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Monday, 16 May 2022 11:28

Ukraine's surrogate mothers trapped between the frontlines

It's a job you can't quit: Carrying a child for other people. With the war raging in Ukraine, the country's large surrogacy industry has unraveled, leaving both surrogate mothers and intended parents in limbo.

Read on de.com

Camouflage-patterned sleeping bags, shelves stacked with cans, baby cribs side by side with gas masks. Shortly before the outbreak of the war, Ukraine's largest surrogacy agency, BioTexCom, published a video on its website — a tour of an air-raid shelter, accompanied by the sound of wailing sirens, where Ukrainian surrogate mothers were supposed to find refuge in the event of war. The message was clear: The pregnant women and the children they carry would be looked after.

Marina (not her real name), however, tells a different story. In early March, she gave birth to a baby in the company's air-raid shelter. It was cold and dark, and she said there was not enough food, water or medication. For three days, she didn't hear heard a word from the agency. When BioTexCom employees finally showed up, she said, they picked up the babies — but did not bring food or water.

All-inclusive surrogacy

The war has exposed the ugly face of an industry that was already considered inhumane during peacetime. Commercial surrogacy is legal in Ukraine, where, each year, an estimated 2,000 children are carried to term for foreign parents.

It's an attractive sector: transferring parenthood to foreign couples is comparatively uncomplicated. Agencies mediate between what are called intended parents and surrogate mothers. All-inclusive packages cost between €30,000 ($33,000) and €40,000. At times, the companies also offer special deals. For instance, on Black Friday last year, BioTexCom offered a 3% discount on surrogacies.

Intended parents, and surrogate mothers — the industry's terminology is concrete and harsh. It raises hopes and toys with dreams on both sides: would-be parents who have often spent years in the offices of reproductive specialists and adoption agencies, and the Ukrainian women, who earn about €15,000 to €20,000 — that's several times more than the average annual salary — for renting out their wombs and carrying a child to term.

Old contracts, new realities

The war in Ukraine, however, has thrust all parties involved into an unprecedented dilemma, facing challenges unforeseen in the surrogacy contracts. The situation raises several questions: Should the surrogate mother flee to save her life? Or to save the baby she's carrying in her belly and is not hers? What if the surrogate mother doesn't want to leave because her own family is still in the country? What if they want to stay to defend their country?

BioTexCom obtains assurances from women who flee that they will be back for the baby's birth. Since the surrogate mothers are paid in installments, the company has quite some leverage. Meanwhile, the agency is building a bunker in central Ukraine.

Susan Kersch-Kibler, founder of the agency, Delivery Dreams, hastily moved her surrogate mothers abroad but then ordered them to return to Ukraine for the delivery date. Some reports say other agencies have threatened their surrogate mothers by telling them they could face 15 years in prison if they left Ukraine.

Unintentional motherhood

Once outside Ukraine, surrogate moms face a different legal situation. In Ukraine, a woman can give birth to a child without being considered the child's mother. Until now, that meant that after the birth, the surrogate mother agreed to the paternity of the intended father. The child received a passport and could leave the country — to then be adopted by the father's partner.

However, in many of the countries currently sheltering Ukrainian refugees, a woman automatically becomes the mother of a child by giving birth. It does not matter that the surrogate mothers are not genetically related to the children they had carried. By giving birth in an EU country, they would be considered the mother of the child — a label and role they possibly never wanted.

Marko Oldenburger, who has provided legal advice to German intended parents for 10 years, suspects other reasons why some agencies want to prevent their surrogate mothers from fleeing Ukraine, such as concerns that confidential information might be leaked, the business model might come under closer scrutiny or possible financial losses.

