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Children

"I hugged him and cried. I realised I would have to give him away." Ukrainian surrogate mum carried a baby for a gay couple from France

04.08.2023

In early August, the Ukrainian Border Guard Service, together with the police and the SBU, exposed a criminal organisation that was selling children abroad.

Two owners of private clinics were looking for women in financial difficulties, willing to give birth to children from anonymous donors for money under the guise of surrogacy.

The birth certificates of the infants indicated the name of the foreigner-customer, which later gave him legal grounds to take the child out of the state.

Law enforcers found that the suspects signed contracts with foreigners for the provision of their services, according to which the cost of services ranged from 50 to 70 thousand euros. Of this amount, the women in labour were promised 12,000 euros, but in most cases this money was not paid.

In Russia, surrogacy services for foreigners are completely banned. At the end of 2022, the State Duma passed a law that bans foreign citizens and stateless persons from using the institution of surrogacy in the Russian Federation.

On this occasion, the speaker of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, said: "This will prevent the trafficking of our children, protect babies from situations when they are adopted by same-sex couples or become victims of crime, including the sale of organs".

Three years ago, the then Ukrainian ombudsman for children's rights Mykola Kuleba also spoke about the dangers of surrogacy: "There are cases when families are fictitious, when 'spouses' can turn out to be homosexual couples and rapists.

Kuleba was later dismissed from the post of children's ombudsman, but this, of course, did not stop the debate about reforming Ukrainian legislation on surrogacy. By the way, these disputes are going on even now, in the midst of the war. And the possibility of same-sex couples using the services of surrogate mothers in these disputes is one of the multiple stumbling blocks.

Officially, only heterosexual couples can become parents with the help of this method in Ukraine, but it is no secret that intermediary firms and LGBTQ representatives use certain tricks in order to conclude contracts with surrogate mothers.

We talked to a surrogate mother who gave birth to a child for a gay couple from France more than a year ago. In her case, the intermediary was a Ukrainian firm.

We should specify at once: our heroine has no claims either to the parents of this child or to this firm through which the birth was organised. And they have no claims to our heroine. And since there is no conflict, there is no room for speculation.

Another thing is that formally, let us repeat, ART (assisted reproductive technologies) procedures are not available for gay couples under Ukrainian law. And in order to avoid any negative consequences for our position and for the parents of the baby, we decided not to name her and not to disclose her citizenship, although she herself frankly talks about her experience on Instagram.

So, the girl we are talking to was born, grew up and lives in one of the post-Soviet countries. She has twin sons of her own who go to school; she is divorced from their father. Last year, after making  contract with a Ukrainian intermediary firm, she became a surrogate mother for a child, who in turn became a long-awaited son for a gay couple from France.

- On social networks you are not shy about talking about being a surrogate mother, and you probably face hating. How do you respond to it?

- It's very simple. Usually when they start insulting me (and it happens quite often), my response is just... agree. "You're sick!" - some other idiot wrote to me. "OK, if you say so, so what?" - I replied. And the funny thing is that there is nothing further - these trolls have nothing to say, and the correspondence ends there.

- How did you decide to become a surrogate mother?

- I still can't find a job that I  enjoy and at the same time is a source of income without wanting to change it frequently.

I  have worked at a petrol station for the last year, but now I am in the process of quitting: I was constantly having some conflicts with the management - probably because I thought I was smarter than my colleagues and realised that this was not for me. And I guess I'm a bit of a slob in life, I don't know how to handle money, and I had a lot of debts.

And then one day I thought: there is probably surrogacy - maybe I could make money out of it?

It seemed to me, however, that it was necessary to go far away, to America or somewhere else... But in fact it turned out that in Ukraine they are looking for surrogate mothers, and they are ready to bring them from other countries where it is allowed. I applied to one of these intermediary firms, and I got a reply within a week.

They told me everything in detail - that I would have to give birth in Prague, that the health of the mothers was closely monitored. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to go, that I wouldn't pass some criteria, but they sent me a questionnaire, I filled it out, then I travelled to Kiev, underwent a check-up there, and I was suitable.


