Advocacy Day 2016: The Fight for Surrogacy Rights

The rights of women who choose to give the ultimate gift to a family are at stake once again as the Minnesota legislature is expected to raise surrogacy in this year’s upcoming session.

As many of you are aware, last year was a close call at the legislature for surrogacy. Although we succeeded in preventing a bill ultimately aimed at banning surrogacy from passing, this year calls for proactive measures: we must educate as many legislators as possible about surrogacy so we can continue to fight such efforts and hopefully pass appropriate regulating legislation in the future.

Please join us for Advocacy Day – Wednesday April
13, 2016

Source: AlexiusHoratius - Wikimedia Commons - This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

RESOLVE is hosting “Advocacy Day” at the Minnesota State Office Building (100 Rev Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55155) to make a strong statement that surrogacy is a family-building option that belongs in Minnesota. Advocacy Day is a time for all surrogate supporters to unite as a visible and persuasive group and share their support for surrogacy with key legislators.

We are facing a critical time where we must be at the forefront to share personal stories and urge legislators to support the ongoing viability of surrogacy as a family building option for all Minnesota families.

We will begin the day with an advocacy “crash course” hosted by RESOLVE lobbyists and followed by previously scheduled meetings with our selected legislators. Supporters are encouraged to attend as many brief meetings as they can to share their personal stories in support of surrogacy and lobby legislators to support the process.

Power in numbers

As we know, there is power in numbers and we look forward to seeing many supporters come out in large numbers for Advocacy Day. This is a momentous opportunity to show our legislators that we will not be silenced.

We will provide more detailed information as the session and Advocacy Day approaches, but in the meantime, please mark your calendars.

Please direct any questions to Chelsie Gibson at chelsie@iarc-usa.com

 

 

 

Navigating the uncertain waters of international third-party reproduction

By Steve Snyder, executive director of IARC

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Intended parents who wish to have children through third-party reproduction, but face highly restrictive and conflicting laws and regulations in their home countries, are increasingly crossing international borders to have their genetic children abroad. 

Although the world is getting smaller and international borders are becoming more and more blurred, conflict among nations is developing over the nationality and citizenship of children born via international surrogacy arrangements. Intended parents must be aware of the complications that can arise when crossing borders for third-party reproduction.

Unintended Consequences
This new prevalence of international reproduction cases has led to numerous unintended consequences that arise from conflicting international parentage and immigration laws. Before intended parents from the U.S. decide to go abroad for third-party reproduction, it is important to explore the laws in both the U.S. and in the country where the child will be born surrounding establishing legal parentage, acquiring desired citizenship, and obtaining a birth certificate and passport (for more information, visit the U.S. Department of State website). 

Establishing Legal Parentage
Countries have different rules regarding the local parentage of children born through third-party reproduction.  For example, a child born via surrogacy in the U.S. has U.S. citizenship based on birth in the U.S.   Whether the child has the dual citizenship of his or her genetic or intended parents varies from country to country.  A child born via surrogacy in India does not have Indian citizenship.  Whether he or she has the citizenship of the genetic or intended parents again varies depending on the parent’s home country.  Such issues and variations can cause disconnects between intended parentage and citizenship and actual parentage and citizenship that may prevent the child from returning to the parent’s home country or obtaining the parents’ citizenship.  This is often profoundly affected by whether the genetic components that are used are the intended parents’ or a donor’s.
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Becoming a surrogate mother: Telling my son about my surrogacy experience

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. To read previous posts from Jaime, click here.

Surrogate Mom - Jamie

Choosing to be a surrogate was a huge decision to begin with, but once I made that decision, the next obstacle was figuring out how in the world I was going to explain to Jayden, my son, what I was doing. At the time I was preparing for my first journey, Jayden was seven so he didn’t yet know the specifics of how babies were made. I decided I needed to take an approach that would not make him too confused.

As a singlemom, Jayden and I are very close, and I’m very honest with him about everything. He’s a lot like me in terms of wanting to help people out in any way he possibly can. I took the simple approach and told him that I would be traveling to California to meet with a doctor and a family that was struggling to have a son or daughter of their own to see if I’d be able to help them. He accepted that and didn’t really have much to say. After my transfer and confirmation of pregnancy, that was another story. Jayden knew I was pregnant, but now he was excited to have a brother or sister. I had to explain to him that I was carrying for a family that couldn’t, that I wouldn’t be able to bring this baby home when I delivered, and that this baby was going home with this other family. Understandably, this made Jayden confused and probably a little upset because he had wanted that brother or sister. I explained to him that this baby would not look like me or like him, and that it belongs to this other family that couldn’t get pregnant and grow the baby themselves. With that, he accepted and moved on to whatever he may have been doing at the time, like all seven-year-olds do.

