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It’s almost the new year and that means lots of people will be popping the question and, more likely, kicking the tyres on plastic surgery to “give him or her a little spring in their step”.
Steroids, diet and hormone supplements are some of the latest topics to be discussed in the world of “surrogacy”, or “placental transplantation”, as it is known in the medical world. But experts say that conversations about surrogacy are, unfortunately, being led by the wrong people.
Surrogacy doesn’t lead to celebrity status, says David Cohen, a biostatistician and fertility specialist at University College London.
“It’s actually the opposite of the social graces of the dating scene. The idea that one’s worth involves having a classic celebrity body, is completely unrealistic,” he says.
“There are hundreds of couples and hundreds of surrogates being treated by reproductive endocrinologists in this country, and they’re doing a great job,” he says.
“They do terrible work anonymously,” adds Yasmin Dodhi, a fertility specialist who lectures at Birkbeck.
Dodhi believes that traditional media outlets go “way overboard” when they highlight the potential prospects of surrogacy.
“It’s absolutely driven by celebrity and attractiveness and general societal attitudes that define what a good lifestyle is, and it’s not necessarily reflective of reality. There’s an unhealthy cynicism that surrounds it,” she says.
“Surrogacy is not gold or silver. It’s an incredibly serious, expensive and complicated procedure that should really be met with privacy, confidentiality and dignity.”
As well as having health complications, a surrogate mother and her family receive no financial or other support, according to the UK Surrogacy Centre.
Awareness about surrogacy is “muted” and “terrible”, says Fiona Connolly, one of the centre’s directors.
“All the glossary we have available in our literature and to our clients is specifically around surrogacy. We need to do much more education about altruistic surrogacy in our clinic,” she says.
But a lack of knowledge is not necessarily a barrier. Gender imbalance and pay rates are the two most common reasons couples decide to become surrogates, Dodhi says.
“Women are poor economic participants in the process, although they’re quite happy with the financial payments,” she says.
“I think that’s one reason that the discussion around surrogacy is interesting at the moment.”
New statistics recently published by the Office for National Statistics show that 30% of couples intending to start a family in the UK have used one surrogate mother, either a) to carry their own pregnancy, b) to receive the genetic material of another baby born to a surrogate mother, or c) to give birth to a child for a different couple.
And while Clio Richardson is not a fertility expert, the young reality TV star who became a surrogate mother for the Petit Tresor family of Bordeaux and became a social media sensation, says surrogacy does appear to be the norm for young stars.
Richardson, who is from Norwich and is a regular on the E4 reality TV show Ibiza Weekender, says she had no idea the “high life” would be part of the package offered to her for her weekly stint in Ibiza.
“Surrogacy is the most extreme of measures that people take to be a part of that new life. It really was a higher order of idea,” she says.
“It was fabulous for me to meet these girls. I was fully prepared for a hand-holding and kissing with them in the evening,” she says.
“The reality was completely different to what I imagined.”
• This article was amended on 1 January to correct the date of the launch of the UK Surrogacy Centre’s “gold guidelines” (July 2015) from 2015.