As incredible or unexpected as it may seem to you, you have found out that the only way to build the family of your dreams is either through surrogacy or adoption. You have weighed all of the pros and cons of each option and know what you want to do. And surrogacy came out on top of your list. But where to start? Everything out there, all the information, support groups, research data, websites advertising services, and clinics offering IVF packages, just leave you reeling in confusion. Don’t panic, because I am going to walk you through a typical surrogacy process that will help you organize your thoughts and move one step closer to realizing your dream of parenthood.
First, I have to say that I should never have used the word ‘typical’ because there is no such thing. We are dealing with human emotions and because each of us is unique, we have different expectations of ourselve sand of each other. So, the first thing you should do is define those expectations as they apply to you. Having a friend or family member become a gestational carrier (Not related to the baby and is impregnated via In Vitro Fertilization) for you might seem ideal at first, but what of the relationship that you are already having with this woman personally and with her own family? Are you prepared for those relationships to change and is there a fear that you will never be able to ‘repay’ such kindness? What about hiring a surrogacy agency to find you a woman who carries no baggage into your relationship, and who is focused on growing a friendship with you while carrying your baby? Would this seem less of a burden? Would you feel better helping another woman financially while she is carrying your future child in her womb? What do you expect out of this relationship (besides a baby)? Once you decide what would make you feel the most comfortable it’s time to put your plan into action.
If you are thinking of a friend or family member then you have to be prepared to tell everyone in your circle that you are looking for a surrogate and answer the question, ‘why?’. If you have someone particular in mind you have to approach her with all of the facts. She (and her family) need to be educated about just what you are asking her to do for you. This means gathering the appropriate information yourself. You need to find a reproductive attorney and make sure that surrogacy arrangements are legal in your state and if not, what your options are for proceeding with this process. You need to contact an infertility clinic and see what their requirements are regarding the qualifications of a surrogate mother. You need to locate a mental health professional who is well versed in surrogacy and perhaps arrange an initial appointment for you and your partner. Let’s not forget to talk to a financial advisor as well.
If you don’t have a friend that will be willing or able to assist you in this HUGE endeavor then you might be thinking of hiring an agency to match you with either a woman who has been a carrier in the past, or with a woman who is a mother herself and who has the desire to help someone build their family via gestational surrogacy.
I strongly suggest that you find a qualified agency and not go out on your own answering classified ads or browsing the web in order to save money. An agency will be able to guide you through the surrogacy process and recommend professionals in the infertility field to assist you each step of the way. Your surrogacy agency will know what states have the best surrogacy laws, will have an estimate of the costs involved, will point you toward a mental health professional who knows what questions to ask and is experienced in surrogacy evaluations, will suggest an attorney to draw up your contracts and, if you need a recommendation for an infertility clinic for either the embryo transfer or a satellite office to monitor your surrogate, the agency should have a list of prospects for you to contact. Remember that women who want to become surrogates are typically well educated about this process when they sign up and are accepted by the agency. They know what to expect and are prepared to move forward with Intended Parents who are a good match for them.
Once you agree to work with a surrogate mother, the next steps are to make sure she is mentally capable and medically evaluated. This is where other professionals within the field of surrogacy come in and make sure that the match is viable. Then the legal contracts can be drawn up and agreed upon. You can see here that not only do you have the agency assessing this match but attorneys, psychologists and doctors. Usually the comfort level rises after each step is completed.
If you are orchestrating this surrogacy journey on your own, and it can be done, just make sure that you don’t skip a step in order to ‘save’ time or money. Don’t download a sample contract from the web for your own personal use. Don’t skimp on the mental health evaluation. In addition, you must make sure that your choice of a surrogate has had a medical evaluation with YOUR reproductive endocrinologist and that she is a good candidate before you draw up the contracts. Have enough money to place in an escrow account held by a qualified escrow agent. Prepare for any extra financial issues such as travel, medications, hospital bills and insurance. You might even want to update your will and estate plan. After all, you are expecting a new life into your family and you want to make sure that all is in order!
The relationship with your pregnant surrogate can sometimes be challenging, and ever changing from month to month. If she doesn’t live near you then you must learn to communicate via e-mail and phone. You have to decide when the most opportune times are to plan personal visits and to keep in contact with her Ob/Gynecologist, as well as with any other professionals involved with the surrogacy process.
If you have had personal losses (miscarriages, stillbirths, or have been trying unsuccessfully for years to become pregnant) this surrogate pregnancy may be too good to believe. Try to remember that your surrogate never had a stillbirth or miscarriage, and is feeling confident and capable carrying your baby to term. She may be very upbeat and perky and, for some intended moms, that can be hard to handle. On another note, she may not want to talk on the phone or e-mail as much as you would like her to. Keep in mind that your surrogate has a life of her own, including a family demanding of her time and energy. She may seem to be avoiding your attempts to check in with her but that simply may not be the case. Make sure that your expectations regarding communication are understood before the process begins! If you do live close to her then visits may be limited to doctor appointments and the occasional lunch. Communication and shared expectation is key!
The birth of your baby is an amazing time for everyone involved. You may be expecting twins. It is possible that your surrogate will require a c-section, or she may experience an uncomplicated vaginal birth, but no matter the circumstances in your particular case, the feeling of accomplishment you all share will be beyond expression. Yes, paperwork must be completed, the birth certificate filled out and your insurance company informed, but now is also the time when you and your surrogate part ways. This may or may not be a permanent arrangement, but at the point of the baby’s birth, you will leave the hospital with your baby and your surrogate will return to her own family. This is a time for you to bond with your newest addition but don’t forget to check in with your surrogate from time to time, especially within the first six of weeks or so. Closure is important but so is gratitude, as well as maintaining your relationship (which hopefully is strong). One day your child might have questions about how he or she was brought into this world. Yes, thinking about the future and potential questions is important even now. There are several children’s books on the market that explain, in age appropriate ways, the facts of surrogacy, egg donation and adoption. There are many ways to build a family and children need to know and accept this at an early age.
Surrogacy is one way to build your family. Using an egg or sperm donor or donated embryos also add to a possibly overwhelming endeavor but if you hire experienced professionals to assist you and do your homework, surrogacy can be a very rewarding and amazing way to make your dreams of parenthood come true.
Sharon LaMothe is the Owner of LaMothe Surrogacy Consulting, an informational service geared towards the education of both Surrogates and first time Intended Parents.