For some surrogate mothers, fleeing is not even an option as they are too far along in their pregnancy. One agency reported that a surrogate mother whose intended parents had insisted on the implantation of two embryos — despite warnings that twin pregnancies are more often associated with health complications. It's not easy to find a woman who will take that on, and four doctors tried to discourage her, but the woman became pregnant with twins. She has been bedridden for three months, so relocating her is out of the question. The foreign parents, meanwhile, are angry that "their" mother and "their" children are not taken out of the country.

Parents track down 'their' mothers

Most of Ukraine's reproductive clinics are located in the embattled areas around Kharkiv and Kyiv. Many agency employees have fled the war zone and are difficult to reach for foreign parents, who feel abandoned and are desperate.

On social media, many intended parents are looking for their surrogate mothers, and vice versa. As far as the agencies are concerned, the two contracting parties are not supposed to be in touch. It seems many agencies are still doing their best to keep it that way.

Marina told DW she was forbidden to contact the intended parents. A friend of hers who is also a surrogate mother was tracked down by the intended parents, who made sure she was provided with food and money in the air-raid shelter with the help of a volunteer. That prompted the agency to threaten the surrogate mothers.

Meanwhile, a growing number of babies are waiting in underground infant wards to be picked up by their parents. BioTexCom currently has about 600 pregnant surrogate mothers and at least one child is born every day.

Intended parents who travel to Ukraine to save their babies from the war face closed offices and deserted embassies. They need the newborn to be documented in the birth register and be issued a passport so that they can take the baby out of the country and be recognized as legal parents. But, none of that is possible in the current situation. "So you just have nothing," says Oldenburger, adding that the parents are left with an undocumented infant.

From Kharkiv to Paris

Sometimes, parents arrange for the surrogate mother to leave Ukraine. Cyril and his partner had no more than a photo of the woman who would carry the French couple's baby. For ten years, they had yearned for a child. They considered co-parenting and adoption, then finally, a year and a half ago, they turned to a Ukrainian surrogacy agency. In December 2021, their surrogate was pregnant. Two months later, war broke out.

For two long weeks, Cyril did not hear from the agency before he finally received the surrogate mother's contact details. She asked him to help her flee Kharkiv. Cyril organized and financed her departure. The journey to Paris took a week. Cyril was careful to make sure it would not be too exhausting for her and that the baby would be safe.

Tatiana is now in Paris. She is restless and anxious because her family is still in Ukraine. Cyril has hired a lawyer to ensure that if the child is born on French soil, it will not be Tatiana's child, but his. This is entirely new legal territory for everyone involved. "We are all kind of groping in the dark here," Cyril says.

