Personal Column: The gift of a baby

Jill Hawkins, one of Britain's most prolific surrogate mothers, announced last week that she is to stop. Beth Hart, 28, has had two babies for would-be parents and hopes to again, despite the hazards
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I love pregnancy, and surrogacy is something I feel very lucky to be able to do. I don't get paid for what I do - just my expenses - but knowing that there is a new person with the whole world in front of them, growing inside me is the most incredible feeling in the world.

I first became interested in surrogacy when I was pregnant with the first of my own two children. I'd been a nanny and I knew what it was to care for another person's child, and somehow I felt that this wouldn't be that different. There are some women called "straight surrogates" who use their own eggs, but I knew I would have found it difficult to give a child away if it was genetically linked to me, so I looked into "host surrogacy" which is when you are implanted with another couple's embryo through IVF. My parents would feel they'd got a grandchild they weren't involved with, so choosing to do host surrogacy was as much to do with them as anything else.

As soon as I met my first couple we clicked. They already had a son but had been unable to have any more, despite having IVF. Christina came to my house and we chatted away about our families all afternoon. We didn't mention the surrogacy immediately, perhaps because we felt there was so much at stake on both sides. By the end of the day I knew I wanted to offer to be her surrogate but didn't want to say anything until I had talked it through with James, my husband, so a week later the four of us met and had dinner.

If I didn't have the bond with the parents then I think it would be so much more difficult to hand over the child at the end, but everyone got on really well and at the end of the evening I made the offer to become their surrogate mother. Friendship is the glue that holds the process of surrogacy together and it was very emotional. Christina and I both cried and hugged. That was in September and by November we were having the IVF.

We had to go through two four-hour counselling sessions each to make sure that we were emotionally ready for the pregnancy. I don't think there was ever an issue between Christina and me because I was able to get pregnant when she couldn't. I think they really felt that they'd come to the end of the road and were grateful to be given another chance. It must have taken them a lot of strength to get around that emotionally but they never let it get in the way of anything with me.

The IVF worked first time. As soon as I became pregnant I told everyone that I was carrying a baby for a friend. I almost felt like getting a T-shirt printed. People took the idea much better than I thought they would. I had a few odd comments: "I could never do what you're doing ... I love children too much." I don't think people intended to be hurtful but when you're pregnant and emotional it's quite hard to deal with.

My husband has always been my biggest supporter, but being a surrogate did take its toll on our physical relationship. When you're going through IVF there are long periods of time where you have to abstain from sex because you don't want to risk getting pregnant with your own child in the middle of the process and not being certain whose baby it is. Also, there are certain stages of pregnancy when sex becomes more difficult, so James did get rather frustrated. We dealt with it because we knew it was only for the short term and that it was for a good cause.

Christina bonded with the baby throughout the pregnancy. She felt his kicks and was there for every antenatal appointment with the midwife. She would take me out for lunch for a chat about how things were going. The midwives were great at talking to her and whenever decisions had to be made, I just looked at her and she'd make them, because it was her child.

The birth was a fantastically emotional experience. Even the staff in the room were crying. It took a while for him to start breathing. Christina and I were holding hands on one side and my mum and I were holding hands on the other. When he cried he was handed to Christina. It was amazing. Just to see Christina and Jake with their baby after so many years of them trying and knowing what they'd been through; to see the looks on their faces and to know that I'd been a part of that, made it all worthwhile.

Aside from the births of my own children it has been the most moving experience I have ever had. I spent the whole pregnancy not allowing myself to feel maternal, so he felt more like he was a best friend's baby, or a nephew. It probably sounds really cold but I didn't have any maternal feelings at all. Still, the first night after the birth was very strange. Jake and Christina left the hospital a few hours afterwards at my insistence. Because the labour had happened so fast - one minute I was pregnant, the next I wasn't - there was a feeling of loneliness. They put me in a room of my own because I didn't want to be around other people's babies. My mind was replaying everything that had happened that day and remembering their faces. My milk came in four days after he was born and that was painful. I went to visit him at their house that day. It was 9/11, and it was all very emotional.

The hardest part about surrogacy is being realistic about the health risks. After my second surrogate pregnancy another surrogate mother I knew of, Natasha, died just after giving birth to her baby. It was only then that it really hit home that perhaps I'm being selfish in doing this; that I could be risking leaving my own children without a mother by doing this for other couples. But there are risks to everything and being a surrogate is something from which I get enormous personal pleasure and satisfaction.