We speak to Helen Prosser, the founder of non-profit surrogacy agency Brilliant Beginnings, to ask why the organisation was set up and how it can help would-be mums…
What is Brilliant Beginnings and why was it launched?
As the directors of leading fertility law firm, Natalie Gamble Associates, we have already spent many years fighting for same-sex parents and for surrogacy rights. In 2008, we helped win the right for same-sex parents to be named on birth certificates together (for which we won a Stonewall ‘Hero of the Year’ nomination). The UK is now (on the whole) well set up for lesbian mums conceiving together, but things are not so easy for gay dads and infertile straight couples who need the help of a surrogate to build their families. It is a frustration we see – and share – every day, with many parents believing that surrogacy is not possible in the UK and that they need to go abroad (something which can bring enormous cost, risk and complication). Our clients’ frustration became ours and so we decided to launch Brilliant Beginnings: a non-profit making UK surrogacy agency and campaigning organisation. We wanted to help ‘normalise’ the concept of surrogacy as a secure family-building option in the UK and make it within reach. We wanted being gay to no longer be a barrier to having a family, whether you are a man or a woman.
Have you helped many lesbian couples?
We have worked with hundreds of lesbian couples planning and building their own families, usually through donor conception rather than surrogacy. But now we are starting to work with lesbian couples in a different way. Brilliant Beginnings has, since its launch in September, been approached by several lesbians who have decided they want to become surrogates or egg donors to help other intended parents. Some want to help to break down the barriers by becoming surrogates to gay dads. Others want to help couples who have had a long journey of grief that led to childlessness. Sadly, there are not yet enough UK surrogates to help everyone, something we would love to see change.
What motivates a woman to become a surrogate?
Generally the women we speak to have had their families already and simply couldn’t imagine life without their children. For the lesbians who approach us, there is often a sense that they were helped in having their families, and now want to complete the circle by helping someone else, either by donating their eggs or by carrying a pregnancy as a surrogate. All surrogates need to have a good support team around them, and we are able to help making sure that things are set up so they are secure and protected.
How does Brilliant Beginnings help UK surrogates?
Although the legal framework could be better, surrogacy can and does work successfully in the UK. To give some background, surrogacy is legal in the UK, but surrogacy agreements are not enforceable, and agencies which operate for profit in the UK (Brilliant Beginnings does not) commit a criminal offence. In lieu of a front-loaded legal framework, where everything is set up before conception, intended parents and surrogates need to ensure that there is a strong and solid basis of trust with their arrangement. Brilliant Beginnings helps put that structure in place by screening and matching individually. We give guidance to surrogates on all the implications and help them make strong and informed choices from the start. We help them find the right intended parents to work with, and we make sure that expectations are matched and any ‘deal breakers’ are aired before treatment starts. We then provide support all the way through the process. Surrogates are legally the mothers of children conceived until the court process of a parental order has been completed. One of the main concerns of the women who approach us is what happens if the intended parents change their minds. Similarly, the biggest concern for intended parents is what happens if the surrogate changes her mind. In reality, this is unlikely to happen and there have only been two reported cases of a surrogate changing her mind in the UK among over a thousand surrogacy arrangements completed successfully. However, our job is to make sure that the foundations are set up properly so that the risk of things going wrong is minimised.
Do you think that UK laws around surrogacy should be changed?
We need a more secure and better-structured system here in the UK. Agreements need to be enforceable and organisations involved in surrogacy should be regulated, so intended parents and surrogates can enter into an arrangement with security and peace of mind. As a non-profit making organisation, we reinvest our resources into campaigning to raise awareness about surrogacy and also ultimately to pave the way for a better framework for surrogacy in the UK.
If you would like to know more about how Brilliant Beginnings can help you or how you can get involved with our campaigning visit us at www.brilliantbeginnings.co.uk or call Helen on 020 7050 6875.