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If you’re having FAQ’s I feel bad for you son, I’ve got 99 problems but a contract ain’t one.

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It’s homework time people. Nobody likes it; nobody wants to read it, but you HAVE TO READ YOUR CONTRACT! Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. Everything you ever wanted, needed, and never even though of knowing is in there. It’s the Rosetta stone of surrogacy and I’m talking to EVERYONE here. Surrogates, egg donors, and intended parents alike. If you think of absolutely any questions whatsoever, I promise you will find the answer in your contract.

“Hey, my surrogate wants to go cross country skiing, can she do that?”

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The answer is in there! I’m not kidding. And by the way answer is no. 

Fertility lawyers need to think of every situation and every solution.

“Can I have sex after a transfer?”  Or
“Is organic food reimbursable?”  Or
“Who pays the insurance copays?”  Or
“Does the surrogate have a right to see our baby after she gives birth?”

It’s funny, the questions you think of after entering a legally binding situation, stuff that never would have occurred to you before this crazy journey began. But you know what? You are in no way the first to think of these questions, so ask away. Your attorney will gladly give you the page number of your personalized contract that will tell you all you need to know.

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Before you’ve even put pen to paper your lawyer will have told you so much. They’ll have gone over every single page with you. You’ll have tweaked it here and there and it’ll have gone back and forth between law firms. There is a lot of legislation to do with surrogacy and that’s a good thing, even if it is tedious. And you know what? You won’t remember most of it. There is no way, unless you have a photographic memory, you will know what and where you read that certain line that you now need to know. And that’s ok too. You’ll have a copy that will become your best friend. Your own personal bible, your treasure map, so to speak. Do you want your stress levels to go down and your anxiety to melt away? Then read your contract! It will guide you through with the comforting reassurance that can only come from the law. Knowing your rights and staying well informed from beginning to end makes for such a smoother journey. Trust me, I know. I’ve read these things from cover to cover multiple times. They make for great bedtime stories. Not only because it’ll probably put you to sleep, but also because you will sleep so much easier once those nagging questions have been answered.

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I feel like the old school mistress looking down her glasses, pointing a ruler at you and telling you to “Pay Attention!” But seriously I mean it. I don’t want to boss you around or tell you what to do. It’s just the Mom in me wanting what’s fair and best for everyone. You see, the more informed you are the better you feel. The better you feel the smoother things go. The smoother things go the better the chances of that cute little baby in the picture with its new parents. Get it?

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…Now go and wash your hands, it’s flu season. And bundle up warm, it’s cold outside (well unless you are here in California, it’s gorgeous here 😉

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Walking in their shoes; A Mother and a Surrogates journey

Imagine if you will, being a woman. A woman who has worked hard and has found a partner. A woman who now wants a child, a complete family. Now imagine trying to conceive this child and nothing happens; going to the doctor and being told you can’t conceive. Then, taking all your hard earned money and trying every other possible alternative to create a baby–hormones, egg retrieval, IVF–again and again with no results. Or even worse getting pregnant (!!!!!) and then miscarrying. Do you think you have an idea of what that could feel like? Now imagine the physical, economical and emotional toll this will take on you.

I can only imagine and sympathize with these women. Unfortunately, I know too many. I’ve had long personal discussions with a few and it breaks my heart. These talks are one of the main reasons surrogate mothers exist today. So, after all this pain and toil, some of these women look towards surrogacy. The reason they choose an agency is for protection. This most precious treasure they have been so long in seeking becomes closer to their grasp and they want to do everything in their power to obtain it.

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When a man and woman intend to become parents and look through the files of fully screened surrogates (and, sometimes, egg donors) they are looking for a means to an end, an end to the emptiness they have been feeling, an end to their toils and tribulations. They choose carefully and hope that the surrogate will help them complete their maternal desires.

Once everyone has spoken and agreed to this journey, the contracts are signed; and the medications for the surrogate begin. The egg retrieval is done and at this stage the Intended Mother (IM) becomes even more anxious. It’s happening all over again, but with renewed and different hope! If, and when, the surrogate is confirmed pregnant with a heartbeat ultrasound then the IM is inundated with emotions: “It happened, we’re pregnant! Oh God, we could loose it (again)?!?!” Her maternal instinct takes over and yet she feels out of control because it’s not her body. She may become increasingly concerned with the surrogate’s diet, what medications she is taking, if she is following the doctors orders, and just about every waking aspect of her life—anything from the surrogate getting her hair dyed and nails done to if she is exercising enough or too much. All of this may cause the surrogate to undergo additional stress, which is the exact opposite of what is wanted.