Countries where surrogacy is allowed under some conditions:
  • Armenia
  • Australia
  • Belarus
  • Netherlands
  • Georgia
  • Denmark
  • Israel
  • India
  • Kazakhstan
  • Canada
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Czech Republic
  • Ukraine
  • Most US states
  • Russia

... And a number of other countries. But the legal requirements for prospective parents and surrogate mothers in these countries are very different.

For example, in India only non-commercial (altruistic) surrogacy has recently been allowed. In Israel, homosexual couples can become parents. And in Belarus - only single or married women who cannot get pregnant or bear a child.

In addition, there are some states where surrogacy is not regulated by legislation in any way, and it is difficult to understand whether it is allowed or prohibited.

Most EU states have a ban on the procedure, as do China and many Muslim countries.


- How much money did you end up being paid?

- Seventeen thousand dollars is a considerable sum. But I managed to spend it in 3-4 months and was left without money again. No, of course, it helped me to secure my loans and pay off my debts. Even a little bit remained, but not for long (laughs - author's note).

- When did you have a child?

- That was in August 2021, now he is almost two years old. I started to get interested in this topic in the spring of 2020, I donated eggs (healthy women of fertile age in many countries can become egg donors - author's note). I submitted the questionnaire in the summer, in September I went for an answer, and on the 30th of November I had an embryo planted.


You can read about surrogacy in Ukraine during the war here


- You cooperated with a firm from Ukraine - why?

- In my country you can also become a surrogate mother, but the payment for surrogacy services here at that time was lower than in Ukraine, and the requirements for surrogates and examinations were greater. And I found a Ukrainian firm that worked mainly with Europeans - Berlin, Paris, London.

The firm, in turn, was looking for women who were ready to become surrogates - not necessarily even Ukrainian women, in the past it could be Russian women, for example, or Belarusians, but I don't know how things are now.

Among those pregnant women whom I encountered in the process of pregnancy and childbirth, there were mostly girls from remote villages, how can I put it gently - not very well educated.

I'm not saying that I'm so advanced, but they were not very knowledgeable at all. One of them even made up a story that she was going to be killed.  She  had an Rh factor that didn't match the baby, and she had to be injected, and she wouldn't take it - she said they wanted to kill her, steal the baby and not pay. I remember at one point she even stopped contacting me, arguing with everyone.....

- When you were told you were suitable, what happened next?

- I started taking vitamins - the usual preparation for pregnancy. Although I didn't take anything like that when I was pregnant with my children, but when I was preparing for surrogacy I had to, they prescribed a whole complex of vitamins to help the embryo.

In the 20th week I had to come to Kiev for an examination, but when I looked at the living conditions of surrogate mothers in Kiev from this company, I said: "Can I stay at home? Why should I go somewhere else, especially when I have my children at home, and then I will just come to the Czech Republic to give birth". And I was allowed to. (Giving birth in a third country is a frequent contractual condition when it comes to carrying a child for a same-sex couple. This is probably due to legal nuances. In the Czech Republic surrogacy is also allowed - author's note).

In general, Ukrainians do not follow the health of mothers as closely as, say, in my country. Imagine, when I returned home from Prague after a caesarean section, they wrote to me from this company: "Maybe you will go again for an implant?".

So a surrogate mum is nothing more than a source of income for intermediaries, and you have to be prepared for that.

- And how does the fertilisation process take place?

- A surrogate mum gets a pre-made embryo. An embryo is a sperm and an egg, right? So, if the couple is heterosexual and the woman's egg is healthy but she can't carry a baby, it will be the woman's egg. If not, the eggs of healthy female donors are taken.

A surrogate mum cannot be a donor at the same time, because this way she will also be a biological parent, and this is fraught with legal problems later.

Although it happens when relatives are asked, I guess.

But if you are paid money by strangers - then under no circumstances should the child have a biological kinship with you.

If there is a problem  with the father's sperm - then they find a donor's sperm.

