Ep 2 | Surrogacy: WTF?

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Ep 2 | Surrogacy: WTF?

So... how does this all work? Mohsin's done some research, and he’s ready to guide Dalia through some of the fine print of the surrogacy process. There are different approaches in the US and the UK – with financial and legal implications. But these complex technicalities come back to emotional realities - why does Mohsin want to go through this with Dalia? And what's her motivation?


RUTH (HOST): This is Tiny Huge Decisions – where we listen in as two lifelong friends decide if one will carry a baby for the other. And if you’ve just jumped in for this episode, you should really go back and start at Episode 1 because this podcast is a little bit different.

I’m Ruth Barnes and I’ve been with Mohsin and Dalia for some of the most intimate conversations you could imagine, taking place over months, years actually. We’ve gone from lockdowns, to out of lockdowns, between voice memos, video calls, and living rooms. That means some jumps in sound quality. But it also means you’ll hear how this conversation, and this friendship, shifts and evolves over time…before reaching a final decision. It’s a real journey, and the best place to start a journey is the beginning.

Okay, here’s episode 2: Surrogacy: WTF?


MOHSIN: Do you think that if I had the womb, and you didn’t…

DALIA: Yeah.

MOHSIN: …that I would do it for you?

DALIA: Yeah. 100%. I know you would.


MOHSIN: And the thing is, obviously, it's easy for me to say this. But I think I probably would?

DALIA: You would!

MOHSIN: Yeah, but one of the reasons I'd be having a child for you is so I could always say, “I had your child for you. You have to be nice to me.”

DALIA: That’s the only reason. Literally when I came round for dinner today, I was like, “Is Matthew just being nice to me because I might have his child? [LAUGHTER] Does he just have to keep cooking dinner for me?”

MOHSIN: “Absolutely. That's the only reason he did it.” [LAUGHTER]

DALIA: I could exploit this.

MOHSIN: You could!


MOHSIN: Okay, I’m recording. You don’t want to jump straight in? [DALIA: I don’t want to jump straight in.] What would you like to talk about?


RUTH: It’s been a couple of months since Mohsin and Dalia last spoke about a potential surrogacy. Lockdowns have eased. And now they’re together in person, recording themselves in Dalia’s front room over a glass of wine. Last time they spoke, they discussed their hopes, and their fears. But as the idea gets more real, they’re starting to consider the practicalities. How does this surrogacy thing actually work?


Mohsin has been doing some research: What it costs, how long does it take, and the legal implications. As part of this research, Mohsin watched a BBC documentary called The Surrogates with his husband Matthew. The documentary gives an insight into how intended parents in the UK meet potential surrogates…

MOHSIN: Um, and the way it works is you go to these events, and you have to hope that there is a surrogate there or a potential surrogate, because you could all turn up, and it's just all intended parents. [LAUGHTER] And generally speaking, the ratio of intended parents to potential surrogates at those events is quite skewed. So you might have like one potential surrogate, and then loads of intended parents. Yeah, and then you have to do this awkward dance where you pretend that not everybody is basically just trying to talk to the intended surrogate.

DALIA: There are like dating TV programmes like this on there as well. We're now going on a tangent but like, Millionaire Matchmaker, have you seen it?

MOHSIN: Yeah, yeah. But that's not for… you mean just for like, dating rather than…

DALIA: Dating! But the principle is the same, in the sense that everyone's there--

MOHSIN: In a room--

DALIA: In a room and you can tell--

MOHSIN: And oh, there’s one millionaire?

DALIA: And they have to try and do, like, chitchat. But actually, they're just like trying to find the [MOHSIN: I do find that so funny!] millionnaire.

MOHSIN: Absolutely.

DALIA: I actually don't know if that's the premise exactly of the programme, but it’s kind of like that.

MOHSIN: No no, I think it’s exactly the same. They all go into a room, they know who the millionaire is, and they have to pretend that they're not all trying to talk to the millionaire.

DALIA: Yeah.

MOHSIN: I mean, it's exactly the same.

