Starting your family through surrogacy is an exciting process. If you’ve opted to use a surrogate mother to carry your child, you’ve probably already been on a long journey to this moment. Maybe you and your partner have recently learned you’re infertile and can’t carry children on your own. Perhaps you’re a single woman who’s tired of waiting for Mr. Right to start her family. Or, maybe you’re in a loving same-sex couple who still longs to have a child. Whatever your past experiences, you know one thing: You waited a long time to get here. And you want to do this right.
Choosing the surrogate who will carry your child is an intensely personal decision, and one you shouldn’t take lightly. So how do you choose the right surrogate for your family?
The complex process of surrogacy can be challenging to navigate. Working with a reputable surrogacy agency like Western Fertility Institute (WFI) is the best way to simplify the process and help you keep your goal — your child — in focus. But even when you’ve got an agency like WFI on your side, pursuing surrogacy is sure to leave you with a lot of questions.
What Is a Surrogate Mother?
Although you probably have a general idea of what surrogacy is, let’s start with the basics. A surrogate mother is a woman who agrees to carry a child on behalf of another woman or couple. In the past, surrogates agreed to get inseminated with sperm donated by the intended father. Thanks to advances in medical procedures, most surrogates today go through IVF to receive fertilized embryos from the couple they are helping — a process also referred to as third-party reproduction. Typically, a surrogate receives financial compensation from the biological parents of the baby she carries, although some women do volunteer to be surrogates as a gift to a friend or family member.
Although the monetary compensation can be a factor in a woman’s decision to become a surrogate, a good surrogate’s main focus is helping others experience the joys of parenthood. Above all else, she is committed to bringing a healthy child into the world and giving the baby’s intended parents a beautiful gift.
Finding a Surrogate Mother
What makes a good surrogate mother? There are some medical and legal guidelines in place to outline what her role is and what she should be like. But, in many cases, choosing the right surrogate for your family comes down to the connection you feel with her and a shared sense of purpose in your surrogacy journey. It comes down to selecting a woman who is trustworthy, compassionate and shares your commitment to family.
How do you find a woman who possesses those qualities?
You ask a lot of questions.
When it comes to finding the right surrogate for your family, there’s no such thing as too many questions. So, where do you start?
1. What Is Her Medical Background?
The very first thing a potential surrogate will do is complete an extensive medical exam. Besides undergoing a physical examination, a potential surrogate must complete an extensive questionnaire about her medical history.
What should prospective parents look for in a potential surrogate’s medical background?
A good surrogate candidate will be between 21 and 44 years old. She’ll need to reveal information about difficult pregnancies and deliveries, particularly any miscarriages or abortions she’s had. Although a potential candidate for surrogacy should have had at least one successful pregnancy and delivery, a woman who has had several pregnancies may not be a good candidate because her body may struggle to handle an additional pregnancy.
A potential surrogate will need to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and will need to confirm she is up to date on all the required vaccinations, including chickenpox, measles and rubella.
A potential surrogate should have a body mass index under 33. Women over this number are at an increased risk of high blood pressure and gestational diabetes, which means they aren’t good surrogacy candidates. Medical questionnaires will also ask detailed questions about substance use and abuse, as well as diet, exercise and any other relevant current and past health information.
Typically, the agency evaluates a candidate’s medical background before presenting her as a candidate for a potential family. You won’t need to arrange this, and you’ll only be privy to specific details of the screening. What’s crucial to know is that, as long as you’re working with a reputable agency or fertility clinic, you can rely on them to evaluate this information and trust them to present you with potential candidates who meet their medical criteria.
Besides a thorough physical screening, a potential surrogate will also undergo a psychological evaluation to make sure she understands what she is doing and is ready to take on the mental, physical and emotional impact of becoming a surrogate.
2. Why Is She Doing This?
As we mentioned previously, typically a potential surrogate is interested in the process because she wants to help another family bring a child into the world. Yes, she receives financial compensation, but there is more to her willingness than the monetary aspect. One way to evaluate her values and beliefs is to ask some getting-to-know-you questions. Is she married? What does she like to do on the weekends? Does she value health and fitness? Why does she want to be a surrogate?
Diving into a potential surrogate’s lifestyle is about getting a fundamental understanding of how she views the world and her role in your family’s journey. This part of the process can often be challenging for potential parents because it is often so subjective. Like everyone else, you want a healthy woman who has had a previous successful pregnancy, loves vegetables and practices yoga five days a week. But when you start learning more about her motives for surrogacy, you start learning about how she spends her free time, how she treats her body and how she values human life.
3. Do We Want to Have a Relationship With Our Surrogate After the Baby Is Born?
One of the most common concerns among potential parents exploring surrogacy is whether or not their surrogate will expect to continue the relationship with them after giving birth. Some prospective parents welcome the idea of having a lifelong relationship with their surrogate. Others prefer to keep their relationship strictly business and do not plan to communicate with their surrogate after the baby is born.