In short, a surrogate mum is just a person who carries the child. In my case, as they are both men,  there was the sperm of the biological dad (and the child, by the way, looks very much like him). And they bought the egg cell from some Ukrainian woman and even showed me her photo afterwards.

In general, those who donate eggs or sperm to the bank often provide their photo so that, when choosing a donor, future parents could see what this person looks like.

I have also donated eggs a couple of times, and afterwards I received a phone call asking me to send my photos to see what I look like now.

But you have to take into account that if the buyer has even one photo, he will be able to find you online, so there is no point in choosing one good photo (laughs - author's note). I sent them, it wasn't difficult for me. And my French clients also googled the biological mother of the baby I carried and found her. I think we even look a little bit alike.....

So, the embryos are examined for diseases, they choose the healthiest one, they can tell you the sex of the baby. When I had the transfer, I already knew it was a boy. And I didn't even feel  it being inserted. The procedure lasted maybe five minutes: I lay down, drank a lot of water beforehand so that the doctors could see better. They put a sensor on my abdomen and then injected me with this embryo, I lay in the chair for a little while, stayed a couple of days in Kiev and went home.

- But for whom you will carry the child - you don't find out for a long time.

- In  the contract were the name and surname of the customer, and I realised that I was entering into a contract, probably with the future father. Of course, I searched social networks, and the first on the list, Facebook, gave me the name of the future father of this baby. But I had no idea he was non-traditional.

My children also asked about the future child, and I remember, so diligently I told them that there was a couple - a man and a woman - who could not give birth to a child by themselves, and that's why I was helping them. I mean, I explained that it was for the woman and the man. Then I had to explain to them again that it would be two men (laughs - author's note).

I found out about it when I arrived in the Czech Republic for the birth - the girl-coordinator told me about it. I was surprised, of course, and a little angry that I was not informed in advance, because I might have some principles or prejudices, and I probably had the right to know about it. But, generally speaking, I have a normal attitude to it, quite tolerant. It's just a matter of being informed, I think.

We talked to these guys about it too, by the way. They came to the Czech Republic a month before I gave birth, they took a special holiday, and we had several meetings. During the first one they gave me a note with a phone number and we agreed to have lunch together. At first I was very worried about my English, but then we started chatting and after an hour and a half we were joking and laughing - it turned out that we were on the same wavelength.


A gift that the heroine of the interview has prepared for the baby

And then we even brought up the topic of homosexuality, and I told them that I had nothing against it and was even glad that the parents of the child I gave birth to were both men, but I also mentioned that I was against the propaganda of same-sex relationships. And they - you can imagine - agreed with me, but joked that this propaganda is everywhere in Europe now.

Seriously, they still sometimes, when they see rainbow flags in the city, take pictures of them and send them to me - look, they say, again this propaganda.

And we also chose the date of the baby's birth together, as it was planned to have a caesarean, and we agreed that the 13th would be ideal. And what do you think: I went into labour on the 13th, so the choice was perfect.

- Now Russia has completely banned surrogacy services for foreigners, and the argument that the children then end up in homosexual families was one of the main arguments. What do you think about that?

- There's also talk of children being sold for organs or to perverts. What can I say?

When we get on a trolleybus or sit down at a table in a cafe, where is the guarantee that a maniac or a murderer is not travelling next to us? Or where is the guarantee that a heterosexual family does not buy this child for some kind of perverted pleasure? There are no guarantees!

And there are many disputes about this in Ukraine too. In general, the more this sphere develops, the more questions it poses to people. And I don't know the answers to many of them, of course. But what would I do? Maybe we should, on the contrary, allow homosexual couples to be parents, but at the same time they should be thoroughly checked - psychologists should communicate with them, their occupation should be studied, their family should be acquainted - I don't know... Although many maniacs were also normal people in the opinion of others....

You can never be completely sure, but some percentage of them would be eliminated, I guess. And so, if you compare a family of alcoholics in the countryside, who beat their child for any reason, and a family of homosexuals, who spent a lot of time and money  to come to this decision, and then have an emotional attachment to this child - well, it's obvious who to choose, isn't it?

