Deciding to work with a surrogate to have a baby is a big decision that brings with it a lot of considerations. The good news is that there’s a well-trodden path that can help guide the best path for family building and planning.
Know the law
Start by understanding your local laws. In the United States, surrogacy laws vary state-to-state. Some states allow surrogacy but not paid surrogacy, which creates a trickier path to parenthood. Other states outright ban surrogacy and agreements are criminally punishable (though it’s not clear how often they are enforced).
Ovia Health Coach and fertility specialist, Christine, says, “Finding a surrogate who resides in a “pre-birth order” state can help to reduce legal costs and logistical complications. In these states, a petition is filed at around 20 weeks for a pre-birth order. Once the judge signs off, the baby is legally the intended parents’, even in utero. The intended parents’ names go right on the birth certificate immediately.”
Christine also notes, “The intended parents’ attorney and the surrogate’s attorney (which the intended parents will pay for) work together to draft an agreement outlining all aspects of the agreement. Who pays for what and when, which escrow company is used, parental rights or relinquishment of rights, etc. Legal clearance is needed in order to proceed.”
Many intended parents seek surrogate arrangements in other countries where the practice may be more exercised and the costs may be lower. Regardless of where you look to work with a surrogate, start by having a strong understanding of the law. You don’t want to risk any legal battles or concerns over parentage rights to your baby. If resources allow, it’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer that has experience with adoption, surrogacy and family law.
Pursuing surrogacy in a state that has different laws from the state you live in can prove tricky. Be sure to learn what laws are enforced by the state the surrogate lives in as distinct from the state you might live in and how that impacts your rights. Legal counsel may be a helpful resource to consider to help guide you.
Identify the right agency
Once you understand the legal landscape, the next step is to identify an agency that works with surrogates. This is the best way to find an individual who you know or may not know. Agencies do tend to take a fee, but they vet the potential surrogates and can connect you with a person who’s a good fit.
Online reviews, news articles, social media, and online groups can help vet which agencies may have a better track record than others. It’s worth taking the time to research so you don’t end up in a sticky situation.
Understand the process and costs
Meet with the agency and complete the intake process. They will explain how the process works in detail, from identifying a sperm or egg donor, to securing health insurance, to interviewing potential candidates for logistical and personality fit. Be sure to get a full rundown of the legal parameters, the steps in the process and what’s included, and the pricing.
Costs can run quite high for intended parents working with a surrogate (in the six-figure range all-in), so be sure to create a budget and make sure you’ve included all relevant expenses, including unanticipated ones (e.g. if you end up needing to travel more than planned during the pregnancy, or stay longer before being able to return home after the baby is born).
Many people say they end up feeling kinship with their surrogates. Agencies will have certain criteria for people to be eligible to serve as a surrogate, including that they have already experienced pregnancy previously. Many are already parents and don’t want another child but had an easy time with pregnancy or liked being pregnant and want to help other families who can’t conceive on their own.
Working with a surrogate to make a baby is complicated and the outcomes are unpredictable. Pregnancies don’t always take, bodies don’t always cooperate. Complications can occur. It’s important for all parties to expect the unexpected. If things don’t go as anticipated or on the first try, it’s easy to get frustrated after investing so much emotionally and financially, but that is the nature of the business – and biology!
It’s important to be intentional about managing expectations and understand that the surrogacy agreement needs to have some built-in malleability to navigate what can be a roller coaster of events and emotions.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team