Jessika and Bryan Hane, with their daughter Grace, born via surrogate
Many women of my generation are starting a family later than, perhaps, our mothers did. And it is often a challenge to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy for a variety of reasons. The gestational surrogacy option lets you have your own biological child, safely carried and delivered by a woman that already had a healthy pregnancy. If you are serious about pursuing surrogacy, whether as an intended parent or a woman looking to help others and your family, it is not a subject taken lightly and should certainly be researched well beyond this article. Here I simply would like to give you the important facts you can start with, with the help of Zara Griswold, founder of Family Source Consultants. Zara has gone through her own surrogacy experience as an intended parent, following a hysterectomy, and is now a happy mom of twins. The agency averages 65 yearly matches for surrogates and intended parents and 25 are currently pregnant. I also spoke both with a current surrogate, Ronda Lane, and with Jessika Hane, a mom who has been through the process with a surrogate who delivered their baby Grace – the adorable face you see in this picture.
Gestational vs. Traditional Surrogacy
First, let me explain that there are two types of surrogacies – gestational and traditional. Traditional surrogacy is done with the surrogate using her own egg and another man’s sperm. Gestational surrogacy is done via In Vitro Fertilization, with fertilized eggs from the family and/or Egg Donor implanted into the surrogate’s uterus. With the surrogate using her own egg, there is a higher risk of maternal attachment. For this reason, many surrogate agencies do not work with traditional surrogates. Zara Griswold from Family Source Consultants insists “it’s not often that a traditional surrogate changes her mind – they are going into this to help someone else have a child. While the child may be her’s biologically, it’s very uncommon for someone to change their mind.” Her agency focuses on gestational surrogates because, as she says “it’s a legal risk we wouldn’t want to take, and also, in Illinois, where the agency is located, traditional surrogacy is treated like an adoption. A traditional surrogate would have 72 hours post-birth before she can sign off on the paperwork, so it is treated exactly like an adoption.”
What motivates the intended parent
For Jessika Hane, an Indiana mom of a little girl born via surrogacy in April 2013, surrogacy seemed the best option to have a child biologically related to her husband. Due to a genetic heart defect, she knew she could not use her eggs or carry a pregnancy. Though Jessika knew people who adopted successfully, she felt surrogacy would be the best option to have a child related to her and her husband. Jessika stayed very involved during the pregnancy seeing her surrogate, Sam, who lived 5 hours away, four times and learned to text frequently. This open communication line has been a great source of comfort and confidence for her during their surrogate’s pregnancy and labor.
What motivates the surrogate
Financial advantage aside, there are many positives to a surrogate experience.
Ronda Lane, a current surrogate in Illinois carrying twins for a family in France, went into the process with a desire to do good. She was adopted at 10 years old, her parents divorced and remarried, adding in a lot of brothers and sisters. That desire to give somebody the joy of having a family pushed her to become a surrogate. She already has two kids of her own, 3 & 11. Ronda knew about her adoption at a young age and was lucky to meet her biological mother. She always wanted to adopt or foster a child, give something back to another child or family. Surrogacy gave her that opportunity. Ronda said it was nice to see her kids interacting with the intended family and that gave her the confidence they’d be great parents. Though she’s had her share of challenges, including a divorce (just prior to becoming a surrogate) and a house fire, she is happy to be doing this, to give the joy of having a child, a family.
It’s also a good idea for the surrogates to check with their own families, to make sure they are accepting of the surrogacy project. In Ronda’s case, since she was newly single, she asked her son’s permission and shared the decision with her dad, and everyone was supportive of her decision.
The timeline of a Surrogacy project
From beginning to end, the average time is 15 to 18 months – from the time intended parents are matched to having a baby. “The matching process for our agency is 3-4 months”, says Zara Griswold, “They will sign up, they will be matched within that time frame. Average time from match to embryo transfer is 3 months and then if it works the first time, you got a pregnancy. If it does not work on the first try, they will try again 2-3 months later.” Of course, if there is a need to find an egg donor, this process may take longer.
