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Labor of Love

Stephanie Scott’s fourth pregnancy had been problem free. The delivery went smoothly. But, for some reason, Scott couldn’t stop sobbing.

“My husband was in the delivery room with me and he cried like a baby, too,” she recalls. “I had mixed feelings.”

Her husband’s emotions flip-flopped, as well. He’d thought his wife was a little crazy when she’d first broached the subject of this baby, and now, seeing her sob, he was worried. His concern faded as he stepped out of the delivery room and saw the joy on the faces of the couple cradling the baby girl his wife had just delivered.

Scott and her husband had just joined the selfless ranks of planned surrogacy.

Scott, who also co-owns Simple Surrogacy, a Dallas-based agency facilitating egg donations and surrogate births, was the gestational surrogate for the baby⎯meaning she’s genetically unrelated to the child, but lent her womb as a nine-month safe haven for the developing fetus.

It’s easy to form a more clinical view of the event, but it becomes clear, by the overwhelming swell of emotion shared by both sets of “parents,” that the reality is something just short of magical. And it’s a choice parents are turning to more frequently than you might think.

A Beautiful Gift
“I was very, very happy I was able to give the gift of life to another family,” says Scott. “At the same time, you become very attached … When it’s over, you feel very emotional that the journey has ended, that the baby is not going home with you.”

Still, Scott will tell you the experience of being a surrogate was both powerful and overall positive⎯positive enough that she plans to present a tiny being to yet another infertile couple sometime around Valentine’s Day next year.

While celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick make People magazine headlines when they become parents through surrogacy, it’s not just Big Apple big shots or Hollywood royalty who are traveling the surrogate road. More and more North Texans are taking the surrogate path to build their families, and Texas currently has one of the strongest laws in the country for the protection of intended parents.

So far this year, Simple Surrogacy has overseen 18 surrogate births, and, if all goes well, there’ll be another seven delivered by the end of December. Other North Texas agencies, such as Joie de Vie Surrogacy in Frisco, are shepherding additional surrogate situations. And then there are the private surrogate arrangements, made without the assistance of an agency, between infertile couples and willing women, who typically find each other online.

Surrogacy is often an interstate arrangement, and sometimes even an international arrangement. Such was the case with the 7-pound-2-ounce girl that Frisco surrogate Joél Russell, co-owner of Joie de Vie Surrogacy, gave birth to Oct. 2 for a couple from Hong Kong. The father traveled to Dallas for the scheduled C-section delivery. Some countries, including much of Europe, still prohibit surrogate births, Russell says, and childless couples in those countries sometimes turn to surrogate-friendly states like Texas to fulfill their desires for a tiny being to love and nurture.

Surrogacy⎯We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby
Surrogacy is “exploding,” according to Shirley Zager, director of the national support group the Organization of Parents Through Surrogacy, or OPTS.

There are several reasons for the boom, but the most important reason is that technology has made it relatively easy to implant an embryo created en vitro (think Petri dish) in a woman’s body.
When surrogacy first began, the surrogate’s ovum would be fertilized en vivo (think turkey baster) with the father’s sperm. This process, now referred to as “traditional surrogacy,” placed everyone involved in a legal no-man’s land, and was at the heart of the famous “Baby M” case during the ’80s, wherein surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead refused to give up the child, who was, indeed, genetically half hers.

Nowadays, “gestational surrogacy” is the standard, where an embryo created in a reproductive-medicine lab with the would-be father’s sperm and the would-be mother’s ova is implanted in the surrogate womb. For all parties involved, this method is far safer from both a legal and an emotional point of view. And, while no one can claim the act of walking away from a child you’ve carried for nine months is “easy,” the legal⎯and moral⎯lines here are more clearly drawn.

Another factor in the surge in surrogacy is the difficulty of adoption these days, says family practice lawyer Carla Calabrese, whose Dallas office, Calabrese Huff, facilitates many of the surrogate arrangements in North Texas. “When the Hague Convention international treaty on adoption was passed April 1, 2008, it brought international adoption almost to a standstill,” Calabrese says.

Yet another reason adoptions are falling and surrogate births are rising is the simple desire of many couples to have a child of their own “blood.”

In fact, that’s why Texans Brian and Kelly Mullen turned to Simple Surrogacy of Dallas to help them start a family.

The Birth of Hope
Kelly Mullen had had a kidney transplant when she was 14, and a second transplant, with her husband as the donor, when the original transplant failed. She had always known that going through a pregnancy would be too traumatic for her fragile body.

“We actually went to an adoption seminar. But we were still interested in having a child of our own and after doing some research on surrogacy … we decided to try that route first,” Mullen says.
Scott of Simple Surrogacy says it’s typical for surrogates and intended parents to become very close during the nine-plus months they spend on their mutual journey.

“The intended parents have already been through a lot of grief with their own infertility. As a surrogate, yes, I’m the one who’s carrying the baby, but in all actuality, this is her pregnancy and I want her to share in the joy of hearing the first heartbeat, of finding out what the sex is,” says Scott.
That was certainly how it worked for Kelly Mullen and her surrogate, Lindsey (whose last name is withheld for privacy).

“I made almost every appointment she had,” says Mullen. “My husband made a lot of them, as well. She kept a blog for us. She sent us pictures of the pregnancy [test] strips.” Lindsey even surprised the intended parents by hiring a photographer to chronicle the delivery.

