This month at IVF babble we are focusing our attentions on all things surrogacy. One of the areas we want to shine a light on is the process in the US and how it works. So we spoke to one of the founding US surrogacy agencies, based in California, the Center for Surrogate Parenting (CSP)
CSP was founded in 1980 by Bill Handel, an attorney who drafted the first surrogacy contract in California, celebrating the first surrogacy birth not long after. The surrogacy practice was originally run from Bill’s law firm, but he soon realised it would need to be a separate entity and believed that a mental health professional should be an integral part of the process.
In 38 years, CSP has welcomed the arrival of more than 2,500 babies, which is about 90 births per year. It receives about 200 emails a month and 100 phone calls from women interested in surrogacy. In a typical month, CSP accepts 15 to 20 surrogate mothers.
We chat to CSP’s CEO Karen Synesiou about surrogacy in the US and how the agency has helped thousands of people realise their dream of becoming a family.
How has surrogacy changed in terms of perception since you opened your
Karen said: “In the early days IVF was not heard of and surrogacy consisted of traditional surrogacy; when a surrogate mother’s own egg was used and sperm from the Intended Father. Then along came IVF and changed our field completely, suddenly both intended parents could be related to their child.
Actress Deidre Hall, of US soap opera, Days of Our Lives fame was one of the first celebrities to go public and announce she had a baby via surrogacy. Deidre was extremely brave to be so open about her family. Since then we have seen Kelsey Grammer, Elton John and Kim Kardashian among the many famous names to share their stories with the world. Any time someone in the public eye shares their experience it is a blessing to the field of surrogacy, they help to explain what surrogacy really is to the world. Slowly public perception of surrogacy changed and surrogacy was not frowned upon.”
CSP helped their first gay parents more than 30 years ago, so helping a same-sex couple is nothing new or different to them. But in those early days, CSP was boycotted by several fertility doctors and lawyers because they accepted gay couples. Fast forward to today and now same-sex parenting makes up a large percentage of the field of surrogacy. In 1990, CSP had four same-sex couples in its programme. In 2017, 51 per cent of CSP intended parents were gay.
Are you seeing a steady increase in the number of intended parents wanting to
use a surrogate?
“‘Using’ is a negative work and does not truly represent what happens in the field of
surrogacy. Surrogacy is not a single event but a journey. Intended parents work with a gestational carrier over the course of a year to 18 months before they are able to return home with their baby. Yes, there has been a huge increase in the number of intended parents that need the help of a surrogate mother. As the news spread that surrogacy was a viable option around the world, the interest in surrogacy in America peaked. We have intended parents across the world including Australia, England, France, Germany, China and all the way down to Tasmania. Gay couples interested in surrogacy has increased drastically over the last 15 years. In the last four years we have also seen a huge increase in intended parents coming from China.”
The average age of an intended mother is 43 years old and intended father is 45 years old.
CSP use a variety of ways to encourage surrogate mothers to come forward, but many find the agency by searching or being referred by a friend or family member.
Karen said: “We have an extensive screening process and only about 20 per cent of those who apply meet all the requirements. After completing an application form, applicants’ have a detailed meetings, review of medical records, we conduct background checks, medical tests and financial analysis. Applicants, and their partners, meet with an independent counsellor in person for an interview and psychological testing. By doing all of the above prior to matching, CSP aim for Intended Parents to be able to move forward without any hold-ups once matched.”
How do you match a surrogate to the intended parents?
“Our independent counsellors meet with all of our intended parents and surrogate mothers. They are constantly evaluating applicants, their personalities, requirements and expectations, on both sides. In our programme the surrogates and intended parents choose each other. When a surrogate successfully completes the screening process, the mental health professional on each case presents each successful applicant with the profiles of two to three intended parents that they believe will be a good match, to look over and choose from.
“The surrogate first chooses which intended parent(s) she wants to help. Once a surrogate chooses a specific couple, or single intended parent, the intended parents will be presented with the surrogate’s profile; knowing that she has successfully completed CSP’s pre-screening process, is a good match for them, and has also elected to help them. The intended parents will then decide if they wish to meet her, or if they prefer to wait for someone else. It is important to CSP that the surrogate mother and intended parents get to choose each other.”
Do you get people from all over the world coming to you? If so, how does it work legally?
“All babies born in America are American citizens and get an American passport. The finalisation of parental rights is different based on the state where the birth takes place. In some states intended parents are able to get a pre-birth order that recognises them as parents before their baby is born. In other states, the finalisation of parental rights is completed upon birth. The parents are the legal parents of the child immediately upon birth and have sole custody of the child. The parents are present at the birth and their surrogate mother sees them as they become parents. An amazing moment and
one she will never forget. Technically, they are the parents from the moment of conception, so they cannot just change their minds and walk away from this pregnancy.”
How much does US surrogacy cost on average?
“On average we tell Intended Parents they need to have between $110,000 – $130,000 available to participate in surrogacy. Every case is different and costs can vary depending on whether a surrogate mother has approved insurance, how close she lives to the fertility clinic, whether she works, etc. For example, a stay-at-home surrogate mother will have no potential lost wages so there will be less expenses than a surrogate mother who earns $80,000 a year.”
CSP will be giving a free surrogacy seminar in the UK on 29 September at Grosvenor House London in the JW Marriott, Alford Suite.
Private consultations can also be booked. To learn more about CSP or to book your private consultation, please click here
Did you travel to the US for surrogacy? We would love to hear your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org