30 years ago, Kim Cotton became the UK’s first surrogate mother. Despite considering herself ‘just an ordinary woman’, the repercussions of her ‘first’ changed history forever.
Choosing to conceive and birth a child on behalf of another couple, Kim Cotton arguably pioneered the modern acceptance of a practice that at the time was hugely controversial.
Kim’s choice met an enormous wave of public reaction – from admiration and empathy to outrage and abuse.
She tells First Women what she learned from her journey – and about how love was always her motivator.
It’s weird to think of myself as a trailblazer
Women have been doing what I did for centuries – quietly of course. My first wasn’t an achievement. All I did was give birth. I can’t compare myself to Betty Boothroyd or Sarah Outen! I’m not in the same league. These women made their difference by hard graft. I was the first… so what? I’ve just done what was natural to me.
I’m not sure I would have done what I did if I knew what would come of it
By which I mean the backlash at my first surrogacy. I truly thought it was something I could do quietly, at home. When you’re a ‘first’, the fallout is unknown. Luckily, my conviction in my choice is what got me through it. I drew on that. I knew I had done the right thing for me and that lent me the strength to endure the slagging off and the press. My strength also came from imagining the pain that women who cannot have children suffer. Compared to that, others’ opinions didn’t matter.
Make sure you really know what your abilities are
Then have confidence in them. Do a job you love. Know that as you age you will get wiser.
It’s only when you decide to give up that you know who your true supporters are
My parents had to swallow the fact I wasn’t going to be Margot Fonteyn at 17 due to my bad back. I gave up years of dance training. You get one life. Live yours. If it goes against your parents’ wishes, you have to do it. They got their lives, you deserve yours too.
Strong women burn out, strong men endure
Because women give and give and give. Men take time out for themselves and make sure that they always find that time, whatever happens. Women can be very selfless and do so much for others – which is a blessing and a curse when it comes to self-care. Men never forget themselves.
If you do manage to take time out – come back slowly
Learn how to ask for help. If you are a good listener, mind you don’t take on too much
All women have a ‘sell-by-date’
The positive side to this is that we throw ourselves into things 100%. It’s because we sense that unspoken time limit. We have to succeed and achieve a lot younger – because come a certain time, we are too old to have children, to get married, to hold a work role. We get told we can’t do it any more. Whereas men don’t.
Social media made it easier for surrogates
The more surrogacy grew, the easier it got for other surrogates because more women existed who understood the pain. No one has to feel as alone as I did. Watching how the relationships [within the surrogacy community] are facilitated by social media is phenomenal. I feel blessed to be able to read what passes between the sisterhood of surrogate mums.
I have learnt that there are lots of different types of love
And that if people don’t understand your type of love they will judge it. There’s love towards an unborn baby, the love needed to let it go, the love for your own family and to the child’s family. The love of coming home to your own children. They are all different. It’s a strange thing but seeing my surrogate twins with their parents was pure bliss – that’s the best feeling of a job well done, ever.
Most people hate something the first time it happens
Then it becomes commonplace and its suddenly ‘ok!’ There always has to be a first and society will fiercely love or hate you…then it simply becomes ‘acceptable.’
Do I have regrets?
Only that I wish I had been more academic. I still feel pretty thick sometimes.
To find out more about First Woman, Kim Cotton, visit: http://www.surrogacy.org.uk/
Interview by Deborah Willimott