Would you have a baby with your boss? Caitlin was a junior at a media company… Kate was a senior manager desperate for a child. Here they tell their story of a very modern surrogacy – with an incredible twist
- Caitlin Cotton, 28, agreed to be a surrogate for her boss Kate Postlethwaite, 37
- Kate and Caitlin met in 2018 while working in Alderney in the Channel Islands
- Kate and her husband Matt had lost two children when they turned to surrogacy
- Mother-of-two Caitlin offered to be a surrogate after a suggestion by a friend
- Little Joey, who turned one last month, is the desperately longed-for son of Kate
At least once a week Kate Postlethwaite turns to her friend Caitlin Cotton and says: ‘Can you believe we did this?’
Their shared achievement — one that Kate says still makes her catch her breath — is the baby boy they take great pleasure in cooing over as he sits cheerfully babbling on one or other of their knees.
Little Joey, who turned one last month, is the desperately longed-for son of Kate, 37, who was carried by Caitlin after she agreed to be a surrogate for her boss.
Surrogacy is, of course, nothing new. In the UK the number of parental orders transferring legal rights from a surrogate to the parents tripled from 121 in 2011 to 368 in 2018 — but it’s rare indeed to sit across the office from the woman who is carrying your baby; watching her bump grow knowing that when the pregnancy ends it’s you who will become a mother. Which is precisely what happened with Kate and Caitlin.
Caitlin Cotton, 28, (right) agreed to be a surrogate for her boss Kate Postlethwaite, 37, (left) and gave Kate her desperately longed-for son Joey (centre), who turned one last month
In 2018, Kate was the office manager at a digital media company based on Alderney in the Channel Islands, when 28-year-old Caitlin joined the team.
Alderney is a small island with a population of fewer than 2,000, so it’s not surprising that residents tend to know a little bit about everyone else.
‘It’s awful, but I knew Kate as ‘the woman who had lost the babies’,’ explains Caitlin, mum to Imogen, six, and four-year-old Max.
The babies Caitlin refers to were Kate’s two little boys: one lost in 2016 at 20 weeks into a pregnancy that was terminated after tests showed the baby was very poorly and would be born with severe health problems; the other was stillborn at 32 weeks in 2017, with doctors unable to offer any medical explanation beyond Kate and husband Matt having suffered extraordinarily bad luck.
Desperately sensitive to her new boss’s heartache, Caitlin, a mother of two in a committed and loving relationship with a local fireman, was careful not to inadvertently hurt Kate’s feelings.
‘I didn’t want to bring my children up in conversation,’ she admits. ‘I didn’t want to add to her pain.’
When Kate miscarried at 13 and a half weeks in late 2018 she vowed not to attempt to carry another baby.
‘It sounds terrible, but the moment I had the miscarriage I felt relieved,’ she explains. ‘I said to Matt I feel relieved that’s over. I can’t do that. I think surrogacy is what we have to go for.’
Kate, who was an office manager for a digital media company in Alderney in the Channel Islands, met Caitlin when she joined the team in 2018 (pictured together in the office)
Within a month of agreeing, Kate and Matt started the IVF process and created an embryo with Kate’s egg and Matt’s sperm, that was implanted inside Caitlin’s womb in May 2019
The couple went into 2019 ready to start the complex process. Banned in most European countries, surrogacy is legal in the UK, but only if you do it free of charge; expenses are covered and arrangements have to be made privately or through charitable agencies.
What’s more it is illegal for desperate parents or would-be surrogates to advertise. Not-for-profit surrogacy agencies organise social events to connect surrogates with people trying to have a baby — they’ve even developed apps through which all contact is strictly monitored.
Kate and Matt had decided to approach COTS (Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy), a not-for-profit organisation that provides a formal framework, when a mutual friend of Kate and Caitlin’s made an astonishing suggestion.
‘I was telling her one lunchtime that surrogacy was going to be a really long journey for us, and she told me to ask Caitlin,’ explains Kate. ‘I said, no, I can’t, it would be too awkward. But she kept saying I really needed to ask her.’
In fact, Caitlin had already mooted the idea of having a baby for someone else to this friend; that she’d happily do this selfless act for anyone who needed it.
Unaware of this, Kate agreed to drop Caitlin a message in her lunch break via WhatsApp asking if surrogacy was something she might consider having a conversation about.
By approaching her this way, as opposed to face-to-face, she knew it would be easy for Caitlin to shut the conversation down before it got started.
