It’s probably safe to say if you are reading this post, it’s because you’re considering surrogacy as one avenue to family building.
Surrogacy is a complicated process and finding the right person to carry your future child can seem like one of the most daunting parts of this equation. But with the right team of experienced clinical and administrative staff, you and your future family will be in good hands.
Wherever you choose to build your family, you should make sure that both your fertility specialist and agency have experience with surrogacy. This may be your first time going through the process but knowing that you have the full support of an experienced team will help ease your worries.
Before we dive into the intricacies of matching with a surrogate, here’s a quick refresher on the surrogacy process. Remember, for single or coupled dads to be, surrogacy involves egg donation, an IVF cycle, and a gestational carrier—often referred to as a surrogate.
Finding, matching with, and truly trusting your gestational carrier can seem like a huge task, but our goal is to arm you with all the knowledge you need to make these decisions.
How Do I Start The Surrogacy Process?
You can start the surrogacy process at two different points – with your fertility clinic or your surrogacy agency. You should feel comfortable before engaging the services of either of these entities, so your first step will almost always be a consultation. This allows you to meet some of the staff, ask your questions, and get clarity about costs and specific services.
Does Surrogacy Start With A Fertility Clinic Or Agency?
So where do you start – with the fertility clinic or the surrogacy agency? In truth, there isn’t one “right” place to begin your journey. While both paths lead to the same endpoint, we tend to recommend starting with a fertility clinic in order to keep waiting times, additional costs, and the total time of your surrogacy journey at a minimum.
Starting With Your Fertility Clinic
If you connect with a fertility clinic first, your first step will be a consultation with your physician, when you’ll build a plan personalized to you, discuss your hopes for your future family, and any relevant personal medical history. Your path to parenthood will then involve the following steps:
- Initial baseline fertility testing
- Matching with an egg donor (either in-house at your clinic or from an egg donor agency)
- Creating embryos in the lab with your sperm or donor sperm
Your next step would then be to engage the services of a surrogacy agency and match with a surrogate, which can take months or up to a year! In the meantime, your embryos will remain safely frozen at your clinic. Once your match is complete, intended parents and the gestational carrier will both come to the clinic for transfer day – when an embryo is placed into the surrogate’s uterus.
Starting With Your Surrogacy Agency
If you connect with a surrogacy agency first, your first step would be a consultation, in which you’ll learn their process, understand costs, and soon after being the matching process. It is the job of the agency to connect intended parents and pre-screened surrogate candidates based on a variety of personal factors. Once a potential surrogate has been identified for you, you must choose a fertility clinic.
Surrogacy agencies and fertility clinics work hand-in-hand to make sure the process runs smoothly for all parties involved, so it is important that your fertility clinic signs off on all potential surrogacy candidates before your match is complete. While there are certainly baseline standards, the specific requirements may vary from clinic to clinic, so surrogacy agencies keep that in mind when presenting intended parents with potential match candidates.
One your fertility clinic signs off on your surrogate match, then both the intended parents and the surrogate must complete the following steps of surrogacy before starting an IVF cycle:
- Matching with an egg donor (either in house at the clinic, or from an egg donor agency)
- Creating embryos in the lab with your sperm or donor sperm
After a few months, once these steps are complete, the intended parents and gestational carrier (and oftentimes her partner) come back to the fertility clinic for transfer day!
Either way, you will need the help of both a fertility clinic and a surrogacy agency to complete your journey. It is possible to complete a surrogacy journey with just the help of a reproductive attorney, but I don’t recommend this option. Coordinating a surrogacy journey can seem like a full-time job, and you want to be sure that your best interests, as well as those of your surrogate and your future child, are being taken into consideration.
What Are The Requirements To Be A Surrogate?
As mentioned above, the specific requirements to become a surrogate vary by fertility clinic, but there are some broad standards that most agencies and fertility practices abide by.
Although depictions of surrogacy in the media (particularly TV) do not often show the complexities of surrogacy or explain the requirements, one major factor is that all surrogacy candidates have experienced at least one successful pregnancy and birth. Additional guidelines may include:
- Age (over 21 and under 42)
- BMI (Body Mass Index) under 30
- No smoking
- Healthy lifestyle
- Previous uncomplicated births
- Less than 3 C-sections
- No sexually transmitted diseases
- Has passed a psychological evaluation
- Not on federal or state assistance
- Reliable transportation
- Supportive family members
Many surrogates are inherently nurturing women who enjoyed being pregnant and want to be able to help another family grow. It is important to know that they are not genetically related to your baby, and they have their own families.
How To Find A Surrogate
Asking A Friend Or Family Member To Be Your Surrogate
If you are starting your search for a surrogate by asking friends or family members, remember your list of guidelines from the clinic. You may trust a family member with carrying your baby, but they may not be the most suitable candidate. You have to think of the health of your baby before all else.
One problem with searching for a surrogate inside your circle of family and friends is that everyone will know more about your personal life than you might like. Some people are comfortable with this and have no problem with sharing every facet of the surrogacy experience.
Others, however, are more private. Making it known to family and friends that you are looking for a woman to help you with your family-building journey will open the door to personal and sometimes invasive questions. There is also the fact that after the baby is born you will continue to interact with your (former) surrogate on a more personal level than you would have with someone you find through an agency, a law office, or a classified ad.
Do I Need A Surrogacy Agency?
The more popular and common way to connect with a surrogate is through the use of a surrogacy agency. The agency would be responsible for all of the recruitment and pre-screening on your behalf, including background checks and medical record review before you would even see a profile.
When you first connect with a surrogacy agency, you provide them with a list of criteria that allows them to handpick the best candidates for you. If you are set on your surrogate eating certain foods (or not eating certain foods) or would prefer that they live close to you, your agency needs to be aware. When the agency presents you with a potential match, these factors will be taken into consideration, and the prospective match will already be vetted by your fertility clinic.
Matching With Your Surrogate
Surrogacy is, at its core, a trust-based relationship, so the “right match” should seem like a good fit. They should be someone with whom you make a relatively easy connection. Don’t forget, your potential surrogate is interviewing YOU, too!
Things to consider when meeting with your surrogate are ease of connection (a good match will “click” fairly easily), and communication style. Both you and your surrogate will want and need support throughout the process, and if you’re not on the same page this could lead to frustration. But, at the end of the day, you can place your trust in your surrogacy agency and fertility clinic. They complete dozens, if not hundreds, of surrogacy journeys per year, and their expertise should put you at ease.
Where To Go For Surrogacy Support
If you’re in the middle of a surrogacy journey and looking for additional resources, you’re not alone. This process can take a long time, as well as much of your emotional energy and financial resources, so it’s completely understandable to need support. Refer to the list below for tips on where to turn:
- There are social workers who work with donor and surrogate-conceived families all the time. Your clinic and agency will have staff members to offer that support or may be able to refer you to a trusted provider in your local area.
- Ask your clinic and/or agency – they may have a private parent’s support group, network, or even a closed Facebook group where you can turn for support.
- Your partner and family – while you may not be willing to share all the details of your journey with your family, they may be a place to turn to for support.
- Your surrogate – you are in this journey together, and while you don’t want to cause inordinate stress, sharing some of your hopes and worries may be a bonding experience for you both.
Whether you’re in the midst of your journey already or just starting out, know that there are resources and support to meet you wherever you are. If you still have questions about the surrogacy matching process, explore this list of questions for gay dads to ask a potential surrogate before matching.
This article was first published in Gay Parents To Be.