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Why I Became a Gestational Surrogate | Savannah's Story

One woman shares her journey to becoming a surrogate and what the process is really like.

April 24th, 2024 | 11 min. read

By Sierra Dehmler

The path to parenthood through gestational surrogacy is complex, requiring coordinated efforts from many different parties: the intended parent(s), a physician, fertility clinic team, surrogacy agency, legal experts, and sometimes donors. In this story, one woman shares how her experience working in a fertility clinic led her to become a surrogate herself.

In this article:

Editor's Note: We are so grateful to Savannah for being willing to share her story with us in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week. To learn what RESOLVE and other organizations are doing to protect access to fertility and family-building care across the United States, please visit their website.

Meet Savannah

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Savannah and her husband have always highly valued family. After getting married, they had two children of their own and embraced parenthood.

After working in the field of fertility for seven years, and as a Patient Navigator on Illume Fertility's Third Party Reproduction Team for four years, Savannah developed a unique perspective on the world of gestational surrogacy.

Working with intended parents, clinical teams, surrogacy agencies, donors, and gestational carriers on a daily basis to help families grow soon became not just a professional mission, but a personal one.

Third party reproduction is when someone besides the intended parents (the individual or couple raising the child) contributes eggs, sperm, or an embryo, or carries a pregnancy for them. This may involve an egg donor, sperm donor, embryo donor, or gestational carrier (surrogate).

A Turning Point 

"My younger sister approached me to share some of her own fertility obstacles, thinking that she might need the help of in vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive," Savannah says. "As our conversation continued, I told her that I would be there to help her through this - even if that meant serving as her egg donor or surrogate."

Following this conversation with her sister, Savannah realized that she might want to help other hopeful parents realize their own dreams by becoming a surrogate herself.

"I would have done it [for my sister] in a heartbeat," Savannah adds. "Realizing that is what sparked my desire to help other people who might need an egg donor or surrogate to help them build their families." 

Becoming a Gestational Carrier

As soon as Savannah recognized her desire to explore becoming a surrogate, she knew she needed to have some big conversations with her husband. "At the time of that conversation with my sister, my husband was not into the idea," she says. "He had his beliefs and I had mine, and since they didn't align, we dropped the conversation."

Later on, after a colleague asked if she'd ever considered being a surrogate herself, Savannah shared the discussion she'd had with her sister, and subsequently decided to revisit the conversation with her husband. 

"At this point, I had four more years of third party reproduction experience under my belt, which meant I also had more knowledge on the topic," Savannah says.

Being able to explain the process in a more in-depth manner helped her husband understand what it would entail. "I was able to bring my husband around to the idea that we could be doing something really amazing - blessing another family with a longed-for child."

Step 1: Medical and Psychological Screening 

After deciding to move forward with the process of trying to become a surrogate, Savannah underwent various medical and psychological screenings. "The medical assessment was really easy, as I already knew what to expect thanks to my third-party experience," she says.

"The psychological screening was enlightening, and very informative," Savannah adds. "The process [of talking with a social worker] gave me some great pointers that I've kept in my back pocket for the journey ahead."

Note: This process also involves an assessment of the prospective surrogate's partner.

Step 2: Legal Contracts and Considerations

Surprisingly, the legal aspect was the most difficult part for them, says Savannah.

While having a solid understanding of gestational surrogacy gave her a good idea of what to expect, helping her husband absorb all the legal jargon and information being presented was challenging. "The legal discussions we had were very intense, but at the same time, felt very reassuring," she admits. 

Why is surrogacy so legally complex?

Aside from the obvious emotional and physical commitments required of a gestational carrier, the legal aspect of the process requires several key considerations: 

1. Varying Laws & Regulations
  • No federal law: In the United States, there is no single federal law governing surrogacy.
  • State-by-state: This means laws around surrogacy differ wildly between states. Some states are supportive, some have outright bans, and others remain in a legal gray area.
  • International complications: Laws can be even more challenging if intended parents and their chosen surrogate live in different states or countries. 
2. Protecting All Parties Involved

Surrogacy arrangements involve many deeply sensitive ethical and legal issues that demand careful consideration and planning, such as:

  • Parental rights: Who are the legal parents of the child, and how are these rights established? Courts must navigate issues like pre-birth orders or post-birth parentage establishment. This can be extra complicated for international intended parents. Circle Surrogacy explains why.
  • Surrogate's rights: Protecting the bodily autonomy, health, and well-being of the surrogate is paramount. This includes how medical decisions will be made and how potential risks to her health will be addressed.
  • The child's best interest: All contracts and legal agreements must ensure the future child's rights are considered and protected long-term.
3. Financial Considerations
  • Compensation: Surrogacy is typically quite costly (ranging anywhere from $100,000 - $250,000+ on average). Legal agreements must outline issues of surrogate compensation, who pays for medical expenses, insurance coverage, potential lost wages, etc.
  • Unforeseen expenses: Legal contracts also need to address unexpected circumstances, such as complications in the pregnancy or changes in either party's situation.
4. Ethical and Emotional Complexities
  • Informed consent: Ensuring the gestational carrier fully understands the risks, rights, and long-term implications of this big decision is a cornerstone of responsible surrogacy agreements.
  • Decision-making: Who has authority over various aspects of the pregnancy and potential medical scenarios that could arise? How will decisions be made?
  • Potential for disputes: Even with careful planning, the emotional and personal nature of surrogacy can lead to disagreements that need legal resolution. Anticipating any potential issues (and agreeing on how they would be resolved) is critical.

