not doing it for the right reasons," she says. "[Surrogacy] is nine months of solid work, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If money is all that you're after, you're probably better off just getting a part-time job."

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
tv

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

News
John Moore inspired this Coca Cola Christmas advert
people

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Jamie Oliver’s version of Jollof rice led thousands of people to post angry comments on his website
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film

Review: Mike Leigh's biopic is a rambling, rich character study

Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
film
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Secondary Teacher Great Yarmouth

    £115 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are currently work...

    Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

    £60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

    Special Needs Learning Support Assistant

    £60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

    PMLD Teacher

    £120 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leiceste...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes