What to look for in an agency

IARC agency staffFor couples and prospective parents in need, an agency is a crucial guide through the surrogacy and egg donor process and will be your advocate through any legal pitfalls and medical uncertainties. For surrogates, an agency with years of experience and a laundry list of services is a key protector in this profound, life-changing experience.

Hopeful parents and prospective surrogates alike should ask questions of their agency, but it can be difficult to know what questions need asking. When you’re searching for an agency, there are things to look for that can demonstrate that agency’s knowledge, experience and dedication to you.

How long has the agency been around?

Anyone can start a surrogacy agency—there are no federal regulations that determine how and by whom an agency can be run. Your agency needs to demonstrate awareness of the guidelines published by mental health, medical and legal professionals that are in place to make this process safe and secure. IARC does not just follow these guidelines—we strive to lead the way in creating new regulations that benefit the industry as a whole.

You should also expect your agency to have years of diverse experience serving surrogates and couples alike. Our agency has facilitated over 1,000 programs over the past—not a single one has been the same as another. As each unique program is completed, we learn more about how this field works, what surrogates need throughout their program to feel valued and secure and what intended parents need to find success.  With over 20 years of experience, we truly are one of the most experienced egg donor and surrogacy agencies in the country.


Surrogate evaluation

A good agency will fully screen surrogates before they are matched with intended parents. If an agency says that the matching process can be sped up by not paying the prescreening costs out-of-pocket, they’re doing it wrong. Screening takes the same amount of time, whether it is done prior to being matched or after. IARC recognizes how much time, energy and emotion intended parents and surrogates put into the matching process. We want all parties to understand what the issues are and make sure that everyone is being treated respectfully.

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Becoming a surrogate mother: How I decided my compensation amount

Becoming a surrogate mother is a big decision, and many considering this decision want to know what it is like to be a surrogate. In this blog series we hope to shed some light on the surrogacy process through the experiences of our past and current surrogates, Charity, Jaime and Nicole. To read previous post from Charity, click here.

Charity Photo

Compensation. Or, as my husband calls it, “the big pink elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about”.

Let’s face it. Most surrogates don’t become a surrogate for the compensation. Surrogates become surrogates for a lot of other reasons: We love being pregnant, we want to help or simply because we feel called to it. However, the compensation does help. It helps our family. Maybe it will help with a down payment on a house, pay off a stack of bills or simply help us take our families on that once-in-a-lifetime vacation.

But how does a surrogate decide what her compensation should be? If you’re anything like me, as you think about the compensation amount you start to feel bad. Here are these parents whose only desire is to have a child. You likely know that they are spending a lot of money for this journey and now you have to decide how much they will compensate you.

While money never drives us, it is a factor and that factor often looks better, bigger. So if someone is willing to pay you $25,000 why should you tell them no? Picking a compensation amount is challenging, but for me it boiled down to what felt right. I had to look deep down in my heart of hearts and I had to pick a number I knew I could live with.

What you don’t know about me is I have very thin skin. By that I mean that if I feel I have wronged someone it eats at me, to the point that I will make myself sick. Even if it wasn’t “really” wrong, if I feel it’s wrong, it’s wrong. I’m the one who has to live with it.

I have been doing surrogacy for nearly 13 years. The very first child I ever had turned 11 this summer (now I’m just aging myself for all of you!). When I was told to pick my compensation the very first time I had no idea what I should do. I was given a range of numbers, you know, what people typically charge. I remember feeling floored that someone wanted to give me that much money to carry a baby. Hmm…..that much money to do something that is so simple for me. At first, I felt like I was taking advantage of someone. Then my mind started running full speed ahead. WOW!! The list of what my family could do with that money was endless. After I was able to slow down a bit I started to put everything in perspective: What the parents have been through already, the money they are spending on everything from medical procedures, traveling, doctors and my compensation.

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Becoming a surrogate mother: Meeting the intended parents for the first time

Becoming a surrogate mother is a big decision, and many considering this decision want to know what it is like to be a surrogate. In this blog series we hope to shed some light on the surrogacy process through the experiences of our past and current surrogates, Charity and Nicole. This is the second post from Charity, if you’d like to read her first post click here

Charity Photo

The very first surrogate baby I ever had turned 11 at the end of May this year, yet I remember the entire journey like it was yesterday.

I remember on the flight to the clinic that my husband and I were both very nervous and excited. We were going to meet our intended parents for dinner and share in their excitement for the embryo transfer scheduled to take place the next day.

When we got to our hotel room, there was a message that K&V were waiting for us. “Call when you get in,” it said.

