For many couples, deciding whether or not to have a child is a matter of agreement and timing. For others, fertility and carrying a healthy pregnancy is difficult or impossible, leaving them with few options for expanding their tribe.
While adoption is an obvious, viable solution for those who are unable to conceive, some parents-to-be experience a strong desire to have a genetically related child. For these couples, surrogacy offers a ray of hope.
What is Surrogacy?
Heather Frank, Surrogate Coordinator for Surro Connections, Inc., which is headquartered in Portland, says, "Surrogacy is when a woman carries a child for a parent or parents that are unable to experience a healthy pregnancy. The surrogate undergoes IVF (in vitro fertilization) using a fertility clinic which hopefully results in a viable pregnancy." She says that many couples, or intended parents (IPs), choose surrogacy in order to have a child that is genetically related to them that they can raise from birth.
"Often, surrogacy isn't the first choice but made due to infertility or illness," says Frank who also points out that same-sex couples can utilize surrogacy as well to produce genetic offspring.
When asked what families should know about childbirth by surrogacy, Carey Flamer-Powell, founder of All Families Surrogacy in Beaverton says, "Surrogacy is not a quick process...there are many moments of 'hurry up and wait.'" But, Flamer-Powell doesn't think that should discourage IPs, offering, "What I know for sure is that it is always well worth the wait."
The process of having a child via a surrogate involves many steps in addition to the average pregnancy and birth process. Some include:
• A medical evaluation of both parents and surrogate
• A psychological consult for the parents
• Agency match and match agreement between parents and surrogate
• Legal contract process
• Starting the IVF cycle
• Judgment of parentage process
While surrogacy does come with a hefty price tag, Flamer-Powell says that there are scholarships, discounts and financing opportunities available. IPs should talk to an experienced and reputable surrogacy agency about options that might be best for them.
Finding the Right Surrogate
People are often curious about how surrogates and parents are paired. Frank says there are several ways that matches may happen. The following are three of the most common ways matches occur:
• Via an agency: Agencies match screened surrogates and IPs and help navigate the surrogacy process.
• By independent match: An independent match happens when a surrogate and IPs meet through an online or Facebook group.
• Family: Surrogates carry children for their family or close family friends.
According to Frank, except for in the case of family surrogacy, matching typically happens after both parties share their profile or general information. She says, "This process often feels like dating with all the worries and butterflies of meeting someone new."
The Surrogate/IP Relationship
One of the most common curiosities about the surrogate process is the relationship between the surrogate and the IPs during pregnancy. There are no hard and fast rules about how the relationship is developed or maintained. According to Frank, who carried and birthed twins for a couple in 2016 and is currently nine weeks along with a singleton pregnancy, every relationship is different. She says, "Some relationships are very close and foster lifelong relationships while others are less so." She believes that it is important for a surrogate to know what type of relationship they are looking for when matching. And it is equally as vital that they match with IPs that are looking for the same thing.
Similar to the relationship during pregnancy, the relationship between a surrogate and the IPs after the pregnancy varies. "Some surrogates travel to see their IPs and baby and continue contact regularly, some receive pictures, and some have no contact at all," explains Frank.
Becoming a Surrogate
Women choose to become a surrogate for a variety of reasons, including having experienced a family member or friend deal with infertility. Flamer-Powell urges women interested in becoming a surrogate to do their research. "Becoming a surrogate is a very serious commitment of your time, energy and emotions," she says. "Your spouse/partner must be one hundred percent on board, and a strong support network is required." She also urges potential surrogates to make sure that they are working for a reputable surrogacy agency.
While rules and guidelines for becoming a surrogate vary according to the agency, some in place at Surro Connections include:
• You must have previously given birth to at least one (live) child
• You are between 21 – 42 years old, and in good health
• You are a non-smoker and do not use drugs
• You are of a healthy weight with a BMI in the normal range.
• Have healthy pregnancies with no complications
• Be financially stable, and not on any form of public assistance
Did You Know? Facts about Surrogacy
In Oregon, surrogacies are subject to legal contracts that protect all parties. IPs and surrogates have their own lawyers and negotiate agreements on compensation, health and any additional details of concern.
The State of Oregon allows IPs to gain parentage rights to their children immediately through a Pre-Birth Order. This means the parents' names go on the birth certificate immediately as parents of the child. This is not the case in many other states where surrogacy is illegal or does not support parentage.