So you’re considering becoming a surrogate mother? Congratulations! It takes a selfless, brave woman to consider this possibility, and the fact that you are even thinking about the surrogacy process demonstrates you are a caring, compassionate person who recognizes her potential to give back to others. Whether you are looking into becoming a surrogate mother to help a friend, or you are interested in helping a stranger, the surrogacy process will be a beautiful journey of helping someone complete their family.
Once upon a time, surrogacy was only an option for wealthy celebrities, but today that’s no longer the case. In fact, between 1999 and 2013, surrogates in the United States delivered 18,400 infants. But make no mistake about it — while surrogacy is becoming more common, it can be a difficult journey and is not for everyone.
As a surrogate mother, you will be matched with a couple who has been physically unable to have children. Some have spent years dealing with infertility, while others are same-sex couples wanting to welcome a child into their family. Whatever their story, you represent hope. Your willingness to enter into their family for this period is something they don’t take lightly — and neither do we.
The first step in how to become a surrogate mother involves meeting several strict criteria. Some of the requirements are physical, while others are mental and emotional — and all of them are designed to protect you just as much as the baby and its intended parents. Before you continue with the third-party reproduction process, it’s important to understand the surrogate mother requirements, as well as the pros and cons, so you can determine if this is the best route for you and your family.
Requirements for Becoming a Surrogate Mother
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has established a set of surrogate mother qualifications all fertility clinics follow. While they may seem strict, their foundation is the intention to protect all parties involved in the process — especially the surrogate.
Age and Health
In general, a surrogate mother should be between 21 and 44 years of age, although some people will consider a woman older than 44 under the right circumstances. You should be practicing an overall healthy lifestyle and have a body mass index (BMI) below 33. BMI is so crucial because an overweight woman has an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy. These conditions can lead to complications during the pregnancy and put the baby’s life in danger.
Not only is your current physical state extremely important as a potential surrogate, but so is your medical history, especially when it comes to prior pregnancies. To be eligible for surrogacy, a woman must have at least one prior successful pregnancy and delivery. You must be willing and able to discuss the details of those previous pregnancies — any health issues or complications — and also to provide information about past deliveries, such as whether you delivered the child vaginally or via cesarean section. You’ll also need to disclose any miscarriages or abortions you’ve had.
While a potential surrogate should have had at least one successful pregnancy, it is important to note that women who have had several pregnancies may not be eligible to be a surrogate, because too many prior pregnancies may put both the surrogate and baby at risk for complications.
A series of questionnaires and medical evaluations determine a woman’s physical ability to be a surrogate. You’ll be required to answer an extensive list of questions about your health practices, including whether or not you smoke, use illegal drugs, have a substance abuse problem, etc. You’ll also be required to submit medical documentation from your OB/GYN detailing your reproductive health, which will include the information about past pregnancies and deliveries.
In addition to your physical qualifications, you will also be evaluated for a history of mental illness or substance abuse, all geared toward determining whether you are mentally ready to handle third-party reproduction. And, as a precaution, your partner will need to undergo a series of lab tests as well.
To be a surrogate mother, you must have a stable living arrangement and support network surrounding you. Typically, this means you have a supportive partner and family members who are excited about what you’re doing and willing and able to assist you during the pregnancy. While the intended parents will provide financial compensation, both for medical expenses and time missed at work, they probably cannot be there to help you walk the dog when you’re experiencing morning sickness, or pick up your children from school while you’re at a doctor’s appointment. In some ways, you’ll need even more help as a surrogate than you would if you were carrying a baby to add to your own family.
You will have a psychological evaluation to make sure that you are emotionally prepared for all that lies ahead of you. As we’ll discuss later, the emotional transfer of a baby from surrogate to the intended parents is involved and difficult, even when all parties have the best intentions. While we don’t expect you to be Wonder Woman — although we think our surrogates are pretty wonderful women— it is essential for you to be able to stand up to those emotional challenges and process them in a healthy way.
Besides addressing your physical and emotional history, you will need to be prepared to provide a lot of detailed information about yourself and your family. Some of the topics you will be asked about include:
- Educational background
- Work history
- Health history of parents, grandparents, siblings, children
- Criminal and legal history
- Childhood and other biographical information
Before getting chosen as a surrogate, it is also crucial that you be financially stable. While there are some financial benefits to the surrogacy process, you shouldn’t become a surrogate because you view it as a quick and easy cash source. The reasons for this are twofold.
First of all, while the intended parents will be compensating you for all expenses you incur, including all medical bills, these payments will not necessarily be available immediately. In fact, compensation doesn’t usually begin until confirmation of a fetal heartbeat. On average, this confirmation takes place around six or seven weeks after embryo transfer.
Secondly, it’s essential that a surrogate not add undue stress to her pregnancy by dealing with financial pressure. You need to be able to stay focused on maintaining a healthy pregnancy and taking good care of that precious little one growing inside of you.
Should I Become a Surrogate Mother?
