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School nurse Katherine Bateson, 42, was devastated when the surrogate changed her mind about carrying her baby. Then PE teacher Lisa Williams, 43, made an offer that changed both of their lives…
It’s impossible to describe the heartbreak of infertility. There’s all-consuming hope, dreadful guilt, and the anguish of never knowing if your dream will come true.
I’d always wanted children and assumed it would be straightforward. So when Alan and I married in July 2017, when I was 38, and I got pregnant on our honeymoon, we felt that easy joy. Then I started to bleed at six weeks. I was heartbroken when I lost the baby.
We kept trying but nothing happened for months, and because of my age I didn’t want to wait, so we started IVF immediately.
The first two cycles failed, but then, in August 2018, it worked. Newly pregnant, I started working as a nurse at the school where Alan was assistant director of sports, and through him I got to know one of the other PE teachers, Lisa.
She was friendly, outgoing and thoughtful, and we had plenty in common. At 40, she was a year older than me, and our houses were just minutes apart. At first our chats were light and polite, but after the pregnancy was found to be ectopic, I was devastated and ended up confiding in Lisa. She said she understood, having had her own fertility struggle before her eldest child was born.
Soon, the mission to have a child took over my life. I had two more IVF cycles, and tried everything from steroids to immunoglobulin infusions. Seeing me struggle was incredibly hard for Alan. He tried to be strong, but he was going through every loss, too. After another miscarriage in August 2019, I knew we couldn’t keep trying. It was too hard.
We still had two frozen embryos and when my sister told me about a surrogate she’d seen on TV, I thought, ‘Why not look into that?’ We signed up to Nappy Endings, a surrogacy agency that helps match ‘intended parents’ with surrogates, and supports both through the process. The agency also helped us set up a surrogacy agreement. Surrogacy is legal in the UK, but the surrogate is the child’s legal parent until it is transferred by parental order or adoption, and although surrogacy agreements aren’t binding under UK law, it did help set out everyone’s expectations.
Within three months they had found us a surrogate, then, just before the embryo transfer, she changed her mind. It was crushing.
When Lisa passed by my office and saw me crying, everything came tumbling out. She was incredible, just letting me talk.
Two weeks later, Lisa suggested we go to the pub. I thought she just wanted to cheer me up, but over dinner, she turned to me and out of the blue offered to be our surrogate. I was floored. ‘It’s ridiculous,’ I said, laughing. ‘Why put yourself through that?’ She looked at me calmly and said, ‘Kate, I’m serious.’
My head was spinning. ‘Take some time,’ I told her. ‘If you’re serious then bring it up again.’ When I got home, I recounted it all to Alan, who was as shocked as I was.
I knew that if it went wrong, it could ruin our friendship. I also knew that Lisa had high blood pressure, which can be a risk in pregnancy. She had three children – what if something went wrong and they were left without a mother? Would we be selfish to accept?
But I also knew that once Lisa made up her mind about something, that was it. Sure enough, she texted the next day: ‘I want to do this. I can help you, so why wouldn’t I?’ With joy and trepidation, we said yes.
In those early months, I was constantly checking that Lisa was happy – it must have driven her mad! Thankfully we agreed on everything – the only sticking point was over expenses. A surrogate can’t be paid under UK law, but can be compensated for things such as loss of earnings and travel to appointments. At first Lisa refused to take any money for expenses, but using the agency as a go-between, she eventually agreed to let us pay her something.
Ten days after her embryo transfer last July, we met for a socially distanced walk and she handed me a bag of chocolates. I put it to one side, but she said to me excitedly, ‘Look inside!’ I pulled out a positive pregnancy test. It was an amazing feeling, but utterly surreal and I knew things could still go wrong.
At eight weeks, Lisa called me to say she was bleeding. It was such a huge blood loss that her husband Richard had called an ambulance. Alan and I rushed over. Holding her hand on the way to hospital, the guilt was overwhelming. I assumed she’d had a miscarriage and couldn’t believe it when we heard the baby was OK.
