For many people who find it challenging to have children for whatever reason, there exist several options such as surrogacy. We explore this option and what it means for those involved.

When couples trying to have a child find out that there may be a fertility issue at play, some opt for adoption while others go the medical route and opt for IVF (in vitro fertilization) or IUI (Intrauterine Insemination). When these options are not viable for the woman, some people enlist the help of a surrogate mother to enable them have a child, a process called surrogacy.

Surrogacy is defined as an arrangement whereby a woman (the surrogate mother) agrees to bear a child on behalf of another person who will become the newborn’s parent(s). Surrogacy involves the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF) where an egg and sperm are combined in the laboratory to create an embryo. The embryo is later implanted into the surrogate's uterus for her to carry the pregnancy either as a paid service (womb for hire) or altruistically, whereby the surrogate mother offers her services for free.

There are several types of surrogacy:

  • Partial surrogacy: In this process, only the father’s sperm is used to fertilise the egg of the surrogate mother. The child therefore has the father’s DNA.
  • Total surrogacy: The sperm and egg are chosen from a donor bank and are fertilised inside the surrogate mother. This happens when the eggs or sperm of the prospective parents are not viable.
  • Gestational surrogacy: The prospective parents both contribute their respective sperm and egg to conceive in vitro. Then, the embryo is implanted in the womb of the surrogate.

Aside from fertility issues, there are several other reasons why people may decide to use a surrogate mother, namely health conditions such as not being able to carry the pregnancy to term, a hysterectomy (surgical removal of a woman's uterus or womb), past trauma from a difficult pregnancy or birth, medication, age or personal reasons. Others also feel that the adoption process is longer than surrogacy.

Although some consider the practice of surrogacy as unnatural, it has come in handy not only for the prospective parents but also for the surrogate mothers who get paid to carry the pregnancy. However, it is important to ensure that the surrogates picked are healthy, both physically and mentally, as the process can be emotionally overwhelming for the parties involved. A psychological evaluation and counselling is usually advised beforehand.

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It is also essential that prospective parents prepare themselves financially as usually they have to cater for the wellbeing of the surrogate mother during pregnancy and delivery as well as the cost of IVF. People seeking this option are also advised to conduct due diligence as some clinics are said to exaggerate their success stories in order to attract more clients.

Status of surrogacy in Kenya

According to a report by the University of Nairobi, 30 per cent of gynaecological inquiries at major public hospitals were fertility related which points to a considerable number of people seeking services such as surrogacy.

And while surrogacy is still not a widely known or even accepted concept in Kenya, this does not mean that it does not happen. In fact, as much as Kenya does not have a law in place that governs this practice, there are several clinics in the country that offer IVF procedures and a session could cost about Ksh350,000 upwards. There are also agencies that guide the process.

Nonetheless, without written laws on surrogacy, a mutual understanding or written agreement may still not hold up in court if the surrogate mother goes back on her word and refuses to hand over the baby. Surrogacy also bears the risk of being prosecuted for child trafficking. Therefore, the easier way out for the prospective parents is to apply to adopt the children who were delivered by the surrogate mother.

It is important to note that extensive research is required to ensure you are dealing with professionals as people may take advantage of an increasing demand for surrogacy from desperate people who desire to have children.

This article was first published in the February Issue of Parents Magazine

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