It’s not an easy task for the uninitiated to have a conversation with someone who is versed and immersed in surrogacy culture (because it really is a culture, turns out) the way my wife is. I still struggle to have conversations that flow some days because there is a whole set of terms and new articles and scientific discovery that come together to generate an entire vocabulary surrounding surrogacy. Again, for the crowd that has never had a conversation about surrogacy before to sit down and ask my wife a question, there is a learning curve. And lots of explanation. I do my best to listen and soak in the information; facts, negotiable “facts,” opinions, fake news — all of it. So here is what I’ve learned over the past several months.
- There are three main ways to refer to someone carrying a baby for someone else and the terms are interchangeable: carrier, surrogate, surrogate mother. None is more correct than the others and that’s helpful to know if you hear someone use 2 or more of these when having a conversation about surrogacy.
- There are two types of surrogates: gestational and traditional. These are most definitely not interchangeable terms.
- Gestational surrogate – this surrogate is not related to the baby she is carrying; the egg and sperm come from non-family members.
- Traditional surrogate – this surrogate is related to the baby she is carrying (artificially inseminated); this term is not an intuitive one as modern surrogacy is most commonly carried out by gestational surrogates.
- The parents the child will eventually go home to are referred to as intended parents (IP’s). This term is usually abbreviated.
Note: While we’re on the topic, abbreviation usage in surrogacy conversations is a good way to gauge a participant’s level of surrogacy knowledge: the more abbreviations they use, the more advanced their knowledge is. My brain translates this to levels in a video game. Or power levels in Dragonball Z; my wife is definitely over 9000. In baseball terms, she wins home run derbies and I’m the bat boy.
- In surrogacy, matches do not start fires unless they are arsonists. Matches are people (surrogates and intended parents) and matching is the process of finding each other.
- If you hear me talk about the agency, I’m not talking about the CIA. It’s common for gestational surrogates to work with an agency. A tidy way to define this is: agencies are to surrogacy as realtors are to buying a house; you can pull off both events without one in theory, but the vast majority of people shouldn’t. There are financial, legal, moral, ethical, emotional, biological, and psychological considerations at pretty much every turn of surrogacy. Having an expert in the field is incredibly helpful. To that end, not all agencies are created equal!!! I cannot stress that enough. Whole forums exist devoted to horror stories describing downright traumatic experiences with everything from money-snatching pop-up agencies, to agencies going down in flames who just stop responding to any form of communication. It’s important to vet your agency! Plug: we are working with Gifted Journey’s and have been impressed from day one. Unbiased reviews for them can be found here.
- Surrogacy uses frozen embryos created via IVF (in vitro fertilization), a process by which eggs are fertilized by sperm outside the body.
- In vitro fertilization is performed by a reproductive endocrinologist (RE). An RE is an obstetrics or gynecology doctor (yes, an 8 years of school doctor) who specializes in:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Hypothalamic pituitary dysfunction
- A congenital adrenal hyperplasia
- Tubal factor infertility
- Male factor infertility
- In vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Fertility preservation
- Congenital uterine anomalies
- Other disorders of the female reproductive tract
- A transfer is when the frozen embryo is thawed and implanted into a surrogate.
- An amniocentesis is a test in which a needle is used to retrieve amniotic fluid from the uterus for testing. There are various reasons for doing so:
- Genetic testing is the most commonly known reason and the most controversial. We were matched based on our strong preference to not have this procedure done for this reason. There is an outlying possibility this test may be necessary in the event of the remaining reasons.
- Fetal lung testing is done via this test to check lung maturity to determine whether birth would be safe/possible.
- Diagnosing various fetal infections is a less common reason to perform this test.
- Draining excess fluid is another reason this procedure is performed.
- A well-executed surrogacy process that is safe for both parties includes a carrier agreement or surrogacy contract, many times shortened to just simply “contract.” It’s a legal agreement put together, reviewed, revised, and finalized by attorneys. It’s a contract that does its darnedest to cover every possible angle or scenario that could come up. It’s a gritty document that hopes for the best but plans thoroughly for the worst. Protects all parties.
- An egg donor is pretty self-explanatory. It’s someone that donates an egg for use in IVF. Sometimes it’s an intended parent (IP) and sometimes it’s not if those eggs are not viable.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How could you give up a baby that you carried for 9 months?! How is that different from giving up your own kid?
It’s pretty different and it all starts with mindset. We pursued this entire process with the mindset of having this child for someone else. The way that I explained it to my pre-schooler and my kindergartener is that it’s like letting someone else bake cookies in our oven. It really doesn’t feel much more complicated than that now that we are pre-heating the oven, as it were.
Do women use surrogacy just to maintain a “perfect figure”? Like Kim Kardashian?!
