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True Life: I'm glad I've given away my four babies; After having four children, Jackie Smith, 38, from Tilbury, realised she loved being pregnant. So she hit upon a great idea to heal other women's heartache.

Byline: WORDS: KERRY McCARTHY

"Congratulations, it's a girl!' I leaned back into the pillows, exhausted from hours of painful labour, and watched the nurse wrap the baby in a blanket.

`Right, here you go, Mum,' she said, smiling. But she didn't hand the baby to me, she passed her to the woman standing next to me. This was her first baby after all.

`Thank you Jackie,' she said to me, holding her little girl close.

Later that day, in June 2004, I left Basildon Hospital, Essex. After all I'd been through - nine months of pregnancy and a long, hard labour - I was leaving the hospital without my baby. But I knew the terrible feelings of loss wouldn't last. It was, after all, the fourth baby I'd had for someone else.

I had my first son, Kevin, now 19, a year after I got married when I was 17 and, in the years that followed, I had Caroline, 17, Michael, 14 and Lorraine, 12. I loved babies and being pregnant; I'd enjoyed the feeling of being kicked by the baby as it grew inside me.

My husband Kevin, 43, an electrical technician, and I agreed that four was enough. But I soon realised how much I missed being pregnant.

As my babies grew up, I started to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I work part time as a shop assistant and being a mum of four was a full-time job, but I felt I had more to offer.

Lorraine was four when I first heard of surrogacy, but back then it was a taboo and very little was known about it.

I got a book by Kirsty Stevens called Surrogate Mother: One Woman's Story and found out how a woman like me could help childless couples.

I read that there were two types of surrogacy; host is where the surrogate mother bears the baby for the parents who have fertilised their own egg; straight surrogacy is where the man's sperm is used to fertilise the surrogate herself, making her the genetic mother.

`I could do this,' I thought. `I could give people what I have.' Looking around at my beautiful kids, I couldn't imagine my life without them.

At that time, I wasn't worried about getting attached to the babies I'd carry. I had my own little ones to come home to, and I'd know from the start the babies weren't mine to keep.

I talked it over with Kevin who agreed to support my decision, and contacted a surrogacy agency to find out more. After a short interview, they sent me a description of a couple.

Surrogate mothers choose the couples they want to help, and I met my first one through SPC (Surrogacy, Parents and Children). Carol* had been married before and had a hysterectomy after her divorce. After she met and married David*, they wanted a family of their own.

`Will you help us?' she asked us.

I knew I wanted to help them, but it was really important Kevin agreed, too. There's no contract between the surrogate and the intended parents, so either party can legally change their mind at any point, even after the baby is born. Up until six weeks after the birth, because we were married, Kevin and I would be named as the baby's legal parents on the birth certificate. Then, a parental order would be passed, making the other couple the legal parents.

`If this is important to you, let's do it,' Kevin said.

I started using an ovulation testing kit and as soon as I saw my hormone levels were high - and I was most fertile - I travelled to Carol and David's home.

Carol brought me David's sperm in a medical syringe. She left me in my own room to self-administer it. It was a strange experience and I was glad when it was over, but it was quick and easy.

Two weeks later, I called Carol.

`I'm pregnant,' I said. `You're going to have a baby.'

Carol went quiet. I think the reality of it was hitting us both hard.

Over the next months, I saw Carol and David every few weeks. Surrogate mothers can't accept payment, but intended parents can provide expenses for clothes, loss of earnings and medical needs. Carol and David would pay money into my account each week, which added up to about pounds 3000 over nine months. Couples are told to expect to pay expenses up to pounds 10,000, so I certainly wasn't doing it for the money.

I gave birth to Gavin, now eight, in Basildon Hospital, nine months later. It was almost an-out-of-body experience as I watched him being held by Carol and David.

The next weeks were terrible. I cried and cried at the baby I lost, and thought I'd made a terrible mistake being a surrogate.

However, as time passed, I realised I'd said goodbye to the baby I'd been carrying as soon as I'd gone into labour, and it was only natural to feel a sense of loss.

I knew I'd done something good and, five months later, I was introduced to another couple, Janine* and Jason*, through the voluntary organisation COTS (Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy).

Janine had been born without a womb and desperately wanted children. We clicked straightaway and, after spending an evening with her and Jason, I was sure I could help them.

Once I became pregnant, Janine came to every scan and hospital appointment with me. She even got to know my kids and often baby-sat if I needed to pop out. After I gave birth to Joseph, now seven, it was still heartbreaking leaving the hospital without a baby, but it was much easier letting go that time.

Over the past eight years, I've helped three couples have four children. Janine and Jason asked me to surrogate a second baby for them and I had a little girl, Sophie, four years ago. I've also had two more children of my own, Andrew, five, and Jamie, three, with Kevin.

I have a big, happy family and they support my decision to help other couples become parents. We all got so close to Janine that we still sometimes see each other and all the kids play together.

As well as being a surrogate, I also answer the helpline for COTS. I know a lot of people won't understand how I can carry a child for nine months and then give it up. Some people think surrogate mothers sell their babies, but any mother knows that no amount of money could ever buy a child.

When I'm a surrogate, I know from the start that the only reason I'm pregnant is so that another couple can become parents. It's never easy, but I'm doing a good thing. Not everyone could be a surrogate mother, but I believe this is what I was meant to do with my life and I'm proud of it."

Surrogacy and COTS: the facts

Any couple who would like to use a surrogate mother:

must be married

must live in the UK

one of the couple must be a genetic parent

must be over 18

Surrogacy is legal in the UK, but it's illegal for money, other than `reasonable expenses', to be paid to the surrogate. It's also illegal to advertise for surrogates or intended parents.

COTS is a voluntary organisation and was founded in 1988. In August of this year, COTS celebrated their 500th birth. For more information on surrogacy, contact COTS, Lairg, Sutherland IV27 4EF. Tel and fax number: 0844 414 0181 (local rate call) or 01549 402777. Visit www.surrogacy.org.uk

CAPTION(S):

Jackie has found her true calling as a surrogate mum; BABY LOVE: Jackie helped three couples become parents by having four children in eight years; LOVE IS ALL AROUND US: Jackie and Kevin with their own happy brood: Caroline, Andrew, Kevin, Lorraine, Jamie and Michael
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Nov 28, 2004
Words:1324
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