Read on de.com

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Testimonials

We have been very satisfied, I have been comfortable at the clinic and with my doctor. I was heard. I could ask any questions. I like you have hu-mor, despite the circumstances. Great clinic. Your service has been very good. You have been a huge support and very spacious. You have been available 24 hours a day. You have the answer to all the questions we have been asked. You have accommodated our nervousness, you have rejoiced with us, you have been there throughout. I could not have wished ...
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A and S
The communication with surrogate is easy and better than what we expected. The updates are provided as scheduled with occasional surprises
S
The support was great. It was easy on us that the coordination was done by the delivering dreams team while being completely transparent with us on the progress. The communication with the delivering dreams team was always fast, responsive, and easy.
E and K
Thank you kate. You have been great today and all the other days ❤ you are a great team. We are very satisfied and happy for your help.
Sonny
We were confident before in our choice, but this experience has confirmed beyond any doubt that we choose the best agency.
Doyles
I loved working with Susan and her team and highly recommend them to anyone considering her services. She's is great at every aspect of a process and knows how to handle delicate matters.
Diana Lyakhovetska
Susan truly understands the needs of parents using surrogacy, and offers comprehensive emotional support to parents as they experience the journey!
Christine Hughes Pontier
The team at Delivering Dreams is amazing! Their attention to detail and ability to put your mind at ease while growing your family is like none other. They handled everything for us, and I never once doubted they would help us accomplish our dreams.
Margaret Jones
I’ve known Susan for several years now, and I’ve always been impressed by her attention to her clients’ needs. I’ve known her to work ardently and diligently to solve whatever challenges, no matter how unique, that prevent her clients from completing their families. She is a problem-solver, and she earnestly believes in providing the best options and in making surrogacy opportunities realities: this is not merely a business for Susan. She will help customize the process for your needs and to ...
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Mary Woods
Susan has a keen sense of business and goes to the max to solve her clients’ problems. She is super knowledgeable on business, laws and how things work in surrogacy in general, and specifically on Ukrainian surrogacy. She is an advocate for transparency in a market that’s often opaque and full of hidden risks. I really enjoyed working with Susan. She really pays attention to detail and was always looking out for my best interest above all. Highly recommend!
Laurie Tham
Delivering Dreams goes above and beyond what other surrogacy agencies offer. After speaking with Susan, I see how they anticipate every part of the process, down to details that I had never even considered. I didn’t know what I didn’t know! Surrogacy can be really complicated and confusing. What an amazing sense of relief to have a company so dedicated to managing the WHOLE process and taking away as much of the stress as possible.
Kate Varness
I have gotten to know Susan through a group where we are members. I have found her to be a genuine and caring person. Her consideration for others and love of her work with Ukrainian surrogates and parents-to-be are evident in all her decision making. She is passionate about being a force for the greater good and helping where she can. I have been amazed at the way she is able to smoothly navigate the complicated maze of requirements in the surrogacy process. I am happy to give her my highest...
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Rose Anne Barbour Huck
Susan Kibler is kind.  She clearly loves those she works with and loves what she does.  Susan listens deeply and compassionately and can make you laugh all in the space of one conversation.  She is wonderful!  If you are feeling worried, she'll hear you.  If you have questions, she will find answers for you. If you need help, she does her very best to support you.  I feel so fortunate to have found her and imagine you will too.
Frances Russell
Susan has the ability to really connect on a personal level quickly.  I have found her easy to talk to and have been so grateful for her guidance.  She is one of those people who offers so much to her clients.  She sees the big picture and has a heart for the most intimate concerns.  She is highly skilled and able to manage what can certainly be challenging and uncomfortable experiences, making them feel easier.  She will take charge at the perfect times and guide you when you really need her...
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Susan Seare
The international surrogacy world is complicated. Susan Kibler knows its ins-and-outs. She knows the people and outfits you can trust and the ones to avoid. She insists on the best for her clients and handles the details so they don't have to worry about them. If you want to take the international surrogacy journey, you can trust Delivering Dreams International Surrogacy Agency to guide you on that path.
Nancy Linnerooth
My friend and I had a positive experience working with Susan. Susan is always super responsive and caring. She is very professional, helpful and reliable. My friend has soo much troubles trying having a baby for many years. My friend and her husband were about to give up their dream of having a baby. Susan Kersch Kibler found the way to help. She has unlimited energy, attentive to detail and super efficient. Great to work with!
Polina Clend
Susan is passionate about helping people become families. She is a trustworthy confidant to have on your side.
Kristen Ancker
Our experience with Delivering Dreams has been overwhelmingly positive. The team seems to be genuinely dedicated to helping us to realize our dream of having a child. The constant communication leading up to the trip and the numerous touch points made us feel comforted in what has been a very challenging and uncomfortable situation. We always had streamlined communication through the group chat and was frequently checked on during our stay.
Marilyn

Under Ukrainian law, surrogacy is a legal affordable option for traditionally married couples to have children using their own embryos, or with either an egg or sperm donor. There must be a medical reason you can’t carry a child. You are also able to participate if you have had 4 unsuccessful IVF attempts.

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Under Ukrainian law, surrogacy is a legal affordable option for traditionally married couples to have children using their own embryos, or with either an egg or sperm donor. There must be a medical reason you can’t carry a child. You are also able to participate if you have had 4 unsuccessful IVF attempts.