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It can become very tense very quickly. There is an emotional switch that can, and does very often occur, with an IM and her surrogate. The IM needs to know that the surrogate is doing everything possible to achieve a healthy pregnancy. She wouldn’t be a surrogate if she weren’t. The surrogate then needs to know that these emotions are not personally aimed at her, it’s just the IM’s fears and apprehensions manifesting due to her own perceived “helplessness” in these matters.

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As the pregnancy continues and they enter the second trimester healthily, things tend to lighten up. The emotional roller coaster on both sides seems to even out a bit. The IM starts to feel more secure that the baby is doing well and begins to trust he or she is eventually going to arrive. The surrogate earns the IM’s trust and the women may even become quite close during this part of journey. They may share intimate details with each other, promising to stay friends and keep in touch once the baby is born. This calm may go on until delivery. And, if they are among the lucky ones, it stays that way. The happy healthy baby is born (!!!) and the no longer IM, but now mother, is over the moon, delighted and grateful. She lets the surrogate hold the child after the delivery. They remain in contact via pictures and emails and life is good. 🙂

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However, that is a best-case scenario. Once that baby is born, the “Momma Bear Switch” can turn to the extreme level. The IM becomes so frightened, so scared that someone will try to take her child, she suddenly sees the surrogate as a threat. No matter how irrational or unfounded this feeling may be it is real to her and can be completely over-powering. The IM cannot believe that something she has wanted so dearly, and that is so extremely precious to her, would not be coveted by the woman who carried it for her for nine months. This feeling is understandable for the IM, but completely unfounded for the surrogate. The IM will not let the surrogate see the child, let alone hold it. All contact is severed and the surrogate may never hear from the family again. It’s the harsh truth, but it happens. It is completely within the Intended Parents’ (IP’s) rights to do so. The surrogate may just never know the child she helped bring into this world.

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For the surrogate, this can be devastating, especially, because it can happen without any warning. Things seem fine until they are in the labor and delivery room.  Suddenly, she has had the baby, but there is no baby. The IP’s will not speak to her. She feels alone and abandoned. There is a reason that in a surrogacy contract it states that the surrogate will, if desired, be allowed one hour alone with the baby in the hospital. This is for closure sake. The surrogate had this baby inside her body; she wants to see what she helped to create. A surrogate doesn’t want to keep the child. She entered into the agreement knowing and trusting this. When a surrogate delivers a baby, there is a physical need to know about the child. Much like an artist or a craftsperson that has created something, the surrogate wants to see her work and know that it was successful.  It is a completely different connection than with her own children, but it is still valuable to the ending of a journey. It makes it all feel complete.

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Sometimes in these situations the IP’s may come around and send an email with pictures. Some have a change of heart later, once that fear has subsided and they are comfortably settled at home with the child. The IP’s may start sending updates to the surrogate in the years to come. But sometimes they don’t and that’s OK too. As long as the surrogate is aware of this possibility as she enters the agreement. The surrogate can be comfortable in the knowledge that what she did was an amazing act of love and is valued even if unspoken. What the surrogate needs for this to work is to know that this separation has nothing to do with her. What she did was a beautiful and fulfilling act. Even if she is not involved in the rest, she has helped to create a loving family. The families are grateful, too, in their own way. Some IP’s have been through such a long and harsh road they are unwilling to take any chances once they’ve obtained that wonderful gift of life. It has made them complete and they don’t want any more obstacles. A clean break was felt best. It all just needs to be communicated.

Understanding on both sides helps. The agency will help provide this from beginning to end, but it really does come down to the individuals involved. Prior knowledge is key. For the Intended Mother, she should remember she’s chosen (albeit reluctantly) to have another woman carry her baby.  Conversely, surrogates should be understanding of the IM’s experiences and tribulations. Knowing and being prepared for any possible outcome is best; that means it may hurt, but it can hurt less.

