Abortion On Request: 5 Facts Of Life As A Surrogate Mom
Modern life is just wonderful, or it's a lot longer than it used to be, at least. People are having babies later, and probably aspartame and fluoride are making us all infertile. That's why surrogate pregnancy has become not only a sci-fi miracle but a booming business. After all, having babies sucks -- why not pay someone else to do it for you? And if you're good at having babies (a rarer skill than you'd think), why not get paid for it?
We talked to one woman who did just that, and it turns out that there's plenty of weirdness involved:
If The Baby Isn't What They Want, They May Ask You To Abort
They call it "selective reduction," and it's part of what a surrogate has to negotiate in advance. Some prospective parents are looking for specific things in their baby, and the bun that goes in the surrogate's oven may not turn out "right." If it doesn't, well ...
A big one is gender: If the parents are adamant that they want a girl, you have to decide if you're OK with terminating in the event that it comes up penised. In vitro fertilization also often requires the implantation of more than one embryo, in case one or more doesn't "take," so if three go in and all of them happen to get settled, but the couple isn't prepared for triplets, it might get Sophie's Choice up in here. They might even offer to pay you more to sway your decision.
"This'll cover at least three years of therapy co-pays."
This is a huge point of contention, which is why it must be agreed upon in the contract before the partnership commences (yes, there is a contract -- you'll be hearing more about it in a moment). The couple I worked with wanted twin boys, and luckily that's what they ended up with, because I said I wouldn't selectively reduce for any reason other than health risks to me or the babies. Since some of those risks can be caused by genetic abnormalities, I agreed to undergo genetic testing early in the pregnancy, which became quite literally a sticking point. They wanted to do an amniocentesis, which is a horrifying process involving jamming a needle into your belly and extracting amniotic fluid for testing (it also happens to present a higher risk for miscarriage and other issues). In the end, we agreed upon a less risky procedure.
And, as messy as those disagreements can be, now add in the fact that no state really enforces the surrogacy contracts and that paid surrogacy is illegal in many states. That means that, contract or no, parents can refuse to take custody of a "defective" baby under the "you birthed it, you bought it" statute, so you might end up going home with someone you didn't intend to, which rarely works out well. There have also been problems with surrogates who decided they wanted to keep the baby after it was born, and there's no legal way of stopping them. To prevent any of that awfulness from happening, they do the DNA test right there in the hospital to legally declare that it is the couple's genetic child.
"For the last time, Mr. Povich, we're not hiring."
All of this is why surrogacy involves a shitload of preparation beforehand. For instance ...
The Parents Want To Know What You -- And Your Family -- Look Like
When you sign up to be a surrogate, they put together a profile for infertile couples to browse and make their selection. It's very much like a dating profile: It shows your name, age, weight, why you're there (why you want to be a surrogate), your likes and dislikes (long walks on the beach), whether you'll work with gay/transgender/religious/foreign couples, whether you're willing to undergo genetic testing for the fetus or the aforementioned selective reduction, etc.
So, basically, OKFecunditas.
They even ask for pictures -- not just of you but your whole family (most surrogates have their own children already). The pictures are basically to prove that you are who you say you are, but I suspect they wanna preview the factory's output, because you also have to include every little detail about your history of birthin' babies. They need to make sure the equipment they're renting is in good working condition, after all.
Near-mint condition, only opened twice, slight tear in the corner.
The difference for the surrogate is you don't get to browse for couples. You don't get to know anything about anyone until someone chooses you, at which point you find out basic information like their age and location, and if you agree to consider working with them, they send you a full profile. That profile is still much less extensive, including only a few photos, a letter from each partner about why they want to use a surrogate, and a joint letter about what they expect from their "carrier" (yes, that's the word they use, and yes, it did make me feel a little like Catherine McCormack in 28 Weeks Later).
I didn't kiss anyone for months, just in case.
Then you have a phone conference, then you meet with them, and then begins the endless back-and-forth with the contract. This is where you learn that ...
Parents Can Make You Do Weird Things
Is there more contract talk in all this than you expected? Hey, just look at what's at stake; there's a lot of paperwork involved in building a house, too, and this is a freaking human being we're making here.