Note: It is essential that anyone considering becoming a gestational carrier consult with an experienced attorney specializing in surrogacy law in their relevant jurisdiction.

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Step 3: Matching with Intended Parents

After receiving medical and psychological clearance, Savannah was sent two profiles of intended parents to consider (through the agency she was working with, Circle Surrogacy).

"We got to read through their profiles and decide which intended parents we would like to match with," Savannah says. "It was an easy decision from there, but we did a lot of talking and thinking about what our idea of a future relationship with our IPs would look like."

Savannah adds that she feels Circle Surrogacy did a great job during the matching process.

"Going into this journey for the first time was kind of surreal," Savannah admits. "I sort of knew what I was getting into; providing information about my previous pregnancies and talking to experts about the process was the easy part."

After she matched with her intended parents, Savannah says she felt nervous, yet excited. "Reading through the profile of my now intended parents, hearing the story of their life, their family, and their struggles really touched me and my husband," she adds. "We love our IPs!" 

Defining Intended Parent(s)

The term 'intended parent(s)' refers to the individual or couple who will raise the child born through a surrogacy arrangement. The intended parents will also be recognized as the child's legal parents. Intended parents may or may not have a biological connection to the child (if the intended parents' own egg and/or sperm are used in the IVF process). 

Step 4: Preparing for Embryo Transfer 

Now that Savannah has completed all of her required screenings and signed various legal contracts, she has started injections to help prepare her body for an embryo transfer. As things progress, everything is becoming more real (and more exciting).

"The best part of all of this is the thought of being able to help give joy to this wonderful intended family," Savannah says. "At this point, I like to think we are pretty good friends with our IPs - they are sweet, super funny, relatable and down to earth - we feel very comfortable chatting with them."

The intended parents Savannah is working with even invited her and her husband to a concert and dinner to get to know each other better.

As Savannah prepares for her first embryo transfer alongside her intended parents, she feels lucky to have such a supportive, experienced team guiding her - both on the fertility clinic side and the surrogacy agency side. (Here's why having both teams is important.)

Choosing a Surrogacy Agency

Those looking to become a gestational carrier (GC) will most often work with a surrogacy agency. For Savannah, the choice was clear - she wanted to work with Circle Surrogacy, an agency she had extensive experience interacting with in a professional capacity through Illume.

"Knowing what I know [about Circle Surrogacy] through my work and the conferences I’ve been to, their overall practice is on point," Savannah says. "Fun fact: I'd previously applied and interviewed to work on the Circle team! In that process, I learned a lot about the company."

"Circle Surrogacy's social work services are great," she adds. "They are always available and always informative; their social media groups are also helpful."

Finding the Right Agency For You

Choosing the right surrogacy agency is a crucial decision for prospective surrogates and intended parents alike. Here's a quick rundown of some key factors to consider when comparing agencies:

  • Experience and track record - How many years has the agency been operating? What are their success rates? Can you read any testimonials?
  • Screening process - How thoroughly does the agency screen their candidates and intended parents? What are their requirements for surrogates?
  • Support services - What sort of support will you receive from the agency? Do they provide professional counseling and mental health support? How about legal services?
  • Financial considerations - Ask for a detailed breakdown of the agency's compensation package. Do they provide health insurance, life insurance coverage, reimbursement for expenses such as a travel, lost wages, or other common costs?
  • Values and philosophy - Do they prioritize the surrogate's well-being and advocate for her needs? How do they communicate with surrogates? Do you feel the agency aligns with your personal values and feels like a good fit?

How to gather information:

  1. If you are interested in possibly becoming a surrogate, schedule initial consultations with multiple agencies and ask specific questions about the factors listed above.
  2. Explore online resources like Men Having Babies' agency comparison tool
  3. Finally, try to connect with other surrogates and get their firsthand perspectives and recommendations. 

Navigating Outside Opinions On Surrogacy

While Savannah's husband came around to the idea of surrogacy, others in her life have expressed disapproval. "I have some hills to climb with family members who are more religious and closed-minded about my decision to be a surrogate," she says. "It doesn’t change my relationship with them entirely, but it does make things harder to navigate."

Even so, Savannah says that their opinions of her choice haven't changed how and why she's moving forward on this incredible journey to help another family grow. 

Sierra Dehmler

Sierra Dehmler is Illume Fertility’s Content Marketing Manager - and also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other fertility patients by demystifying the fertility treatment process.

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