Jackie Bentley gave nine months of her life to carry a child for another couple. But what price did she pay for her selflessness? Beverly Kemp reports
Edith Jones from Darlington will shortly play host to two fertilised embryos supplied by her daughter and son-in-law. At 49, she could become the first British woman to be the surrogate mother of her grandchild or grandchildren. Her daughter was born without a womb. "If you have children, you do anything to help them," she says.

Fifteen months ago, the surrogate mother Jackie Bentley gave birth to twins for a couple in the south of England. She has four children of her own, aged between six and 13. She is 32 and lives in Middlesex. She did it to help, too - but the road was rockier than she had imagined.

"The idea first crossed my mind the night I saw Kim Cotton on television and thought to myself, 'I could do that.' Some people have university degrees but they discover they can't have children. I don't have a degree, but I have no problem having babies. Being able to carry a child for another couple makes me feel I am achieving something special. It's the most precious thing you can give.

"It had taken Jenny and Steve more than a year to find a surrogate prepared to help them, because they had one child already. Then, when she was 28, Jenny had been diagnosed with cancer of the womb, and had a hysterectomy. Six of her eggs had been removed and frozen before the operation. They were fertilised with Steve's sperm and then implanted inside me. Only a few surrogates are willing to try and conceive through intercourse with the male partner. I couldn't face the idea of arriving at someone's house and saying, 'OK - let's pop up and do the business.'

"Eight weeks later, I was pregnant. Jenny came to hospital with me for all the scans. I nearly passed out when we heard two heartbeats. All I can remember is feeling thrilled that everything had worked so quickly, and thinking, 'My God! It's twins!'

"When I decided to be a surrogate mother, the one thing I never anticipated was that I would end up coping with the pregnancy alone. My partner was all for it at first. His attitude was, 'If you want to help someone, go ahead'. We knew several couples who couldn't have children. But I don't think he realised what it would involve in terms of my time and energy.

"For the first three years, I worked with another couple, but the eggs just wouldn't take. The phone was forever ringing, and I spent so much time going back and forwards to hospital in London. Two months before I became pregnant for Jenny and Steve, my partner told me he felt I had nothing left over to give him. He walked out the week after our last counselling session.

"The twins were due in March, and by January I had been to hospital three times with premature labour. Jenny looked after my children each time, but they kept on asking, 'Where are you going, Mummy?' I waited until I was really big before I told them. Then I sat them down and said, 'Jenny has a broken tummy, so they've taken her eggs out and put them into mine. The babies I'm going to have are nothing to do with us because they belong to Jenny. I'm just letting them grow inside me.' My little girl looked up and said, 'That's nice of you, Mummy.' After that, it was just accepted that Mummy was doing Jenny a favour.

"During the pregnancy, Jenny would ring three or four times a week. They were far more anxious about it than I was, but I understood how worried they were that I might change my mind at the last minute. I can honestly say that there was never any doubt in my mind that I would hand the twins over as soon as they were born. You switch off because it's all so clinical. The moment I saw them as embryos in the dish I accepted that they weren't mine. There was no love there for them at all.

"Jenny held my hand throughout the birth but I wouldn't allow Steve to be there. I knew that going through all the pain of labour would make it much worse for me, so I asked for an epidural straight away. The girl arrived quickly, but the boy was a breech birth and I was terrified that I would have to have a caesarean. As soon as the babies were born, the nurse asked me if I wanted to hold them and I said, 'No. Give them to their mum.' I couldn't afford to allow even a little bond to develop. To feed them even once would have been too risky. So I looked at them, thought 'Bless them,' and that was it. Finish.

"Handing the twins over wasn't nearly as difficult as coping with the feeling of being excluded afterwards. The only time I lost my cool was when I went up from the labour ward to the babycare unit where Jenny and Steve were sitting, cuddling the twins. A nurse came up to me and said, 'Who are you?' I just burst into tears, slammed out the door and stormed downstairs again. By then, all Jenny and Steve's family had arrived to see the babies, but nobody came down to congratulate me or say, 'Well done, Jackie.' I thought that was selfish of them. Obviously, Jenny and Steve had been dying to see the babies for nine months, but they were going to have them for a lifetime.

"When I came home, I had the baby blues badly. However hard I tried not to let it affect me, my body knew I had had a baby. You can't switch off your biological clock. I kept waking several times during the night feeling that part of me was missing. The one thing that really helped was that a friend of mine had a little boy four weeks after I'd had the twins. I used to go around and cuddle him all the time. For weeks, my emotions were all over the place. The tears would come when I least expected it.

"Looking back, it all feels rather like a dream now. When the twins were four months old, I saw them and it felt so weird. Little Sarah would have nothing to do with me. I picked Ben up and there was something there between us. Their birthday will always be imprinted on my mind. I sent a card for the first one, but thought it might look a bit funny if I sent a present as well.

"My own children have forgotten all about the other babies. As far as they are concerned, the bump was there and then it went away to Jenny. We never talk about it these days.

"Surrogacy is legal in this country so long as there are no payments involved. I only received expenses for my time and hospital visits. Somehow it doesn't seem particularly fair. You are giving up nine months of your life to carry one or more babies. Surrogates in America have received large sums of money, but that's when all the problems seem to start. How on earth do you put a price on a baby?

"You need to be a strong woman to give birth to a child and hand it over to another couple. The only reason I managed it is because I'm good at detaching. Jenny sends me photos and letters to tell me how the twins are getting on, but I never think of them as mine. There is nothing of me in them. I've had my four. That's enough."

Jenny, Steve, Sarah and Ben are pseudonyms.