Ahead of Growing Families March 2020 UK/EU information day on family building options, global family-building expert Sam Everingham sheds some light on these events and why they remain so popular
How long has Growing Families been running surrogacy education for Europeans?
Since 2014, though until last year we ran our events under the Families Through Surrogacy brand.
What prompted the re-brand?
We were doing so much education about not only surrogacy but egg donor IVF, complex IVF and other routes to parenthood, that the Growing Families name was a much better fit.
Why do couples engage in commercial surrogacy when the costs can be significantly higher than the UK?
The fact that there is no guarantee of matching and no professional support or oversight of UK surrogates emotional needs puts off many. Also altruistic surrogates can never be as tightly screened from a medical or psychological perspective. The risk that they might change their mind about keeping the child puts off many. Too many who match independently with a surrogate report financial extortion from surrogates or their partners. Even those who have a friend or family member offer to carry often don’t want to put their relationship under the strain that comes with the intense emotions (and hormones) of a surrogacy journey.
What has changed since 2014 in the surrogacy landscape globally?
Five years ago, a lot of UK and European singles and couples were putting their trust in India or Thailand to help create a family. Other south-east Asian countries such as Nepal and Cambodia also briefly catered to the high demand from childless couples. However with the closure of all these unregulated destinations, we now see huge interest in states with solid laws such as Ukraine for heterosexual couples and the US amongst singles and same-sex couples.
Have there been new surrogacy destinations emerging?
The more cost effective regulated destinations such as Ukraine, Georgia and Greece only take heterosexual couples. This has seen destinations such as Russia emerge to cater to singles and gay couples. While Russia’s track record on gay rights has been pretty atrocious, it is one of the few countries outside US and Canada to provide a legal mechanism for foreign single men to be recognised as the sole legal parent. Cosmopolitan cities like St Petersburg are now home to a number of gay-friendly surrogacy agencies and we are seeing more and more take advantage of that.
What sort of trends are you seeing in US surrogacy?
A decade ago, the only US state which foreigners were aware of for surrogacy was probably California. While it remains a best practice hub for surrogacy globally, surrogate compensation levels are significantly higher in California than other states. So people are wising up, choosing to engage with surrogates from a range of US states with lesser living costs and laws friendly to foreigners. Given the US is the only country with audited reporting of individual clinic success rates outside the UK, the best US clinics are increasingly strict about surrogate screening, to ensure their intended parents have the best chance of success. Some intended parents bring their own surrogate from Europe or Canada. Others self-match in the US. Though there are significant risks in trying to manage a long-distance surrogacy arrangement in the absence of agency support.
Why are consumer-run events so important?
We started running UK conferences in reaction to childless singles and couples telling us they were overwhelmed by the plethora of glitzy websites and trade shows trying to ‘sell’ them a solution. What they wanted was objective guidance from peers - to hear from parents, surrogates and donors who had success, rather than 15 glossy brochures. In part social media groups are filling this need, but for peace-of-mind, nothing replaces meeting parents who have walked in your shoes and vetted professionals face-to-face when deciding on one of life’s key decisions.
What is different about this year’s London conference?
Our parent panel this March include not only the US, UK and Canada, but stories from those with experience of Russia and Ukraine. And for the first time, our surrogate panel will include surrogates from not only UK, but Ukraine, discussing their motivations for the work they do.
Past events used to allow talks on surrogacy practice in a particular country, but these tended to morph into sales spiels, so our conference topics are now much tighter and geared to provide objective information and different points of view.
What sorts of support is available for those who have already chosen a donor IVF or surrogacy provider?
Choosing a pathway and providers is just the start of the journey. Intended and new parents have a myriad of questions around immigration requirements, birth plans, parental recognition, infant feeding, disclosure to children – even social meet ups for families. Social media can be of some help but it is hard to know who you are talking to. So Growing Families have designed an afternoon program on 21st March to address these practical issues. The aim is to take some of the stress out of the processes.
What options will the March event focus on?
Our March events in London and Dublin privde a comprehensive program looking at all options globally, but the key expertise will come from the US, UK, Ukraine, Georgia, Greece and Russia.
What are your key tips for those considering or engaged in surrogacy or egg donor IVF processes – particularly internationally?
You need to have a clear understanding of the risks for your situation and how best to control them. This means learning from a range of parents and providers about their own experience, what can go wrong and how you can reduce the chances of failure. Carefully informed decision-making is key.
Full event details are at https://www.growingfamilies.org/london-conference-march-2020/