25 Sep 15

What to Expect When a Surrogate's Expecting

Jasmina Lazic

We meet in a café, after work. She welcomes me with a big smile.  As the topic is very sensitive, she asks me not to publish her real name. So we decide to call her Radmila.

Photo: TipsTimes/Flickr

Radmila is one of many wonderful women I have met over the past few months. I have been exploring the life choices made by women in Serbia and Croatia who don't have children. All of them showed courage in making their decision and sticking to it. Some struggled to conceive and tried IVF. Some adopted a child. Some decided not to have children.

Radmila, a 42-year-old economist from Belgrade, made a different choice. She did something that Serbian law still doesn’t allow, but also does not forbid explicitly if it's done abroad – she got her baby thanks to a surrogate mother.

She and her husband first tried for a baby naturally. After two years without success, they sought medical advice. Radmila underwent two operations but their fortunes did not change.

Time passed, Radmila was already 38 and her biological clock was ticking down. She and her husband tried IVF in private hospitals in Serbia and then abroad, but still had no success.

Weary from everything they had gone through, they decided to stop trying, after being told there was no chance of them becoming parents. Then they discovered they could engage a surrogate mother abroad.

“We decided to contact a clinic in Ukraine,” says Radmila, who did a lot of research before making this major decision.

Unlike most European countries, Ukraine allows surrogacy and stipulates that the biological parents should be named in the birth certificate — without any mention of the surrogate mother, who can’t legally keep the child after birth.

Radmila and her husband chose a clinic Kiev. “Now, when we're talking about, it seems so easy, but it isn’t,” she says. “You can’t just go there and say ‘I need a surrogate mother, can I choose one?’ First of all, you need to get all the documentation they require, and confirmation from your doctor that you can’t have a child naturally. Fortunately, they concluded that we were good candidates.”

“We simply couldn’t believe that it was going to happen,” she says.

But to make it happen, Radmila and her husband also needed 30,000 euros — money they didn’t have.

"Yes, it's a lot of money, but think about it — some people pay that much for their car and a child... a child is priceless," Radmila says.

Their only option was to take out a bank loan, which proved difficult. “There was a problem with how to define the purpose of the loan since the bank doesn't have surrogacy as an option,” says Radmila. “Sometimes I think we would never have succeeded if those great women who work in the bank hadn't done their very best, given their all to help us when they found out what we needed the money for.”

The next step was waiting for a surrogate mother. "We were waiting for four months for them to find us an appropriate woman,” Radmila recalls.

The clinic’s policy is that the biological parents meet the surrogate mother three months after the embryo transfer, when it is clear that the pregnancy is stable. “Then we signed a contract with this woman and met her for the first time,” Radmila says. 

Radmila and her husband received frequent updates on the surrogate mother's medical condition. Once a week they would hear if she was healthy, eating well, sleeping enough and submitting to medical checkups.

“I was checking all this information with my doctor and friends who had been pregnant just to be sure that everything was OK,” Radmila says. 

Radmila and her husband were also in contact with couples from Britain, Italy and Greece who used the same clinic. “Our common destiny brought us together, along with the fact that it's very hard to explain all this to somebody who doesn’t know what it's like. We're still in touch with many of these people,” she says.

Finally nine months passed and their son was born. Although the baby's birth was registered in Ukraine, he did not automatically have Ukrainian citizenship, because his parents are Serbs. Radmila had to go to the Serbian embassy in Ukraine and ask for a temporary travel certificate so they could all travel together to Serbia.

“Nobody in the embassy asked us how this baby came into world, so we came back to Belgrade and registered him in our local municipality," Radmila explains.

But then came more administrative hurdles.

Serbian law provides for three months of paid maternity leave and then a mother can take a further nine-month absence from work to take care of her child. “Since I wasn’t the one who gave birth to my child, I knew I didn’t have the right to take maternity leave but I thought I could take the nine-month leave to take care of him. But it was mission impossible,” Radmila says.

Serbia's state health insurance fund told her she had no right to leave as she had not given birth to her son.

"That meant that even when my baby had a temperature I couldn’t get out of work, because I couldn’t exercise my right to take time off to look after my child until the child was one year old.”

When her baby turned one, Radmila got the same rights as all other mothers in Serbia. “Now, I can take time off work when he's ill, for example. He's vaccinated, he has a medical card, he's equal with all the others now," she says.

"But I’m still very sorry because the administrative system deprived me of an opportunity to be with him all day long when he was a baby. He needed his mum then,” says Radmila, and for the first time in the conversation, the eyes of this pleasant, smiling woman well up with tears.

Jasmina Lazic is a journalist at Serbia's Vreme weekly and features editor at ELLE Serbia magazine. As part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence programme, she is researching the medical options available to women who want to have children their late 30s and 40s.

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