Between 1999 and 2013, 18,400 infants were born to surrogates in the United States. What once possibly seemed like an out-of-reach option is rapidly becoming a highly sought-after way to start a family for couples experiencing infertility or individuals who are unable to use traditional methods to start a family.
When done for the right reasons, surrogacy can be a beautiful way to help another couple experience the joy of parenthood.
When you become a surrogate, you are offering to help another couple experience the gift of a child. You’re offering your most precious resource — you! — to make their dreams come true.
Before agreeing to become a surrogate, it’s important to understand what to expect during the surrogacy experience. It’s essential to know up front what you are agreeing to and how it will influence your life and the lives of those closest to you. Although there’s no guarantee that knowledge will help you avoid problems that might show up along the way, understanding surrogacy before you take the first step will help the process go more smoothly from start to finish.
What Is Surrogacy?
The process of surrogacy — also known as “third-party reproduction” — is the process by which a woman offers to carry a child, or sometimes multiple children, on behalf of another couple. Typically, in gestational surrogacy, a woman agrees to undergo IVF procedures in order to be implanted with a fertilized egg from another couple. Once the procedure is completed, the surrogate carries the baby for nine months and gives birth to the baby. Once the baby is born, he or she is the legal child of the couple who hired the surrogate.
In some cases, a surrogate may be a relative or family friend of the couple who intends to raise the child. These surrogates volunteer to carry the child because of their relationship with the couple. Typically, they are reimbursed for their medical expenses, as well as other costs they incur during the pregnancy. However, they are not compensated for surrogacy beyond that.
Most of the time, a surrogate mother does not have a previously established relationship with the couple. As part of the surrogacy agreement, she receives compensation for her role as a surrogate in addition to coverage of medical expenses and loss of work time.
In some cases, a surrogate will be selected to carry a child for a couple that has received an infertility diagnosis and is unable to conceive and/or carry their biological child on their own. In other cases, a surrogate may be selected to help a single adult or a same-sex couple that wants to build a family.
How to Become a Surrogate
If you’re interested in becoming a surrogate mother, you should expect to undergo a rigorous screening process to determine your eligibility. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, there is a strict set of criteria you must meet before you can be considered for surrogacy. Prospective surrogate mothers will find that fertility clinics may add additional guidelines to these criteria as well. At the Western Fertility Institute, potential surrogates must meet these requirements:
- Be 21-43 years of age
- Have previously had at least one successful pregnancy and delivery
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Have a body mass index (BMI) below 33
- Have a stable home life, access to a support network and stable finances
- Be a resident in a surrogate-friendly state
Although these requirements may seem strict, they have been established to protect the health and well-being of the child being conceived, as well as the surrogate herself. Surrogacy is a physically demanding prospect, to be sure, but the psychological aspect of it is equally difficult, and we would be remiss if we didn’t protect surrogates from doing something that would harm them or their family in the process.
Why are the physical guidelines so strict? The guidelines are in place to minimize the risk of complications throughout the process. A previous successful pregnancy shows that your body can handle another pregnancy. A healthy weight and younger age show that you are strong enough to undergo IVF and pregnancy without risk of serious complications.
The guidelines for living in a surrogate-friendly location and having a strong support network are designed to prevent emotional and legal issues from popping up during the process. Although surrogacy isn’t an easy endeavor, there are safeguards in place to protect everyone involved, and those guidelines are essential to that process.
What Should I Expect?
If you’re thinking of being a surrogate, you’re probably wondering what to expect.
First, you can expect to undergo a series of examinations designed to make sure you are physically and emotionally prepared for surrogacy. You’ll undergo an extensive physical, as well as be required to complete a detailed medical history. You’ll also meet with a mental health professional for a psychological exam to make sure you understand surrogacy and are emotionally prepared for the process that lies ahead. Some initial medical exams can be conducted in your home state — your fertility clinic can guide you on how to fulfill these requirements if you don’t live close to the clinic you’re working with.
Once you have been accepted as a surrogate, it’s time to wait to be matched with a couple looking for a surrogate. There is no formal timeline for this process. Couples are given the opportunity to pick a surrogate based on a variety of factors, including similar interests and geographic location.
Once you have been selected, then you’ll begin to prepare for IVF. Up to a month before the scheduled procedure, you’ll begin making lifestyle changes to prepare your body for what’s ahead. Your doctor can help you by providing guidelines for diet, exercise and sex during this time. Then, you’ll begin taking a series of fertility drugs — typically daily shots — designed to prepare your reproduction system to receive the fertilized egg. Then, the fertilized egg will be inserted, and you’ll be sent home to wait and see if it becomes implanted in your uterus.
So what does this all mean?
As a surrogate, you can expect to spend some time taking strong fertility drugs. Because they are designed to prepare your body for pregnancy, they do impact your hormones and have the potential to cause mood swings. This stage is one of the first places you’ll need that strong support network we mentioned earlier. Understanding from your family and friends — especially if you’re more emotional than usual — will be important as you navigate these first days and weeks.
Is Surrogacy Right For Me?
