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In the News  The Surrogacy Surge - Mid-Rivers News Magazine, October 26, 2011

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The Surrogacy Surge

by Sarah Wilson

Mid-Rivers News Magazine from St. Louis, Missouri
October 26, 2011

Cover of Mid-Rivers Newsagazine

When a couple is ready to bring a new life into the world, conceiving the natural way can be as laborious as childbirth itself. As a result, many couples are turning to surrogacy.

Jeremy Gruber, president of the Massachusetts-based Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG), said surrogacy not is on the rise – it is "clearly entering the mainstream."

"You can't pick up a news magazine these days without finding another celebrity using surrogacy," Gruber said. "Couples are waiting longer to have children these days, and infertility is an increasing problem, and for a whole host of other reasons, including same-sex couples, surrogacy is seen as a viable alternative."

Surrogacy can take one of two forms: traditional or gestational. In a traditional surrogacy, the surrogate is the child's biological mother, using her own egg and a man's sperm. In a gestational surrogacy, the surrogate is not genetically related to the baby and uses another woman's egg and a man's sperm.

According to The Infertility Center of St. Louis, an estimated one in every five couples in America is considered infertile.

The Infertility Clinic's Dr. Sherman Silber, who has been practicing infertility treatments for about 37 years and is considered among the world's leading infertility authorities, said there currently is an "infertility epidemic."

"Infertility clinics are absolutely overflowing, and one clear-cut reason for this increase is basically a social change, where people are just putting off bearing children or getting married until they're older," Silber said, "People used to get married in their late teens or 20s and have kids soon after, but now, many women aren't even thinking about having a baby until their mid 30s."

Silber said a woman's fertility drops between the ages of 20 and 35 and then dramatically drops after that. According to the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of babies born to gestational surrogates grew 89 percent from 2004 to 2008, and the numbers will continue to rise.

"The statistics we do have, though, suggest surrogacy is far more rampant than even the numbers reveal," Gruber said.

In The Surrogate's Shoes

Silber said those seeking a surrogate should not have any problem finding one.

"There is certainly not a shortage of volunteers, because so many women want to be a surrogate," Silber said. "Many love the idea of being pregnant but don't want to bother with having any more kids."

Most women who volunteer to be a surrogate, Silber said, already have had all the children they want but still enjoy pregnancy.

Surrogacy costs biological parents between $40,000 and $120,000, and surrogates are paid between $12,000 and $25,000 per pregnancy, according to the CRG. But according to Silber, most women do not do it for the money.

"From what I've found, they do it because they want to do it," Silber said, "but that still doesn't mean they shouldn't be compensated."

When considering a potential surrogate, Silber said he looks for how healthy the woman is and what her previous pregnancies have been like.

"They also have to be psychologically sound, and I have to make sure they've got a good relationship with the intended parents," he said.

Silber said he always brings the surrogate, her spouse and the intended parents together in a room to look for any potential problems.

Megan Miller (not her real name), 41 has a husband and two children of her own. She agreed to be a surrogate to help two family members who could not conceive on their own.

"This is not on my bucket list of things to do, but I'm very honored to do it," Miller said. "My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are in a situation where they can't carry a baby, due to a uterine lining issue, so I volunteered to be the surrogate."

Even though she volunteered, Miller still has concerns but said they are "purely selfish reasons."

"Being pregnant again, I'd have to go through the whole process of being tired and having all the symptoms you could possibly have while trying to maintain your own life," Miller said. "There's also the weight gain, and I just lost all my baby weight from my second pregnancy. These are selfish reasons, but they're reasons I feel are valid for me to at least talk about. But after everything is said and done and the baby is delivered, then that won't matter anymore."

Miller is not collecting any fees for her surrogacy, but her brother-in-law and sister-in-law will cover her medical expenses. The parties will sign legal documents to ensure everyone's role is clear throughout and after the pregnancy.

She said her husband is supportive of her decision, especially since his brother is going to be the father of the child.

"He's only worried if it doesn't take," Miller said. "But now he says that we're done with Christmas presents for while."

Miller said she never in a million years would have thought she would be going through with a surrogacy. In the next couple of months, she will start the process.

Rachel Pearson, a preschool teacher from Joplin, Mo., was 22 with a husband and two children when she decided to be a surrogate.

"I think some women are born to be moms, so I wanted to try and give an opportunity to someone who really wanted to be a parent, had exhausted (her) own resources and was looking elsewhere," Pearson said.

She described the surrogacy process as "rigorous." Because she went through an infertility center in St. Louis, she had to travel back and forth for several weeks for various thyroid and blood tests and a psychological evaluation to see if she qualified to be a surrogate.

To prepare for pregnancy, Pearson had to give herself hormone shots, which left knots on her legs and prevented her from being able to walk for a couple of weeks. But the worst part, she said, was the added emotional stress.

"Just hoping that you're pregnant is a lot of stress," Pearson said. "You're so hopeful for this couple that you worry about failing and letting them down."

When the baby, Isaac, was delivered, the biological mother was in the room with Pearson.

"Being able to watch her see her baby for the first time made it all worth it," Pearson said. "Tears were in her eyes, and she kept saying, 'Thank you.' I thought I was doing a good thing for people – and I was – but I didn't realize how big."

Since Isaac was born, the biological parents, who live in Norway, have sent a few pictures, but contact between them and Pearson has been limited.

"I'm not Isaac's mom," Pearson said. "I'm not biologically a part of him at all, so I want to give them the space to build their family."

While she did not go through the surrogacy for the money, Pearson was compensated enough to allow her and her husband to pay off the debts on their cars and house.

She said she is not sure if she would be a surrogate again or if she wants another child of her own, but she was happy she was "able to give life to someone else's dreams."

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