'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."

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
tvGame of Thrones season 5 episode 1 review
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
News
i100
News
people
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Sport
Fabian Delph celebrates his goal
footballChristian Benteke and Fabian Delph turn semi-final after Liverpool goal
Life and Style
Model wears: top £29.50, leggings £25, jacket £29.50, bag £25, all marksandspencer.com
fashion
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary
music
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace