Review: Cutting Edge – Addicted to Surrogacy

What an interesting but also very sad programme this was. I felt it was sad on many levels; sad as in literally upsetting as we witnessed the heartbreak and desperation of couples who’d give anything to have a child of their own, and sad as in my personal feeling was that at least some of the women supposedly ‘addicted’ to surrogacy are more addicted to the cash reward.

But having said that, some of the women featured in the film were genuinely ‘addicted’, but not necessarily to surrogacy per se, but to the psychological need to be needed. The surrogacy part was just a means to fulfilling that end.

It wasn’t comfortable viewing but as always with Cutting Edge, it was non-judgemental viewing too, which in some ways makes it harder; it’s sometimes quite a pleasant relief to be told what to think! I jest, it’s not of course and I’ve always admired Cutting Edge for its – primarily – unbiased reportage of actualities rather than judgemental commentary.

We were introduced to many couples and many surrogates but one couple, Stephen and Olga, I found were particularly endearing and who were realistic enough to understand not only the enormity of what they were doing but also the worst-case-scenario that something could go wrong.

Olga had had leukemia, the treatment for which had left her infertile, so, desperate for a child, the couple found a woman named Amanda who, having had three children of her own, agreed that Olga shouldn’t miss out on the joy of motherhood and she agreed to become their surrogate… for £10,000.

Now I’m not judging her for that; being pregnant is quite literally a 24/7 job that requires a great deal of commitment for nine months, so it’s not an unreasonable payment to ask actually – if it is that one considers it a job. It works out at around £40 per day on average, so that’s around £1.67 per hour of pregnancy, and when you consider everything that goes with being pregnant – sickness, stretch marks, back ache, sleepless nights, peeing every few seconds, piles – always a joy – antenatal clinics, abstinence from fun stuff like alcohol and then several hours of intense pain… well, I guess she earned her ten grand.

“What else could you do that makes you feel so good?” Amanda asked, and frankly, I can think of a great many things but few of them bring such lifelong joy to others, so monetary exchanges aside, I can’t deny there’s unique nobility to the act of surrogacy.

The road that ultimately led to the grand prize of the much longed for baby was not an easy one, and I felt very sorry for Stephen who did his best to keep two hormonal and easily distressed women if not happy, then at least sane.

Still, Stephen and Olga ultimately walked out of Amanda’s life £10,000 poorer in their fiscal account but infinitely richer in their joy account as they cradled new baby Edward as if he were the most precious thing on the planet, and to them, he was. Amanda cried as the couple left with the baby and I unashamedly joined her.

Another couple who featured in last night’s programme were Janie and Peter who’ve been trying to have a baby via a surrogate for three years. Janie had been trying, fruitlessly, to have a baby for more than twenty years. Peter is Janie’s third husband and a former Catholic priest, but that’s by the by really but potentially a whole other documentary in and of itself.

However, after “several bad experiences” in the UK, Tammy Lynn in Kansas agreed to be their surrogate for £20,000, plus legal and medical bills.

Tammy Lynn is indeed a serial surrogate and the twin babies that she had for Janie and Peter were her seventh pregnancy as a surrogate, and according to Tammy Lynn, that pregnancy would not be her last.

I have to say, I didn’t like Tammy Lynn a whole lot. I found her to be somewhat arrogant about the ease with which she’s able to fall pregnant and I felt there was a strong element of smug superiority and awareness of the power the pregnancy gave her over Janie and Peter but especially Janie.

Frankly, as any market trader, broker or indeed poker player will tell you, when one person has a commodity that another desperately wants, it’s a seller’s market and the seller has the upper-hand; this is how I felt Tammy Lynn was treating the whole thing.

So when the time came for the arrival of the twins, Janie and Peter flew 5,000 miles to Kansas to meet Tammy Lynn and ultimately, their new babies.

“This is not my first rodeo, so I know what I’m getting into,” said Tammy Lynn, but the vulnerable Janie and the worried Peter had never ridden the pregnancy and birth bucking bronco and I felt for them as their surrogate mumbled to camera, “She’s going to be a basket case, I know that.”

