A selfless Sutton mum has given birth to five surrogate babies in seven years – along with three children of her own.
Lou Smith was inspired to become a surrogate mum after she and her husband Michael struggled to conceive their third child.
The 49-year-old says: “When I was trying to get pregnant with my third child, Connor, it was really difficult and took more than a year.
“I know I already had my other two children, but I really wanted another child. It was awful.
“I just thought ‘it’s terrible not to be able to have children at all’.”
After doing some research she signed up to be a surrogate through an official website and began to look for a couple she could help.
Lou says: “I looked into egg donation first, but IVF is very expensive and doesn’t always work, so I looked into surrogacy instead.
“Michael was really supportive, I couldn’t have done it without him really.”
After deciding to become a surrogate, Lou had to explain to her own children, Sharon, now aged 31, 27-year-old Emily, and Connor, 23, what she would be doing.
She says: “The children were quite young at the time, so I told them I was going to let another couple use my tummy to have their baby, because their tummy was broken.
“I just put it in simple terms and they didn’t think anything of it – it was normal for them.”
“Now they’re older and they understand more, they are quite proud of me I think.”
Lou then had her first surrogate baby, named Nathan by his parents in 2002.
She says: “It was great to be able to hand him over to his parents. The pain just disappeared and the look on their faces when they saw their baby was just amazing.
“It’s not difficult to give them up, because it’s giving someone else some happiness.
“I’ve got it in my head from the start that it’s not my baby, even if it is my eggs. I had my own children already.”
Lou was a surrogate mum for a second time to baby Alicia in 2003 and then in 2008 gave birth to a baby boy, christened Cory.
She then had another two girls, Anna-Maria in 2009 and Lilliana in 2011.
Lou says it was important to have a “bond” with the couples she chose to be a surrogate for.
She says: “It’s a bit like dating really. You’ve got to have a bond, because they are going to be there throughout the whole pregnancy.”
She is still in contact with some of the families – with some sending her photographs of them growing up and visiting.
Lou says Anna-Maria, whose parents are two gay men, calls Lou her “tummy mummy” and visited to give her a Mother’s Day card earlier this year.
Lou says: “It’s amazing to see them grow up – and I do sometimes check to see if they look like me.
“Anna-Maria is ever such a great girl and she’s had a wonderful life with her dads.”
Many women suffer during pregnancy with aches, pains and tiredness, not to mention morning sickness, but Lou says she loves being pregnant and nothing beats the feeling of giving the gift of life as a surrogate mum.
“I loved being pregnant, she says. “I did have some morning sickness, but otherwise I was really healthy and felt really good, so I was lucky.”
But Lou’s desire to help people has not stopped at surrogacy.
She worked as nurse and is now a full-time foster carer and takes in teenagers, something she has being doing for 11 years now.
“My best friend is a foster carer and she got me into it,” Lou says.
“The children she had were just lovely so I thought I’d give it a try.
“I think I am quite a caring person – although dealing with teenagers can be tough and some of them have had difficult lives.
But she says it is incredibly rewarding.
“I do enjoy it,” says Lou,” and hopefully I can help in some way. Lots of them are still in touch too and it’s nice to see how they are getting on now.”
Lou says she is happy she has been able to help so many people achieve their dream of having children.
“Some of them wouldn’t have been able to have children without surrogacy, so I’m glad I’ve been able to help,” she says.
“Some people donate blood, but I’ve donated my eggs and womb.
“It’s just the ultimate thing I could do, it’s just a marvellous feeling.”