Looking for a gestational carrier is one of the most stressful, terrifying parts of surrogacy, in part because choosing the right person is the most important decision in the process. I’ve seen some say that searching for a match feels a lot like dating, but it’s so much more than that– kind of like advertising yourselves as a potential parents and hoping that someone finds you to be deserving of a child, that someone likes you enough to want to help.
Working with a good surrogate agency gives you some structure and a bit of a support system. They match surrogates and Intended Parents (IPs) based on the varying state laws and your specific preferences: how many embryos you plan to transfer at a time, how involved you’d like to be, your feelings on termination, etc. When we spoke to our agency for the first time in October 2014, they mentioned right away that Elle seemed like a good match for us. The day after our initial consultation we received a detailed profile that included her backstory, photos of her family, and information about her previous pregnancies. I will never forget opening that email, my heart was beating so fast. We read every word over the several pages that described her life and I cried when it mentioned why she was choosing to be a surrogate. I still have her profile and pictures saved in one of my folders, along with the email from the agency congratulating us when both parties agreed to the match. At the time it felt like things were moving fast– almost too fast– it was terrifying to feel the pressure of making such a life-changing decision when you have no idea what you’re doing, but matching us with Elle was the best thing our agency ever did for us.
Going through this process without an agency can save you a good bit of money, which is why so many people do it, but it also means you don’t have that same structure or support system. I’ve never worried about doing the legwork for all the coordination surrogacy takes– booking travel, scheduling appointments for two people instead of just me, staying on top of medical bills– but matching has always been one of my biggest concerns. An agency presents you with profiles of surrogates who have already been psychologically and medically screened; they’ve had background checks and are invested in the process. When you’re finding someone independently, you’re at a disadvantage– they may not know if their insurance is surrogacy-friendly or the fertility doctor might dismiss them upon seeing one small issue with a past pregnancy or delivery. Most of the screening has yet to be done, and that takes time.
In February I struck out on my own, not fully knowing what I was looking for or where I might find it. I joined a few Facebook groups for surrogates and IPs who were hoping to self-match and began checking a recommended website daily for new “ads.” It felt intimidating and strange, but so did working with an agency once. For a few weeks I watched the daily posts– mostly photos with a brief explanation of what led them to surrogacy and what they were looking for in a match. For the most part everyone was encouraging and supportive, but there was drama at times too. A few weeks into joining, a warning was posted about two women who were attempting to scam IPs by matching with multiple couples.
I didn’t think I would ever be comfortable enough to post, but eventually, as our insurance continued to keep us on hold and we were unable to make progress on the IVF side, I got tired of waiting. My first post was vague– an ad for a website that rarely used photos and didn’t include names. By the next morning, I’d received a couple replies: a woman in South Africa with a fake email address; an agency hoping they could entice us to sign up with them. I posted again, this time in a few different groups with more details and a photo of our family. Again, a couple more replies: a woman with four kids who was interested but also in communication with IPs who already had embryos and were ready to go; another who wanted to know if we were still looking but never responded to my email.
I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time. For one, it feels like everyone is already matched. Secondly, being 14-hours away from your carrier is actually relatively close in the surrogacy world. And thirdly, there are so many more IPs than there are surrogates. This is due to a few reasons: not only are there very few women who choose to do something like this but the medical clearances knock many out of the running. In addition, American surrogates are in high demand due to the surrogacy-friendly laws in many of our states. There is enough unbalance that I’ve heard some agencies are placing IPs on waiting lists.
We may also not be as high priority this time around– some women are only looking to carry for gay couples who might not have the options a straight couple does when it comes to adoption. Others only want to work with couples who don’t have children yet so they can give them the opportunity to experience parenthood. I understand this and do struggle with it as well– what if we match with someone who could have helped another couple have their first child when we have already been blessed in that way? There are so many heartbreaking posts from IPs that it is hard to close down Facebook and forget them.
Surrogacy, which is already a long and difficult process, definitely seems to be even more so for those hoping to find someone without the help of an agency.