Despite the fact that we had spent a few months calling and emailing with each other, I felt a nervous flutter when K answered the phone. It was a rush of excitement and anticipation. We agreed to meet in the lobby at 4:30 and go find someplace to have dinner.

I’ll never forget that first hug from my intended mother. She was a little stiff and a bit reserved. Me, I’m a hugger. 🙂

We had a great time at dinner. Our husbands each had a beer, and V & I sat over our sodas and talked about the excitement of the transfer.

K&V had always known they would need help in order to have a family. They were young – in their mid-20s. I think that helped our connection since they are about the same age as my husband and I. It was heartbreaking to hear V’s full story. It was that moment that it really hit me how blessed I’ve been to be able to easily get pregnant and have a child.  Not everyone is that fortunate.

You really start to think about all the things you take for granted. For V, this was her first chance at a family. I’ll always remember how nervous K was (LOL).  His nervousness continued throughout the entire journey (and the birth for that matter)! We called it an early night since the excitement was a bit much for all of us.

The next day the four of us met in the lobby to head over to the clinic for the embryo transfer. We chatted like old friends all the way there but did not talk about the, hopefully, upcoming pregnancy.

Becoming a surrogate mother: Common questions for a first-time surrogate

Surrogate Mother - NicoleBecoming a surrogate mother is a big decision, and many considering this decision want to know what it is like to be a surrogate. In this blog series we hope to shed some light on the surrogacy process through the experiences of our past and current surrogates, Charity, Jaime and Nicole.

Even before I was pregnant with my own son, I had an interest in helping intended parents have children. I looked into agencies, read some of the forums to see what other experienced surrogates had to say about their journeys, and did quite a bit of soul-searching before I took the first steps of actually talking with an agency about a surrogate program.

After having an informative conversation with the first agency, I was still in the very early stages of learning about surrogacy and pretty hesitant and flat out fearful to take the plunge. My son was about two-years-old at that time and I decided to let the idea go quiet for a bit, choosing not to move forward and not really knowing whether I would ever really “get the guts” to follow through with being a surrogate.

I still didn’t fully understand the role of the surrogate agency and I personally didn’t know any other surrogates who I could go to with questions; plus, I felt like surrogacy was such a hush-hush topic.

I was concerned that intended parents would take advantage of me and I wondered what would happen if I miscarried and suffered complications that would keep me from having more children of my own. I wondered what would happen if intended parents were suddenly not able to afford to pay for medical bills and I wondered what would happen if the intended parents decided to suddenly back out. I’ve come to learn that these are all common questions among other “newbie” surrogate candidates.

I chose to look into what IARC had to offer when my son was five, having put surrogacy on the back-burner for about three years. At that time, I was interested in IARC but I was stressed out at work and wasn’t planning on sticking with my employer for much longer. I told IARC that I was still interested, but that I would need to go “on hold” until I found and settled into a new job. I began my search for a new job and found that, of all places, IARC was hiring a surrogate coordinator. What a coincidence!

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Surrogacy for gay couples: What you need to know

Same Sex FamilyFor intended parents, whether single or coupled, going through the surrogacy process can be a long, confusing and emotional journey, but for gay prospective parents there is an added layer of legal complications that must be navigated. This post is meant to help gay men who are considering surrogacy get smart on what questions they should be asking, who they should be talking to, and how to go about the process in the safest and easiest way.

Step 1: Find an experienced lawyer

One of the first things any gay man or couple looking to have a baby through surrogacy should do is consult with a lawyer who specializes in surrogacy and is specifically familiar with issues related to gay partnering, marriage, adoption, and parentage. These are unique issues, and not every lawyer fully understands the issues and their ramifications. Ask any lawyer you are interviewing how many gay clients he/she has represented and what the extent of his/her working knowledge is of such issues. If the lawyer doesn’t have enough experience to make you comfortable, keep looking.

Step 2: Find an experienced agency

For the greatest success and certainty in your surrogacy program, find a reputable and experienced agency. Finding an agency that is run by an experienced attorney simplifies both of the first two steps. (For a list of other qualities to look for in an agency, read this post.) Again, gay men should look for an agency that is knowledgeable about specific challenges related to surrogacy for gay intended parents. For example, gay surrogacy occasionally needs professionals experienced and familiar with surrogacy for HIV positive intended fathers and the use of sperm washing to keep the participants safe. (To learn more about sperm washing, read this post.) The right agency will understand such issues and serve as a guide and advisor to the gay intended parent throughout the entire process to make sure all steps are followed at the appropriate time and in the appropriate order. This is the best way to insure a safe and successful outcome. Not all agencies are astronomically expensive. Some take into account that raising a child is an expensive endeavor in and of itself. Carefully compare and contrast agencies, their costs, and the services they provide. 

