Amanda Miller* longed to have a home bustling with children. But after the birth of her first child, son Asher, she was diagnosed with Asherman’s Syndrome, which prevented her from carrying subsequent pregnancies. Devastated by the news — but still desiring to have more biological children of their own — she and her husband sought the help of a surrogate to expand their family. “It was a very emotional experience for me as I was still trying to cope with the loss of the ability to carry our own child,” says Miller. “But we were hopeful and held onto the belief that we would have another child via surrogacy.”
How Does Surrogacy Work?
Today, surrogacy has become a very popular choice for couples who want to have biologically-related children. Unlike years past, the information on surrogacy is readily available and the actual surrogacy process is no longer shrouded in mystery. While the laws on surrogacy vary state by state, some states still prohibit the actual process. In fact, women who live in Nebraska, Michigan, and Louisiana can’t apply to become surrogates. Luckily, most states are surrogate-friendly in that it is legally permissible to pay another person to carry their unborn baby for them under state law. Typically, a surrogate is the same woman who has donated the egg and is carrying the baby for another person, whereas a gestational carrier is not genetically linked to the fetus.
If a couple is not familiar with the steps in seeking a surrogate, there are a few things they need to know. First, they should consult a physician to make sure that they definitely need a surrogate. “Surrogacy is an option that’s exercised if there’s a medical issue for the intended mother, such as uterus complications or heart disease problems,” says Dr. Mark Leondires, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Reproductive Medicine Centers of Excellence in Danbury. “In that case, it is simply safer for the baby to be born via someone else’s uterus.”
How Do You Find A Surrogate?
But where do prospective parents find that “someone”? Just like finding the right babysitter for your child, you simply don’t want to choose the person who will carry your child from craigslist. “Legal parentage is the most crucial issue facing individuals and couples who desire to have a child through the help of a gestational carrier,” advises Victoria Ferrara, an attorney and owner of Worldwide Surrogacy Specialists, LLC, a surrogacy matching agency in Fairfield. “A prospective parents’ best bet would be to consult with an assisted reproduction lawyer and have that lawyer represent them for the entire process.”
Armed with an attorney, Intended Parents (I.P.’s) can start their search with a reputable agency that will screen surrogates and meticulously review their medical records. The Worldwide Surrogacy Specialists, LLC, for example, even conducts background investigations and performs preliminary psychological interviews before presenting a carrier to prospective parents. But don’t expect the process to be short; it often takes over two years for couples to become parents. For the Millers, their first experience with a surrogacy specialist ended on a sour note. “The agent was very cold, very cut and dry,” says Miller. “The experience gave me an impression of surrogacy that was very different from what we eventually found.” Through a friend, they were referred to another agency, and, says Miller, “We knew immediately that they were right for us, as they were extremely compassionate and were able to guide us. That’s something that all couples truly need during this process.”
It’s also advisable for a couple to undergo a psychological evaluation before beginning the journey to parenthood. “Intended parents need to be screened to ensure that they’re emotional capable of doing this, and that everyone, including the carrier, is on the same page,” says Ferrara. Once completed, contracts should list the Intended Parents to be named as the legal parents of the baby prior to birth (otherwise known as a pre-birth order.) “It is generally recognized that the woman who delivers the baby is the mother of the child,” says Dr. Leondires. “With good legal counsel, when that child is born, the Intended Parents’ names will be on the birth certificate or pre-birth order, no questions asked.”
How Much Does Surrogacy Cost?
In addition to the heavy time investment, surrogacy also comes with a hefty price tag. The gestational carrier or surrogate can charge upwards of $20,000-$30,000 (the number can skyrocket if the surrogate is carrying twins or is located in a geographically desirable location). The average process can total around $60,000, including agency, attorney and medical fees. If the couple opts for a family member or friend to carry the fetus, the price may decrease, but Dr. Leondires warns of people offering to be carriers. “Taking shortcuts in this process, particularly with choosing the carrier, can often lead to disappointment and problems in the long run,” says Dr. Leondires.
Interestingly, a beautiful bond often develops between the carrier and the parents-to-be. As part of their job, the carrier often gives the couple updates on the pregnancy, and they might even attend ultrasounds together. “People may not realize this, but being a carrier is a real testimonial for people helping others,” says Dr. Leondires. “Not everyone can be a carrier, so those who choose this are truly doing it out of a special place in their heart.” Case in point: Miller became fast friends with her surrogate, whom she considers part of the family. “We had an immediate connection,” says Miller. “She described herself, her family and her goals the same way I would describe mine.” The women would often exchange emails, texts and chat numerous times weekly. “She made sure that she kept me as involved in the pregnancy as she could. She would tell me how she was feeling, when she felt movement or even hiccups!” states Miller, who attended her surrogate’s two sonograms and the birth.
Here’s What You Really Need To Know About Surrogacy
Despite working with a great medical and legal team — and a kind, compassionate carrier — sometimes the burden of the surrogacy process can be difficult. “Before starting down that road, surrogacy can seem so unreal and impossible,” says Miller. “And even during the process, it can be emotionally draining, stressful and filled with anxiety, even under the best circumstances.” Couples looking for support during this trying time can check out websites such as resolve.org, theafa.org, and inciid.org. These community-friendly websites are not only a wealth of resources and information, but they are also a great support for people struggling to start their own families.
Once viewed as an unlikely option, surrogacy is quickly becoming one of the most preferred methods for couples looking to start their own families. And for Miller, whose healthy twins Saoirse and Nolan were delivered almost a year ago via surrogate, surrogacy helped her achieve her dreams of a large family. “Our babies were in the NICU for 26 days as preemies,” says Miller, whose surrogate visited the Millers every week and even came to say goodbye with her own family. Once skeptical, Miller is 100% pro-surrogacy and encourages other couples to actively pursue it. “When you connect with the right people —agent, doctors, and most importantly, your surrogate — you realize that nine months is really short,” she says. “After nine months, you’ll have a lifetime of love and happiness.”