Celebs are loving surrogates – is it the future of fertility?

Paris Hilton isn’t the first (Picture: Getty Images)

Paris Hilton, the ultimate it-girl, has become the latest celebrity surrogate mum at 41.

The iconic socialite and businesswoman took to Instagram on Wednesday morning to share the news that she and her husband Carter Reum, also 41, had officially become parents.

After years of IVF treatment, Paris told PEOPLE that she decided to go down the surrogacy route, where one woman carries a baby for another. Often – but not always – it’s for a couple who are unable to conceive or carry a child themselves.

Paris isn’t the first: in recent years, Tyra Banks, Kim Kardashian, Rebel Wilson and Priyanka Chopra also announced their children via surrogacy, to name a few. 

In fact, it seems we are seeing more and more high profile cases of surrogacy than ever. But what does this mean for the rest of us?

Is surrogacy becoming more common?

The use of surrogate mothers is certainly on the rise.

Research from the end of 2021 by Kent University found that the number of parental orders, which transfer legal parentage from a surrogate to the baby’s parents, nearly quadrupled in the decade prior, from 117 in the UK in 2011 to 413 in 2020.

In America, the number of babies born via surrogacy grew from 738 in 2005 to 2,807 in 2015, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

The surrogacy industry, which was worth $6bn globally in 2018, is expected to reach $27.8bn by 2025.

More people are opting for surrogacy (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

These are only estimations, mind. As Sarah Norcross, director of PET, a charity that improves conditions for people struggling with infertility, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘There is no central agency or organisation responsible for monitoring surrogacy in the UK, and so nobody knows how many surrogacy arrangements take place each year, or even how many children are born via surrogacy.’

While PET suspects surrogacy is growing in the UK, she says, it’s likely to be slow.

What does the law say?

Surrogacy laws in the UK are complex and, according to some, outdated. They also differ greatly from the US.

First of all, while intended parents and surrogates in the UK can draft up and sign an agreement for how they want the arrangement to work, surrogacy agreements aren’t actually enforceable by law, even where expenses have been paid. 

Plus, the surrogate will be the child’s legal parent at birth, as will their spouse or civil partner if they have given their permission. If you want to be your child’s legal parent, you need to apply for a parental order or go through an adoption process.

‘The law as it stands no longer reflects the realities of surrogacy, nor does it recognise the appropriate people as parents,’ says Sarah. 

‘Under present arrangements, there is a complex process for transferring legal parenthood from surrogates to IPs [intended parents] after birth. 

‘This can take months, or even years.’

If there is a disagreement over who the child’s legal parents should be, it will go through the courts – but this is rare. 

According to a parliamentary briefing from 2020, ‘over the past 30 years, there have been only a handful of UK cases involving surrogates seeking to keep the baby, compared with several thousand successful UK arrangements.’

Will surrogacy ever be commonplace?

Although we are seeing more cases of surrogacy, particularly from the likes of Kim K and Paris Hilton, it’s likely that it will never be truly normalised. 

This is down to the cost, according to Professor Joyce Harper, who’s head of the Reproductive Science and Society Group at the University College of London’s (UCL) Institute for Women’s Health.

‘Surrogacy is a very complicated technique,’ she says. ‘We have emotional issues, we have legal issues, and we have financial issues, so it’s not something in my mind that could ever be normalised.’

In the UK, where it isn’t legal to pay someone to be a surrogate (unlike in the US), surrogacy is still an extremely expensive feat, and it isn’t offered on the NHS. 

According to Sarah, ‘intended parents are advised to budget £20,000 for arrangements in the UK to cover the surrogate’s expenses and the fertility treatment required, plus legal fees.’

aby embryo in womb, fetus one art line continuous drawing. Silhouette cute unborn fetus child on mother womb in minimalism single outline draw. Little kid is lies on stomach. Vector

Surrogacy is usually a last resort (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

This is why any normalisation of surrogacy makes Joyce feel ‘uncomfortable’.

She compares it to the Handmaid’s Tale: ‘We’ve got powerful people, wanting a child and having someone not so powerful carry that child for them,’ she says. 

The majority of cases she’s been involved with, she says, have replicated this: ‘A wealthy woman “using the services” of a not-so-wealthy woman.’

Surrogacy, while commonly used due to infertility, can also be a way for women to evade the burden of childbirth – which means they can still work and earn the same amount of money as their male counterparts. 

The issue with this, says Joyce, is that it would deepen the class divide.

‘If you’re a celebrity, and you’ve got oodles of money, and you can get all the best lawyers, all the best clinics and everything, you could definitely pay for this,’ she says,

‘But I cannot see this being normalised. 

‘[If it is], it’s going to make a class divide between those that have the money and that would want to do this and those who don’t.’

Obviously, the caveat here is that most people do genuinely need to use a surrogate, but both Joyce and Sarah say surrogacy is often a last resort, particularly for people who don’t have, as Joyce says, ‘oodles of money’.

And it’s worth noting that some people are surrogates for friends and family members, or sign up to help others and have very positive experiences.

Laura Clarke, a 38-year-old who’s been a surrogate, told Metro.co.uk: ‘Having been a surrogate a number of times myself, I don’t like to be told that I’ve been exploited because that really is not the case.

‘And I think people who say it aren’t educated about what surrogacy is.’

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