Needles, Syringes and Bloodwork, Oh My!

Three medications most of the population has not heard of or understand the reason for: Progesterone, Delestrogen, Lupron. No, I’m not conjuring up the dark forces; these different medications have to do with hormones to become pregnant in the “New” fashioned way. If you’ve underwent In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) before, then they are as common a household name to you as Tylenol is to most people. Their common bond, along with  multiple blood tests, is that they all require poking yourself with needles for probably a good solid month (or two…or three…depending on how it all goes).

First medication is usually Lupron. This is administered by a relatively small needle and easily injected in the tummy. Many fertility doctors use this drug to get your cycle lined up or synchronized with a third party, such as a surrogate mother or egg donor. Then you’re on to the big boys! Progesterone is an oil-based shot given in the upper-outer quarter of your buttocks each night. Delestrogen is also oil-based that is even thicker that’s administered twice a week in the same areas. Your poor heiny ends up lumpy, battered and bruised. Not to mention you inner elbows (is there a word for that part of your body?) start to look like you’ve been shooting heroin from all of the blood drawing required. However, it’s a small price that’s happily paid by those hoping to conceive.

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My husband has had the honor of “sticking it to me” on a nightly basis for a while now ;). It’s so much easier with help. Twisting yourself into some weird high-level yoga pose to get that gigantic needle into position and then watching yourself jab it into you own butt, is absolutely no fun at all. Also, I think it gives him a weird, sadistic pleasure getting to poke his wife with needles. All joking aside, I do believe that it is bonding in a way; it makes him feel more involved in the process and sympathetic to my situation.

I’ll tell you something though, you become a poking-prep expert pretty quickly: “I need to twist off the gray needle, twist the pink one onto the syringe, pull back to the two mark, insert needle into the bottle of medication, push up, then pull back, make sure there’s no bubbles, pull back again so liquid is out of the needle, remove the pink needle (or OUCH!), discard it in the Sharps container, twist on the gray needle, cap it then get the alcohol wipe and Band-Aid.” Veterans are laughing right now because it’s true. And that’s just for one of the syringes!

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After he’s done with the injection(s) he usually takes a tennis ball and rolls it around the area with moderate pressure so that I don’t get knots too badly. You may never look at a tennis ball the same way again. I know I don’t 

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After you have done the embryo transfer (a different kind of poking and prodding), and you are lucky enough to get a positive pregnancy blood test (this requires at least 3 more blood draws), you’ll probably remain on Progesterone and Delestrogen for most of the first trimester of your pregnancy. This is to “trick” your body into believing the embryo is yours and to not reject it. It’s similar in a way to what they do to an organ transplant patient. Once you are cleared and taken off all medication by your fertility doctor, those injections become a thing of the past and it becomes your basic old-fashioned pregnancy until birth.

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From His Perspective…..

We husbands can add a few details perhaps left unsaid by the surrogates.  Thankfully, all I have to say is positive and should be fun.

My wife might tell you that we learned about surrogacy through a friend who had been a surrogate twice in the past.  She might also then say, since her pregnancies were so smooth and easy, that providing the gift of children by acting as a vessel felt like an enriching experience.  She would be completely right to say that.  What she might not mention is, that after toying with the idea off and on for a couple of years–at one point she considered offering to carry her cousin’s child, but their adoption went through–she really didn’t start seriously thinking about it until around 10pm on December 20, 2011.

Now, it’s not that I’m good with dates or anything…okay, I am…but I have a secret I’ll divulge: Google. I had to look up the Season 1 Premiere of HBO’s Hung. The missus and I gave it our obligatory chance (it’s HBO so it must be good) and during one the main character’s epiphany moments of what his special talent might be, my wife turned to me and said she was thinking she might want to seriously look into being a surrogate.  Being well aware of her special talents, I took the high road and knew what she meant: she didn’t have a problem being pregnant; it would be equivalent to her getting a part-time job (but without leaving home); and she would make another couple extremely happy.

It didn’t take very long for me to consider it.  If she wanted to go through the whole experience, I would support her.  I was amazed at her ability to cope with her body changes with such grace the first two times around.  Thankfully, my wife handles discomfort and pain well.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been so comfortable with the idea.  It’s not that she internalizes it; she’s just good at gritting, bearing it, and taking frequent naps.  If she felt she could do it, so could I.

