Family Matters

Surrogacy Gone Wild: British Woman Keeps Giving Babies Away

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Monica and Michael Sweet / Flickr / Getty Images

Pregnancy taxes a woman’s body, so you really have to wonder about the motivation behind Jill Hawkins’ desire to keep signing up for surrogate duty.

Hawkins, 47, is pregnant with her ninth and tenth surrogate babies, twins she’s expected to deliver shortly before she turns 48. The British resident is that country’s most prolific surrogate. What’s just as notable is that the legal secretary is single and has no children of her own. ‘I’m a naturally giving person and to be able to give babies away is what I do,” she told the Daily Mail.

Beyond that questionable statement, it’s pretty clear that Hawkins could benefit from some psychological assessment. She spent much of her previous pregnancy on sick leave, plagued by nausea and headaches. The headaches — which she describes as a “permanent pain” in her head — have returned, but she doesn’t take medication out of concern for the developing babies in her womb. She has also been diagnosed with depression and attempted suicide at least once.

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No doubt, the many couples Hawkins has helped are extremely grateful for her sacrifices. Yet something feels awry here. According to the Daily Mail, Hawkins carefully considers whether each additional pregnancy is a good idea. After all, it can be really hard to nurture a baby — make that 10 — then give her away. But Hawkins appears to have suppressed her emotions:

“I never want to keep them. I am not maternal and very selfish. Not many woman can give babies away. It’s very emotional giving birth.

“The one thing you are screaming to do is to hold that baby. It is an overwhelming feeling and you have to be strong to counter that.

“People think I’m mad, but my friends are not surprised any more.”

In the U.S., different states have different laws governing surrogacy. In some states, the person who delivers the baby is considered the mother and the baby must officially be adopted by the intended mother, even if it’s actually her biological child conceived with her egg.

Samantha Pfeifer, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania and chair of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s committee on practice guidelines, says surrogates can birth as many babies as they’d like.

“There is no limit to the number of babies a woman can have on her own but it does put a lot of wear and tear on a woman’s body,” says Pfeifer. “At some point, you think, Is this medically advisable?”

Women in their 40s, for example, are more likely to experience complications including preeclampsia or postpartum hemorrhage.

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According to ABC News, it’s not a medically sound decision to choose a surrogate who’s already delivered eight babies

“This is about medical risks,” said  Dr. Richard Paulson, director of the USC Fertility in Los Angeles. “What that story is describing is a train wreck.”

A woman is considered an obstetrical risk if she has delivered more than five children, putting her at risk for losing her uterus — and perhaps the baby.

“I cannot imagine someone in the U.S. wanting a gestational surrogate who had nine prior deliveries,” said Paulson.

The ideal gestational carrier is a healthy woman who has had a child of her own in the unlikely event that childbirth could leave her sterile. Potential carriers are advised to meet with a mental health professional who can help sort out their reasons for being a surrogate.

They’re also advised not to use their own eggs, as Hawkins did in at least one pregnancy. A biological connection can make it harder to separate from a baby, although male couples hiring a surrogate regularly use her eggs to simplify the process.

And, of course, there’s another potential pitfall, which Theresa Erickson, a lawyer and former egg donor who was subsequently caught up in a surrogacy scam, acknowledged as a byproduct of  helping others build families through gamete donation or surrogacy. “I have been contacted by parents of triplets who are about 17 because they saw me on the Today Show years ago and figured out who I was,” Erickson told Healthland last year. “I was shocked at first. I was a little scared. I didn’t sign up for this.”

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