Saturday, May 15, 2010

Traditional Surrogacy- An interview with Alison

Before I started this blog a few months ago, I was under the impression that surrogacy is very rare or even illegal in most places.  I've been fortunate enough to "meet" so many people through this blog and my facebook page, and I discovered that surrogacy is far more common than I ever imagined.  Previously, my only exposure to the concept was through sensationalized media stories.  I've enjoyed getting to learn more about it from real people that are generous enough to let me pick their brains endlessly.  Obviously, no one can speak for the entire surrogacy community, but I hope that this interview and the ones that will follow will perhaps satisfy some curiosity as it has for me, and hopefully foster some understanding for a topic that is sometimes taboo.  Today we're 'interviewing' Alison, a traditional surrogate.  Read on:

My name is Alison and I am soon-to-be 27 year old stay at home mom to twin seven year old boys and a five year old girl. I am married to my husband of eight years, and we live in Portland, Oregon. I have a blog that is mainly about surrogacy, though I write about things to do with my family as well.

What are the types of surrogacy, and which have you been? Did you look for IP's that wanted a certain type, or were you open to either way depending on what they wanted/needed?

There are two types of surrogacy. Gestational surrogacy is where the surrogate has no genetic relation to the child. So, either the IP's sperm and egg are used, or they use donor sperm and/or egg, or use a donor embryo basically. Gestational surrogacy requires IVF to be done for pregnancy to occur.

Traditional surrogacy is where the surrogate is the egg donor herself. The IPs then use either the sperm from the intended father, if there is one, or they use donor sperm. Traditional surrogates can become pregnant via home inseminations or doctor assisted inseminations (intracervical or intrauterine). 

When looking for IPs for my first journey, I was open to either. My first IPs just happened to want a TS. When looking for IPs for my second journey, I specifically wanted to be a TS again. I had decided I didn't want to be a GS because I didn't want to attend the numerous appointments, inject my body with the medications, and so on.

How did you decide to become a surrogate?

When my husband and I began living together, I decided to stop taking my birth control but I didn't quite feel ready to TTC (try to conceive). I looked into charting and quickly came across a message board for women that were avoiding pregnancy and also trying for a baby. In joining that forum, I came across hundreds of women with a wide range of infertility issues. I became close with some of them. And when my husband and I were ready to try for a baby, we achieved pregnancy relatively quickly. Here I was pregnant with twins and some people from that forum whom I had bonded with, were still struggling to conceive or suffering through numerous miscarriages. Knowing how many people infertility affected was upsetting to me. I told my husband during my pregnancy with our twins that one day I would help these people, I would become an egg donor most likely. Years later after the birth of our daughter, I decided to look into surrogacy as I enjoyed pregnancy so much.

What things did you consider while making your decision final?

I read everything I could find online. I read blogs written by both surrogates and intended parents. I perused forums that were specifically for surrogates and egg donors. I had a pretty good grasp from the get go that this was a serious issue. This was about creating a child for another couple. This was a big deal! While I read everything I could, I also laid awake at night and thinking quite a bit. Could I really handle this? What was I really getting myself into? Ultimately, I went on my gut feeling that I could do this and after many talks, my husband was fully supportive (a MUST!).

How did you explain things to your children, family, and friends? How did they react?

My children would probably tell you that most mom's do this. They were ages 3, 5 and 5 when I delivered my first surrogate son. They paid little attention during the pregnancy, though. This time around, they are ages 5, 7 and 7 and they happily tell anyone that listens that the baby in my belly is for (my IP's names). I don't anticipate any issues following this birth either. They don't seem to care much this time around that I am pregnant, there's no bond between them and the unborn baby.

Most of my family and friends have been accepting of my choice and supportive. My husband and I did have a few issues with two family members making it known that they were not supportive, that they felt we were making a poor decision, and why waste our (my) time helping other couples. Once I became pregnant with my first surrogate son, they were supportive and I think after the birth, they realized what an awesome thing surrogacy is and that the couple was blessed to have a child but we were blessed as well to have gone through such a wonderful experience.

How did you and the intended parents find one another?

My first IPs and I found one another via an agency that we both happened to submit applications through. My second IPs and I found one another on Facebook via a surrogacy support group!

What kinds of things did you and the intended parents talk about in order to determine compatibility?

The absolute musts for a surrogacy: views on selective reduction/abortion, what to do in case of multiples, what both parties seek during the pregnancy and post-birth as far as contact and such, compensation (if any), how the financial aspects (health insurance, life insurance, etc.) will be handled, what to do in case of birth defects (and specifically what defects, will the IPs want testing of any kind, and so on).
You of course cover the vital things, but unless this is treated like a business relationship, you should take the time you see appropriate to develop a friendship or see if that is possible. Just seeing if your personalities mesh basically.

How much "control" did they have over your pregnancy and birth? Did you compromise on anything for them, or did you do things your way?