What I didn’t say up front was that I was really looking forward to her pregnant body as she fills out quite nicely.  I didn’t have any hang ups in relation to her carrying another person’s child.  It’s her body, not mine; and she could make whatever decision she wanted in regards to it.  Granted, I would have to live with those decisions.  This was a part that served well.  She bounced back smoothly from the past two pregnancies and had limited signs to show for it.  

What I didn’t realize until we were well into the process was how much fun it would be to mess with friends and family.  Telling them Mary’s pregnant and then watching the sideways glance since they all knew I had a vasectomy 5 years ago.  We’d let them hang on that for a little while, let the room get a little uncomfortable and then delve in for the laugh.  But what turned out to be the most fun and satisfying part of the whole experience was seeing the happiness on the Intended Parent’s (IP’s) faces.  They were just so delighted, which in turn, made me delighted. I remember the inexplicable happiness of holding both my girls when they were first born.  It was similar to watching a really good, heart-touching movie.  I got all the warm and fuzzies and then got to go home and have a good night’s sleep.

We’re working on our next surrogacy now since the first one went so well.  This time, like last, we’re partnered with a same sex couple that is more local that the last. This experience, so far, has been much more enriching.  I remember the excitement of witnessing the beginning of the process, the joy of knowing my child was growing, the adventure of seeing nature mature right in front of me…and most of all, the anticipation of seeing my child for the first time. These guys are going through all the same experiences I went through before.  I get to live vicariously through them and relive the whole experience, but this time, do it with the idea of giving such a priceless gift, as well.

My Story Thus Far…

I had a friend who had been a surrogate twice already. She got me thinking on it. I had had such easy pregnancies and was looking for a way to use my own special “talents” to help someone else.  I asked her out for a cup of coffee and picked her brain. She told me she thought I’d make a great surrogate. I’m happily married with two children and no plans for more. I’ve always been perfectly healthy, and my husband had a vasectomy after our second child. “No more kids than hands” was our motto. We love them both dearly and they are such perfect little clones of each of us, that we felt complete as a family. To be able to give that to someone else was such a mind-blowingly easy choice to make. My husband, kids, friends and family were all on board as well. Knowing all that; I submitted my application to Surrogate Alternatives (SAI) and began the process.

I met my first couple back in December of 2008. They were a lovely German couple who had been trying in many different ways to conceive for almost a decade. My heart just reached out to them. We instantly hit it off and began our journey together. Unfortunately, after many attempts, roadblocks and heartache they decided to stop trying. It was just too much for them and I completely understood. They told me it was nobody’s fault, just a lot of bad luck and that if they ever wanted to try again they’d choose me in a heartbeat. It was tough for me, but in retrospect I’m so glad it went this way because I now knew what could happen and was able to be mentally prepared for it. We are still good friends to this day.

SAI then placed me with another couple in September of 2011. They were a wonderful gay couple from Australia who had already had twins via surrogacy and wanted a younger sibling to complete their family. This time around it was easy-breezy! They had frozen embryos from their last time. We only used one and on the first attempt that little embryo stuck! Both they and I were amazed and overjoyed. My pregnancy was so easy too. Everything ran like clockwork with absolutely no hiccups. These guys were so supportive every step of the way. We exchanged emails, phone calls and communicated through Skype. I would give the guys updates and ultrasound pictures and we would chat about our lives. They even made it out for a couple of doctor visits and our families got to go to Disneyland together! My kids loved the fact that we were helping them have a baby and bragged to everyone they could about it.

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On September 23rd 2012 (which also happens to be the Founder of SAI’s birthday) their beautiful, perfectly healthy, little baby girl was born. I was just about a week early so they made it out the day after I delivered and were greeted with the newest member of their family. I was surprised at just how helpful and accommodating the hospital here was towards the whole surrogate situation. They made everyone feel so comfortable and the process ran smoothly. After the family got all the required paperwork done they went home with their little one and we still exchange emails and they send me super cute pictures of her.