One day when we were out walking, Lisa could feel the baby moving. ‘Put your hand there,’ she said. Deep down I felt conflicted. It wasn’t jealousy, just a sense that I should have been able to feel those things myself and a sadness that I was missing out.
At 37 weeks, the baby was big, so they decided to induce Lisa. Richard, Alan and I were all there. Though excited, watching Lisa in the pain of labour for six hours was horrendous. Then she was suddenly rushed away to theatre.
Alan and I sat in the delivery room, scared and exhausted. Then a nurse appeared and reassured us that Lisa was fine. In front of her, in a wheel-along cot was a tiny, perfectly healthy baby boy. I was stunned. ‘Am I allowed to pick him up?’ I said. She nodded. It’s a cliché, but I felt a rush of love.
Later that day, I took our son – Quinn – into Lisa’s room and she gave him a cuddle. I felt so emotional at the magnitude of what she’d done for us that I started to tear up. ‘Get a grip!’ Lisa said sternly, and we laughed.
Since then, we’ve become even closer. The bond runs deep from having gone through this incredible experience. She doesn’t want grand gestures, but she knows what she’s done for us: she’s completed our family. And for that, I can never thank her enough.
Lying alone in my hospital room, the drama of birth still swirling in my head, I heard the knock at the door. Then Kate was there, holding her new son. One look at them and I knew it had all been worth it.
When Kate first opened up to me about her struggles to start a family, my heart went out to her. I’d had my own fertility challenges in the past. After my husband Richard and I got married, we started trying for children right away. My mum never had problems conceiving, so it was a shock when nothing happened for us. We had tests and went through IVF.
As part of the treatment, I signed up for egg-sharing, which meant that some of the eggs harvested from me would be given to other women unable to produce their own. I had to speak to a counsellor during this process and I remember her asking me whether, if a child born from my eggs appeared years later, I would feel that the child was mine. ‘No,’ I said instantly. ‘I didn’t raise them. That’s what makes you a parent.’
Our second IVF attempt worked, and Oliver was born in 2006. We went on to have two more children naturally – Grace, now 12, and Zachary, nine – but I never forgot our struggle. So I understood Kate’s devastation.
The day she told me that the surrogate had pulled out, my heart sank. But at home that evening, I was furious: how could the surrogate let Kate down? Richard listened quietly. At the end, he said very calmly, ‘You could do it. I’d support you.’ I was stunned, but his conviction struck me. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised I could do it, and wanted to do it. But I also knew I had to be sure: I couldn’t offer, then pull out.
My GP was supportive, and I discussed it endlessly with Richard, playing out all scenarios. Could I definitely carry their baby and not feel it was mine? What if they felt uncomfortable working with me while I was pregnant?
Two weeks later, I met Kate for dinner. Taking her hand, I said, ‘If you’re willing, I’d like to be your surrogate.’ She looked stunned. We left with a hug, promising to speak again soon. A week later Kate agreed. I was thrilled.
When I told them I was pregnant, I could see their joy, but also their fear. For me, it felt so different to carrying my own children. I was focused on being a healthy incubator.
Our birth plan said the baby would go straight to Kate, but after I started to push, the baby was in distress and I was rushed to theatre. Only one person could come with me and though I felt terrible leaving Kate, I needed Richard.
When the doctor rested the baby on my chest. I felt relief that he was OK and it was over, but nothing more. ‘Hurry,’ I said. ‘Get this baby to his mum!’ And he was gone.
Richard looked at me. ‘I’m the proudest person in the world,’ he said. ‘I don’t feel amazing right now, but thank you,’ I joked. But later that day, when I saw Kate and Alan’s faces as they held their son, I did feel proud.
Today, we see each other all the time and I love my cuddles with Quinn, but the real joy comes from seeing Kate and Alan being the parents they so deserve to be.
As told to Kate Graham