A fascinating statistic was published this month that surprisingly seems to have almost sunk without trace given its significance. Britain has seen major growth in the number of surrogate babies born in recent years. The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice Family Court show that the number of parental orders - which transfer legal rights from the birth mother (the surrogate) to intended parents, have almost trebled - rising from 117 in 2011 to 241 in 2014, increasing further to 331 in 2015. In the first three quarters of last year, 288 parental orders were granted and it is predicted that the results for the entire year will show that almost 400 were made in total.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that a significant number of unrecorded people also go overseas (where, unlike the UK, certain countries allow open commercial surrogacy, making it far easier to find a surrogate and pursue an arrangement). Statistics gathered by Families Through Surrogacy, from approximately 12 of the leading surrogacy clinics abroad, showed that there was a 180 percent growth in the inflow of UK prospective parents who were seeking surrogacy between 2011 and 2014. Data in 2015 showed that in the preceding three years more than 1,000 hopeful couples had travelled to a total of 57 destinations.
Interestingly, amongst this growing trend is an increasing number of older women going down an alternative family building route - whether that is surrogacy or donor conception.
Having worked in this field for eight years, I have seen first hand an ever-increasing number of women in this age group seeking advice. It really is no longer the preserve of celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicole Kidman. Changing social trends and attitudes mean that women and couples from every walk of life are turning to surrogacy as a way to achieve parenthood. Women are pursuing careers more fiercely than ever before, there is an all-time high divorce rate amongst women aged over 50 (ONS), there's now a growing acceptance of surrogacy and there is a rising number of online dating sites targeting 'mature' men and women.
For women who are well into their forties and over, surrogacy means a child is still within reach, providing hope that family life is an attainable goal - even if they have to travel abroad to realise it.
But for those considering this alternative pathway to parenthood, there is a lot to think about. Factors such as cost and the legal minefield that exists mean that exercising due diligence before making a decision about the best route forward is crucial.
Surrogacy costs can be significant. Arrangements cost less in the UK because surrogacy does not operate on a commercial basis. This means that intended parents' biggest outlay is the expense figure paid to their surrogate (and any treatment they may undergo to conceive). Court fees are minimal (£215 for the parental order application) and most parents represent themselves in the proceedings. Pursuing surrogacy in the UK typically costs between £5,000 and £20,000.
Entering into an overseas surrogacy arrangement costs much more. The US (particularly the state of California) is the most well established destination, with arrangements typically costing intended parents between $100,000 and $200,000. This incorporates a range of items from surrogacy agency fees and the IVF process to meeting the the surrogate's expenses and compensation payment as well as health insurance to cover hospital/medical fees and any issues during or after birth.
And no less significant is the legal landscape. This remains complicated and fraught with pitfalls for people pursuing surrogacy. However, the right advice and guidance will ensure that these complexities are avoided and instead the right people have legal rights, responsibilities and status for the child.
The law has, traditionally, struggled to keep up with modern day family-building. For example, whilst there are a growing number of single women (and men) pursuing surrogacy, parental orders are not available to them as they are to heterosexual and single sex couples, which creates a significant parentage gap. Likewise, parents entering into foreign surrogacy arrangements face a nervous few weeks abroad before they can obtain the necessary travel documentation to bring their children into the UK, and eventually gain legal status as parents via the parental order. Currently any written agreement or contract parents and surrogates enter into is not legally enforceable.
However, as surrogacy continues to grow, the law is finally beginning to catch up. This year it is expected it will change in the UK to allow single people to obtain a parental order.
So whilst alternative baby creation can make dreams come true, it comes with a health warning - do your homework thoroughly first to avoid an unnecessarily costly and protracted experience.