Kim carried a surrogate baby – so she could travel the world on maternity leave… Shocked? In this defiant interview she insists she’s just helping women – and plans to do it three more times
Kim Eldridge was 21 when she decided she wanted to see the world. Like many young people, the desire to wander before adulthood and responsibilities set in became a dream, then a fierce ambition.
Yet how to fund such an adventure? With no trust fund or wealthy parents to indulge her, it was down to Kim, from East London, to raise the money.
So she came up with a unique, highly controversial — and, some might argue, morally questionable — plan to raise the cash. She’d become a surrogate for an infertile couple and spend the year-long maternity leave, which she’d be legally entitled to just like any other parent in paid employment, travelling.
While it may sound like a fanciful idea, it is precisely what Kim, now 26, has done.
While many will disapprove or think that she is being naive, Kim, who is engaged to her girlfriend, says she has always known that she has no maternal instincts.
She is also no stranger to the concept of surrogacy: her own mother, Emma, now 50, was herself a surrogate — six times over.
Kim Eldridge (pictured today) was 21 when she decided she wanted to see the world. With no trust fund or wealthy parents to indulge her, it was down to Kim to raise the money. So she came up with a highly controversial plan to raise the cash. She’d become a surrogate for an infertile couple and spend the year-long maternity leave, which she’d be legally entitled to just like any other parent in paid employment, travelling
So, having given birth to a baby boy, via Caesarean section in March, expressing breast milk to feed him for the first six weeks and allowing time for her C-section scar to heal, Kim set off for Spain in September and intends to keep travelling until her return to work date which, after tagging on six weeks’ holiday allowance, will be next May.
And, what’s more, this is something she plans to do again and again. If the next pregnancy, like this one, ends in a Caesarean delivery, she will be restricted to having three surrogate babies.
Otherwise, she plans to have at least four. And she has no plans to leave the ‘very supportive’ railway company for whom she has worked for the past five years and sees no reason why they might not want to facilitate several more pregnancies and maternity leaves.
‘This has been years in the planning,’ says Kim, from her youth hostel in the Croatian capital of Zagreb.
‘I’m heading for Greece next, before flying home for Christmas, and then heading to Thailand in the New Year, where I aim to spend a month. I’m hoping that some other parts of Asia (currently inaccessible due to Covid) will open up. If not, then I’ll fly back to Europe and do the east part of Spain, Portugal and Morocco.
‘I just love meeting new people, other travellers and locals, eating different cuisine and that unsettled feeling you get when you arrive somewhere new.’
It’s fair to say that not everyone has been struck by Kim’s sense of enterprise.
When her story was featured on the parenting forum Mumsnet, many accused her of taking advantage of a system set up to enable mothers to spend precious time with their newborns.
And Kim’s own father was more than a little uneasy when she announced her plans.
‘I remember speaking to my dad when I first had the notion, trying to get his blessing, mentioning that I would get a full year’s maternity leave to travel and he said: ‘Is that a good enough reason to bring a life into the world?’
Kim, above, during her pregnancy. She received £12,000 in expenses from the couple for whom she carried the baby — but says that money was used for exactly that — expenses. Paying surrogates is illegal in the UK
‘Well, it’s not the only reason,’ I told him. ‘It’s just a really good benefit for me.’ ‘
And we can only guess what her employers think, though Kim stresses that her bosses and colleagues have been ‘very supportive’.
She has worked for the same unnamed railway company for five years, the past four as a signaller.
And, although she doesn’t want to discuss her salary, most earn in the region of £48,000. She is entitled to take off 26 weeks on full pay, 13 weeks on statutory maternity pay and 13 weeks unpaid maternity leave for each pregnancy.
‘There are no specific surrogacy laws in the UK. I showed my employer my MAT B1 certificate (which verifies a pregnancy and entitles a woman to maternity pay) so, just like any other woman who’s given birth, that entitles me to 52 weeks off work,’ she says.
‘I know of surrogates who don’t want to take the whole year off because they feel like they’re taking advantage or they don’t want to jeopardise their own careers, but employers simply can’t discriminate over maternity leave.
‘Pregnancy takes a huge toll on your body and your mind and however you want to spend that year off work afterwards, you should enjoy it. It’s a big sacrifice, so I’m going to be selfish for a bit.’
Kim also received £12,000 in expenses from the couple for whom she carried the baby — but says that money was used for exactly that — expenses. Paying surrogates is illegal in the UK.
She was matched with the parents through COTS (Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy) and, while they support Kim sharing her experience on social media, they have no desire to be in the limelight.
Consequently, she is fiercely protective of their privacy, but will say that the baby’s mother has blue eyes and blonde hair, just like her.
It took four attempts for Kim to conceive. Each time the couple would visit her flat on ovulation day, the man would ‘produce a sperm sample’ in her bathroom, which they would then leave her to inseminate alone, using a syringe.
Having felt wretched each time she had to tell them that she wasn’t pregnant, Kim was ecstatic to be able to break the news of her positive pregnancy test back in June 2020.
‘I called them on WhatsApp video first thing in the morning and held up the positive test stick,’ says Kim. ‘I’ll never forget the look of sheer joy on their faces.
‘I’ve kept all of the cards and notes that she (the mum) sent me. She always says there are not enough words to thank me.
‘Having visited them twice since the birth, when the baby was six weeks old and then again when he was six months old, I can see how happy he’s made them. I couldn’t be a surrogate who never had any contact with them because the whole point, for me, is creating this family and watching them grow.’
The highly unusual quid pro quo that Kim, who has a YouTube channel and calls herself ‘the travelling surrogate’, has entered into is taking some explaining to those she meets along the way.
