You might think that being mother to two girls and a little boy – not to mention three stepchildren – was achievement enough. But Kirsty Broom, then 29, wanted something else to feel proud of.
With six children to care for, and a husband away at sea, a career seemed out of the question. But then one day she happened across a TV show about an infertile couple’s struggle to have children; they eventually realised their dream with the help of another woman’s uterus.
“Listening to them, it melted my heart a little bit,” Kirsty says. “I thought: what a lovely thing to do for somebody… If I do this then I could look [back] and think at least I’ve done something with my life.”
After giving it some more thought and discussing it with her husband, Kirsty registered with an agency called COTS, which introduces would-be surrogates to potential parents. Although she originally planned to help another woman have a baby, when she came across an application from two gay men – Chris and Harry – something clicked for her.
“I thought: this is never going to happen for them in a million years, because they haven’t got the right biology… [But] they’ve got just as much right to be parents as anyone else.”
Although surrogacy is legal in the UK, it remains somewhat controversial. Surrogate mothers aren’t allowed to receive payment for their services, in case some turn to it out of financial desperation. There have also been concerns that surrogates will either be so detached from the baby that they won’t look after themselves properly, or become so attached that they will be traumatised by having to give the baby up – or won’t give it up at all, as has happened in a handful of high-profile cases.
But for some couples, such as women who have suffered repeated miscarriages or were born without a uterus, or indeed gay men, it’s worth the risk. Surrogacy may be their last or only shot at having a family of their own. And the number of babies registered in the UK as having been born through surrogacy increased 255 per cent between 2007 and 2014.
Like many couples seeking a surrogate to carry their child, Chris and Harry wanted to find someone that they could strike up a lasting relationship with – even after the child was born. “We didn’t want to just see her as the womb,” Harry says. “We thought that it would be nice for the children to know the woman who gave them this gift of life.”
They’re not alone. One study that followed 33 surrogate families found that even when the child was ten, 73 per cent of mothers continued to have a harmonious relationship with their child’s surrogate, and many of the children knew about the nature of their relationship with this woman.
A good relationship was also important to Kirsty, but when she finally did meet Harry and Chris, it seemed to be a perfect match: “They fitted into our family like hand into a glove,” she says.
Kirsty agreed to become what’s known as a host-surrogate: she would provide a home for the developing baby, but not her own egg – this was provided by another woman.
Soon Kirsty found herself pregnant with not just one but two baby boys. Although the pregnancy was exciting, she says it was different from her previous pregnancies. “Even though they were inside me for all that time, it was just like I was babysitting for someone,” she says.
The babies were delivered by caesarean section, and due to complications with the anaesthetic, Kirsty was unconscious for the actual birth. But when she did wake up, “They were all sitting there holding the babies with these big smiles on their faces,” she says. “It was really the most wonderful thing to wake up to.”
Although you might assume that it would be hard to hand over the baby you’d been carrying for nine months, one study of 34 British surrogates found that those reporting emotional difficulties were in the minority. Just 11 of them said they had been upset in the weeks after the birth, and one had felt depressed. A year on, only two women continued to experience some upset.
When the time came for Kirsty to pass the twins over, she says she had no regrets whatsoever. “It is just the most amazing feeling looking at them and thinking: ‘Wow, I made that possible’,” she says.
Today, Kirsty continues to see Chris, Harry and the two boys every two or three months. “When I see them I sometimes forget that they were actually inside me,” she says. “I just feel like Auntie Kirsty. It’s the same way I feel for my niece, or how I see my friends’ kids.