So, for instance, the parents are paying for everything during the pregnancy, which means that I, as the surrogate, am expensing it all. I would turn in receipts for my prenatal massages, turn in maps to show the exact amount of miles I was driving so I could get reimbursed for gas money, etc. Between all of that accounting and the endless back-and-forth with the contract (we had drafts of contracts going back three or four times before we signed it), it was so much paperwork that it was mentally exhausting. You have to get every single document from your OB every time you go, and then you print out the maps when you get home. I had to get all of the records from my previous pregnancies. You're constantly filling out paperwork for release forms. It was so much paperwork going back and forth that the UPS lady knew me by name. She would be like, "Hey, what's up? You're like 28 weeks now, right?"
"Yes. Don't kiss me."
And every little thing that the parents decide you are and aren't allowed or required to do during your pregnancy goes in the contract. Sometimes it gets oddly specific. I'm in the middle of my second surrogate pregnancy now, and they insist that I have to eat strawberries and peanuts three days a week, supposedly because it reduces the risk of allergies to those things for the child.
I know, I know -- poor me, I'm forced to eat delicious snacks. But parents can get so frantic about every little thing. The last couple was like, "We really want you to not drink soda." You might as well tell me I can't drink water. I had headaches, so we decided that I could have one soda a day, because I was like, "I have to have some kind of caffeine."
Seriously, "baby kicks or caffeine shakes" is not a game I need to be playing.
That's all pretty reasonable -- it's their baby, after all -- but it does suck for the incubator. Sometimes, it's more serious things that you might not have anticipated and been able to agree upon beforehand. Toward the end, when I was pregnant with the twins, my blood pressure was starting to rise, and one of the babies kept flipping butt-down. We were discussing vaginal delivery options, but the mom just said, "Let's just do a C-section," which you'll recognize as major fucking surgery. That shit is not fun to recover from. But that's my problem, after all, not theirs.
Poor Women Need Not Apply, Partly For Their Own Protection
There's an ethical dilemma involved in essentially renting your body. Pregnancy is a personal and sometimes incredibly unpleasant thing, but it's an attractive option for desperate women who may not otherwise agree to it. That's a large reason why it's a booming industry in developing nations like India, where Western couples can get wombs for cheap.
That's also why more reputable Western agencies vet the financial status of potential surrogates to make sure they're not under any undue pressure. At many agencies, you're flat rejected if your income is below a certain level or you receive government assistance. They didn't tell me a specific number they were looking for, but they did ask me how much money I made, how many hours I was working, whether I'd made any deals with the Devil recently, that sort of thing. I had to send pay stubs and proof of my financial aid and bills. That's one reason they ask why you want to be a surrogate -- they're not just being polite and making conversation. You stand to make a lot of money, but you can't be doing it for the money.
"Look, if you're not making babies for the love of the placenta,
then get the fuck out of our scene, poser."
That sounds awful nice of them, but there are less altruistic concerns, too. Parents and agencies want you to have enough money set aside to support yourself if you have to go on bed rest during your pregnancy, because they don't want you asking for more money or asking for your money early. You can bet that's written into your contract.
You Give Birth With Strangers In The Room
Most parents will want to be present when the child or children are born, which is understandable, but for the surrogate it means there are essentially strangers hanging out in the room with your vagina on display the whole time. I had only ever even seen the dad twice before -- when we first met and at the embryo transfer, so it was our first time meeting in, like, 10 months and only our third time ever. Normally, they have to buy me dinner if they want to see my crotch at that point.
Preferably nothing with goddamn berries and nuts.
It was awkward at first, but it got better. We started watching TV, daytime soap operas and stuff like that. That helped a little, watching drama that was not ours, but it got a little more tense later when we were talking about who would go with me if I had to have a C-section. I said I just wanted my support person there, but, in my state, we're only allowed to have one person in the room. The mom said, "You don't want me there when my children are born?" and I was like, "They're going to bring them to you right away, and you're not going to be there afterward supporting me, and I don't want to be there by myself."
It was really heated until the husband went out to talk to the wife and they came back and said they understood and apologized. Luckily, it didn't even end up being a problem -- the whole thing went as smooth as a process that ends with two people sliding out of me possibly could.
My screams fill their dreams. And they find it hilarious.
Even with all this weird conflict and mountains of paperwork, I have no regrets about my decision. After all, I'm carrying someone else's baby again right now. Unless I've come down with Mommy Brain and misremembered the whole thing, in which case I've made a huge mistake.
For more insider perspectives, check out 6 Insane Things You Learn When Your College Goes Bankrupt and 7 Things You Learn As A Straight Guy Who's A Crossdresser.
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