This is something we talked about prior to pregnancy, so once we were pregnant, we were on the same page. This current journey, my IPs and myself are on the same page on most everything possible, even right down to the issue of circumcision (which is their decision, but I personally do not want to "match" with IPs that want to circumcise their son). I also prefer to breastfeed my surrogate babies at birth, if possible, so when my current IPs said they wanted the same thing, I was thrilled! I can't think of anything I've compromised on this pregnancy. If this were my own child, this pregnancy would have played out the same.

Let's talk worst case scenarios: What happens if something unexpected comes up? A birth defect, multiple babies, etc. What kinds of agreements did you have in place in case of anything like that?

Again, this is something we talked about prior to officially "matching" and before the contract phase of our journey, of course. Many contracts have a stipulation that the surrogate and/or IPs not talk about the nitty gritty from their contract with others. But I will say that my views on selective reduction and termination are the same views that my IPs have.

Is it legal for an intended family to change their mind and not take the baby? What would you do if that ever happened?

As I tell people, in most any state in the US, surrogacy contracts hold little ground in a courtroom. Yes, they are important to a journey, but when it boils down to an issue such as this, most judges will toss the contract aside and decide what they think is best for the child regardless of what the contract states (usually, not always!).
Legally my IPs could change their minds, yes. The idea of it is so foreign to me that it's hard to say what we (my husband and I) would do. My immediate reaction is that we would care for the child until we found a family to adopt him or her. We are done having children and even a surrogate baby, I cannot see us taking him or her in permanently. I would do everything within my power to find him or her a loving home with awesome parents, though.

Is it legal for a surrogate mother to change her mind and keep the baby? Could anything ever happen that would make you do that?

It depends on where the child is born usually. In my state, I could change my mind, yes. My contract states that if I did so, I would have to pay back every last penny (including any expenses my IPs incurred for this journey). They could file a lawsuit and use the contract against me and most likely get a judge to put the suit through. But I could keep the child if I wanted, yes.

It would take a LOT for me to even entertain the idea of this. In fact, if something horrible came up, like one or both IPs were child molesters, then I would go to my attorney to get his advice. Depending on the circumstances, I would probably adopt the child out to a loving family.

How do you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for birthing a baby and then being separated? How did it feel once you were living it?

I felt quite prepared before my first surrogacy journey even began. But I of course still questioned myself, worried that I was fooling myself, worried I would have this strong bond and feel like I was losing a child. Deep down, I didn't feel that would be the case, but I questioned myself left and right as I wanted to be SURE.
Upon the birth of my first surro son, I sat there in the hospital, watching him nurse at my breast. It felt as though I were his nanny or his aunt. I tried to will myself into thinking he was my son, but I just didn't feel that bond for him as I did when I had my own babies.

Were the intended parents present for the birth?

My first journey my IPs were not present, no. Due to a few factors, they were waiting until the last moment to buy plane tickets. I ended up going into labor at 38 weeks and gave birth, so I took care of their son while waiting on them to arrive.
This journey my IPs will arrive a bit early, and I anticipate it'll be before the birth of their son.

What was it like immediately after you had the baby and in the few days afterward? Was baby immediately handed to the intended parents or did you spend some time together?

Since my first IPs weren't there the first time around, I took complete care of my surro son for nearly the first two days of his life. I breastfed him, changed his diapers and so on. My IPs preferred I do this and have him co-sleep with me vs. going to the nursery (which I preferred as well!).

This journey I hope that the mom of this little one will be the first to hold him. We will be in the hospital for a few days, so the mom will room in with me while we both care for him (they also want me to breastfeed).

Did you have an arrangement to breastfeed or pump for the baby?

I breastfeed while in the hospital with the baby. For my first journey, my IPs decided they didn't want the milk (they didn't trust it to be shipped so far and to make it and still be good). So, I pumped and donated my milk to a few local families - one where the mother had a low supply, the rest were families who had adopted their children.

What were the agreements made about contact afterwards? Have they been upheld?

My first journey my IPs promised photos every month, and a continued friendship (which I felt we had, though maybe not as close as I had envisioned prior to beginning a surrogacy journey). And with that continued friendship it would include communicating pretty often, just not as often as during the pregnancy, via email and such. I will be honest, those promises were not kept. We do keep in touch, but we email maybe once every 1-3 months at most. I've lost a desire to try to keep the friendship going. The photos are few and far between as well.

For this journey, the feeling is much different. I have total faith that the contact will keep up, that they will treat me with love and respect as they say that they will (they've already been extremely considerate, just above and beyond anything I imagined). I have NO fears that our friendship will disappear or that the photos and such promised will not happen.

What kinds of feelings do you have towards the child now?

For my first surrogate son, the photos that I do get - I am always so amazed by how much he's grown, what a little man he's turning into now. It feels like a friend's child and nothing more. I look at him lovingly and am so glad that I was allowed to help in bringing him into this world. I wish I received more photos, but I am thrilled for what I do get as well.

How do you feel about it all now? Was it better or worse than you imagined it would be? Any regrets or things you would change?

