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Words by Emmie Harrison-West
From a young age, Emma knew she wanted to be a mum. She imagined one day living in a happy, bustling home with dogs, three children and a husband.
But things didn't work out quite the way she'd planned. After falling pregnant aged 20, she split with Jacob's father when he was just three months old, she split from her partner of four years.
Suddenly, she found herself a full-time single mum, and primary caregiver to an autistic child, living in a studio flat in Berkshire.
After struggles with her mental health and thoughts of ending her life, with no job and no partner, Emma found herself searching for her life purpose. She'd always wanted a big family, to be a mum to multiple children - now she found herself alone.
In time, Emma came to the decision to give someone else the chance of having a family. She decided to become a surrogate.
In most western European countries, surrogacy is illegal but in Britain it's not - as long as you do it for free.
In fact, the demand for fertile women is so high that there are apps and agencies connecting wannabe parents with women willing to volunteer their womb for strangers.
Here, Emma, now 25, tells Tyla about becoming a surrogate - and how it changed her life forever.
As a first timer, in March 2019, Emma joined an app for potential surrogates where you can browse couples wishing to become intended parents.
It wasn't all plain sailing, though - Emma faced creepy exchanges with men only willing to conceive children "naturally" with Emma - in other words, via sexual intercourse.
She also Emma also experienced ageism - with professionals believing she was "too young" to be emotionally prepared for surrogacy.
But she eventually connected with married couple Kevin and Aki, who had been looking for a surrogate for three years.
After a number of weeks of exchanging messages and meeting up, Emma decided to become a surrogate for the gay couple - using one of her own eggs, and the artificial insemination method.
To Emma, Kevin and Aki seemed like "the picture of stability" - they were confident, happily married, with well-paying jobs and a circle of supportive friends.
"Aki did his business into a pot, I got a syringe and popped it up there" Emma says.
Two weeks later, Emma discovered she was pregnant - with a baby that was, biologically, hers. In the UK, surrogacy arrangements are not legally binding, and Emma knew she could change her mind at any point about signing over parental rights.
"When you're a surrogate you go into it with a certain mindset, and you know from the beginning that it's not your baby," Emma says. "I know it's not my child. I'm not giving it over, I'm giving it back to its original parents."
However she admits that the process is "emotionally risky" and she agreed to carry the baby on the premise that she would be able to maintain in its life after the birth: "If after the birth they dropped all contact and I never got to see the baby again, I'd [have been] heartbroken."
Not everyone understood her decision to become a surrogate, though. While Emma's friends were supportive, her mum was skeptical.
"I said I wanted to be a surrogate and she thought it was a phase. She thought I'd lost the plot," Emma says. And she had reason to worry, as surrogacy comes with its fair share of risks.
Surrogate mothers risk injury during pregnancy, and even death through complications in childbirth - so Emma had to take out life insurance, to protect herself and a future for Jacob.
"I've thought to myself quite a few times: 'I could die during this pregnancy or labour'," Emma says. But for her, it was worth the risk.
"There's no amount of money that takes away that edge of being a surrogate, but you definitely don't do it for financial gain," Emma says.
While surrogates, by British law, cannot become one for financial gain they're entitled to expenses from the intended parents. Some couples save up for years to be able to afford it - or take up a second job. In the UK, that the average surrogate's expenses can cost between £12,000 and £20,000.
If Emma had been working at the time, she would have qualified for maternity leave. Instead, Kevin and Aki paid for Jacob to be with a childminder two days a week, as well as for hospital parking, fuel, cravings, and even skincare to help with Emma's bout of bad pregnancy skin.
"It's sort of the same as having a work credit card and taking clients out for lunch - the client is the baby," Emma says.
When Emma was 12 weeks pregnant, she was approached by the BBC to film a documentary about the raw and honest truth of surrogacy - which she agreed to.
At 20 weeks pregnant, after knowing Kevin and Aki for eight months, Emma discovered she was having a girl. And in March 2019, Mia was born under the watchful eyes of cameras in Emma's studio flat, weighing 8 lbs 3 oz, while Emma held Kevin's hand.
"I had a brilliant labour and birth - it was textbook," Emma says. "I've had a lot of people say, 'how do you carry it for so long and give it up at the end?'
"But it's hard to explain to people that it's not giving up a baby, it's for its intended parents and it's giving it back in a way," Emma explains.
In the documentary, Emma speaks passionately of wanting to be a positive female role model for Mia when she grows up - explaining she'll be known as 'tummy-mummy'.
"No matter where she is, or I am, she can always call me," Emma says.
Now, aged 25, and with a partner - Emma hasn't retired from surrogacy just yet. She recently connected with a straight couple from Cardiff who can't have a baby due to health conditions, and Emma plans on being a surrogate mother for them.
Emma is still very close to Kevin and Aki, and sees them as uncles to Jacob. They all swap pictures of Mia, including Emma's mum - who eventually came around. Emma says she plans on giving Mia another sibling, before focusing on creating a family of her own and getting her career started up once again.
"I do get a warm, lovely, fuzzy feeling when I think of the future for Kevin and Aki and it's something I'm very excited for," Emma says.
BBC Three's three-part series, The Surrogates, comes to iPlayer on March 14th
Featured Image Credit: BBC Three
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