DALIA: You'd be quite good at that kind of thing though. Making yourself known, at a party! [LAUGHTER]

MOHSIN: Schmoozing, “Hi!” Yeah, but I know you're right. I probably would be alright at it. But it's a bit weird, because…I don’t know, it just feels like you're like…competing. And then when you go and say hello there's like an agenda, you know? And the person who you're saying hello to knows that--

DALIA: Maybe it's quite refreshing. Like you actually, like, you know what you're all there for. There's no, there's no hiding.

MOHSIN: That's true. But it's an overt competition, right? Like you're in a room, and you're there with lots of other people and you're trying to--

DALIA: I feel like you’d thrive in this. You do like competition. [LAUGHTER]


MOHSIN: But there's also an app that's just like Tinder, but it's for people who are looking for like surrogates and sperm and eggs and stuff like that.

DALIA: What's it called?

MOHSIN: Just A Baby. So we downloaded it. And you have to swipe people!

DALIA: Oh, no.

MOHSIN: Yeah, it’s really awkward, but we've not matched with anyone, which is a real shame.

DALIA: That's a shame that no one’s matched with you.

MOHSIN: I’m putting it down to a quirk in the app, rather than-- [LAUGHTER]

DALIA: Is this a good time to tell the story about your previous experience with apps?

MOHSIN: No, [LAUGHTER] it is not a good time to tell the story of when I thought Tinder was broken!

DALIA: Because you weren't getting any matches! And not only did you think they were broken, you emailed them to ask them if there was a problem with the app!

MOHSIN: And then they send me tips on how to improve my profile! [LAUGHTER]


DALIA: I think it's really good that you've started this process, then.

MOHSIN: Genuinely, like I didn't want there to be all the pressure on your shoulders, because you might decide not to do it.

DALIA: Do you feel excited, like looking through these potential people?

MOHSIN: Um…no.

DALIA: Okay.

MOHSIN: I just found it quite daunting. And it's weird, because Matthew had the opposite experience. We watched The Surrogates TV show together, and it made him really excited, because I think it made the process less opaque for him. Whereas for me, I think it just made me a bit anxious because it just helped me identify all of the different hoops that I think we have to jump through in order to get to the point where we might actually be parents.


RUTH: Now, Mohsin gets into the technicalities. And it’s a little complex, because there are big differences in how surrogacy works in different places.

Mohsin and Dalia are based in the UK, but Mohsin knows other couples who have successfully used a surrogate in the state of California, in the US. He’s been comparing that overseas option with the system in the UK, going through the pros and cons to see which process would work better. 

MOHSIN: The most common thing to do is to use an agency. And you can do that in the States or in the UK. In California, you're allowed to undertake what's called commercial surrogacy, whereas in the UK, commercial surrogacy is outlawed. And what that means is that the surrogate can be recompensed for her time.

Now, in the UK, you can pay a surrogate for expenses, but basically, that's the biggest difference. The fees in the UK are, around total, around 40,000 pounds. The US cost is closer to 100,000 pounds, or 150,000 pounds, and in that fee around 50,000 US dollars goes to the surrogate. So the next big difference is the legal position.

RUTH: In California, intended parents using gestational surrogacy--where the surrogate is implanted with a donated egg--can apply for what is called a pre-birth parentage order.

MOHSIN: So when the baby is born, in California, from the moment it’s born, there is certainty that the child is that of the intended parents. They belong to the intended parent, and the surrogate doesn't have a right to that child.

But for the UK, as I said, the agreements have no legal force. And what that means is that when the child is born, the parent on the birth certificate is the surrogate. So in this case, it would be you and if you're married, which you are, then it would also be your husband's name on the birth certificate. Yeah. And you then have six months to apply to court to get a court order, which changes that position. But until then, technically, and formally, the child is yours and your husband's, and you have the right to refuse to grant the court order. So you could say, “No, I don't want to give the child up.”

DALIA: But equally, you could say, we don't want this child anymore.

MOHSIN: Yeah, I suppose so. I could just say, [LAUGHTER] “You know what Dalia, I’ve changed my mind, thanks very much!”. Even if it's not biologically related to you, by the way. So like, even if the child has no biological relation of yours, then you go on the birth certificate and you're responsible.