If tabloids can be believed, Kim Kardashian elected to pursue surrogacy because, during her second pregnancy, she had placenta accreta, a serious pregnancy condition that occurs when blood vessels and other parts of the placenta grow too deeply into the uterine wall. The risk of this condition increases with subsequent pregnancies and age. But that’s just Kim, again, at a tabloid’s face value. Do people do this? In fact, they do. This point quickly hones in on the priorities a person has. Some people value a career and image above that of creating a family naturally. Mine is not the place to pass that judgment. I’m only telling my story. In this realm, we clearly indicated on our matching preferences that we were only interested in working with cases where infertility was in play and medically demonstrated.
Why did you choose your agency?
In short, because they made us feel like human beings; people with purpose and feelings, not just numbers on a list of viable carriers. We felt like we were interacted with as creatures with souls rather than containers that were capable of carrying out a science experiment. We applied to several agencies, all of whom appeared to be very, very good in regards to marketing and branding, professional presence, positive internet review, significant traffic/use, and longevity, among others. Only one agency dared pose questions deeper than medical history and immunization records, for example. We were asked about values and morals and motives. We were interacted with on a personal level. We were catered to, again, as people with passions rather than acceptable specimens. And every interaction and policy and detail at Gifted Journey’s has only reinforced our initial assessment of our agency as being a leader in the field and an exceptional agency to partner with for this process. And the personal touches and attention to detail and genuine care for our individual case continue to be themes of our surrogacy. We could not be happier.
Can anybody be a surrogate?
It varies. Surrogacy law varies in the United States by state ranging from friendly to illegal. On top of state laws, agencies are free to impose their own requirements and restrictions on the surrogates with whom they choose to work. Things like health, financial stability, criminal record, age, and number of previous births all come into play. Applying is straightforward, but is also incredibly exhaustive. Being a surrogate leaves no room for secrets. They can be told up front when everyone is still friends or they can be told from underneath a pile of lawsuit paperwork and uncomfortable headlines where nobody is your friend because you hid something important. Bottom line: they’ll come out.
Isn’t being a surrogate easy money?
No. In case that was in any way unclear, NO, being a surrogate is not easy money. You are pregnant, you have more hormonal issues than a naturally impregnated woman does, you get to enjoy all the discomforts and risks that a typical pregnancy presents with the icing on top of a lurking lawsuit if you are not good at following instructions. Are there fees attached to surrogacy? Sure. They cover expenses and are ultimately an insurance policy in the event that something goes awry. Baby-making is no cakewalk on it’s own. Contractually-bound baby-making is not a sexy, get rich quick scheme. It’s hard, risky work.
So why do it?
Because of love.
How does matching work?
In our case, we filled out some very thorough paperwork with our personal beliefs, morals, and preferences, and then we were carefully matched based on those responses with people who aligned most closely with us. This is where a good agency is helpful and an outstanding agency excels. Our agency caters to a wide range of people interested in surrogacy for a wide range of reasons. Never once was it even suggested that we make a compromise or bend a preference that we indicated initially. We made our preferences very clear and our agency has embraced them with the utmost professionalism and respect. Have I mentioned yet how important finding the right agency is??
But don’t agencies have their own fees? What about doing this on your own?
Independent surrogacy is definitely a thing. In my opinion, it isn’t the wisest choice for most. I can’t say that it doesn’t have a place, though, because it might. The world is a messy place with more circumstances than we know. That said, all of the benefits I’ve described thus far about having an agency just aren’t there in an independent surrogacy process. Agencies do have fees, but those fees buy services that are, in my mind, invaluable. Working with a good agency is the best way to make sure that all parties involved are protected and have an advocate. Independent surrogacy may be more cost-effective and avoid what can be perceived as red tape and unnecessary process, but it opens doors to things like a higher probability of running into a legal problem (because people get weird anytime there’s a baby involved, born or otherwise) or, worst case scenario, human trafficking.
And because it was in the media so recently…
What about that surrogate who was in the news recently and they gave her so much trouble about taking home her own baby?! The poor lady!!
Hold on just a darn minute. This was a real and recent headline. The short version is that a lady became a surrogate and had a successful transfer. At an ultrasound somewhere along the way, 2 babies were found. Both babies were handed over to the intended parents. Some time after delivery and passing the babies off to their family, a picture was seen by the surrogate and the babies looked different. Like, very different. So different, that one of the babies, as it turned out, belonged to the surrogate and her husband. It’s called superfetation when a pregnant mother gets pregnant with a second and independent baby. So headlines happened, the IP’s were painted like monsters for reacting with more than some frustration, and the whole thing got very out of hand. Look, I’m gonna give my readers the benefit of the doubt that we all here know how babies are made. When a fertility specialist was asked about the specifics of this case, she said that she believed it happened because the surrogate did not follow her doctor’s orders and that “…any clinic would have warned the surrogate as to the requirement that she refrain from sexual activity.” And that really is the short version. The outcome was several lawsuits, a lot of yelling, and, if professional medical advice is to be heeded, an egregious breach of contract. The poor lady, indeed.
Sorry for the length, thanks for reading, stay tuned.
We are hoping for a Christmas miracle.