I had such a warm feeling regarding every aspect of my journey that after I healed from my delivery I spoke with my husband and we decided we’d like to help another couple. All of the shots, doctor’s appointments, etc. is so worth it for the payoff of seeing a parent hold their child for the first time. Everyone who longs for a child of their own and to become a parent should have the opportunity; and I want nothing more than to be able to make that dream come true. I’ve been blessed with strong fertility and I have no desire for any more children of my own, so why shouldn’t someone else who is in need benefit from my help? It’s as simple as that.

As of this week, my contracts are signed with another gay couple and I’ve started injections. The embryo transfer should take place in Mid-March. This couple is local! It’s also their first rodeo and they are so elated to be starting a family! I can’t wait because this will be a totally different experience for all of us involved. Wish us luck and positive, sticky thoughts 🙂

 

To Bed Rest or Not To Bed Rest, That Is The Question?

Any woman who has used IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) will have an opinion on this matter. Do you need to stay lying down after an embryo transfer?  And if so, for how long?  Under what kind of conditions?  Most of these opinions are given to us by our fertility doctor, whose individual ideas range and vary themselves in this ongoing debate. There is still no clear cut winner.

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I just want to state the fact upfront, before I broach both sides of the argument: your freshly planted embryo WILL NOT FALL OUT. The female reproductive system is not designed that way. Once the little speck is in there, no matter how it got there, it stays. This by no means guarantees a baby, but that is one fear you absolutely do not need to worry yourself over. Ok here we go…

Nay-saying doctors don’t believe there is any substantial proof that bed rest increases your chance of conception; not even by 1%.  Confined to a bed and feeling useless when you are totally healthy can increase stress and nervousness, thus decreasing the chances of a friendly environment for the embryo to adhere to.  These are the type of doctors who like their patients to stay active and believe in a more “energetic” pregnancy. One of the more suspicious mothers I spoke with informed me she believes that bed rest is just a way for the doctors to have an excuse if the embryo doesn’t take. An out, if you will. “Well you must have gone down some stairs or got up to pee too often.” I do want to note, that most clinics that say no bed rest is needed do still recommend taking it easy for the first 24hrs afterward and no heavy lifting, but this is just common sense for any such procedure.

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Pro-bed rest doctors believe that even if it’s just a theory, it’s better to try it, if it means a better chance of conceiving. Who wouldn’t want to do everything possible to become pregnant? Bed rest doesn’t do any harm and its common sense to keep the womb horizontal for a better chance of stickiness. It’s been described as a time when a woman can relax and ward off the anxiety that is often the enemy of fertility. These are the type of doctors who believe in a “calm and relaxed” kind of pregnancy. Although, the length of said bed rest varies from as little as one day, to as many as ten.

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Speaking from my own personal experience, I don’t have any answers either (sorry). I have used both types of doctors. I’ve done three days of strict bed rest at a hotel down the street from the clinic because they wanted to keep my movement very limited.   I’ve also been sent home 15 minutes after the procedure and told to take it easy for the rest of the day. Both ways worked. The first did result in a blighted ovum and, unfortunately, a D&C, but my body held on to the embryo like it was supposed to. In that way it was a success. The second stuck fast right away and turned into a healthy fetus. So, I, personally, am at a loss. I’ve spoken to other mothers who have had the broad spectrum of results from working out right after to taking it super easy the whole ‘in between” time.  Each had vastly different results in each scenario.

The in-between time, is the time from your transfer to blood test. It’s that exciting/awful unknowing time when you don’t know if in the next week you’ll be crying or laughing. It’s stressful whether you are lying down or not, but I don’t know which is the lesser of two evils. What I do gather is it really depends on what kind of a person you are. Are you the kind that needs to stay busy so as not to think about things you have no control over?   Or, are you the kind who finds being calm helps relieve you? These are elements best discussed with your personal physician.  They can really give you the most tailor-made advice. Just know your of all options and do what you believe is best for YOU and you can’t go wrong.

Hurry Up and Wait… from matching to contracts to cycling

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What many people don’t realize is that with surrogacy, there are many steps to take before you can even start trying to become pregnant.

A woman who wishes to become a surrogate fills out a super long, in-depth application; gets checked out physically and mentally; and has her background checked to make sure she isn’t really the missing Anastasia. Then she waits to hear back from the agency for the green light.