DALIA: I can't believe you would do that. How would you do that?

MOHSIN: I mean, the only reason I would possibly do that is because it would be quite funny. [LAUGHTER] To be like, “I'm so grateful to you for giving up nine months of your life to carry my child, I've now decided to go to the Bahamas. If you just hold on to him for another three weeks, that'd be great!”

DALIA: “She is crying a bit too much so I don’t think I want to take that home…”


RUTH: Now this is where you can hear Mohsin put his lawyer’s hat on.

MOHSIN: Surrogacy, whether we like it or not, it's fundamentally a legal process, right? It's a biological process, but it's also, fundamentally, a legal process. And when you look at those things in tandem, there's so much uncertainty with both those things. Like, will the child be okay, or--

DALIA: It’s so interesting for a lawyer to say, fundamentally… the statement, “Fundamentally, surrogacy is a legal process!”

MOHSIN: And a biological one! I don't mean like…but like, it's both those things, and obviously, primarily, it's a biological one. Okay, I see that you've called me out--

DALIA: Nope, I’m just gonna go with it.

MOHSIN: No, no, you called me out, and you're right to do so. But like, I think -

DALIA: For you…

MOHSIN: For me, obviously. Yeah, cause I don't have a womb. [LAUGHTER] Oh God, I feel like such an asshole now…

DALIA: But also, not a social process, or even an emotional one… Like, it's just interesting. That that's how you word it. It’s a legal process.

MOHSIN: Yeah, I think because I just always look for the things that can go wrong. And so for me, I think about biologically the things that can go wrong, and I think about legally the things that could go wrong. And, um…

DALIA: I think your personality is that you don't let yourself get excited [MOHSIN: Never.] or feel things [MOHSIN: Right.] until they're right in front of you. [MOHSIN: Yeah yeah yeah.] And even then it's like, fleeting, because then you're worrying about the next--

MOHSIN: Oh, absolutely. As soon as it’s born, I’ll be like “Oh my god I'm a dad.” And then I'll be like, “Oh my god, I'm a dad!” [LAUGHTER]

DALIA: Yes, I can imagine you not like fully embracing or allowing yourself to even maybe visualize the whole…

MOHSIN: You know, again, the complicated thing about the conversation is that I genuinely don't want you to feel any guilt or any emotional kind of…

DALIA: I feel nothing.

MOHSIN: Good, feel nothing. [LAUGHTER] Fine! But like, I think one of the reasons why I don't engage with it… I engage with it with my mind, but not with my heart, because…I think I'm worried that I want it too much. And that then it will become really hard if we can't have it, you know? And I think that's the thing that, when we're talking earlier about going to these events, and having to sell yourself. It's one thing doing that for, I don't know, for a job, or for…

DALIA: I can’t even imagine it.

MOHSIN: Even like, for like a partner. [DALIA: Yeah.] But to do it for this thing that you really, really want, and there's just no way you can have. And then to know that all of it, that you're bringing to this conversation with this stranger, all of your hopes and dreams around this one thing that could change your life is just so weird.

DALIA: I guess the thing for me is that when we first started talking about it--sorry--and like, it was me that initiated the conversation, I hadn't had a child yet.


DALIA: And that's why I think it's interesting these conversations about like, the legal grey area, and the loopholes and…not loopholes, but like the idea of like the surrogate actually, like when you really think about it. [MOHSIN: Yeah.] To me, it doesn't matter so much about whether a child is biologically related to you, because I know what that feeling of like being pregnant with a child is like, and I can…I can kind of imagine a scenario in which someone would find that very difficult.

MOHSIN: So I guess it is more complicated than just saying, “Oh, well, I'm not biologically related to this being even though I'm carrying it so I can let it go.”

DALIA: Yeah. But I think we know that right, that even if it was me that did it, I think regardless of other people's experience, I think we can probably say, quite assuredly, that I would find it hard.


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DALIA: If surrogacy seems like a good option, definitely, for you and Matthew--apart from all of the like practical things about why it might be difficult to do that with somebody you don't know--what are like…why would it be good for you to have it be someone you do know?

