Intended parents often fall distinctly into one camp or another – those who are comfortable seeking a surrogate mother only through an agency, and those who prefer to find one independently. In my book “Surrogacy Success: An Intended Parents’ Guide to a Rewarding Relationship With Their Surrogate Mother” I discuss some of the reasons that intended parents opt to go through an agency or opt to search independently, but what about surrogate mothers? What motivates them to sign on to an agency or decide to seek an independent match?
The Motivations of Surrogate Mothers
Much the same as intended parents, surrogate mothers are motivated by a variety of factors and have their own set of preferences. Some women find comfort in an agency doing all of the searching and screening for them with the knowledge that any potential couple they meet with is serious and able to proceed should they agree to work together. Also the process of listing online classified ads or replying to ads posted by potential intended parents can be very tedious and time-consuming with a lot of information to keep track of.
Surrogacy also requires a lot of paperwork and legal forms and an agency usually manages this for both the intended parents and surrogate mothers. For a surrogate mother, an agency streamlines the whole process from start to finish, from making an initial match with intended parents through the final post-birth paperwork. And if an agency can’t take care of any part of the legal paperwork, they will refer you to someone who can.
Why Don’t All Surrogates Use an Agency?
So why don’t all surrogates sign on with agencies, if it makes things easier for them? Again, the reasons are varied. Some surrogate mothers enjoy the searching and screening of intended parents and have the time to devote to it. Others are sensitive to the costs that an agency adds to the process and are willing to match with intended parents independently in order to make surrogacy more affordable for infertile couples. And in some cases, a surrogate may have been turned down by one or more agencies but she still feels able to successfully carry, so she seeks an independent match.
My Agency and Independent Experiences
When I was pursuing my first surrogacy as a woman new to the whole process, I was much more comfortable with the idea of using an agency and did not consider an independent arrangement until I’d completed several surrogacies. Even then I ended up using agencies six out of my seven times. To give you insight into my thoughts and decisions that guided my agency and independent surrogacy experiences, I’ve detailed each of my surrogacy experiences here for you.
Surrogacy #1 – Agency #1
I used a local agency for my first surrogacy and had a good experience with the process. I met with the agency head for my initial screening and for her to get to know me so she could find the best match. I appreciated having someone lead me through all the steps of a surrogacy arrangement, from the medical screening to the psychological assessment to the legal advising.
Although I had not experienced surrogacy before, I knew that I wanted to be matched with a local couple to share the experience with. Because I live in a large urban area, the agency had a lot of local couples waiting to be matched, so this was easy to accomplish (and it probably would have been much more difficult should I have chosen to find a couple independently).
The owner matched me with local intended parents and we had a successful pregnancy. The owner of the agency arranged everything and prepared all the papers for us so all we had to do was sign them. Medically and administratively, it was a very simple process and one I would not have known how to negotiate on my own.
Surrogacy #2 – Agency #1
My first surrogacy experience was not as rewarding as I had hoped – I wanted a close, loving relationship but the couple preferred something more distant and cool. Once I was medically cleared to carry again, I contacted the agency to match me with a new couple to carry for. The owner knew how disappointed I was with my first experience, and quickly matched me with a couple who had the same relationship expectations as I did. It was a wonderful experience and administratively smooth and easy.
Surrogacy #3 – Agency #1
My third surrogacy was much the same as the second – I was matched with wonderful intended parents and we had a smooth, rewarding experience. I used the same fertility office, Shady Grove Fertility Center, for my first three surrogacies.
Surrogacy #4 – Agency #1
By this time I trusted my agency to make good matches for me, and it was always quick and easy. I would decide when I wanted to carry again and just give the agency a call, and usually within a few weeks I would have a meeting set up with a set of intended parents. For my fourth surrogacy, though, I was no longer eligible to use Shady Grove Fertility Center – they considered me too high risk having had six previous pregnancies and two c-sections (although I had a vaginal birth in surrogacy #3 and had medical clearance from my OB to carry again).
Therefore, this time my agency had to find a couple to match me with who used a fertility center that would accept me, and luckily she had just such a couple. They used Dominion Fertility and I was cleared by them to carry. I had another successful pregnancy and delivery.
Surrogacy #5 – Agency #1 (but almost not)
This surrogacy was for the same couple as my fourth one, so we discussed the option of handling all the paperwork ourselves because there was no matching or screening to be done. When the couple decided they wanted us to begin a second surrogacy together, we met with Dominion Fertility ourselves. This time we did not get the automatic green light – Dominion now considered me high risk to carry because I’d had seven prior pregnancies, which was above their limit for pregnancy history. But because I’d carried for this couple previously and the RE knew and trusted my OB (my OB had delivered our RE’s children – so we definitely had that in our favor!), he granted us clearance to proceed.