For Ronda Lane, the starting process took about 4 months – from signing up with the agency in January to the embryo transfer in April.
Jessika Hane started the process early – it took them a year to find a match and 16 months to go through legal and transfer process. They used an egg donor and her husband’s sperm and worked through Fertility Centers of Illinois, which took 8 months. She says that using a consultant (Family Source Consultants) helped in identifying a perfect surrogate. Jessika says it was very important to her family that the surrogate has been through this experience already and was able to walk them through the process. She felt lucky that they found a perfect match in their surrogate Sam.
The Matching process
Intended parents have to complete a very thorough application, criminal background and other checks. Similar process applies to a surrogate, who also has to submit her medical records and be medically cleared by her OB. The surrogate must have carried, delivered naturally and be raising at least one child of her own. Once the checks are completed and the family and surrogate meet, they have to make sure it’s a good personal match, that it’s a good fit.
Having an open line of communication is a very important part of the surrogacy process. Ronda Lane, being pregnant with the twins for an international family, keeps in touch via Skype, email and a text messaging program called Communicate. Parents also came up for a visit from France recently. To alleviate any worries and reduce future invasive testing, Ronda recommends having the embryos tested prior to transfer, as the intended parents did in her case. Ronda says it’s important to know what kind of people the intended parents are, how they feel about parenting, and she was thrilled with the family she was matched with.
The Cost of Surrogacy
Zara Griswold broke down these numbers for me. The surrogate’s compensation is between $25,000 to $30,000. The entire process for the intended parents is $75,000 to $100,000. It includes legal, medical, and screening compensation and surrogate expenses, among other fees. It also depends if they need an egg donor, which will then be more costly, adding $12,000 to $20,000. The agency also assists with the insurance but tries to work with surrogates that have the insurance already available to use for the pregnancy. Surrogacy is pricey, but so are fertility treatments. And unexpected expenses may come up, as with any pregnancy, says Jessika Hane.
If you’re comparing these costs to adoptions, the latter are often less expensive – depending if you do it privately or through an agency – and can be as little as $1,000 to as much as $50,000, with international adoptions being more costly. Of course, the reason many are pursuing surrogacy over adoption is a chance to have their biological child, which is possible with the implantation of their own embryo to a surrogate.
Surrogates can use the compensation for several things, suggests Zara –
“for kids to go to college, to buy their first home, or it often will allow for a woman to stay home with her children rather than going back to work”.
Surrogacy and Single families
Family Source Consultants, as do many agencies, don’t discriminate – they work with single moms or dads, heterosexual couples and same sex couples. “From our agency’s perspective”, commented Zara Griswold, “if somebody wants to be a parent, they passed all the screenings, and they can financially go through this process, then they should be able to have a child through surrogacy.” Keep in mind, the intended parent chooses a surrogate and the surrogate chooses the parent(s) – they have to mutually agree to work together. A few examples Zara offered – some surrogates may not be willing to work with the same sex couples or may not be willing to work with a single person, or work with an international couple, while other surrogates might be very open to anything as long as long as they feel comfortable with a couple or a person.
“It has to be mutual and everyone has to feel it’s a good fit”.
In Illinois there is a Gestational Surrogacy act of 2005, so the laws for both surrogates and intended parents are very defined. Zara explains that the intended parents can do a pre-birth order, so when the baby is born, both parents’ names can go directly on the birth certificate:
“They don’t have to go to court, all the paperwork is taken care of and done – they are officially parents as soon as the baby is born.”
There are a handful of other states that do the same thing – Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Arkansas, to name a few. Surrogate mothers are not required to reside within the state according to this law, however they must give birth in the state (Illinois in this example) for the law to be in effect. There are states that don’t have the pre-birth order, and even though the paperwork may be a little different, it is still doable. There are states that don’t have surrogacy laws – Michigan being the strictest, but also Louisiana, Oklahoma and New York. Zara says it’s not so much that surrogacy is not allowed but compensated surrogacy is considered a felony, so you can still be a surrogate in those states as long as you’re NOT paid. Someone may be doing it for a friend or family member willing to do without compensation, then it will be OK. “There is legislation in the works to make changes in that area in New York”, says Griswold, “so it may not come as a surprise if surrogacy is legal and regulated just like it is in Illinois within a year or so.”