MOHSIN: So wouldn't just be someone we know, it would be you. And I think there is a big difference. Because you're the first person I came out to, you're like my family, you know? Okay, yeah, we're not related by blood, but you are like family to me. And I think, because you're going through a scary process, right? When you're going through… surrogacy is not straightforward, you are having to do something that is one of the most important things you're ever going to do. And you're having to try and do it with a stranger. So I think one of the reasons why having you do it would be different is because it would be less scary. And that's not to say that there aren't going to be really difficult things about it. But… I just feel like even if it goes wrong, it's okay, because I'm doing it with you.

DALIA: Don't you think it's a bit weird and a bit risky to have this conversation knowing that I've got a lot of reservations and like, don't you find it weird of me?

MOHSIN: Yeah, but it’s kind of like that's how we've always been. Whenever there's been something between us that either is happening in your life, or my life, or both, the bits where we come to life, as a kind of pair of friends, is where we explore these complications and nuances, and talk about why they're complicated, and what we each think of them, and try and convince the other. And so it's actually way more fun that you've got no idea!

DALIA: Yes it’s fun, but-- [LAUGHTER]

MOHSIN: You’re not like, “Yeah I’m gonna do this!”

DALIA: But aren’t you a bit like, “God, like of all the people who could have come forward and offered, it has to be the one who's like the least sure about even wanting to do this in the first place.”?


MOHSIN: The great thing about us being able to do this is that I know that we’ll always be honest. And I would worry with certain other people… Like, I have no doubt that when you are having a shitty time you are going to tell me, “I'm having a shitty time,” whereas I think with other people, it might be a bit more polite. [LAUGHTER]

No, I just think, that that part does work both ways because it requires trust on both sides. Like okay, yeah, I have to trust that the person wants to do it, but I also have to trust that when the person is struggling, that they're going to be able to just be entirely honest with me. And I think what I trust, is that, even if ultimately, the answer is no, that I can have a really honest and thorough conversation with you.


RUTH: As they return to the technicalities of surrogacy, it does seem that Mohsin and Dalia have reached some sort of decision.

DALIA: Essentially, when it comes down to it like, we've ruled out the US thing.


DALIA: So your option is definitely UK route.


DALIA: And preference would therefore be for it to be somebody that you know. For some of those reasons that you were talking about. And also just that emotionally and like, it would be nice to do this with.

MOHSIN: Yeah, and it's weird, because obviously, we're having this conversation and we're meant to be honest with each other, but I am torn, because I don't want you to feel emotionally blackmailed into anything. But I do think… So okay, yeah, all those things are true, right? Legal uncertainty, biological uncertainty, all that stuff. But fundamentally, I'd like to do it with you because I love you. And because this is a process that is about family. And to me, even though we're not biologically related, you are my family.


MOHSIN: So I think that's another reason why it just feels like it would be…safer. And then it would be this kind of thing that we had--and now I'm gonna let myself imagine, right--It would be this thing that we had done together, and we would always be able to be like, “Oh my God, we did that together!” Although, you basically did it. [LAUGHTER] [DALIA: I know!] I just cajoled you into it via emotional blackmail!

DALIA: I do like the idea of sending you expense receipts though. [LAUGHTER] Like at the moment, that's what’s…

MOHSIN: Five Guys! Three milkshakes! Oreo, peanut butter, chocolate!

DALIA: If I'm really being honest, at the moment, that's what I'm finding quite like, appealing.

MOHSIN: What, expensing things to me?

DALIA: But really specific small costs. [LAUGHTER]

MOHSIN: Would we set you up with like, a corporate credit card?

DALIA: Yeah!


DALIA: When we first broached surrogacy as a kind of hypothetical thing, it maybe is quite different to how I feel about the prospect now, [MOHSIN: Yeah.] which is that having gone through pregnancy, it was difficult for lots of various reasons, which we will obviously talk about.

MOHSIN: But I was there for that. And I, so I get--

DALIA: Yeah, but also like just having a child is not just the pregnancy, like just having a child at the end of it, who is going to be part of my life. Regardless of um…

MOHSIN: That's true.