Waiting for the reply was agony, and no wonder. It’s not hard to imagine a situation like this turning very sour, especially if Caitlin felt somehow coerced into helping her boss out. Could Kate have been accused of behaving inappropriately towards a colleague?
But 12 minutes later, Caitlin sent a response that would change both women’s lives. ‘The gist of her reply,’ says Kate, ‘was yes, I want to do that.’
When they sat down in the office kitchen the following day for what Kate thought would be a tentative conversation, Caitlin produced a pile of information she’d already collected about getting things moving.
‘I realised then it wasn’t a case of if but when,’ says Kate. The idea of bringing her own child into the world, but without nine months of terror that carrying the baby herself would entail, was overwhelming.
‘When your heart’s been that badly broken you just never put it back on the line,’ she explains.
‘So when Caitlin said she would do it, I sat and cried.’
Kate (pictured with Joey) and her husband Matt had lost two children when they turned to surrogacy. A mutual friend suggested they ask Caitlin and she agreed to be a surrogate
Within a month, Kate and Matt had started the IVF process, going on to create the embryo with Kate’s egg and Matt’s sperm, that was successfully implanted inside Caitlin’s womb in May 2019.
Surrogacy, says Caitlin, only came properly onto her radar when she started working with Kate. ‘I didn’t know anyone who needed it before that.’
Speaking to me over Zoom, Kate says that had she known just how guarded Caitlin was being around her at work she would have told her to be proud of herself as a mother and the beautiful children she was raising.
‘She’s told me since that she’d wanted to offer to have a baby for me before I asked, but she didn’t want to in case she’d misread the signals.’
Kate knows their situation might seem odd on the face of it. ‘Having Caitlin as our surrogate when I’m her boss is a bit of a strange set-up,’ she says. ‘When you go through this journey, putting all your trust in the surrogate, part of that process has to be that you’re handing over the power to them.’
But it was a power that she says felt safe in Caitlin’s hands. The two of them shared an office with three other women who all knew Caitlin was carrying Kate’s baby.
As they saw each other every day at work, Kate could get regular progress reports from Caitlin and witness her bump growing.
‘There was less pressure to update Kate,’ says Caitlin. ‘It was more a natural conversation each day, when we could check in on how each other was doing.’
After losing three babies herself, and being so painfully aware that even late into pregnancy there are no guarantees it will end with a live birth, seeing Caitlin getting on with life, so relaxed about being pregnant, helped Kate cope.
‘It sounds really stupid to say this, when it was right there in front of my eyes, but I never believed it was actually going to work. Even when Caitlin was sat there with a big bump that was moving around.’
‘It was quite scary watching Caitlin’s tummy and thinking, oh my God that’s my baby in there; to see it gradually appear up the desk,’ Kate recalls.
There were no apps or agencies involved in Kate and Caitlin’s arrangement, just a huge amount of mutual trust and a simple written contract, stating that Caitlin’s expenses would be paid.
‘It all happened so fast. Matt and I had got to the stage where we knew surrogacy was the best option and suddenly I was sitting there with this amazing person who I completely trusted with our embryo and that was that. It could have gone so differently.
Kate (left) admits it might seem odd to some people, but they explained that as they saw each other at work, Kate could get progress reports from Caitlin (pictured getting a baby scan)
Joey (pictured) was born after Caitlyn’s induced delivery at full-term on February 13, 2020 – during a late-night birth experience at which Kate was present
‘I might not have trusted her to do the right things, like sleep on her side or not eat certain foods; I could have driven her round the bend because I was so fraught with anxiety the whole time; she could have had Joey and I could have thought she was trying to lay some claim on him.
For Caitlin, apart from morning sickness at the start, and some general discomfort, the pregnancy went well.
At Caitlin’s insistence, a clear-cut post-delivery plan of action felt a crucial part of the arrangement. Together they drew up a way to return to their pre-surrogacy working relationship after Joey’s birth — something they both believed at the time they could revert to.
Caitlin was worried that the postpartum hormones her body would produce would create a longing for Kate’s baby she wouldn’t be able to control. So she insisted that as soon as Joey was born he should be taken away, and that they’d all then stay apart for several months afterwards.
‘Having my own babies I know how insanely possessive I was of them. I didn’t want to see him and have that reaction.
‘And I was also concerned the baby could have some sort of familiarity with me; I was worried he might recognise my smell and realise I was producing milk.
‘I had this vision of walking in and Kate not being able to settle the baby and then me giving him a cuddle and him instantly settling on me — that would be so damaging.’
