Becoming a surrogate mother, aka having someone else’s bun in your oven.
Becoming a mother today is not always the same traditional story it has been in the past.
With alternative marriages, partnerships, blended families, same sex marriages, adoption, foster parenting, in-vitro fertilization and surrogacy becoming more mainstream, the stories we are hearing and sharing about motherhood in society today is changing in beautiful ways. It is therefore important we learn about and embrace all journeys in order to come together and celebrate each other’s experiences.
So let’s learn about surrogacy! More specifically, what becoming a surrogate mother (or “gestational carrier”) is all about.
Lily & Llama spoke to a lovely mama and recent surrogate named Shelby K. She was gracious enough to share her journey and just how involved and incredible the process truly is. To quote Shelby, “It takes a special person.” She could not be more correct! Here’s a *very* brief synopsis of how the *very* complicated process works for the surrogate (we’ll talk about the intended parents’ story next time)…
Where to start?
At a young age, Shelby witnessed the heartache of infertility in a close family member. For her, becoming a surrogate mother was something she always knew she wanted to do. After the decision to become a surrogate is made, the first thing is to decide whether to use an agency or independent surrogacy journey. Shelby chose to go with an agency. It is highly recommended that first time surrogates go through an agency, as the process is very long and complicated. There is a whole network of people involved, from doctors to lawyers, fertility specialists to psychologists, escrow agencies…literal teams of professionals are involved with every birth from beginning to end.
It takes time and lots of research to choose agency. As there are thousands in the US alone, a potential surrogate mama has to go through a very stringent screening process.
Each agency varies slightly, but in general just to even begin the process to be a gestational carrier in the U.S. (in most states) you must;
- Be 22 – 40 years old
- Be a non-smoker in excellent health
- Have a healthy reproductive history; having given birth to at least one child that you are raising
- Be within a healthy height and weight ratio
- Have had all births occurring at 36 weeks+ gestation or later (unless a multiple pregnancy) without major complications
- Not be receiving state or federal financial aid (to avoid commercial surrogacy, which is a major problem internationally)
- Be willing to undergo and self administer subcutaneous and intramuscular injections
- Pass a background check (husband/partner needs to as well)
- Pass a psychological consultation (husband/partner needs to as well)
After crossing that bridge, the real journey begins.
The interview process is very thorough for both the surrogate and the parents seeking assisted reproduction. It is inherent that the proper match is made to ensure that the journey will go smoothly for everyone involved. This is where the agency plays a major role. It can take months, sometimes years to find the right fit. Everyone’s needs, desires and concerns have to be carefully considered. This is for the health of the baby, the health of the surrogate and the overall success of the journey. Even religious and political views are taken into consideration. After a match is made by the agency, introductions are made and the interviews continue. This time between the intended parents and the surrogate is when both parties having the option to decline the match. It’s almost like a dating service according to Shelby, just with way higher stakes! Shelby actually declined the first couple with whom she started the process. “Something that was important to me was to give a child to a couple without children,” Shelby said. Since this first couple did already have children, Shelby began the matching process all over again.
Next step in becoming a surrogate mother: write up contracts.
This is (rightfully) a long and arduous process. Each party obtains their own lawyers, the cost for the surrogate’s being covered by the intended family. The contracts are so comprehensive they can often be up to 80 pages in length. Makes sense though, when creating a baby is a team effort, you’ve really got to cover all your bases. This includes financial compensation, which consists of a base pay and additional fees. Base compensation can vary widely depending on factors such as location, the surrogate’s prior experience, and the number of babies desired. It is usually between $30K-$50K. On top of that, the intended parents cover any additional costs that the surrogate may incur, ensuring that she doesn’t pay for anything pregnancy or baby-related out of pocket. There are often extra fees for unforseen invasive procedures, complications and additional testing that may occur along the way. Food, maternity clothing, travel expenses, even house-cleaning and childcare are often covered.
The intense physical journey to create this precious gift of life begins.
When everyone is satisfied and contracts are signed, the surrogate mama takes the reins and begins the intense physical journey to create this precious gift of life. This is generally done through in vitro fertilization. Most often with eggs from a separate donor and sperm from either a donor or the intended father(s). The most viable embryo(s) are chosen and frozen until it is time for implantation.
In order to prepare for implantation the surrogate goes through a long and difficult process of hormone injections and medications for at least six weeks. This includes birth control pills to sync her cycle, Lupron to prevent her eggs from releasing, and a strict schedule of estrogen and progesterone. These shots are self-administered daily and nightly, subcutaneously and intramuscularly, with very long needles. The level of commitment, dedication and bravery this takes cannot be understated. During this time the surrogate has constant appointments to monitor her and make sure that implantation occurs at the optimal time.
Hopefully all goes well and the implantation is successful on the first attempt.
If not, the process can start all over again. Or, either party can choose to stop. If successful, the pregnancy proceeds as normal. Well, normal…just with a much higher level of monitoring than most pregnancies. Surrogates continue their regimen of shots through the first trimester and go to frequent check-ups and ultrasounds. This ensures that if there are any complications, they are caught right away.
The birthing process is something that has been carefully planned since contracts were written. It is unique to each set of surrogate mamas and intended parents. This time is incredibly exciting for everyone. It has been a long hard journey! It is critical that the surrogate has prepared not only for the physical act of giving birth (which she has already done at least once before), but also the mental and emotional aspect. This is why those initial psych evals are so important! A surrogate mama has to be prepared to give the baby to the intended parents, oftentimes immediately, for skin-to-skin contact. This can be difficult even if she is mentally prepared, given our natural maternal instincts and the hormones that are naturally surging post birth.
Difficulties aside, this is an incredibly beautiful time for everyone involved.
It is the culmination of months, even years, of intense planning. It has been an emotional roller coaster for everyone involved. When asked what her immediate feelings were, Shelby said, “relief, love, and appreciation.” She has already thought about, and feels positively about, another surrogacy. Specifically, as a sibling journey for the intended parents she has already created a connection with.
“It takes a special person to be open to giving up your body for 18 months in order to provide a child to another family,” says Shelby. Indeed it does, you lovely mama!
Mamas, all motherhood journeys are unique and are worth embracing. In any journey, remember to enjoy every moment because it goes by quickly. If you know of a mama that wants to share their pregnancy journey with us, let us know by leaving a comment below or sending us a message on our Instagram.