The couple elected to go back to the agency and have them take care of the escrow and all the usual paperwork rather than handling it all themselves (I was comfortable with them paying me directly, as we had developed a very close relationship). They felt it would be smoother and safer to pay the agency do everything, which was also fine with me.
Surrogacy #6 – Agency #2 (after some independent false starts)
When I was ready to carry again, I contacted my agency to see if they were able to match me, knowing that because I’d had eight prior pregnancies, it would not be easy or even feasible this time. The owner emailed me back saying that she didn’t know of any local fertility center that would accept me, but she would check with one possibility.
She sent them my medical records and they apparently rejected me. She wrote me an email saying as much, stating that “they won’t accept you into their program - it looks like you’re done.”
I’ll be honest, that stung quite a bit.
It wasn’t being told that the fertility center wouldn’t take me on that bothered me so much as the way the news was delivered. After providing five successful surrogacy experiences for the agency’s clients and them making tens of thousands of dollars from me carrying, I felt that I deserved a little more courtesy than an abrupt email stating “looks like you’re done.”
This really bothered me, but it did not deter me.
I knew that there were other fertility centers that might accept me (and again, I had medical clearance from my OB to carry again), so I began an independent search. I emailed with many couples and spoke at length with three different ones, none of which worked out as a good match for various reasons.
I knew a woman who was now running her own surrogacy agency and contacted her for advice. Although she shared the concern of finding a fertility center that would accept me, she felt the chances were good. She asked for my medical records and sent them to a few places, one of which was the exact same fertility center than the previous agency had supposedly tried.
Upon reviewing my outstanding pregnancy and delivery history, they immediately accepted me. The new agency matched me with one couple that seemed a good prospect and we had plans to talk by phone, but on the day the call was scheduled, the couple backed out, saying they were concerned about my age (I was 42 at the time). I was rematched with another local couple, we hit it off, and I successfully carried again.
Surrogacy #7 – Independent
I was planning to carry again for my previous couple, but they weren’t sure they wanted another child. In the mean time, a local surrogate friend introduced me to a couple she had known for years who needed a surrogate mother and desperately needed a good experience (there’s a plot twist here!).
This couple had their first child through a surrogate and used my Agency #2. However, the agency did not do a thorough background check on their surrogate mother and didn’t know she had a legal judgment pending against her. While she was pregnant with the couple’s child, she went to jail (I can’t even imagine!).
The pregnancy ended with the successful and healthy delivery of their son, but the couple was angry, hurt, and bewildered over their experience with their surrogate mother and the agency. They wanted another child, but didn’t feel they could trust anyone.
Our mutual friend put us in touch with one another, we met, and we hit it off. They were a very lovely couple and they felt comfortable with my wide range of experiences (they were reassured by that, no doubt). They were not exactly local to me – they lived about 2 hours away – but they worked with a very open-minded fertility doctor who was happy to have me carry for them based on my medical history.
Because they’d been let down by their agency before, and because we both had been through surrogacy already, and because we had a mutual surrogate friend who we’d both known for years and trusted, we all felt comfortable with an independent arrangement. We hired attorneys to draw up and review the contracts, an escrow agent to handle the funds, and another attorney to handle the birth-related paperwork, and thankfully everything went off without a hitch.
With Experience Comes Knowledge
I feel grateful to have had good experiences with both my agency and independent matches, yet I also feel grateful to have a glimpse into some of the downsides of both types of surrogacy arrangements. I’m acutely aware that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and both types of arrangements can succeed or fail.
While I used an agency for the majority of my surrogacy arrangements and was generally happy with that, I know many surrogate mothers who only work independently – it’s just what they’re most comfortable with and what works the best for them. And truthfully, my independently arranged surrogacy was no more work for me than my previous agency-arranged surrogacy, and was equally rewarding.
When asked for off-the-cuff advice on how to find a surrogate, I always tell people to research agencies first, and then if they feel an agency is unaffordable or they’re looking for more control over the process, they should look at independent options.
Although there is a wealth of information available online about how to find a surrogate mother and execute a surrogacy arrangements, it really is a personal process. Deciding which path to take boils down to your comfort level in the process, your level of trust in your gut to ask important questions and make important decisions, and your time availability and skill to manage what can be a complicated and emotional process.
There is no path that’s universally right for each couple and surrogate, but being fully informed about the process is the most valuable first step.