But actually, after an induced delivery at full-term on February 13, 2020, and a late-night birth experience at which Kate was present — and she says felt like watching the whole thing play out like a film — Caitlin saw Joey the following morning.
‘When he was born I was so in awe of Caitlin, and then the midwife handed him to me, and said here’s your baby, and it was just incredible,’ says Kate.
‘He’s the spitting image of the little boy we lost at 32 weeks. All night, I just kept looking at him and thinking how incredible it was that he was here.’
Meanwhile, Caitlin slept off her labours in another room, waking to a text message from Kate the following morning asking whether she’d like to see the baby after all. Caitlin says it was sheer nosiness, not longing, that saw her holding Joey soon after.
Caitlyn (right), who is a mother-of-two, was worried her postpartum hormones would give her a longing for Kate’s baby, so she insisted Joey was taken away when he was born
‘It was strange because I felt disconnected from him,’ she says. ‘I thought, oh he’s cute, but he didn’t feel like he was mine and he didn’t look like me the way my babies did. I was instantly protective of my own children but handed Joey back to Kate very easily.’
Neither Caitlin nor Kate imagined they’d spend much time together after that. At the point when the child has been delivered, and the parental order has gone through, there’s no reason for a surrogate and the parents to stay in each other’s lives.
But this is where Kate and Caitlin’s story takes a unique turn, because it was in the months after the handing over of this little boy that their friendship truly took off.
The reason is, in part, due to both their partners leaving them. Caitlin’s partner, Jordan, walked out just a week before she gave birth to Joey. They’d been together for just under two years and he insists it had nothing to do with the surrogacy.
Caitlin believes, that, even if she had thought the surrogacy could bring about the end of her relationship, she’d have gone ahead and done it anyway.
Perhaps more shocking is that six months after Joey’s birth, Kate’s husband Matt, the biological father, called time on their relationship too.
Kate doesn’t want to share the ins and outs of their split, saying only that they’d been incredibly close as a couple for the ten years they were together — and that she’s certain they will always remain close despite the break-up. He still lives close by and has the baby every other night.
‘Matt’s an incredible dad to Joey.’ says Kate. ‘Before this we lost three children back-to-back and what we went through changed us. Joey doesn’t fix that; he just changes it. Not being together is just what we both need at the moment.’
Supporting each other through their relationship break-ups has bonded Kate and Caitlin in a way that would never have happened had their partners remained on the scene after Joey’s birth.
Indeed, they’d tried socialising as two couples when Caitlin was pregnant, but it felt awkward and fractured.
‘We’re both now single mums and so we banded together, says Kate.
‘We just naturally started caring about each other. Especially when Jordan left, because I needed to step up and be there for Caitlin the way she had stepped up for me. And now, without trying, we’ve each got this other part of our family and nothing will ever take that away from us.’
Today, the two women lean on each other for emotional and practical support — each called Aunty by the other’s children, as they raise them together as an extended family.
Both adamant that the wonderful bond they share will continue long after Joey has grown up and embarked on a life of his own.
They live close to each other and are back at work now — because of some Covid-era restructuring Kate’s no longer Caitlin’s boss.
The two women supported each other after they both went through break-ups and ‘banded together’ as single mothers (both pictured with Joey)
‘We both needed to go out and have social lives and a bit of fun, so Caitlin would bring her children over and my mum would look after them so we could go out together. Before we knew it we’d become really good friends.’
Today the two mums continue to share a Covid bubble and are working from home together at Kate’s house. Alderney is just coming out of a strict lockdown, when even that bubble had to be put on hold.
The moment restrictions eased enough for them to see each other though, Caitlin was straight round to Kate’s house.
‘I don’t think Caitlin will ever realise the magnitude of what she did; of the meaning she has given to my life by putting Joey in it,’ says Kate. ‘There’s no way for me to show her what it was like before, living in such pain, compared to how it is now, having hope again.
‘I just hope that sometimes, when we’re playing with Joey, she looks over at me and sees how much I love him and thinks to herself: I did that. There’s no grand gesture I can make that will ever be enough to thank her for what she’s done.
‘But what I can offer her is my gratitude and friendship — two things I’ll gladly give to Caitlin for ever more.
‘We’re family now,’ insists Kate. ‘That’s never going to change.’
Kate and Caitlin’s story is one of five surrogate tales told in The Surrogates on BBC Three on iPlayer this Sunday.
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