by Iris Waichler, L.C.S.W.
There was a recent article in the news about a surrogate, Cathleen Hachey, who lives in Canada. She had made an informal agreement with a British couple she had met on line. She became pregnant with twins. The British couple split up and informed her in her 27th week of pregnancy that they did not want the children. The twins are now living with another family in Nova Scotia who has expressed the desire to adopt them.
Surrogacy is the most complicated type of collaborative reproductive technology. It is an important family building option for a woman who is unable to sustain a healthy pregnancy and carry a baby to full term or for gay men who wish to become fathers. Surrogacy can involve using a woman’s retrieved eggs and a partner’s sperm. It can entail using a donated egg, sperm, or embryo. A surrogate can be a family member, friend, or stranger.
This story highlights problems that can arise if perspective parents and surrogates do not include the proper safeguards in a surrogacy arrangement. Surrogates should always have complete medical, psychological, and drug and alcohol evaluations done. Use a reputable program that properly evaluates and screens potential surrogacy candidates. Find out if your surrogate has had a prior successful pregnancy with the birth of a healthy child and if she has previously been a surrogate. If your potential surrogate has a spouse/partner it is a good idea to arrange a meeting and include him/her in the interview process. Partners will be a primary emotional support to your surrogate throughout the pregnancy and it is important to understand their feelings about the surrogacy arrangement.
Surrogacy is a complex legal agreement in family building. Whether you know your surrogate or not, a surrogacy contract protects all parties involved including the unborn child. Consult a lawyer who has expertise and experience in family building law in your state of residence. Items such as the handling of medical costs should be addressed. Should your surrogate be compensated? What if the surrogate must stop working because of the pregnancy or another medical issue? What compensation will be made? How do you all feel about single embryo transfer, or the potential for a multiple gestation? Have you all been informed of those risks?
You and your surrogate must address disclosure issues and what part the surrogate will play, if any, in your child’s life in the future. Who decides upon medical treatment if the surrogate has pregnancy complications? What if fetal reduction is recommended, who will make that decision?
This Canadian case also highlights the need for the contract to spell out procedures, if the surrogate or perspective parents change their minds about the pregnancy and who should parent the child. Your lawyer should carefully guide you all through this difficult process.
Surrogacy is an infertility treatment miracle. It can offer hope for people who want a genetic link to their child. It is also extremely challenging. There are documented cases of the surrogate and perspective parents changing their minds for a variety of reasons. Surrogacy stretches cultural beliefs and boundaries around our traditional ideas of parenthood. It has become the right option for thousands of people. Being a surrogate is the greatest gift a woman can give to a couple who want a child and can’t do it on their own. Everyone involved should go into the surrogacy arrangement with mutual agreement about all of these issues. Ongoing open communication between all parties is a necessity. The welfare and future of the unborn child(ren) depends on it.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.