Initially, it might seem overwhelming and intrusive to have to provide so much information about yourself and your family. Most people aren’t used to strangers knowing so much about their personal lives. Be patient. Even though it will be awkward at times, it all stems from a desire to protect YOU, as well as the baby you might carry. Before you begin the screening process, you can help yourself prepare by asking yourself these questions:
- What are my reasons for undertaking the surrogacy process?
- Do I currently have a healthy lifestyle?
- Does my partner support my decision to become a surrogate? Are they willing to pick up the slack at home while I am pregnant?
- How will I talk to my children about surrogacy?
- Am I willing to miss work time?
- Will I have reliable transportation to and from appointments?
- Am I willing to strictly follow a medical treatment plan that will most likely include injections of fertility medication?
- Do I reside in a surrogate-friendly state?
- Am I willing to travel if the intended parents are using a fertility clinic that’s out of state?
- Is there anything in my background that might raise a red flag about my health or my ability to safely carry a child?
It takes a special person to consider surrogacy. However, the reasons women choose this path vary. Some decide to become a surrogate mother because they have been fortunate enough to have one or more healthy pregnancies in the past and they want to give that gift to someone else. While some are happy to help a couple they’ve never met before, many women become surrogates for someone special to them — a friend, sister or another close relative.
Whether you go into the process knowing each other, or you meet at the clinic for the first time, you’ll inevitably become close. For some families, that bond will last long after the baby is born. For others, it is only for a season. But, in both cases, our surrogates have found when their pregnancy is complete, the baby and its parents have left a permanent mark on their life.
While we never recommend becoming a surrogate mother primarily for financial reasons, there is a significant financial benefit to choosing this route. In total, you will receive $50,000 or more in compensation and benefits. This money can go a long way for a woman who wants to stay at home with her children while helping her family’s finances. It can also provide the opportunity for a woman to make progress in fulfilling some of her own dreams down the road.
What Can I Expect?
Once you have carried a child on another’s behalf, it will change your life — forever. As we already discussed, the beginning of the surrogacy process will be full of paperwork, medical exams and counseling sessions. It will be busy and, at times, overwhelming. You will most likely be receiving injections of fertility drugs to prepare your body to accept the embryos a doctor will place into your uterus.
Once you are pregnant, you will find the next nine months will be similar to any other pregnancy in many ways. You’ll be seeing your OB/GYN for regular checkups. You’ll be busy caring for your body by getting plenty of rest, eating the right foods and exercising. Your body will begin to change as the baby grows. In addition to your stomach beginning to grow, you’ll notice changes to your breasts, hips and skin. You’ll become fatigued more easily, and possibly experience morning sickness as well.
The differences you’ll experience in being pregnant as a surrogate are more emotional ones. From the beginning, you’ll be in regular communication with the intended parents. If you’re close enough, they may be at doctor’s appointments with you. If they’re too far away, you’ll be on the phone or Skype, talking about weight gain, heartbeats and upcoming ultrasound appointments. The intended parents may ask you to play recordings of their voices or a favorite song to the baby. It will be your job to keep them connected with their child and involved in the process. Remember, they are preparing their hearts and homes for that little one you are sheltering.
If you’re like most women, you’ll be a little bit nervous about the upcoming delivery. You might even be more nervous than you were with your previous pregnancies because of the emotional transfer that takes place between you, the baby and the intended parents. Transfering a baby from its surrogate mother to its intended parents is a huge milestone in the surrogacy journey. It marks the completion of nine months or more of preparation, and it marks the beginning of a new life chapter for parents and child alike. It is the goal everyone has been working toward since the beginning of the surrogacy journey.
The word “transfer” implies a definite end to the process. However, when it comes to maintaining a relationship with the parents, knowing what kind of “ending” you’re looking for can be difficult. There’s not a specific set of guidelines for navigating post-birth interaction. Some parents choose to stay in regular contact, sending emails and photos and even swapping visits. Other parents do not wish to continue the relationship they developed with their surrogate during the pregnancy.
During the pregnancy, it is important for the intended parents and the surrogate to establish expectations and guidelines for the emotional transfer, as well as interaction post-delivery. No one will be thinking clearly the day the baby arrives, so if you wait until then, it will be too late. If you would like to receive some contact from the baby’s family after delivery, you are within your rights to make that request. Just remember, the intended parents also have preferences, and it will be up to both parties to determine what will be best for everyone involved.
Throughout all the physical and emotional changes you’ll encounter as a surrogate, the best thing you can do is focus on the big picture. As a surrogate, you have chosen to give an incredible gift to a couple who might otherwise never know the joy of being parents. You have the responsibility of growing and nurturing the child they have longed for over many years.
Surrogacy is a beautiful choice. However, we realize navigating the process can often be confusing and overwhelming.
It doesn’t have to be.
At the Western Fertility Institute, we are committed to connecting generous surrogates with a family who is waiting for a child. It is our job to help achievea healthy, successful pregnancy by providing the support and resources both sides need throughout the process.What makes us unique is that we don’t just focus on the outcome of a new baby. We pride ourselves on providing ethical and excellent care for both intended parents and our surrogates.
Based in California, a surrogate-friendly state, the Western Fertility Institute supports both national and international gestational surrogacy. If you have questions or are interested in beginning the process to become a gestational surrogate, contact us today.