Becoming a surrogate mother: My decision to work with an HIV positive couple

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, Nicole and Jaime. This is the first post from Jaime. 

Surrogate Mom - Jamie

When I signed up to be a surrogate, I was signing up to help someone in need. I knew I was willing to help any couple in need without discriminating. The agency that I worked with was amazing from start to finish. I felt they were always looking out for me and I had faith that the process would be a smooth one. From the caseworkers to the doctors, I always felt they had my needs met and that they were very appreciative for what I was doing. These families start out as complete strangers and end being life-long friends. I can honestly say that surrogacy has been the most rewarding experience in my life.

After my first successful journey, the agency called me to see if I’d be willing to meet another family and carry for them. Originally, I had planned to carry just the one time, but being that it was such an amazing experience, I agreed to meet another family. Why not? Pregnancy didn’t slow my life down at all, and my son was old enough to understand what I was doing, so we moved forward.

When they chose the next couple for me, they explained to me that one of the parents was HIV positive and explained to me in full detail the process that sperm goes through to be washed before the embryo is created (to learn more about sperm washing, click here). I had a phone consultation with the doctor I’d be working with, and, again, I felt watched out for. I actually felt the risk of infection, for anything, was lower than a non-HIV carrier because of all the extra testing administered.

Maybe I’m too trusting in people, but in my mind, I really felt that the agency, as well as the doctors, would not put me at risk by taking on this couple, so I felt safe to move forward. I realize that a woman who qualifies to be a surrogate and agrees to be one is hard to come by. The agency knows that if I have another successful journey, I would be likely to be a surrogate for another family. If I was hurt or infected in any way, I would not qualify for another round, which helped with my justification of not discriminating against this couple that had a little extra obstacle in their profile.

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HIV-positive sperm donation has zero risk for surrogate mothers

Prospective surrogate mothers may find the possibility of HIV-positive sperm donation frightening. And perhaps rightfully so—the virus and its debilitating effects are estimated to affect 1.1 million people in the United States. The statistic for documented transmission of HIV to surrogate mothers or their offspring via in vitro fertilization is much more encouraging: zero.

At one prominent clinic, the Bedford Research Foundation Clinical Laboratory, cutting-edge HIV-testing protocols and a medical procedure called “sperm washing” has made the risk of transmission from an HIV-positive parent virtually nonexistent. As of September 2011, no one using tested semen as a surrogate through in vitro fertilization has been infected.

Sperm washing gives surrogate mothers a profound level of safety and security in HIV-positive sperm donation. In an HIV-positive male, the virus lives in the seminal transport fluid—not the semen cells. By placing sperm samples in a centrifuge tube and spinning at high velocity, doctors can separate the infected seminal fluid from the semen cells. Then, only those semen cells that test negative for the virus are inserted into the surrogate egg.

Nothing in life is absolute, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a safer avenue for helping HIV-positive parents realize their dream of creating a family.

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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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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.