If you’re considering surrogacy, this question is completely normal. In fact, we’d be worried if you weren’t wondering if you’re prepared for this journey. Although your reasons for pursuing surrogacy are personal and may be different from another’s, there are some important questions you can ask yourself to determine if you’re prepared to move ahead.
1. Do I Meet Agency Requirements?
If you don’t meet one or more of the requirements, then there’s no reason to go further. Agency requirements exist to protect both the surrogate mother and the family preparing for a new baby. These guidelines cannot be amended and the rules cannot be bent in any case. Before you put time and effort into the surrogacy process, it is essential to make sure you meet every requirement. Remember — there are certain base guidelines that all fertility clinics are required to follow. However, each clinic can add additional guidelines to those. Make sure you know what your clinic’s requirements are from the beginning.
2. Why Do I Want to Become a Surrogate?
We realize that many women are initially drawn to surrogacy because of the financial aspect. However, this should not be the only reason you decide to become a surrogate mother. You should also feel a strong desire to help another couple build their family — a desire to give the gift of parenthood to someone else. You should also be comfortable with being pregnant. If you did not enjoy your own pregnancies, then you aren’t likely to enjoy the surrogacy process.
The best surrogates are the ones who are motivated to share their ability to give birth with other couples who want to be parents. A good candidate for surrogacy will enjoy pregnancy and be comfortable with the various stages and changes she will experience with her body.
3. Do I Have the Support I Need?
We admire strong women — we’ve met lots of them in this business and they inspire us every day — however, the first sign of a strong woman is her ability to ask for help when she needs it. We want to know that our surrogates having a loving, supportive network behind them from beginning to end.
If you are married, it is essential that you have the full support of your spouse to pursue surrogacy. Yes, you’ll be the one taking the medications, undergoing IVF and carrying the child. But just as with a traditional pregnancy, your entire family will be involved in the process. You’ll need to know that your spouse is on board and able to pick up the slack at home when you have doctor’s appointments or you’re experiencing morning sickness. They’ll also be essential to a healthy postpartum recovery.
If you aren’t married, then it’s important to look at your support network. Do you have family or close friends nearby who can help care for your other children during appointments? Is there someone you can call if you’re too tired to pick a child up from school? Is there someone who can drive you to the hospital when it comes time to deliver?
4. Am I Prepared to Commit to the Process?
Once you commit to becoming a surrogate, the process can consume a year or more of your life. You will be required to be present at regular doctors’ appointments. You’ll be tired. You’ll have cravings. Pregnancy isn’t a disability, but there are certain limitations that come with being pregnant. If you end up pregnant with multiples, there is a chance you could be put on bed rest and miss work. You may not have the energy to take care of your own home and family in the way you’re accustomed to. You need to know this up front, and you need to be okay with the changes in your routine that you may experience during the process.
How Can I Prepare for Surrogacy?
Once you’ve made the decision to become a surrogate mother, you’ll be spending some time filling out paperwork and attending doctors’ appointments. Is there anything you can do in the meantime to prepare for what lies ahead? Yes! Just because you aren’t pregnant yet doesn’t mean you can’t begin preparing your body and your heart for the journey you’re about to embark on. So what can you do to get ready?
1. Eat Healthy
Just as you did when you were trying to get pregnant with your own child, start preparing your body by giving it the nutrients it needs for another healthy pregnancy. Follow a sensible diet, eating lots of veggies and fruits, avoid high-sugar, highly processed foods, and aim for plant-based fats, like those found in avocados, nuts and olive oil.
Besides eating healthy, you can keep your body healthy by making time to exercise regularly. Take a walk or a run after work. Play tennis with your partner on the weekend. Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. In other words — keep your body moving!
3. Spend Time With Your Family
Now is the time to talk with your partner, children and others in your support network about what’s coming, but it’s also the perfect time for some extra quality time. In the weeks ahead, you may be more tired than usual or find that your free time is often invaded by doctor’s appointments. So use the time you have now to build your relationships and reassure your family of your love for them.
4. Make a Plan
While you’re waiting to be matched and begin the surrogacy process, take some time to work out the logistics. If you have other children, figure out school schedules, soccer carpools and backup babysitters in case of emergency. Talk with your spouse or others in your support network to develop a plan for meals, housework and childcare. Sit down with your boss to discuss what’s coming and talk about any obstacles it might present in the workplace.
Contact Western Fertility Institute
A good surrogate is one who ultimately realizes that she can offer the gift of parenthood to another couple. Words cannot describe the joy you will feel when you watch a couple meet the child you brought into the world on their behalf. If you are interested in beginning the surrogacy process, let Western Fertility Institute (WFI) help.
At WFI, we walk with our surrogate mothers and intended parents every step of the way, providing medical, legal and psychological help from day one. Based in the surrogate-friendly state of California, we have an 86 percent surrogacy success rate because we are passionate about what we do.
If you’re interested in becoming a surrogate mother or starting a family through third-party reproduction, contact us today.
This content was medically reviewed by the Western Fertility Institute medical team on October 14, 2019.