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The Importance of Second-Parent Adoption

By Steve Snyder, executive director of IARC

Surrogacy has proven to be a blessing for many same-sex couples. However, the legal 115752075complications regarding parental rights have threatened many intended parents. For example, Huffington Post recently reported a story about two gay dads denied legal parenthood of their sons due to complicated gay marriage and parental laws. As is emphasized in this tragic case, surrogacy laws vary from state to state; in Minnesota, for example, the laws surrounding surrogacy are even somewhat of a gray area. For this reason, it is crucial for same-sex couples considering surrogacy to use legal aid and a reputable surrogacy agency to ensure that both parents have legal custody of the child.

Varying Surrogacy Laws by State

In the Midwest alone, surrogacy laws deviate greatly between states. Illinois law expressly allows gestational surrogacy agreements (where the surrogate mother is not the biological parent) but does not address traditional surrogacy agreements (where the surrogate mother is the biological egg donor). North Dakota considers traditional surrogacy agreements void and unenforceable, though gestational surrogacy agreements are enforceable. Many states throughout the U.S. have never explicitly had a court case involving the rights of an LGBT couple.

The variation in laws exists, in part, because some states believe the biological mother should have the opportunity to keep the child, should she wish to do so, while other state courts have argued same-sex couples who have already entered into a legal contract to assume parental rights should have the legal right to carry out their adoption.
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Maternity and prenatal: An essential benefit, but is it essentially covered for surrogacy?

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, if you were pregnant and without insurance, you faced an uphill battle to get medical coverage — resulting in massive bills and possible debt.
surrogates-doctor-visits

Due to the nature of what insurance companies previously defined as “pre-existing conditions,” such essential benefits like maternity and prenatal care were left uncovered. Or worse, plans had such long waiting periods for coverage that a child would be birthed by the time coverage went into effect.

For women and intended parents entering surrogacy, the legal waters were even murkier for insurance coverage. Many times surrogates who had insurance held the assumption that their pregnancy was covered; however, many insurance policies explicitly excluded coverage for women carrying a child for another family. Intended parents also faced challenges in using their coverage to support maternity and prenatal care, leaving both the surrogate and intended parents at risk for substantial hospital bills.

The “Obamacare” effect

As intended parents and surrogates embark on a journey toward child delivery, it’s important to understand the health care coverage landscape in the age of what many call, “Obamacare.”

With the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2013, the U.S. government defined 10 essential health benefits (EHB) that are mandated to be covered for all Americans enrolling in a health care plan. Within this list of 10, maternity and prenatal care is now considered essential coverage.

Steven Snyder, executive director at the International Assisted Reproduction Center (IARC®), said of the law’s enactment and its impact on surrogacy coverage, “By defining essential benefits and taking away pre-existing conditions and other exclusions that could impair maternity and prenatal care, the ACA may improve the ability of women who are acting as surrogates to have their maternity expense covered by insurance.”

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Becoming A Surrogate Mother: Meet Charity

Becoming a surrogate mother is a big decision, and many potential surrogate mothers want to know what it is like to be a surrogate. This is a new blog series where we’ll follow the experiences of our past and current surrogates, Charity and Nicole, to share their personal journeys with surrogacy.  This is the first post from Charity.

How in the world did you ever become involved in surrogacy?Surrogate Motherhood

This is one of the most common questions I’m asked. And the answer is unique.

It was a typical Sunday morning. My husband was watching sports, our son was playing and I was sitting on the living room floor with the Sunday paper surrounding me.

I was looking through the help wanted section, I always like to see what kind of jobs are out there, when an ad caught my eye.

“Looking for Ovum Donors and Surrogates.”  What in the world is that?  I was 24 years old and these words were new to me. I read the ad to my husband and he wasn’t sure either. I clipped the ad and made it my mission to find out what it was to be a surrogate or ovum donor.

Monday morning I called the company on the ad, and learned that it was an agency that facilitated egg donation and surrogacy programs.

My first question: What’s an ovum donor? 

Answer: A woman who donates her eggs to help someone else have a child.

OK, I could do that.

My second question: What’s a surrogate?

Answer: A woman who carries a child for someone who can’t carry one herself.

Whoa…..there’s no way I could ever do that!!  Could I?

