Part One: The Matching Process
For the last year and a half, the surrogacy process has completely absorbed our entire lives. We’ve had a lot to learn (and still do), and although my intention is to give some more insight on what we’ve experienced, it is really just one experience of many. I’m going way back to the beginning for this post, but I eventually plan to cover all the stages leading up to birth, bringing our baby home, and what life is like post-surrogacy.
For as long as I can remember, I have been aware of surrogacy. As the oldest of four girls, my entire childhood revolved around babies and fertility. I became a big sister before my second birthday, I watched my mom go through three pregnancies, and my youngest sister was born when I was nine and fully aware of what was happening. While I was growing up, my mom offered to carry a child for family friends of ours who were struggling with recurrent pregnancy loss (they ended up being able to have three children on their own), and perhaps it is because of that experience that I have always considered surrogacy to be a legitimate way for someone to have a family. I was proud of my mom for her willingness to help; even then I recognized what a gift it could be, and as a child, I decided that it was something I would want to do for someone else in the future as well. It couldn’t have been much later than that (a few short years at most, or maybe even just months) when I would find out my own ability to have children was in jeopardy, thus solidifying fertility as the crux of my whole life so far.
I’ve talked before about our journey through the first few years of infertility and a bit about what it was like to come to the realization that we would need to turn to surrogacy ourselves, so I’m not going to go into that again here. Instead, I’m skipping ahead to our first official step in the surrogacy process.
The Early Days
We started out by doing what all infertile couples do when deciding to pursue treatment: we called a fertility clinic. In July 2014, after a long and complex consultation, our new RE (or reproductive endocrinologist, for the fertile among us) agreed with the assessment of a previous doctor that my body was not in the position to carry a child. But, you can’t just walk into a clinic and sign up as a candidate for surrogacy, unless maybe you are rich and famous (of which, I am neither!).
For those lucky enough (sorry, I know no one doing IVF should really be deemed “lucky”) to be able to do either an IUI or IVF without a third party, the normal wait time between the first consultation and the first injection can be a matter of weeks. Instead, we were told that we could be anywhere from a few months to a year away from speaking with a surrogate agency, depending on how much of our lives we wanted to devote to the process of being accepted into the program.
Multiples tests were ordered to estimate whether we were capable of producing viable eggs, sperm, and embryos. We also had to be tested for a wide array of communicable diseases in order to protect our gestational carrier from the possibility of contracting something from our baby. My entire medical history was outlined in full and all of my medications were reviewed. A reproductive attorney would need to be contacted to draw up the closest thing to an enforceable contract (because the laws on surrogacy are so murky and often state or judge-dependent, we would still have to assume a certain amount of risk). We would have to involve a social worker and receive counseling, both as a couple and alongside our gestational carrier and her husband. Kyle would be subjected to an additional panel by the FDA simply because he is male and it was assumed he came with a higher “risk factor” to a gestational carrier’s health. Once he passed, we would be given 6 months to either complete a fresh embryo cycle or freeze a sperm sample for later use. If we took even just a day longer than those 6 months, he’d have to go through it all over again. Lastly, a determination of our worthiness as potential parents would need to be made, and we were required to achieve acceptance into the surrogacy program by a panel of 32 doctors and specialists based on our medical necessity.
On a time crunch to complete everything prior to Kyle starting grad school in a little over a year, we threw ourselves headfirst into the process. Several months later we had everything in line… well, everything except an actual gestational carrier.
The Surrogate Agency
If you’ve followed this blog from the beginning, you know that it was at this point we began our search for a surrogate agency. We were already waist-deep in the process, but still had a long way to go. Since the fertility clinic is an entirely separate entity, we were left with the enormous task narrowing down an agency from a nationwide list. So, after taking a short break for our we-can’t-have-children, trip-of-a-lifetime to England & Wales (it was originally booked before the door to surrogacy opened), we rallied ourselves to complete the undertaking. I decided to use a highly scientific method for this: I chose one based in a state I liked.
Only when first speaking to the agency did we begin to understand the full complexity of the surrogacy process. Prior to our first consultation, we were asked to fill out forms and questionnaires to determine whether we were appropriate candidates. Again we had to be approved before becoming clients; again we were judged based on our potential ability as parents. Objectively speaking, I understood the reasoning behind all of this, but honestly, it’s really frustrating and feels a bit degrading to be forced to prove yourself in such a way, especially considering some of the people who are able to become parents in this world.
Our first meeting was with the vice president of the agency. During our Skype call, he shared his own experience of becoming a father through surrogacy and gave us a timeline of what we could expect. The process of being matched with a gestational carrier was generally estimated to take between 3-6 months, but as a heterosexual couple living in the United States and using our own eggs & sperm, we were expected to be able to find someone in about a month. After that we would spend a few weeks waiting for a contract to be drafted and another few weeks (or more) to receive medical approval for our carrier from the fertility clinic. Before starting treatment, we would be required to have a will in place with surrogacy-specific wording. Not only would we need to make provisions for any potential child in case something happened to Kyle and I during the pregnancy, we would also need to include detailed plans for any embryos we left behind.
We answered question after question about our lives, our relationship, our families, and our expectations. He wanted to know what qualities we would look for in a gestational carrier and how involved we would want to be with the pregnancy. Would we want to go through this process anonymously? Would we be interested in staying in touch with our carrier following delivery? And then he wanted to know whether or not I was planning to fake the pregnancy. It was a question I had never even contemplated; did people really do that? We had already made the decision to start the blog (I actually wrote my first entry that night), and back then I thought that being open would help others better understand this part of our lives. I couldn’t imagine strapping on a fake belly in an attempt to fool our family and friends, I couldn’t imagine lying to a child about the beginning of his/her life, and I couldn’t imagine carrying the weight of such a secret. But that was before I knew how hostile people could be over surrogacy. I can absolutely imagine doing it all now.
By the end of that meeting, I was officially designated an “Intended Mother,” and that alone made me feel like I was going to burst with happiness– not because it meant that we were finally getting somewhere in the surrogacy process, but because it was the first time anyone had referred to me using the title of “mom” in any capacity.