“In my opinion, she went above and beyond,” Mullen says.

The new mother recalls when she first heard the hearts beat—yes, hearts. Twins are common in surrogate births, because, typically, two or three embryos are implanted to increase the chances of one taking. “We knew it was a possibility,” says Mullen, “but it never really crossed our minds that it would be twins. I think my husband’s jaw dropped to the floor. Maybe mine did, too. We were going to wait to tell people, but that day we told family.”

Recalling the birth of her boys with a mother’s normal fervor, she tells us, “I was on my way to work and Lindsey called and said, ‘Are you ready?’ Pure adrenalin shot through me! Once they wheeled her back, they allowed my husband and me into the room. We saw them [the twins] lifted out of her belly.”  She adds, “There’s a lot of emotion that goes with this. As a woman, I’m not going to get to go through this, and there’s a little bit of sadness to that … but they led us over to the scales as they were weighing them. Pure joy. It was just pure joy.”

When There Is No Joy in Momville
Of course, as with any pregnancy, things don’t always turn out as hoped for. Sometimes, as with Joie de Vie co-owner Dakota Rhodes’ second surrogacy, the pregnancy ends in a miscarriage. Sometimes, the pregnancy is difficult and the surrogate must spend months in bed, as was the case with Russell, sister and business partner to Rhodes. And, sometimes, the baby is born with severe medical problems. These are risks that come with any pregnancy—but surrogacy brings an additional set of complications.

Surrogates are carefully screened: Candidates must have already carried a child to term; they must be nonsmokers and agree not to drink alcohol during the pregnancy; they must have a healthy height/weight ratio; and they must be emotionally and financially stable.

And speaking of finances, critics of surrogacy have long cited a concern that the process takes advantage of poor women, who, they claim, “rent out” their bodies to the affluent for financial gain.

That’s exactly the opposite of reality, says lawyer Calabrese.

“I think surrogates are special women who love to be pregnant,” she says. “They’re do-gooders, and they’re very classy people.”

Calabrese’s business partner, Winnie Huff, who’s also an attorney, says the surrogates she’s known were definitely “not trolling for dollars.”

“It’s definitely about, ‘I can really help this family,’” says Huff, adding as a comparison, “I think a lot of the surrogates, they want to do this, whereas a lot of the adoptions, the mothers are in a bad place.”

Rhodes says first-time Joie de Vie surrogates receive $18,000 to $20,000 and repeat surrogates slightly more. Additionally, there are monthly payments, dubbed “child-support payments,” that cover expenses like prenatal vitamins.

“You are getting compensated for the gift you are giving and all it involves,” Rhodes says. That can include hormone shots, patches and pills in order to prime the body to accept the embryo, and later, nausea, vomiting, sleeplessness and weight gain during the pregnancy.

The Darker Side
Not every motive has a pink or blue lining.

Zager says one of the problems with surrogacy is the possibility of a swindle, particularly for couples working directly with the surrogate without an intermediary. Surrogacy arrangements can typically cost the parents from $60,000 to $85,000 in total, and if a surrogate met on the Internet disappears into the ether, that’s a big loss.

“[Hopeful] parents have to be careful they don’t get taken to the cleaners,” Zager says.
Working with a reputable surrogacy agency and a law firm experienced with surrogacy law is the best protection against fraud, Zager suggests.

Here in Texas, legal problems were common with surrogacy until the passage of the Uniform Parentage Act by the Texas Legislature, making Texas a surrogacy-friendly state. Laws vary widely from state to state, and Joie de Vie, for instance, will not work with surrogates who live in Arizona, Washington, New York, Kansas, Delaware, Michigan, North Dakota or Indiana because of fuzzy or hostile laws in those states.

Texas is a surrogate-friendly state, however. Under Texas law, the intended parents’ names go directly on the birth certificate. There is no adoption procedure, and the gestational carrier has no legal claim to the child. This protection applies only to married parents, however, cautions Calabrese. Single parents and gay couples are still not covered under the law, so it’s doubly important for these hopeful parents to work with legitimate agents.

Calabrese says surrogates and intended parents she works with fill out a 55-page contract that covers everything from what may happen in the event of a genetic defect (will abortion be an option?) to what the surrogate cannot consume (some contracts even specify—horrors!—no raw milk cheese).

Rock-a-bye Baby
Potential problems fade away like a bad dream at daylight when a surrogate can give a baby-hungry couple a healthy newborn.

Scott is glad for the yearly updates she gets of the little girl who was the result of her first surrogate pregnancy, and she has no regrets. “You know you did something incredible,” she says.

Both Rhodes and Russell, a hospice nurse, are both churchgoers and see surrogate pregnancy as a mission. “You give the family a beautiful baby and everyone is blessed,” says Rhodes.

Russell spent the last six months of her just-completed surrogacy on partial bed rest because of a torn placenta, but she would happily do it all over again.

Dakota recalls the day of her first surrogate delivery. It was a C-section, and the intended parents were not allowed into the surgical room, but her husband was there. “He carried the baby out the door and handed the baby to the couple, and that was his ah-ha! moment. That really sealed it for us.”

After all, can anyone imagine a greater gift one human being can present to another than the heart-stirring bestowal of a lop-sided infant smile?