Taita-Taveta Woman Representative Joyce Wanjala Lay stunned the National Assembly with an account of her personal experience with surrogate motherhood.
During a debate on the In-Vitro Fertilization Bill, Ms Lay gave an emotional speech on the frustrations she went through when she had to use a surrogate mother to give birth to her only child.
She had to use a surrogate mother after a series of complications that compelled doctors to surgically remove her womb through a process known as hysterectomy. As a result, she was unable to give birth.
She later gave more details in an interview with the Nation.
“I wasn’t born barren. I was a young mother at the age of nineteen. I have been through the pain of giving birth; it is only that I lost my son when he was two years old. This time, it is only that I had to be assisted so that I can get another child,” she said.
Since she had her ovaries intact, friends advised that she should get a surrogate mother to carry her baby for her.
The process of identifying a surrogate mother and beginning the IVF procedure kicked off in 2009 and Ms Lay was lucky to have her best friend offer to be the surrogate mother of her child, for free.
“She and her husband agreed that she would carry my baby and so were both put under treatment. As we went through counselling at the clinic, the doctor kept telling us that sometimes 52 per cent get successful at their first trial and there are some people who have tried up to 15 times,” she recalled.
Ms Lay and the surrogate mother got into a legal agreement with clear-cut conditions: Ms Lay would take good care of her and that she would hand over the baby to Ms Lay as soon as she gave birth.
“Every trial costs money. Our first trial was very successful. It was the best news in years. I thank God that I did not have any problems with the surrogate mother. We made sure that she was very well taken care of and she attended all the hospital visits. I was there to make sure that she was comfortable,” she says.
People who did not understand what went on had so many questions. “Did you bring another woman to sleep with your husband?” they asked. Even her church was very concerned.
Ms Lay was handed her son immediately after he was born, and that is when the real problem started.
According to law, the woman who gives birth is strictly the one whose name appears on the birth certificate.
There is simply no law that provides for unique cases such as surrogate motherhood.
“Even as much as we had a signed agreement between me and the surrogate mother before a lawyer, that could not help,” she says.
The hospital had no choice but to put the surrogate mother’s name in the birth notification. Lawyers advised Ms Lay that the only way out was to formally adopt her own child from the surrogate mother.
“We had to go through the adoption case and since it was a unique case, maybe that is the reason why it took too long.
“It was not until last year — four years later — that we were given a go-ahead to get a birth certificate for my baby,” she says.
The entire IVF procedure and lengthy court process cost Ms Lay about Sh1 million. But the cost was nothing compared to the excruciating four-year wait to legally have her son.
“It is a painful wait. You have a child, but legally, that child does not belong to you,” she explains.
It is the reason why Ms Lay and other female MPs, including the sponsor, Ms Millie Odhiambo, want the In-Vitro Fertilization Bill passed to streamline the process.
“If we regulate IVF, then the cost of IVF will go down and we will make sure that the government puts an IVF unit in every county,” she says
Currently, only expensive private facilities offer IVF. It is even costlier if one enlists a surrogate mother who will need to be taken care of and in some cases, paid for carrying the baby.
“We are hoping to get support in the National Assembly because surrogacy and IVF is happening in Kenya.
“It is not that we are introducing a new thing; it is already happening. There are so many couples flocking fertility clinics. If it is happening, why can’t we regulate it?” asks Ms Lay.
She says the law would prevent people abusing and commercialising the process.
“There are women who opt for surrogacy and go through the back door, instead of going to give birth in a hospital where everything is transparent. They opt to go to a backstreet clinics where they can easily pay to make sure that the names on the birth certificate are of the genetic parents,” she says.
Ms Lay tells women who cannot give birth that there is absolutely no shame in not being able to conceive and give birth. She says one is not less of a woman just because she cannot give birth. Women must embrace technology if that is what it takes to make them happy, she adds.
“I remember when I was running for this seat, there were opponents that would use this against me and say: “How can you vote for a woman who cannot give birth? Who cannot even carry her own baby?” Who doesn’t know the pain of giving birth?” she recalls.
Is IVF something she is going to try again?
“Definitely. I want to do it again. Maybe a baby girl this time,” she says.