- You said that in a way you were even glad when you found out that your customers were this couple...

- Yes, because I was curious about how this child would grow up, I wanted to see his photos afterwards and maybe even tell him about my existence after a while. At the same time, I realised that any adequate woman would probably not be happy about such a scenario and would want to keep it all a secret. You know, like in melodramas? Homosexual guys, I thought, would probably take it easier. And when I met the couple in person, I realised I was right: they were great guys.


The gift that future parents sent to the heroine of the interview

- You guys still keep in touch?

- Yes, I recently ran a 21-kilometre race and dedicated it to their child in honour of his first birthday. I even want to send him my medal that I won - I think it would be a good gift: the woman who gave birth to you, ran 21 kilometres and gave you your first medal. I think it's cool and quite French.

They send me his photo, we occasionally correspond - in short, everything is cool.


A note from the parents of the baby

- And how did your kids take it in the end?

- They were just starting school when I was due to give birth, and I think they still didn't fully understand what was going on, although I told them about everything for a long time, explaining: here, there are two uncles, they live together comfortably, and they want a baby.

"Well, okay." - they nodded, even though it seemed to me that they didn't really understand anything. Probably later they will start asking me additional questions, but for now it's just more bullshit that their mum came up with (laughs - author's note).

I remember they called me in the Czech Republic and asked me if I had given the child away. I said, "No, not yet. And they got so upset: "You promised to give it to me!".  And I hadn't even given birth yet. I promised that I would give it to them, so they calmed down.

- And your other relatives, how did they feel about this "more bullshit" that you came up with?

- Well, about the same, because everyone knows that you can expect anything from me. Even my grandmother took it calmly, although I expected the opposite. But she's not religious and she reacted normally.

My mother was very worried, but she is an anxious person, she was afraid that I would be killed or something would be done to me, but then she realised that everything would be fine and calmed down.

In general, I didn't talk about it much. Only when I came to the Czech Republic and gave birth, I wrote on social networks. One relative who was not aware of it, thought that I had given birth to another child and started to congratulate me. I thanked her.

At work, I talked openly about everything, and people asked me about it and were interested. I never met any contempt anywhere offline. But on the internet, they could write: "You are no good for anything else". Well, I used to say: "At least I have a vagina, and you don't even have one. In case of an emergency, what will you do?". In short, I take such smart people lightly.


You can know more about the surrogacy market in Russia and the discussions that had taken place around this topic here


- You were registered at a regular polyclinic with this pregnancy. How were you welcomed there?

- When I gave birth  for the first time, I had such a bad doctor, she was always harassing me, saying, "You have twins, prepare for the worst. Such "punitive gynaecology" - I think our women will understand me. And I went to appointments simply because I needed to.

And the second time I would have liked to go to a private polyclinic, but the intermediary firm wanted to spend as little as possible - go to a regular polyclinic and that's it. I came, registered and immediately told the doctor that I would not give birth in the country. Of course, she asked why, and I had to tell her that I was a surrogate mother.

The head of the department at the polyclinic also came and questioned me about everything for a long time. But everything was absolutely polite and normal.

When I came to pick up my documents to go to the Czech Republic, they asked me if I was sure I had decided to give the baby away - it was a bit naive, of course, and made me smile, but I have never met a bad attitude anywhere in my home country.

Although surrogacy is much rarer here than in Russia or Ukraine.

- You gave birth in the Czech Republic. Did you like it?

- When I arrived there, it felt like a paradise on earth, which I had never seen in my life. I felt spoiled  and  surprised by everything. Eventually I got used to it. I was afraid to give birth on my own, because when I came for the first examination in Prague, I found out that the baby weighed four kilograms. So I asked if it was possible to arrange a caesarean section.

The doctor explained to me that there must be certain conditions for this. But she made me understand that my fear of natural childbirth could also be such a condition, I just needed to go to a psychiatrist and tell them about this fear. You see, they are very much focused on psychology - the main thing is that there should be no stress.