Biggest Misconception about Surrogacy
As with adoptions, people may be concerned that a surrogate mother will change her mind or form a maternal attachment to the baby she’s carrying. That’s the most common question people ask that don’t know about surrogacy. Zara Griswold says “we have to explain that a surrogate knows it’s not her baby and she knows that, going into it, it’s not her baby and, the moment she gets pregnant, it’s not her baby and she never finds that maternal attachment. Legally she couldn’t keep the baby because it’s not an adoption and it’s not her biological child anyway.”
Dealing with a Surrogate Miscarriage
As long as the doctor feels it was not through any fault of hers – there wasn’t anything wrong with her, she didn’t do anything she wasn’t supposed to do to cause it, then they would most likely try again a few months later – try another embryo transfer and hope they would have better luck. Frozen embryos are kept indefinitely – some a few years, some 5 or longer.
There are a few surrogates that have completed the process a second and sometimes a third time. If somebody has a good experience and they enjoy the process, it’s not uncommon that they will do it again – sometimes it will be for another family, or it could be a sibling project for the same family. If the intended parent had one child and they would like to have another baby, it’s not uncommon that a surrogate will be willing to do this again for them, to have a sibling. If the first family feels that they are complete, if a surrogate wants to do it again, they will just do it for another family. The agency also has surrogates that do it one time – they do something they’ve always wanted to do – helping someone have a child. As long as the OB clears the surrogate, they are medically OK to have another pregnancy.
Many surrogates keep in touch with the family. Although it depends on the location – it might be different states or even countries. Between the Skype and email and internet, the intended parents are definitely in communication throughout the process, they are involved as much as the surrogate will allow them to be, they want to go through this as a team. The intended parents want to share the experience as much as possible – things like the baby’s first kick, seeing the ultrasounds, being included as much as possible. They will want to be there for the birth. The vast majority of surrogates and intended parents stay in touch, and a lot of people become very good friends, and still stay in touch. “It’s not because the surrogate feels it’s her child”, says Griswold, “it’s just nice to hear from the family about the joys they’ve had with this baby.”
Jessika Hane says their surrogate Sam is now a friend. She says she’ll always be a part of her daughter Grace’s life. They constantly stay in touch via email and holiday cards.
Thoughts to Leave you With
There is always a need for surrogates, for women who enjoy pregnancy and have had healthy uncomplicated pregnancy and deliveries. There are a lot of intended parents who are waiting to be matched. Zara says “It’s a wonderful thing to do to match somebody but also for the surrogate to help herself and her own family with the compensation. We consider it a win/win.”
“Why we are so passionate about surrogacy is all parties we feel will benefit from it – parents are blessed with a child and the surrogate is given opportunities that are life changing and also to help her own family. It ends up being a very positive thing for everybody.”
It’s not just financial, it is something very rewarding. “We have had many if not all surrogates say (from post-delivery follow-up) it’s the most incredible thing they’ve ever done in their lives – next to having their own children – they couldn’t wait. They’ve always envisioned what it would be like for parents to hold their baby for the first time – and it was even more extraordinary than they’ve imagined – an incredibly rewarding experience. It’s something we wish more people would consider.”
Jessika Hane agrees it was an incredibly rewarding experience and the family already has a sibling surrogacy project in the works. She say it’s very important to do your research – whether you start with an agency (Family Source Consultants FAQ page will answer many of your questions) or go on your own fact-finding mission. Going through an agency saves a lot of time and heartache but it’s important to do your research – whether you are a parent intending on finding a surrogate for your future baby or a woman interested in being a surrogate.