Britain's Biggest Surrogate Mom: 10 Babies and Counting

PHOTO: Jill Hawkins, surrogate mother, speaks on Daybreak TV program in London, England in this Oct. 22, 2010 file photo.Ken McKay/Rex/Rex USA
Jill Hawkins, surrogate mother, speaks on 'Daybreak' TV program in London, England in this Oct. 22, 2010 file photo.

Jill Hawkins, a single, childless 47-year-old who lives with two cats, has has given birth to eight babies and given them up to infertile couples. Now, she is expecting twins, her ninth and 10th children.

And even though the legal secretary from Brighton, England, had complications with her last pregnancy and has been treated for depression and once threatened suicide, she wants to give birth twice more before she turns 50.

Medical experts say that Hawkins would have been rejected by any surrogacy clinic in the United States because of her age, multiple pregnancies and the fact that she has never had a child of her own.

They say they are shocked that any doctor would permit her to continue.

"Three is a lot," said Karen Synesiou, director of the Center for Surrogate Parenting, the largest such organization in the United States, which helped David Furnish and Elton John become parents.

"I cannot imagine in my wildest dreams why anyone has a psychological reason for doing this eight, nine, 10 times," she said.

"We begin to ask significant questions. Is she a healthy person psychologically?"

In the United States, laws on surrogacy vary from state to state in an industry whose guidelines are set by reproductive endocrinologists and fertility clinics.

No exact data exist on how many babies are born via surrogacy each year, but estimates range from about 750 to 1,400 births. About twice as many surrogacies are attempted and fail, according to a 2009 report in the New York Times.

Couples in Britain, with its national health care system, have fewer choices when it comes to gestational surrogacy, according to Synesiou.

Surrogates are paid less, and if they change their minds and decide to keep the baby, archaic laws do not favor the couple, even if they are the biological parents.

Hawkins is being paid about $18,000 for her pregnancy. In the U.S., she might receive as much as $100,000.

For an infertile couple for whom IVF has not worked, "they either work with this lady or never have a child," she said.

"Couples are forced to make really bad decisions because the system is flawed," Synesiou said. "But these couples make a decision with a risk."

The risks increase as a woman ages, and with the number of pregnancies and Caesarean sections.

Hawkins will give birth to twins in mid-August, three weeks before her 48th birthday. So far, ultrasound scans show everything is normal, but she has said she had been confined to bed rest for nausea and headaches during her eighth pregnancy. could not reach Hawkins for comment, but she told the U.K.'s Daily Mail that she had "forgotten about the terrible bits.

"I just decided to go for it again," she said. "I find being pregnant very fulfilling. … I'm a naturally giving person, and to be able to give babies away is what I do."

In the first of her seven pregnancies as a surrogate, Hawkins used her own eggs and sperm from the fathers. But for this one, she had in vitro fertilization.

The couple, a 42-year-old teacher and his 40-year-old wife, has a 9-year-old daughter but have not been able to conceive another child through IVF.

Today in the U.S. all such arrangements usually involve donor egg and donor sperm, rather than using a surrogate's own eggs.

Hawkins told the Daily Mail she agreed to help this couple because he looked like actor Kevin Costner. Hawkins invented a boyfriend and then told her bosses the baby died, encouraging her co-workers to send sympathy cards and flowers, according to the Daily Mail.

"There is something wrong with this woman, and she needs intense therapy," said Synesiou.

Hawkins said her depression was caused by battles with her weight and not the pregnancies. Instead of dating, she has said she chooses to get pregnant and is paid about $18,000 for each surrogacy agreement.

"Sometimes pregnancy comes out of depression and with hormone balances, some women use pregnancy as a way to get high," said Synesiou. "It's not a health thing for her, and sooner or later, she will be forced to stop."

Another British woman, Carole Horlock, has given birth to more babies through surrogacy than Hawkins. She has delivered 12 children and now lives in France, according to the BBC.

Several medical and psychological issues would disqualify both Hawkins and Horlock from being surrogate mothers in the United States, because they have already carried too many children.

Pregnancy Too Risky for Profligate Surrogates

"This is about medical risks," said Dr. Richard Paulson, director of the USC Fertility in Los Angeles. "What that story is describing is a train wreck."

Age isn't that big a factor, although most American surrogates are in their early 40s or younger, according to Paulson. "Late 40s is a little unusual."

A woman is considered an obstetrical risk if she has delivered more than five children, putting her at risk for losing her uterus -- and perhaps the baby.

"Some have implantation problems, and are at increased risk for post-partum hemorrhage and bleeding," he said. "The uterus doesn't contract, and there is a potential for hysterectomy in that setting.

"I cannot imagine someone in the U.S. wanting a gestational surrogate who had nine prior deliveries," said Paulson.

Reproductive experts also look for gestational carriers who have already had their own children, "so there is a sense of parenthood," he said. Pregnancy is always a risk, and a woman could potentially lose her ability to have her own children.

When a woman has had more than two Caesarean sections -- often the case with the multiple births that comes with IVF -- she is at risk for a life-threatening condition known as placenta accreta.

Paulson said he had advised a couple in his practice not to use a gestational surrogate who had had three previous Caesareans.

"It can be done," said Paulson. "Most of the time, things go fine, but we expect in this day and age to have the best possible outcome. We don't want to tip the scales in the direction to make it more risky."

When a married couple decides to have a child, they take their own risks, but surrogacy is "an elective process," he said.

Synesiou agrees, citing television's Michelle Duggar, a 45-year-old with 19 children who lost a 20th child to miscarriage last year.

"No one is saying that to her," she said. "It's her own body, and a family can take all the risks it wants. But you can't take risks when you are helping someone else. You have a duty to your own children."

Synesiou said she is "personally disgusted" that a doctor would agree to perform IVF on a woman like Hawkins.

And she said her agency would have asked more questions.

"When a surrogate mom does this for the first time, we ask, 'Why are you doing this? What motivates you?'" she said. Most say they enjoy being pregnant and want to help others.

When second-time surrogates offer to have a child, they often say they want to help a couple "complete their family," said Synesiou.

"When they come back a third time, now we ask significant questions: 'What does your husband think about this? What do your children think about this? They see their mommy pregnant again and again, giving away babies each time,'" she said.

"We all know the rules. … We are very cautious," said Synesiou.

"It's not healthy," she said of Hawkins' multiple surrogacies. "It's like a drug she needs more and more."