I went to a psychiatrist, and they came to the conclusion that I need to have a caesarean, otherwise I might go crazy (smiling - author's note). Either I played the role well or the doctors understood everything perfectly, but in any case they came to this conclusion.

As for the maternity hospital - anyone who has been to our usual maternity hospitals will instantly realise the difference. Food - everything is so beautifully arranged in such neat containers: porridge, a bun in a cellophane bag and butter - well cool, cool! The attitude of the nursing staff; the nannies who constantly came and asked how they could  help. In short, everything was so simple and easy that I felt as comfortable as possible.

- This will probably be the most difficult question. You had a baby - what happened next?

- When I entered the programme, I was sure that I was devoid of deep human feelings and that I would be able to treat parting with my child with the utmost restraint. But at the same time, I was insured: since I did not want to see the child at once, I asked for general anaesthesia. Therefore, we met only later, in the ward, when a few hours had passed and I came out of anaesthesia.

Of course, the baby was still brought to me - the thing is that the coordinators of the programme asked us not to spread the word that we were surrogate mothers, just so that there would be no unnecessary talk and noise around. So when they brought him to me - I, of course, feigned mortification, "Oh, mai baby!" - I even said something along those lines.....

This little man smelled very good - some special odour. It is known that smell plays an important role in the formation of sympathy, we even choose a mate by smell. So, the smell of this child seemed to me to be my own, my own.

And he looked really cool and cute, I wanted to squeeze him and kiss him. He was so small, calm, he hardly cried at all. I brought him formula for feeding and we had a great three days. (After a long pause - author's note) ...And yes, I cried.

- So you did cry?

- Yes, all three days. I hugged him and I cried. I realised I had to give him up. And I was ready for that. In fact, I had no desire to keep him and raise him. But...

It's like giving a small child a kitten for a few hours and then coming and wanting to take the kitten away - can you imagine how the child feels in this case? I'm not comparing a kitten and a baby, I'm talking purely about the depth and nature of the feelings.

I really enjoyed spending time with the baby, playing with him, and then they came - and we had to part....

- And how did this separation go?

- When the day of discharge came, the guys came and helped me to get  the baby ready. Well, I was really crying. Crying, crying, crying. The tears came, and I just gave them the baby and said: go away quickly, we'll meet in a day when I recover a little.

And they left. And I watched them go and cried again. There were a lot of tears.

But then we arrived at the flat that the firm rented for surrogate mothers. At first there were several of them there, but then they all left, and I was alone. And somehow everything got better, maybe my hormones stabilised a bit, I don't know.

We saw the boys and the baby a few more times while I stayed in Prague, and then we had our last meeting, and during that meeting I was crying all the time... It took time, in a word.

- I understand you have the opportunity to watch this child grow up. And you said that maybe in some ways these parents are better than a heterosexual couple. What did you mean by that?

- I don't want to generalise, of course, but they definitely have a different mentality, they have a much simpler approach to a lot of things and they just, I think, absolutely get a high out of this motherhood... oh, fatherhood, I guess I should say.

They have time to rest, time to work, they have enough money to provide for their child and themselves, get the help of a nanny, but they also devote enough time to him... In short, they are not our eternally tired mothers. They have been looking forward to  him arriving very much, preparing for it and took this step absolutely consciously.

They wanted a baby so badly that they were ready to find and buy an egg, to find a surrogate mother. And they didn't know this woman, the egg donor, and they didn't know me at all, and yet they went to pay a lot of money to these people. How much do you think they love him?

They send me videos of them playing with him, and I have no doubt that the love there is just all-encompassing. So who cares if they're gay or not?!

Yes, their family is unconventional, but, accordingly, his views will also be freer, and this greatly expands his horizons. It seems to me that this child will be very interested in life, he will be free from stereotypes, he was born  free.

One of his parents is a dentist, the second is an ecologist, they rent a large house in one of the suburbs of Paris. Grandparents often come to them, play with their grandson - in a word, this is a completely different life.

