By Kristy Koser, Guest Blogger
My husband Nate and I had been trying to conceive for almost 10 years. We tried on and off for over 5 years on our own, tracking my cycles, body temperature, and ovulation. But after no success we decided to make an appointment at the nearest fertility clinic. We started with six rounds of Clomid, which resulted in two pregnancy losses, then moved to four rounds of IUI, which were all unsuccessful, then finally to IVF. We completed 6 fresh rounds and 5 frozen rounds of IVF, resulting in one pregnancy loss, a lot of tears, unsuccessful cycles, and 2 precious frozen embryos. We endured round after round of embryo banking, genetic testing for all our embryos, an endometrium biopsy, laparoscopy, and loads of Viagra (yep, you heard that correctly, it helps with chronically thin uterine lining). By the end of 2015, after our last failed cycle we were exhausted and feeling hopeless. For some unexplained reason, my uterus was unable to sustain life and we couldn’t imagine putting one more embryo back into it after seeing so many not make it through that two week wait. So, we decided to pursue gestational surrogacy, and guess what? It worked.
I could share so many things I learned on our journey to become parents, I often consult with women and couples who are making hard decisions regarding their reproductive health. I’m a full time couples therapist who specializes in fertility counseling for couples, and I know first hand these decisions are multifaceted and ridiculously complex. Most people tend to ask me about the process of surrogacy, what it’s like, how we found our carrier, and what the logistics of such an arrangement. I have had some people email me for what to expect, so I’ll share a bit of what I told them, what I’ve learned along the way living in Virginia, and tips to pursue your own journey if you are lucky enough to experience the beauty of surrogacy.
First, you need to find out what type of surrogacy is right for you. There is traditional surrogacy using her egg or gestational surrogacy using all your gametes. Ours is gestational surrogacy, it’s my egg and my husband’s sperm, an embryo from one of our IVF rounds.
Next you need to consider the cost. Typically online you will see the cost is fairly high, that’s usually because people haven’t started IVF (which is so costly itself)! So, if you already have embryos in storage you are ahead of the game! If you have not started IVF or do not have any embryos, look for a clinic that has a success or refund package deal–so that means after “x” amount of rounds if you are not successful then you get your money back. We did this and our package included 6 fresh rounds and unlimited frozen transfers. This helped big time. Also consider the fact you will pay a surrogate as well. She is the ultimate babysitter, and you are paying for high quality childcare for those precious 9 months! Prices on this range and should be determined between you and your surrogate. This also means you pay all of the medical bills–so plan to pay for co-pays at the doctor, birthing costs, bed rest costs (if she works and has to be on bed rest), and possible maternity leave.
Once you have figured out your finances and the type of surrogate you are looking for, it then becomes a task of finding that special person. There are surrogacy agencies that can help to match you with someone or you can find someone on your own. I would suggest getting the word out to fertility clinics, OBGYNs, and close friends. Sometimes clinics have surrogates they have worked with in the past so it’s always good to let your clinic know first that you would like their help in finding someone. We happened to find someone in our community, which has been ideal for us, but sometimes you have to be open to looking out of state.
Once you’ve found your surrogate, it’s time to look at your state’s laws regarding surrogacy. I would suggest finding a good reproductive attorney very early in the process; your clinic should have recommendations. The first thing your attorney will ask is to check your surrogate’s insurance to make sure she is legally able to use her insurance for surrogacy (DO THIS FIRST)! If she cannot use her insurance, you will probably want to find someone else, only because the cost could be so high out of pocket. But likely it will be good to go! Then once everything is in place, you will create a surrogacy contact that is legally binding. This requires her to find an attorney (at your cost) to prepare and represent her in the process. By law you have to have a contract–this can be a bit of a pain because it’s lengthy and detailed, but this is the one time you want it to be! So if you are considering using your friend, just be prepared for a lot of conversation around worst-case scenarios and all the “what ifs” the contract will include. There may be other laws for your state and sometimes policies of your clinic that include medical screenings for her and her partner along with psychological testing and required counseling in order to proceed.
Once the contracts, counseling, screenings, and legal requirements are complete then your surrogate is ready to prep her body for a frozen embryo transfer (if using a gestational carrier). She will use all of the typical medications for a frozen transfer and everything will proceed like normal. Then when the time is right, transfer happens! My husband and I were both at transfer–it was surreal to see what happened to me so many times happening to someone else. It was crazy to think my baby was floating around in someone else’s uterus, and there was an instant trust this person will take care of it. Thankfully she did, and one of our two embryos found a cozy place to implant and baby K is coming in August! Now, according to the doctors we are a “normal” pregnant couple, minus the fact I’m not pregnant and someone else is carrying our child. But somehow it feels like the most normal part of the last four years. It’s the only thing that makes sense and we are certain this was how it was always supposed to be. Check with your state laws, then find a good reproductive lawyer to check on her insurance. Get that process started first, because legal contracts can take a while. Then your clinic and lawyer will help guide you through the rest.
I know this information feels like a lot, and I won’t lie, it is. But, you already know what it’s like to work hard for this baby. Hang in there, while there are lots of strings to hold, I promise it will be worth the wait.