Kim happily shows off her Caesarean scars and stretch marks, not only to fellow travellers — many of whom, due to language and cultural barriers, are utterly baffled — but also to the hundreds of followers her unique story has attracted, both on YouTube and Instagram.
‘Some of the people I’ve met have said: ‘Oh but you’ve ruined your body.’ I haven’t though. It’s changed — I’ve got stretch marks, loose skin, a big scar and my boobs hang a bit lower — but it’s not ruined.
‘I feel like I have a woman’s body now, rather than a girl’s, and I’m embracing that. I’ve created a life, regardless of the fact it’s not my baby, and my body has matured as a result of that.
Kim is pictured with the baby she delivered as a surrogate. ‘When they pulled him out of me, I felt such relief. I couldn’t see him because of the screen in front of me, but when he cried I looked at my mum, who was my birthing partner, and said: “I still don’t want kids”‘
‘Other people have said to me: ‘Oh, it’s so selfless what you’ve done. And I’m like: ‘No, it’s not! I’ve got a year off work and I’m travelling the world.’
But surely it can’t be that simple?
Carrying a baby, her first child, for nine months, going through 24 hours of labour, leading to an emergency Caesarean, after which the newborn was handed directly to his intended parents, while Kim was left to express colostrum and nurse the six-inch wound across her belly, sounds challenging enough.
Add to that the knowledge that the baby is genetically hers as she self-inseminated, using the father’s sperm, and it sounds like a recipe for significant postnatal depression.
But Kim is insistent that’s not the case. It might help that she watched her mother go through the same experience multiple times. She has been ‘fully supportive’ of Kim’s decision to follow in her footsteps.
Her mother’s only child, Kim has two older half-sisters from her father’s previous marriage and was aged five the first time her mum carried a baby which, like the ones that followed, was biologically hers, for another couple.
‘Mum loved being pregnant with me but was adamant that she only wanted one child,’ says Kim. ‘She saw an advert for the agency COTS and thought: ‘I could do that.’
‘And she got addicted to it. She’d say to me: ‘If I don’t use my egg it will just be wasted, so why not put it to good use for a woman who’s desperate for a baby?’
‘Mum had two babies for two couples, so we got to know them and see how happy it made them. It felt normal.
‘But it was confusing for other people who, seeing Mum pregnant, would congratulate her, and my dad would tell them: ‘It’s not mine.’ Then Mum would say: ‘Well, it’s not mine either.’
The only voice of dissent, back then, came from Kim’s maternal grandfather, who had been adopted and felt that carrying a child for someone else was akin to giving one up, as his biological mother had done. ‘He took a bit of educating initially,’ says Kim.
Kim insists her background made her mentally prepared for surrogacy. ‘From the moment of conception, I told myself: It’s not my baby, it’s just a bit of genetic material I’m babysitting. When the baby kicked I’d ring his mum and say “Oh my God, your baby’s going mad, he won’t sleep tonight”. I had no maternal feelings towards him.
‘When they pulled him out of me, I felt such relief. I couldn’t see him because of the screen in front of me, but when he cried I looked at my mum, who was my birthing partner, and said: “I still don’t want kids.”
‘They wrapped him up and took him into the anaesthetist’s room, where the parents were waiting, and I saw him for the first time in the recovery room, after I’d been stitched up. I asked my mum to take a picture of us all. I had no interest in the baby, but it was incredible to see how over the moon his parents were.
‘I’ve no idea how women who deliver their own babies by Caesarean are then meant to be able to look after them.’
Kim didn’t even hold the baby, to lessen the risk of any bond before the couple, first-time parents, whisked him off to his new life.
Five days later, back home and using a pump to express breastmilk every two-and-a-half hours to ensure the little boy, a nine-pounder, got the early protective and nutritional benefits, the baby blues kicked in.
‘It was like the worst PMS; very intense, very sudden. It felt like I’d been hit by a car,’ recalls Kim. ‘I phoned my mum and broke down, saying ‘I don’t feel very good’.
She came round the following day, cleaned my flat and made me a nice lunch. It only lasted a few days and wouldn’t put me off being a surrogate again but the hardest part of the whole thing was expressing milk for six weeks — I felt like a cow.’
Nevertheless, Kim is already thinking about the next baby she will carry, either for the same couple or, if they decide not to extend their family, someone else, as well as the adventures that will follow.
She will, however, wait the two years that the World Health Organisation recommends before becoming pregnant after a C-section.
Kim is hoping that her fiancee, Dilara, 24, who she started dating when she was six months pregnant and proposed to last month, will be able to take a career break to join her on her next postnatal voyage around the world.
Like Kim, Dilara has no interest in being a mum and knew all about her decision to be a surrogate and has been very supportive.
She will need to be understanding, too, as any wedding plans are likely to have to wait until after Kim has finished having babies for other people, otherwise, as a married couple, UK laws mean that Dilara’s name, like Kim’s, would initially go on the birth certificates.
The intended parents must apply through the courts for a parental order, to have the certificate changed to include their names.
Kim was in Valencia when the family court sat a couple of months ago and linked in via the video calling platform Microsoft Teams.
‘The judge said to me: ‘Thank you for your considerable contribution to this family’, a very British assessment,’ says Kim. ‘But it was moving nonetheless.’
If ever she needs grounding on her travels, Kim watches a video filmed shortly after the birth.
‘I’ve lost count of how often I’ve watched the video of the parents holding the baby for the first time,’ she says. ‘I cry every single time. It’s so beautiful.’
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