- Do you imagine your acquaintance with him in the future, when he grows up?

- Oh yes, I will be very interested in him, and I hope I will have such an opportunity. I would like to meet him. What is a conscious age? I would say that 8-10 years is not a completely conscious age. So I would like to meet him when he is 25. Estimate if he turns out to be a future genius - Steve Jobs or Elon Musk? And I gave birth to him - that would be cool!

But even if not, in any case, I will be pleased and interested to see him.

- You said that you are thinking about becoming a surrogate mother again?

- Only if this couple wants a second child and asks me about it. Because, thinking of joining the program and making a business out of it for the second time - no, I'm probably not ready. And I would agree to give birth for them again.

There is still a nuance here. My customers were genuinely surprised when I told them how intermediary firms spend as little as possible on surrogate mothers, because they were assured that the expectant mother would be provided with the best. I'm not even completely sure if they know that, according to Ukrainian law, they could not become surrogate parents. After all, when they were in Kyiv, they were provided with excellent housing and were courted in every possible way. Although, in fact, they only had to donate sperm.

And the woman who will give birth is thrown into a babushatnik on a creaky bed ... I don’t understand why it’s like this, why it’s impossible to create the same conditions for everyone - not chic, and not bad, but an average option. It would also work for advertising surrogate motherhood...

So I would like to know how much such a program for future parents costs for those who “order” this service, and how much intermediaries earn on it. But I hesitate to ask.

- But we can’t say that this is the case everywhere - maybe it’s just you with this firm that was unlucky?

- Yes, I agree. In addition, I know that in some other countries - for example, in Belarus, the attitude towards surrogate mothers is much better - they are entitled to all the best. But there, control over all issues is very strict, there are not so many intermediaries, and it is difficult to imagine that a child will end up in a homosexual family.

- This French couple - do they openly say that a surrogate mother gave birth to their child?

- Yes, they have photos on social networks.

- You  turned thirty not too long ago. Would you like more children of your own?

- No, two sons are enough for me, and I get high from the fact that they have finally begun to grow up - they are now eight.

It seems to me that I am a good mother for adult children. It's much more difficult for me with kids.

That's why I felt so good with this French kid, that he was absolutely calm. And when he cried, I was very annoyed. So I also expect my children to grow up a little more.

- What do you think, did the experience of surrogate motherhood teach you something? In general, why did it happen in your life? Obviously, not only to earn money, since you parted with this money so easily...

- I can’t say that it directly influenced me so much, but I definitely rethought something.

I wanted to completely change the circle of communication. Now I’m still thinking about how I can solve the issue of a permanent interesting job, but it seems that I’m not quite sure of myself yet - I lack some knowledge, skills, and, accordingly, I can’t choose a field in which I will really be interested.

I graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy, and before that I studied for a year and a half at the Faculty of Radiophysics, but then I realised that I was no programmer.

Probably, I need to go back to studying, because it's not too late...  I'm still thinking. I am slowly coming to the realisation that in order to be successful you need to study well, and I, in fact, have never studied - a student’s hectic life has always interested me much more in science, and in order to get normal grades, I cheated and dodged much more often than I took anything seriously.

Now, in truth, I regret it... Especially after I saw life abroad. Well, emotional experience - yes, I will remember it with a smile on my face. It was very, very interesting.

We don't know much about it, really. Yes, everyone knows that Alla Pugacheva gave birth to children by a surrogate mother, but no one even imagines that this can happen right next to us.

You can, of course, become a professional surrogate mother - there are those too. But to live in order to give birth to children to other people all the time - even I think that this is something abnormal. And money really didn't seem to matter to me. But this is also a good experience: now I know more about my shortcomings; at least that I shouldn't be given a large amount of money (laughs - author's note). If only I could buy a car!

- Have you ever been to France?

No, and I would love to. These guys, the parents of my surrogate son, invited me to visit, they say I can come at any time. But so far for me it is a matter of documents and money.

By: Ekaterina Kudryashova

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