Well if Tammy Lynn can use metaphors, then I can too and what came to my mind was that Dorothy and Toto – in the form of Janie and Peter – were indeed in Kansas and the potential for their – again metaphorical – house blowing away became a distinct possibility. Tensions between Tammy and Janie grew to uncomfortable proportions, and by the time the cameras waited along with the couple outside Tammy Lynn’s delivery room, it was tough to watch the sheer nakedness of Janie’s vulnerability.

Another serial surrogate, but an infinitely more pleasant one, was Jill Hawkins, aged 44, who is officially Britain’s “most prolific childless surrogate”. She’s given away seven babies over the past two decades but despite this, she claims that not only has she never had a “proper” relationship, she’s also not had sex for 24 years.

Jill is truly addicted to surrogacy and at 44 was desperately trying to conceive an eighth baby by self-administered artificial insemination. Jill doesn’t want children of her own, but she loves to have them for other people.

She summed up why she does it in one very much understated sentence… “The couples make you feel special, so surrogacy is a bit of a crutch for me.”

The fact is, for her, it’s far more than “a bit of a crutch”; Jill needs to be needed and in that regard, she’s found the perfect vocation since nobody’s more ‘needed’ than a fertile woman who’s willing to hand over a baby to an infertile woman who’s desperate for a child.

Jill’s last pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage and she’s spent the last year and a half unsuccessfully trying to conceive again. She very sadly seems unable to accept that she’s now in the same shoes as those she’s sought that “special” adoration from for all these years…

Jill’s friend, Kim Cotton – who was Britain’s first official surrogate back in 1985 and who gave away two children – urged Jill to accept what was painfully obvious with regard to her fertility and age to which Jill dejectedly replied that, “I’m failing at the only talent I’ve got”

How sad to believe that issuing forth babies is the only talent one has, but believe it she does, and seeing her misery at what she viewed as the ultimate failure was quite painful.

Yet another of the women featured in Lucy Leveugle’s film was Carole who is officially the world’s most prolific surrogate mother. She’s had twelve babies for other people including one set of triplets, but her attitude towards surrogacy couldn’t have been further removed from Jill’s.

When it transpired that one baby she’d had for a “client” couple turned out to have been fathered by Carole’s husband rather than the client couple’s husband, she couldn’t see what all the fuss was about when the couple were furious.

Carole – like Jill – uses her own eggs rather than having those of the recipient mother transplanted into them, but they do of course use the sperm of the recipient couple’s male.

“It was never going to be biologically hers anyway” Carole said, rather callously missing the point that the couple wanted the baby to biologically ‘belong’ to one of them. Despite what seemed to be such a cavalier response to the whole debacle, Carole described this faux pas as, “The worst time of my entire life.”

She added that, “They {the recipient parents} were very angry and they refused to speak to me. They still won’t speak to me.

“What’s the big deal? At the end of the day, they’ve got a healthy little boy and that’s all that matters.”

Following much soul-searching and heartache, the couple in question decided to keep Carole and her husband Paul’s baby and bring him up as their ‘own’.

However, after giving birth to twelve babies for other people, as well as two of her own, Carole claimed the whole thing isn’t “as exciting as it used to be.” Well Carole, few jobs are when you’ve been doing ‘em for over a decade so maybe it’s time to hang up the old uterus and go for retirement from the mass production of children game?

All in all, this was a fascinating programme and as I mentioned, as is the wont of Cutting Edge films, it didn’t probe the morality and ethics issues to which Kim Cotton for example was very publically subjected when she became the UK’s first official surrogate mum.

More than anything, the film was an unbiased overview of the deeply emotive issue of surrogacy and effortlessly relayed the multiplicity of complicated emotions, motives and problems that surrogacy brings, for both the surrogates themselves and the people who are desperate for a child of their own.

I know for me, it’s not something I could do unless it were for someone I loved – a sister or a daughter for example – because I couldn’t stand the thought that there was a child of mine out there somewhere who knew nothing of me and vice versa. That said, I guess if I were of a mind to take up surrogacy as a career, I wouldn’t feel the same way if the baby was biologically the recipient couple’s and I was merely the oven in which their bun would be cooked. That would feel totally different.

What did you think of the programme and could you be a surrogate?

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.