WHEN Sarah Szmaglik gave birth to baby Olivia on St David's Day this year, it made real the distant dream of a hitherto childless couple she met two years earlier.

Olivia's arrival was the culmination of Ms Szmaglik's decision, reached over several years, to offer to be a host surrogate mum for someone who could not have a child themselves.

The 29-year-old from Thornwell, Chepstow, herself a mother-of-two, is modest about her role in helping bring Olivia into the world.

But for the Midlands-based husband and wife for whom she carried and delivered Olivia following an IVF (in vitro fertilisation) procedure called fresh embryo transfer, she has changed their lives.

"Sometimes I look at Olivia and can't quite believe we are parents. It's amazing and Sarah is an incredible person," said Olivia's mum Jenny (surname withheld).

"We will have known Sarah for three years next March and feel so lucky - she has changed our lives."

Jenny and her husband, who does not wish to be named, met Ms Szmaglik through voluntary surrogacy organisation COTS (Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy), which provides support, advice, and contact opportunities for surrogates and intended parents. 

Ms Szmaglik, who runs her own mobile hairdressing business Precious Hair, joined COTS after having her two sons, Preston and Louis, now aged 10 and five years respectively.

A mental seed planted by her mother - who told her several years earlier about the UK's first surrogate mum Kim Cotton - had flowered into a determination to if possible, help someone else into parenthood.

Through COTS' initially anonymised system, would-be surrogate mums choose which intended parents they wish to meet, based on having read their details. 

After Ms Szmaglik met Jenny and her husband, they spent three months getting to know each other before the mutual decision was made to go ahead.

Ms Szmaglik miscarried following a first IVF (in vitro fertilisation) procedure carried out using frozen embryos that had been created using Jenny's eggs and her husband's sperm. Devastated but undeterred, they tried again several months later through a different method, with Olivia the joyful result.

"I knew I couldn't carry a baby (Jenny was born without a womb) but as I have ovaries and eggs, surrogacy was an option - the baby would be mine," said Jenny.

"The early miscarriage was devastating. It's not easy to think of putting someone else through that, but Sarah was determined to try again if we were, and Olivia could not have been in safer hands for nine months. 

"Family and close friends knew we were trying surrogacy, and when I tell people at baby groups about Olivia and Sarah, they think it's amazing.

"There's a big misconception that women become surrogates for money, but it has never been about that, and we are truly blessed to have met such a generous person."

Ms Szmaglik spoke to the Argus last February, shortly before the birth, as she wished to help raise awareness of surrogacy and the positive impact it can have.

Now Olivia's godmother, she says hers has been "a very happy and positive experience."

When Olivia, who has the middle name Sarah, arrived on March 1 at the Royal Gwent Hospital with her parents in attendance, it was "a special moment." 

"The hospital deserves a mention because everyone there was excellent. They don't get surrogate births very often, mine was the first for around 10 years, but they made everyone comfortable," said Ms Szmaglik.

"I feel a close bond with Olivia, but it's more as if she were my niece.

"When she was born she felt very special to me, but not in a maternal way and that's how it should be. I just helped her into the world."


*A NEWLY-published landmark report on surrogacy in the UK reveals that like Sarah Szmaglik, the vast majority of women here who undertake to be surrogate mums do so from a desire to help others become parents, rather than for financial gain.

The report - Surrogacy in the UK: Myth busting and reform - states that it is a common misconception that money is at the heart of most surrogacy arrangements.

It also found that the vast majority of Britons wishing to pursue surrogacy do so in the UK, not abroad.

And it also reveals overwhelming support for legal reform, to ensure that the welfare and interests of surrogate-born children are the primary concern, to remove uncertainty over parenthood, and to broaden access to surrogacy.

The report was written by Dr Kirsty Horsey, a specialist in surrogacy and the law, in conjunction with Surrogacy UK, a voluntary organisation run by surrogates and intended parents. It includes the results of a survey on people's experiences of surrogacy that attracted more than 430 responses.

It concludes that overwhelmingly in the UK, "surrogacy is a relationship, not a transaction" and that any legal reform must reflect that fundamental finding.