And it started. The wheels in my mind were turning faster than most wind turbines in a March storm.

That was 15 years ago, and during the past 15 years I have helped create and add to four families. I’ve had many ups and a few downs. But when I think back over those years I will never forget the moment that cemented me into surrogacy.

It was my first journey—my first delivery as a surrogate. I had just delivered a healthy 7lb, 11 oz. baby boy. My husband was by my side holding my hand telling me what a great job I did and how proud he was of me. Then I looked up. At the end of my bed stood my IM (intended mother), tears were streaming down her face, and her hands were shaking, moving slowly from her mouth, to her heart, to her child. She turned to me, smiled, wiped her tears and kept saying “thank you, thank you, thank you”. I knew in that moment this was not the only family I would help.

Through this blog I will share with you experiences from both my gestational surrogacies and my traditional surrogacy. I hope I will be able to answer questions you may have and share with you the joy I have felt and the relationships I have built. Most of all I hope I will be able to help you answer your own question—Could I be a surrogate?

Do you have questions about surrogacy? Please feel free to post any questions in the comments section and I will do my best to answer them in a timely fashion.

Medical Procedures for Becoming a Surrogate

Becoming a SurrogateIt’s common for women who are considering becoming a surrogate to have questions about the medical procedures that are involved for becoming a surrogate mother.

If you choose IARC as your surrogate agency we will walk you though the entire process and will be there to answer questions every step of the way. However, here are some basics on what is medically required to be a surrogate mother.

Medical Testing

You’ve made the decision to become a surrogate, have been matched with IPS, and signed the contract. The first medical step is infectious disease testing. Your IARC® Program Coordinator will assist you with scheduling an appointment to complete this testing. This testing may be done in your local area. The testing will involve a blood draw and vaginal/cervical swabbing. Clinics will often require an in person visit for this testing as well as a uterine evaluation.

Mock Cycle or Mock Transfer

A mock cycle involves going through the medication regiment to ensure your body responds to the treatment.  This is not common. A mock transfer involves inserting a catheter similar to one that will be used for the transfer in order for the physician to determine your cervical shape, etc. This is more common and would be completed at your screening appointment.

Fertility Treatment

After you’ve completed your medical testing requirements, we will coordinate with you and the intended parents’ clinic to prepare for the medical procedure.

For Gestational Surrogates, this will mean preparing your uterine lining for the embryo transfer. This involves

  • Tracking your menstrual cycles so they are in line with the intended mother’s or ovum donor’s cycles.
  • Taking fertility medications, some of which may be daily injections.
  • You will be required to travel to the intended parents’ fertility clinic the day before the embryo transfer date and will return one to two days after the embryo transfer occurs.
  • You will then be on bed rest for at least 24 hours after the transfer.

For Traditional (AI) Surrogates, you will administer medications, usually via injections, that will improve the quality of eggs produced. This means that:

  • You will likely have several appointments in your local area to monitor your hormone levels prior to when you travel to the intended parents’ fertility clinic for the insemination.
  • The Artificial Insemination procedure feels similar to a pap smear.

In both cases, you will need to complete a blood pregnancy test at your local doctor approximately two weeks after the insemination/embryo transfer.

Medications

The fertility medications you will be taking are all very safe. However, there are some minor side effects that women can experience.

  • Estrace: These are synthetic estrogen tablets. The purpose of these tablets is to thicken your endometrial lining in preparation for the embryo transfer.
  • Progesterone: This medication can be administered as a vaginal suppository, oral medication, or intra-muscular injection. Progesterone is the natural hormone your body produces to maintain a pregnancy. Following an embryo transfer (or occasionally artificial insemination), doctors prescribe these medications to increase or help support your own progesterone to assist in maintaining an early pregnancy.

For more information about medications involved in becoming a surrogate, please visit American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s website.

Pregnancy and Delivery!

All of your prenatal appointments will happen in your local area, so the only travel required will be for the actual insemination/embryo transfer. Even after a pregnancy is achieved, your IARC® Program Coordinator will stay in regular contact with you to make sure that everything is going smoothly with your program, that you are being reimbursed for program-related expenses, and that contact between you and the intended parents is going well.

Bottom Line

We are here to make sure that as many administrative responsibilities as possible are taken off of your shoulders so you and the intended parents can enjoy the pregnancy and the relationship that will develop between you!  This will be an incredible experience for everyone, and we truly appreciate your willingness to give this amazing gift to another family; it is truly remarkable!

Please contact us if you have further questions about the medical procedures involved for becoming a surrogate mother.