While surrogacy was recorded back in biblical times, today the process involves many moving parts. To help navigate the journey—and avoid some of the pitfalls along the way—it helps to select an agency based on experience, expertise and personality. And once a match has been made, a new journey begins, often linking very different communities that can create profound changes.
Stuart Bell is co-owner of the surrogacy agency, Growing Generations, and also serves as co-chair of the Honorary Board of the American Fertility Association. He has been involved in LGBT issues for most of his career.
Traditional surrogacy was obviously the first surrogacy that happened, and it was even written about in the Bible. And that’s where, you know, through either usually artificial insemination in the modern world, they would take sperm from the man and inseminate the woman, using her own egg. And so she was the genetic half, you know, parent to the offspring. And then probably about 20 years ago is when the advent of the egg donor really started to take place, and the IVF process.
I think when looking at an agency, there’s experience, expertise, and personality are kind of the most important things. So experience—you know, there’s no barrier to entry in opening up a surrogacy agency. We’re not regulated. So anyone can say, “I own a surrogacy agency.” So you want to look at what’s their experience, how many cases have they done. You want to make sure that their business is solid.
So the first thing is you’re going to receive the profile, and it’s about 18 pages long, and it’s very detailed. It has essay questions of why the surrogate wants to be a surrogate, what her family life is like, what her work life is like; her husband, if she’s married; her children. It’ll go into great detail on, you know, personal issues, health issues. And you’ll see photos of her with her family. And so generally, that in and of itself, is enough for people to say, “Wow, I really like her. I’d like to meet her.” And then we would set up what we call is a match meeting. And at the match meeting, we’re going to facilitate, usually about 60 to 90 minutes, where part of it’s an introduction, part of it is talking about the relationship and expectations. Part of it is talking about the medical issues related to this. And then part of it’s talking about the legal, and kind of next steps of where they go after that. So about 60 to 90 minutes with us, and then we’ll send them off to have coffee or lunch without us. So that first meeting’s usually about four hours. And it’s hard to imagine, when you haven’t done it yourself. But it almost always results in both sides saying, “Yes, we want to work together.”
Well, I think for most people going into surrogacy, one of the biggest fears is—will she keep the baby? And in our program, and we’ve got over 1,300 babies, and we’ve been doing this, you know, 19 years, that’s never even been an issue we’ve had to worry about. We’ve never had a surrogate even raise her hand a little bit and say, “This is something I’m thinking about.” Another big concern is diet, drugs, drinking. You know, they are scared that, will the surrogate provide the same environment they would want provided. And the answer is yes. You know, we’ve never had a surrogate that we’ve felt has done anything to damage or harm a pregnancy, from the standpoint of diet, or drinking, or drugs, or anything like that. These are women who are serious about this. And they’re going through a lot, for someone that initially, they don’t even know.
So after that, and it’s really up to the intended parent how involved they want to be. The surrogate will have her medical appointments pretty much calendared out for the rest of the pregnancy. So some clients will go to appointments. If you’re not gonna be that involved, we do recommend you go to at least one, and usually that’s the 18 to 20 week ultrasound. And that’s a really great one, because it’s very obviously a baby then, and also you can tell the gender, generally. And on that trip, we’ll also set up a hospital visit, so we’ll set you up with the social worker, and they’ll walk you through the hospital, introduce you around—so that you feel comfortable when you get that call.
I think for most people, in the hospital, there’s just a lot of sharing going on. You know, you realize that the surrogate doesn’t want your baby. But you don’t need to shut her out, either. Often, her kids will come up, hold the baby, meet the baby. And we think that’s really positive, because you know, they know that this baby lived inside their mom, and now is going home with their dad or two dads. And so it’s an opportunity for everyone to kind of say thank you, and say goodbye. And then how the relationship goes after that is really up to the individuals.
But the lives that that baby and that surrogate have also touched are so extraordinary, you know—her children, her children’s friends, her family, her hometown. You know, many of our clients are from large, urban areas where being a gay parent nowadays is not as big a deal. But most of our surrogates are not. There may be no other gay parents in their town. And this is introducing, you know, smaller areas that gay people wouldn’t necessarily flock to, to a world that they wouldn’t see without this surrogate. And so it really is touching hundreds and hundreds of lives throughout the process.
But at the end of the day, you know, the best advice I can give is just enjoy as much of the process as you can—every single victory. You know, sometimes I’ll have people who’ll be like, “Ooh, I’m scared to celebrate that we got a positive blood test.” And I’m like, “No, celebrate it.” “But what if it’s not a heartbeat when we do the ultrasound?” “Well, then you’ll deal with that then.” But every single milestone you have, celebrate it. This is your pregnancy, and it may be the only one you ever have. So you know, this is an experience that may never repeat itself. So enjoy it, and celebrate it.