Surrogate mothers could be left holding the baby because of Covid-19 rules, finds Sandra Dick.

The first cuddle and the journey home for a new life together are among the most precious first moments of parenthood.

However, couples who have spent years planning to become parents via a surrogate pregnancy are now facing the heart-breaking reality of missing priceless early moments of their baby’s life.

Social distancing rules and Covid-19 lockdown have left parents-to-be facing a nightmare scenario of not being able to be close by for their baby’s birth, and even raised the complex issue of how they might meet their precious newborn and bring them home.

Meanwhile, tight restrictions over hospital visits to maternity wards could also leave surrogate mothers facing the dilemma of having to care for the baby – with all the potential emotional conflict that might bring – or refusing to look after it at all.

It could lead to babies being handed over in car parks and laybys or, worse, placed in the care of social services or foster parents while efforts are made to unite them with their intended parents.

The situation has led to calls for social distancing rules to be relaxed so at least one intended parent can be allowed into maternity wards during the birth and throughout the baby’s hospital stay.

One Edinburgh couple awaiting the birth in August of their first child via a Sunderland-based surrogate said their hopes of being able to savour precious moments of being with their baby straight after birth have been thrown into disarray by the pandemic.

“We don’t know what will happen when baby is born,” said Kevin Doebrich, who with husband Chris Kelly has been preparing for parenthood for three-and-a-half years.

“If we are still under lockdown, we won’t be allowed to go to hospital for the birth.

“We are hearing from others who are having a baby now that what happens is very much on a case-by-case basis.

“Surrogacy is fairly rare and with everything going on in hospitals just now, it’s not a high priority.”

The couple have hired a private midwife amid hopes that their surrogate, Linder Wilkinson, 37, can have a home birth. However, if strict lockdown rules are in place, there could be a question of whether even travelling from their Edinburgh home to Sunderland to collect their baby will be outlawed.

“Everything depends on what happens with the baby nearer the time, and whether it will have to be a hospital birth,” added Chris. “We will deal with whatever the situation is. We are just looking forward to being parents.”

NHS trusts across the UK also have strict rules restricting scans, antenatal appointments and classes to just the pregnant woman, leading to concerns that intended parents are missing key moments and information related to their baby.

Instead, Chris, 40, and Kevin, 32, are relying on videos filmed by their surrogate Linder which show their baby kicking and making recordings of themselves reading stories to be played to the growing baby so it becomes aware of their voices.

“The key thing from day one has been that Linder is healthy and the baby is healthy,” added Kevin. “Missing the 20-week scan was disheartening and we were sad, but also ecstatic. We are just trying to crack on.”

Under normal circumstances, maternity wards allow intended parents to spend time in hospital after the birth enabling the surrogate – although legally the infant’s mother – to have no role in its care.

However, there are fears surrogate mothers may now feel pressured to take over caring responsibilities such as feeding, bathing and nappy changes, and to make decisions over the baby’s care while waiting to be discharged.

Linder, who has previously delivered surrogate babies to two other couples, said: “I understand the reasons for restrictions, but there is a need to make an exception.

“The baby will have two parents who are willing to look after it. I have no biological link with the baby and I’m not prepared to provide care for the baby ongoing, because it’s not right for me to do that.”

She added: “I’ve heard of surrogates having to look after the baby until they are discharged. I’ve also heard of hospitals allowing the surrogate to be discharged while a parent goes in to look after the baby until it is ready to leave, which is much better. It’s really important that Chris and Kevin can be there and have those first moments with their baby.”

There are also concerns that the legal processes which pass on full parental rights may be delayed due to Covid-19, potentially leaving families in limbo for months.

Olivia Rowlands, 31, whose womb was damaged by bowel cancer treatment which also sparked early menopause, and husband Sam, 30, from St Andrews, have also had their hopes of attending their baby’s birth thrown into confusion.

Ellie Hutchinson, 34, from Stirling, Olivia’s cousin, is due to give birth to the couple’s daughter by planned caesarean section in July.

Olivia said: “We really don’t know what will happen during the birth.

“We had hoped we could both be there – I can’t imagine not being able to see Sam’s face when our baby is born. We’re not sure if that will be possible.

“After the birth is a really tricky part. Ellie really wants Sam and I to be the ones who look after our daughter as soon as she’s born and we want this to be as easy as possible for her.

“On paper, Ellie is the legal mum. I can’t imagine the doctors saying I can’t be there and making Ellie look after the little one. We’re trying to be optimistic and positive.”

Meanwhile, couples at an earlier stage in their surrogacy journey who have invested years of planning and thousands of pounds on medical and legal procedures have also seen their dreams of parenthood stalled by a rules surrounding IVF and fertility treatment.

Stuart Young, 33, and partner Gordon Anderson, 35, are currently waiting for an egg donor. Stuart said: “We don’t really know how long a delay this will cause, we are at the mercy of the rules stopping all fertility treatment.

“Surrogacy is incredibly complicated and complex with rules and regulations that we have had to learn about.

“We had already resigned ourselves to the fact it would take a while. We just don’t want to be in our mid-to-late 40s and still be in this position.

“We would love to be parents, it’s a dream we both have and we just have to focus on what we want.”