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This book is a moving real-life account of one woman's struggle with infertility and her journey through surrogacy to have the family she desperately wanted.

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Britain

Surfing for surrogates

A couple desperately seek a surrogate mother to have a child

 

by Jon Stock The Week October 7, 2003

Nikki and Bobby Bains have tried everything to have a child. They have undergone five expensive in vitro fertilisation treatments, had their home exorcised of evil spirits, eaten cloves, been visited by blind babajis, sprinkled Chinese lemon-grass oil around their house, sought the advice of astrologers, and converted to vegetarianism. All attempts, so far, have been futile. After years of heartache, the Sikh couple, who live in Ilford, near London, are now looking for a surrogate mother in India to help them have the child they so desperately want, preferably using Nikki's eggs and Bobby's sperm, or, if that fails, using donated eggs.

Nikki and Bobby Bains (in pic) have spent the past year looking for a surrogate mother in Britain and have not been bothered whether that person is "pink, purple or green," so long as Nikki's eggs are used.

Nikki, 38, and Bobby, 39, are second generation British Asians. Their parents moved from Hoshiarpur in Punjab to Britain in the 1960s. They have spent the past year looking for a surrogate mother in Britain and have not been bothered whether that person is "pink, purple or green", so long as Nikki's eggs are used. If, however, there is a problem with Nikki's eggs (which is a possibility), they want the surrogate who will donate her own eggs to be Indian and to share Nikki's fair skin and petite physique (she is only 4ft 7in, and weighs 44kg). That either means a British Asian or, more likely, someone living in India. "We are desperate for a baby and have tried to find a surrogate in this country, but have been repeatedly disappointed," says Nikki. "We are still searching, but we think we could find someone in India."

In Britain, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has outlawed payments, but a surrogate is allowed to be reimbursed for a minimum of £10,000 "expenses". However, if a suitable surrogate is found on the subcontinent, where the HFEA has no jurisdiction, they are willing to pay her for carrying their child. It is a contentious issue, but Bobby and Nikki confirmed to The Week that, after discussing the individual's needs, they would be prepared to pay an annual salary of about £3,000 from the start of treatment to when the baby is handed over.

"We could give thousands to a Harley Street doctor and have more fertility treatment that doesn't work, or we could give thousands to an Indian woman and set her up for life," says Bobby, an engineer in the leisure industry. "But we hope that whoever comes forward is not just doing it for the money. They must want in their hearts to help us."

To assist their search for someone suitable, Bobby has set up a Web site, www.oneinsix.com, a reference to the statistical chance of a couple experiencing fertility problems. They have also placed advertisements in the Delhi and Chandigarh editions of an Indian newspaper.

So far, they have had more than 2,000 replies. "People have contacted us from all over India, places such as Hyderabad and Ahmedabad," Bobby says. "And it hasn't just been about the money. We've had mothers offer their services for free."

That hasn't always been the case during their search in Britain. One potential British Asian started to quibble over the expenses and it soon became clear she was only in it for the money. "It started off well," recalls Nikki. "She was very nice and we got on, but then she asked for more money and we decided to back out."

At present, they are considering two possible surrogates in Britain, one Asian and one white, but they are also expanding their searches in India. Quite how Bobby and Nikki have managed to maintain their morale over the past few years is anyone's guess. "My wife is especially good with babies and would make the perfect mum," says Bobby. "How she has coped without one and kept a lid on her emotions is fantastic." For Nikki, her fertility problems are the latest in a long line of unlucky health compli-cations, including eczema, allergies to strawberries and air conditioning, and hay fever. Furthermore, she is skin-sensitive to tomatoes, onions, pineapples, and has a bad reaction to antibiotics. Unusually, and more seriously, she and Bobby are also both celiacs, a predominantly western condition. Celiacs are unable to digest gluten protein and are allergic to certain foods, including wheat, barley and rye. "Foods we have to avoid range from pizza, sausages, breads to Kit-Kats and all stops in between," says Bobby. "Don't ask what we do eat!" In Nikki's case, she was diagnosed very late in life, in 1997, two years after she got married. (It was Bobby, diagnosed 25 years earlier, who asked her one day whether she too might be a celiac.) Nikki had stopped growing when she was 12 years old and, by continuing to eat wheat, her body did not absorb nutrients.

Bobby has set up a Web site, www.oneinsix.com  a reference to the statistical chance of a couple experiencing fertility problems. Advertisements in the Delhi and Chandigarh editions of an Indian paper have got them more than 2,000 replies.

She had also developed rickets, through lack of vitamins, and suffered from bulimia (the food would just sit in her stomach, undigested). As Bobby describes in graphic detail on the Web site, her legs had to be straightened out, a process which involved "removing large portions of both her inner thigh bones, clamps, frames, plaster, crutches, the lot. She lived in hospitals for periods of three months at a time and the hollowed out areas of her thighs and scars running the whole length, she just would not wear a bikini on our honeymoon! Even now, she is unable to sit cross-legged or hold them apart wide enough for any gynaecologist."

The jokey reference to bikinis offers a clue to how this couple have survived their ordeal. They clearly have a very healthy sense of humour, something which shines through on their upbeat and informative Web site (expenses for surrogates are described as "packing and shipping" costs). The publicity that their story has recently generated in Britain, too, has kept them going. "It's given us a real focus, and some renewed momentum," says Bobby.

The interest hasn't all been positive, however. Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, recently said: "There is always a sense of exploitation with surrogacy, once you scratch beneath the surface. It is understandable that people want to have babies who match their ethnic origin, but how many Asian babies are there who could be adopted?"

Bobby and Nikki were prepared for such criticisms when they extended their search to India. What is harder to cope with is the financial costs of trying to have children. Between them, they earn approximately £37,000 a year (she works as a personal assistant for a leading law firm), which is below average for a couple working in London (the average single person's salary in the capital is £32,000). Each course of IVF treatment has cost them about £3,000Ña large amount for anyone, but particularly for Nikki and Bobby. The "salary" for a surrogate will be another big cost to bear. "We've had to make a lot of sacrifices in our lives," says Nikki. "We've cut right back on all treats such as holidays." It's a sentiment echoed by Bobby. "Our priorities have changed. We can no longer afford the time nor money to really enjoy ourselves the way 'ordinary' couples do. Our standard of living has really dropped. Tens of thousands [of pounds] that could have been spent on home improvements and luxuries are being channelled into this black hole of endless IVF costs, with no guarantee of success."

But it is the emotional cost that will ultimately limit how long they can keep trying for a child. They are not getting any younger and they have set a target date of 2005 to have a child. "We put on a brave smile whenever we visit relatives," Bobby writes on the Web site.

"We play with their kids and pretend everything is all right. And as the years go by, the gulf between us and everybody else maybe developing into us retreating into our shells or 'Look daddy, those are the people who can't have babies' and red faces all around. We only hope our prayers are answered and we will get there in the end."

Bobby and Nikki can be emailed at home@oneinsix.com

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