Not having done surrogacy before, I didn’t know how much I could really tell people, other than my close family and friends, so I asked Jayden to keep it a secret. Once I was further along in the pregnancy, I let Jayden know that if he wanted to tell people he could. He lit up. It’s almost as if I took a weight off of his shoulders. I found out at his teacher conferences that he couldn’t wait to share with his class that, “My mom was having a baby for a family that couldn’t.” He was so proud and loved bragging about it. He was telling everyone and was no longer upset that we couldn’t keep this baby. It confirmed the joy I had throughout the journey and the reason why I chose to be a surrogate. In retrospect, I think it may have been even easier if I had explained the whole process to Jayden before the embryo transfer!

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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: 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: 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.

Surrogacy debate: Ask surrogate mothers before demonizing them

On May 26, 2013, an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on behalf of Kathleen Parker attempted to debase assisted reproduction in the United States by Steven_Snyder imagetargeting surrogate mothers and prospective parents while demonizing a practice that can offer profound, life-changing happiness and satisfaction to millions of couples unable to conceive.

In her op-ed, “Surrogacy exposed”, Parker spent a significant amount of time evangelizing the opinions of Kathy Sloan, a National Organization of Women (NOW) board member. Sloan’s opinions are apparently her personal opinions since, to my knowledge, NOW has adopted no formal position regarding surrogacy. Based on those conversations with a single surrogacy opponent, Parker implicitly advances the proposition that surrogacy can “convincingly be viewed as the exploitation and commodification of women, and the violation of human rights…”  I take pause to wonder, how many actual surrogates did Parker interview before drawing these conclusions?

I have worked in surrogacy as an attorney for nearly 25 years. In two and a half decades, I have worked closely with and spoken to literally hundreds of women acting as surrogates. Not a single one fits the profile that Parker blankets onto surrogates in general. These surrogates, who come from middle and upper class families with children, have acted with a consistent desire to help infertile couples suffering from uterine infertility issues. Although most (but not all) have received some sort of compensation for their remarkable time and effort, that compensation—no more than what daycare providers earn caring for working parents’ children—has very rarely been their primary incentive.

In addition, my personal experience indicates that Sloan’s assertion that nearly half of surrogates are military wives is obsolete and inaccurate by at least several years. I am currently working in programs with scores of surrogates, none of whom are military wives.

The surrogates I work with speak of surrogacy in glowing terms. They often characterize it as THE positive, defining moment of their lives. They are proud of what they do, and they feel affirmed by it. The few surrogates who criticize the process are typically those who self-match and go through the surrogacy process without guidelines and protections afforded by working with experienced physicians, psychologists, and attorneys. For every single surrogate who voices a negative experience, I can point you to a hundred who describe it as an emotionally rewarding and fulfilling family-building experience. Parker has simply failed to gather the necessary information on which to base rational, reasonable conclusions.

I am somewhat surprised that Sloan is criticizing surrogacy based on the “exploitation of women” argument. Her folly was directly addressed and quickly brushed aside by the California Supreme Court in the first contested surrogacy case in California, Johnson v. Calvert, in which the Court stated:

“The argument that a woman cannot knowingly and intelligently agree to gestate and deliver a baby for intending parents carries overtones of the reasoning that for centuries prevented women from attaining equal economic rights and professional status under the law. To resurrect this view is both to foreclose a personal and economic choice on the part of the surrogate mother, and to deny intending parents what may be their only means of procreating a child of their own genetic stock. Certainly in the present case it cannot seriously be argued that Anna, a licensed vocational nurse who had done well in school and who had previously borne a child, lacked the intellectual wherewithal or life experience necessary to make an informed decision to enter into the surrogacy contract.”

We have seen various waves of feminism over many decades. There are those who simply believe feminism is “sex equality,” those who believe that women should not be defined by their reproductive capacity (generally, surrogacy opponents), and those who believe a woman’s true equality lies with her right to self-determination despite her reproductive capacity (often, surrogacy supporters). The women I know who are surrogates do not believe that anyone else should tell them what to do. They feel capable and empowered to decide for themselves.

My wife is not a surrogate, but she is a feminist. If I even suggested to my wife that someone else should protect her from herself and limit her own decisions, she would simply glare at me with that cold stare that says, “I am independent and competent. I can very well take care of myself, thank you.”  Twenty-five years of working with surrogate mothers tells me they would  express the same sentiment to Sloan and Parker. All they need to do is ask!