DALIA: …genetic relatedness or not, like is a complicating factor. So it is a thing that I do think about a lot. But then on the other side, like…


This is gonna sound really cheesy, but recently, over the summer, we went away as a family and we were in Yorkshire and we were just having a nice time with my husband's family. And there was one evening where the three of us--me, my husband and my daughter--went for a walk. So I just thought, you know, I'm just going to hang back, and I'm going to go and walk around the block so that they can have some time on their own. And then I came back and it was so nice. I felt like I almost like, happened upon them, like in this really sweet moment, where my husband was lying down with her in the fields, playing, throwing up all the hay and stuff, and they were just looking at the horses. And it was such a cute scene of a father and his child. And often in life, life is just busy and you have all these nice moments and stuff, but you don't particularly have time to like…or I don't afford myself time to really, sit back and enjoy, just… 

MOHSIN: Yeah, appreciating something.

DALIA: …appreciating these little moments, because you're just gonna get caught up in other things. And it was just really nice having that physical distance and actually standing away from them so that they weren't aware of me, but I could see them. And it was lovely. And it was lovely for that moment. But I also… like, you did cross my mind in that moment. [MOHSIN: Really?] And I thought that, yeah, I felt I want you to have that as well. Whatever I was witnessing.

MOHSIN: Oh my god, I think I'm gonna cry.

DALIA: Are you actually?

MOHSIN: I think so.

DALIA: Don't cry.

MOHSIN: I’m trying not to cry.

DALIA: You can cry if you want.

MOHSIN: No, I'm not gonna cry.

DALIA: Do you want some tissues?

MOHSIN: No, I’ll be okay.

DALIA: I wasn’t supposed to make you cry.

MOHSIN: No, I know. But it's just, you know, it's so weird, isn't it? Because it's such a simple tale. It’s so simple what you've just said. And yet…you know how we were talking about earlier, about how I don't let myself imagine those things? But now as soon as you said it…

DALIA: But now don’t imagine it… [LAUGHTER]

MOHSIN: But it's weird because…Yeah, I don’t think I can…I think the reason I get emotional about it is because I don't think I can let myself…sit in that field with that imaginary child. Because I think that's just too scary.

DALIA: I shouldn’t bring it up then.

MOHSIN: [LAUGHTER] No no no, I'm glad you brought it up!

DALIA: But it's true, but it’s true that actually you did come into my mind. I thought like, again, there is something strong between us, that means that you somehow also factor into my story, or my experience of having my own child.

It is there in the back of my mind, so, I think that's a long winded way of saying that that is still there.


MOHSIN: Yeah. Do you think you want any more of your own?

DALIA: No, based on my experience.

MOHSIN: Based on your experience of being pregnant?

DALIA: But that's what I mean! So that's why it's still this interesting thing! [LAUGHTER] But I think, yeah, I think as someone who's come from a big family, and has got lots of siblings, I would have never imagined myself saying that.


DALIA: And my mother does constantly remind me of how I've always said since I was a child that I want like, 5, 10 children. And now I've decided I don't.

MOHSIN: Because you don't want to be pregnant again? [LAUGHTER] [DALIA: It isn’t just that, anyway!] But you’re here talking to me about being pregnant again!

DALIA: It isn’t just that! But I think it's lots of things. Like, I'm old. I started having children a lot older than I’d imagined before. There's lots of reasons why, but I think probably for now, my husband and I decided that I don't think we do want another child.

MOHSIN: So I shouldn't try and hand the child back to you if I decide that I want a holiday, and the court order hasn't gone through? [LAUGHTER]

DALIA: Exactly, exactly.

MOHSIN: Okay, fine.


RUTH: Tiny Huge Decisions is a Chalk & Blade production for APM studios. At Chalk & Blade the executive producer is Ruth Barnes, the show runner and story editor is Louise Mountain, and the producer and sound designer is Matt Nielson, with original music by Ian Chambers. At APM, the executive producer is Erica Kraus, the senior production manager is Nick Ryan, and the executives in charge are Joanne Griffith, Alex Schaffert and Chandra Kavati. With special thanks to Dalia, Mohsin and Matthew.