No regrets! I would not change a thing. Every step of both journeys, whether good or bad, have taught me quite a bit. It's not always easy (the contract phase, the attorneys, the nitty gritty that isn't so fun to talk about!). But it's all worth it.

Do you plan to be a surrogate again? Why or why not? If so, have you thought about how many more times you might do it?

I obviously am a surrogate again. My initial plan was to do this once, but I felt the desire to help another couple after I had my first surro son. This time around, I think I could be done after the birth of this little one, but I've been asked to have a sibling for this one eventually - so I admit that I will most likely do this again, yes!

How do things like insurance coverage work? Are you responsible for any costs, or do the intended parents cover it all?

I didn't have maternity coverage going into this journey. So, my IPs purchased a plan for me. They cover all costs (monthly bill, deductible).

How much do you get paid, and how do you come to that agreement?

That's another thing that technically I am not supposed to "broadcast" publicly. I will say that when my old doctor seriously asked if I "made" $100,000, I quickly corrected him and said I don't receive even one quarter of that. And when people even hear that the average first time surro may get $20,000, I remind them that that isn't a lot when it boils down to it. It's a couple of dollars per hour if you just average it out for the length of a pregnancy, not even counting what comes prior to becoming pregnancy in a surrogacy!
As for how that agreement is made. I had an idea in my head both times (from reading about other's base fees) as to what I wanted to request. Both journeys I did change that number when finally matching and I have no regrets whatsoever.

If strangers comment on your pregnancy, do you mention anything about being a surrogate? What kinds of reactions have you gotten?

It depends on where I am. If it's a grocery store and not a cashier I see often, then I won't say anything. But if it's a stranger I see often, like a regular cashier at the store I normally grocery shop at, I will briefly mention that it's a surrogacy if he or she shows interest. I don't go around telling many people. For instance, the teachers at my kids school know and a couple of parents (that I talk with regularly) know, but that is it. I am sure I'll get some interesting looks and reactions when I go to get my kids from school one day with no belly and no baby.

Most of the time the people that I do tell think that it's a great thing that I am doing. I've yet to receive a negative reaction. And some people have a lot of questions, which if I have the time, I will happily stop and answer what I can.

What goes into the "process" that most people might not realize?

The contract phase. A lot of contracts are anywhere between 12 and 40 pages on average. Contracts cover most everything possible. And the attorneys that help both parties review them. It can be a bit grueling. My first journey, we agreed on everything before beginning the contract and yet the phase (getting it written, reading through it with our attorneys, changing whatever necessary, submitting it back for the other party to read through yet again, etc.) took 4 months. It was frustrating. As most involved with surrogacy will tell anyone, surrogacy is a big game of hurry up and.. wait.

What kinds of misperceptions do you think people tend to have about surrogacy and/or you as a person for doing it, and what would you like to clear up?

I think more and more it's becoming obvious that LEGIT surrogates do not have intercourse in order to achieve a pregnancy. But I still have the random person asking me if I had sex with someone to become pregnant with this baby. As I tell anyone, most surrogates and IPs will be the first ones to stand up and say that if intercourse is used as a method of conception - it is NOT a surrogacy. Even if the intent is for the birth mother to give the child up, it is still not a surrogacy. Surrogates become pregnant through more than one way, yes. Intrauterine insemination (IUI) or invitro fertilization (IVF). It is a very intimate process, yes, but intercourse does not occur in a surrogacy situation (to create a surrogate child).

Alison and J (Intended Mother) at the baby shower

Blessed with Three Blog:
Twitter: @surromama2


Lindsay said...

so nice, and very interesting, as I only know Gestational Surrogates. I am seriously considering being a surrogate when my husband and I are done having children... if i'm fresh enough then! Although in Canada, traditional surrogacy is not allowed, the IP's have to use an egg that belongs to them, (whether biologically theirs, or purchased from a donor bank) ... unless they changed the law recently...

choice_spirit said...

Very interesting! I can't wait for followup blogs on this issue.

My Beauty Blog said...

I could SO see myself doing this! I don't know how my body will react to being pregnant, so I'll DEFINITELY be considering this after I've made some babies of my own. :)

Amanda said...

I don't anticipate that my opinion will be popular but I would suggest to anyone to read "The Primal Wound" by Nancy Verrier or any recent Infant Mental Health research (I highly recommend Gaensbauer's research). While carrying a child for a couple who cannot have children may be wonderful for that couple, women need to know what the child will experience when seperated from her in order to make an informed decision on something like this.

I am not intending to be insensitive to infertile couples; however, I'd hope when considering if something like this is right or wrong we'd put the focus on what's best for children and not what we perceive is insulting to couples. I was adopted because of infertility and I am more than sensitive to my mother who suffered in silence for 25 years about not being able to bear biological children and speak about her pain and who is just now finding some validation. I have one son but have also struggled with fertility problems for years and lost a very-wanted pregnancy myself very recently.

But as a child seperated from the mother who carried her, I feel loss from that too.

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