One of these views is not better than the other. However, it’s important to choose a surrogate who shares your expectations when it comes to communication, both during and after the pregnancy. Being on the same page is a crucial first step toward establishing a good relationship with the surrogate you choose. There’s nothing wrong with asking upfront what she expects and seeing how it lines up with your expectations. Doing so is one of the best ways to guarantee a smooth pregnancy and delivery.
You’ll also want to consider where your surrogate lives. Although some states prohibit surrogacy, potential surrogates can travel from other states to work with a fertility clinic. So, you could end up with a surrogate who lives in another state, hundreds of miles away from you. If you’re interested in developing a relationship with your surrogate, attending doctors’ appointments or being able to interact with your child, you’ll need to consider the physical distance. Talk with your agency about your surrogate’s willingness to cultivate a long-distance relationship through text, email and video chat. Explore your ability and willingness to travel for significant events. And evaluate all those expectations against a potential surrogate’s situation.
What Will a Good Surrogate Do?
Even after asking those three crucial questions, it can still feel like a daunting process. Overall, you want to choose a surrogate who will:
- Treat the baby as hers during pregnancy by eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep and exercising caution when needed
- Respect you and your partner according to the wishes and expectations you’ve all outlined in a legal agreement
- Share your goal of bringing a healthy, happy baby into the world
- Protect your child and your family throughout the pregnancy
When you work with an agency like WFI, we can help you navigate all the legal issues surrounding surrogacy, but it’s a good idea to have a fundamental understanding of the law in your state and how it impacts your decision to pursue surrogacy. Surrogacy laws vary from state to state. In some places, intended parents must legally adopt their child once the surrogate gives birth — leaving the baby legally attached to the surrogate until all the necessary paperwork is on file. In other states, potential parents can sign a declaration of parentage that transfers legal custody of the baby to the intended parents before birth, preventing the need to “adopt” their child later.
Words cannot stress the importance of crafting and signing a detailed legal agreement before any part of the surrogacy process. It’s not only to protect the surrogate, but it’s also to protect the intended parents and ensure a smooth transition when the baby is born. It will also address any unexpected issues that might come up down the road, such as the birth of multiples or legal questions that might come up after the birth.
Potential Pitfalls to Avoid
Typically, if you’re working with a reputable agency, you’ll be able to avoid many of the scams and problematic situations you’ve read about surrogates. However, as a general rule of thumb, use these guidelines to help you identify a potential surrogate mother.
1. If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is
To protect yourself and your family, refrain from searching for a surrogate outside of the protective confines of a reputable agency. Never respond to ads on Craigslist, Facebook or other online marketplaces where anyone can post — even if it sounds good!
2. Know the Law
Surrogacy laws vary from state to state, so make sure you understand what your home state does and doesn’t allow. Working closely with a lawyer who specializes in reproductive law is the best way to ensure you don’t overlook something important. Also, always make sure you’ve done your homework and have a legal agreement in place before exchanging money or beginning any IVF procedures. It may be tempting to cut corners to speed things up, but it’s always better to work through all the details before moving ahead. Keep reminding yourself the rules and procedures are in place to protect your unborn child, as well as you and your surrogate.
3. Stick to Your Guns
If you’ve been walking the infertility journey for a long time, you’re probably excited to see things progress. It can be tempting to cut corners, ignore red flags or push to bend the rules. Remember: The established rules and guidelines for identifying a potential surrogate are in place to protect you and any possible children who may come out of the process. If a surrogate doesn’t meet all the guidelines for age, health and experience, it’s not a good idea to move forward.
4. Ask Lots of Questions
There’s no such thing as a bad question, even when it comes to surrogacy. All potential parents have questions, and it’s crucial to have them answered so you feel comfortable and confident about going through the process. Initially, your agency can answer most of your questions about the surrogacy process and potential surrogate candidates. But, if you’re working to choose between two candidates, or you aren’t sure how to identify the one that’s right for your family, speak up! An experienced fertility clinic or agency has experienced staff who can provide insight and guidance throughout this important decision.
Western Fertility Institute and the Surrogacy Journey
In the U.S., about 750 babies are born to gestational surrogates every year. It’s heartwarming how many families have found lifelong love through the process of surrogacy. Surrogacy can be a beautiful way to fulfill a lifelong dream of having a family. But finding a surrogate mother can be challenging. At Western Fertility Institute, our commitment is to help couples and families from all walks of life experience the joy of bringing a new baby into their lives. Our goal is to turn the challenging process into a beautiful one.
How do we do that?
Our trained and experienced staff provide the highest-quality care and knowledge to our clients and our surrogates. We value both parties equally, and we strive to make sure everyone feels cared for and protected from day one. We also work hard to match the right people, working to avoid conflicts in expectations during pregnancy, delivery and after. As a result, our Los Angeles-based clinic boasts an 86% surrogacy success rate.
Let us answer your questions about gestational surrogacy. Reach out to us at 888-261-4574 or contact a team member online today.
This content was medically reviewed by the Western Fertility Institute medical team on September 28, 2019.