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If she’s cleared, she’s put in a database with other women in the same situation and waits to be chosen by an Intended Parent (IP). It’s up to the agency to find and match suitable surrogates with IPs. You want to be on this journey with someone you get along or “click” with. This is very important and sometimes it’s an instantaneous click and sometimes it’s not. Even if a woman has been a surrogate before she still has to go through this process each time she re-applies.

Once this stage of the process is complete–and it can take months to get matched–she steps into the legal process. A legal contract for both parties to review is provided by the IP’s lawyer and reviewed with the surrogate by her lawyer. Luckily, SAI works with specially trained fertility-law specialists who know what they are doing and have been doing it for decades. However, the law is the law. There are mountains of paperwork which are a necessary evil (and a good sleeping aid) to get through.

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After everything is all legal eagle–which can take a month or more–it’s time to either match up cycles with the egg donor or IP (if using fresh embryos) or straight on to the poking and prodding (if the IPs have frozen embryos). Either way, this is part of the journey usually takes another month and is full of fun things like vaginal ultrasounds, peeing in a cup, different hormonal injections and daily medication. When using a gestational surrogate, the body must be “tricked” into thinking it’s pregnant so it won’t reject a foreign embryo. Hooray for science! But again… it’s the wait is about another month or so.

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In my personal experience, these three steps can take anywhere from 3-6 months’ time to achieve pregnancy, if it works on the 1st go round. Patience is a virtue and the rewards are well worth it in the end. So as Dori from Finding Nemo would say: “Just keep swimming”…….You’ll get there.

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We’re Not In It For The Money… which is why an agency is so important to me.

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When people find out that I’m a surrogate, the very first thing they usually ask me is “How much do you get paid?” I felt their question was insulting, but I’ve come to realize that it’s just plain curiosity and they’re not judging me. I now tell them “I don’t.”, which is true. We surrogates do not get paid to have someone else’s baby. It’s not a buying and selling market, like if you wanted a new pet. This is a person’s child, a human being that they themselves could not physically carry.

As surrogates, we are helping them receive what they have been yearning for. We do what we do for the emotional fulfillment and to give something back because we are capable. We do get compensated for pain and suffering (which let me tell you…and I will in another blog post sometime down the road…there is plenty of), however, that compensation equals to about the same as working a part time job. That compensation allows us to do what we do, making it financially possible to be pregnant for another, while having our own family as well. We’ve gone through having the joy of our own children and the money allows us to do the same for someone else. The compensation can help put surrogates in a better financial position as well.  We can go back to school; put a down payment on a home; it can help a stay-at-home mom set realistic goals and feel useful. People seem to have this idea in their heads that if you carry someone else’s child you get all your debts paid off, free plastic surgery, a platinum card, AND a new car! Not to mention getting showered with gifts from your intended parents who must be millionaires themselves (not!).

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The truth: it’s expensive to conceive a child if you can’t do it the ol’ fashioned way. Most people who come to the decision that they need a surrogate are already financially strapped. They have probably gone through tens of thousands of dollars already via fertility treatments, etc. Just because someone wants their own baby using modern technology doesn’t mean they are wealthy. This is why Surrogate Alternatives is so helpful. They know all of this. They deal with the finances. They help everyone understand what is needed and what expenses to expect and why some things are necessary and some are not.

Please remember, it’s more than just the intended parents and the surrogate involved. There are many factors to consider: the different types of insurance needed, fertility clinics, lab work, travel, doctors, hospitals, lawyers, and the red tape that is the law. From personal experience, you should not do this on your own. On both sides of the playing-field, it can be financially and emotionally challenging. Having experienced professionals that know the ropes and have gone through every possible scenario is invaluable. Someone in your corner to fight for you and make sure things come out all right can be the difference between life and death for some (thankfully very rarely). And when it all works out beautifully, oh how amazing that is!

I want to bring you all hope, not discourage you. Yes, the money is an issue but remember the rewards: the surrogate who can be proud of herself and her children, who are proud of her because she gave something special to someone in need, while improving her (and her families) life. The new parents who finally get to bring a beautiful baby (or two) home with them and be together for the very first time as a real family. It is that boost up a tall wall. The reality of surrogacy is that it may be an unconventional situation, but those same feelings of happiness are still there once you have climbed over that wall. We are not in the business of selling babies, we are an alternative route to parenthood, walked together creating families.

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