Broken baby making machines: Restricting surrogacy through unequal maternity rights
At the tender age of 15 Jane Kassim discovered that she was born without a womb and that she would never become pregnant with her own child. Now aged 30, married, and wanting to have her own family, her cousin Amy Bellamy volunteered last year to become her surrogate.
Last month Amy gave birth to twins, Isla Jane and Iva May, after they were conceived through IVF using Jane’s fertilised eggs. Overcome with happiness, Jane thanked her cousin for giving her the most wonderful gift in the world.
Like every new mother, Jane equipped herself for the aftermath of the birth – sleep deprivation, learning to care for twins and routine changes. To adapt to motherhood many women take a career break with paid maternity leave. But unlike birth mothers commissioning surrogate mothers are not entitled to the same maternity rights.
Jane, a teaching assistant, was shocked to discover this loophole in the law. As a commissioning surrogate mother Jane is only entitled to 13 weeks of unpaid parental leave – meanwhile birth mothers in the UK are entitled to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave and statutory maternity pay – what a vast and unjust disparity.
Surely maternity rights should not just be a bonus for birth mothers who have fulfilled their biological duty in producing the next generation. Neither should maternity rights reflect the emotional nor physical pain birth mothers experience as incubators for 9 months, when commissioning surrogate mothers often experience the same levels of emotions.
It seems to me that rather than embracing all forms of motherhood, birth motherhood is the only model of motherhood valued by ‘the big society’. As a result women, who are unable to conform to society’s model of motherhood, will find their rights as mothers restricted. Surely this is another example of societies attempt to control women’s reproductive decisions – and a further instance of societies attempt to regulate parenthood and restrict surrogacy. After all the lack of equal maternity rights will discourage childless women who are less well-off from fulfilling their dream of having a family. Surrogacy will become, if not already, a practice for the rich and child-less.
Maternity rights should be available for all mothers. Such rights should be regarded as an opportunity for mothers to bond with their children, learn to care for them and provide them with a good start in life, all of which is beneficial for society. Understandably Jane argued that 13 weeks unpaid parental leave is just not enough time for her to bond with her two daughters.
But what about Isla Jane and Iva May’s right to bond with their mother? 13 weeks post-birth is just not enough time for Isla Jane and Iva May to bond with their mother. Maternity rights are imperative for all children, not just children who have been pushed from the womb of their primary carer. Maternity rights facilitate vital bonding time between mother and child post-birth, which can affect children’s progress and development later in life. Children born from surrogates are as precious as any other children and they deserve their basic rights to a relationship with their mother and a family. Unfortunately, children are voiceless in an adult society which fails to represent children’s rights.
In an attempt to bring outdated legislation up to date with societal changes, Labour MP John Healy, former Shadow Health Secretary, introduced a bill last Tuesday to bring maternity rights in to line for commissioning surrogate mothers. The issue reached the European Court of Justice when another commissioning surrogate mother sued her employer for failing to provide her with the same maternity rights as other mothers.
If the European Court of Justice decides later this year that British laws do not comply with European Union directives, Britain could be forced to change its laws. Let’s hope the law is changed, as Jane is not the first and she will certainly not be the last commissioning surrogate mother to be frustrated by the lack of equal maternity rights.
It’s unfair enough for a woman to be denied a natural right to carry a child, but then to be denied the same maternity rights as birth mothers – rights created by man – is absurd. For what it’s worth, I would be in favour of making a legislative change to allow commissioning surrogate mothers the same maternity rights as birth mothers.Tagged in: Amy Bellamy, birth, children, IVF, Jane Kassim, John Healy, maternity, motherhood, surrogacy
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