After the initial decision to embark on a surrogacy journey, the next most daunting choice for many Intended Parents is how to choose a surrogate that is right for them. Whether you decide to look for one independently or through the help of an agency, the search for a surrogate can easily become overwhelming with so many possibilities to choose from. Leia Swanberg, the Founder and CEO of Canadian Fertility Consulting, understands how vital this selection process is. She has some excellent advice to share, stressing the importance of being informed and comfortable so you feel confident in your choice of surrogate.
Many Intended Parents have been working with a fertility clinic prior to choosing surrogacy as their next step, so Leia recommends determining your doctor’s physical requirements before picking potential surrogates. Since each fertility doctor and clinic has its own surrogacy framework, it’s important to ask the following questions:
- Is there a BMI criteria at your clinic?
- Is there a cut-off for the number of previous pregnancies?
- Is there a maximum number of caesarian sections that a surrogate could have undergone?
“It’s essential to lean on the professionals while you begin the surrogate process,” Leia affirms, so make sure you are working with a physician you trust.
After speaking to a fertility doctor, the next professional Intended Parents should seek advice from is a fertility lawyer: “This is especially important for international parents,” Leia stresses, “as the lawyer will help determine any specific considerations regarding the legalities of having a child outside of your home country”. For example, same sex couples from Germany may need to find a surrogate who has never been married or who is legally divorced.
Other legalities of having a surrogate in Canada include whether you can fly home soon after birth, or if you must stay longer to sort out the after-birth documents. In Newfoundland, for example, there is about a six week delay for International Parents to obtain passports as they must test and verify a genetic link, whereas the wait in Ontario is three weeks as this test is unnecessary. In PEI, the Intended Parents must legally adopt the surrogate child from the surrogate mother, and in same sex couples, only one of the parents can have their name on the adoption certificate in Canada, while the other parent will have to finish the adoption process in their home country.
Since each country and province has their own legal requirements surrounding surrogacy, it’s best to consult a lawyer early on so you are well educated about which geographical options are best for you.
“If you’re in a relationship, really turn inward with your partner
and discuss what you’re both hoping to achieve through this process”
After working through the firmly established criteria that is set by your medical and legal professionals, Leia suggests working with a fertility counselor next. Most fertility clinics have therapists on hand to help you discuss the more personal decisions you must make while selecting a surrogate. As the psycho-social criteria for Intended Parents has the tendency to ebb and flow, Leia suggest taking your time to discover what that criteria is, and “if you’re in a relationship, really turn inward with your partner and discuss what you’re both hoping to achieve through this process”. Some important questions to work through with the counselor include:
- How do we feel about selective reduction if a medical abnormality were to occur?
- Would we ask the surrogate to terminate the pregnancy?
- What is the preferred maturity level of the surrogate?
- Do we want a surrogate who is single or married?
- Do we want a long-term relationship with our surrogate?
- What type of contact do we wish to have with our surrogate in order to feel like both parties are working together?
Working with a fertility counselor will help you work through these and any other issues you may have in mind. Leia stresses the importance of clarity in terms of “your expectations surrounding the process and what kind of candidate you are looking for, because she is out there”. By having these foundational conversations with the medical, legal, and therapeutic professionals, Intended Parents can confidently begin the search for a surrogate from an informed perspective.
“When Intended Parents are introduced to surrogates through an agency,
it’s always my hope that agencies are introducing them to surrogates
that meet the parent’s criteria”
Independent Surrogates Versus Using an Agency
After establishing a clear framework from which the Intended Parents feel comfortable reaching out to surrogates, the next choice to make is if you want to embark on this search independently or through the assistance of a fertility agency. Regardless of which route you take, it’s important to remain flexible throughout the selection process to minimize disappointment. Leia suggests parents decide “which parts of your criteria are written in ink, such as the medical and legal requirements, and which are written in pencil, such as the type of relationship and frequency communication you may have with your surrogate”.
If you have chosen to search for a surrogate independently, it’s especially important that Intended Parents are direct in their communication and very clear about expectations, values, physical requirements, and what the relationship will look like. If parents don’t feel comfortable having these discussions on their own, reaching out to an agency can help in establishing fruitful connections.
A surrogacy agency, such as Canadian Fertility Consulting, ensures that potential surrogates have already gone through a screening process before being introduced to parents. Some of the criteria that agencies have for potential surrogates include:
- Undergoing a criminal record check
- Demonstrating commitment to the process
- Understanding the ethical aspects of surrogacy
- Up-to-date medical records that have been reviewed by a physician
- Ensuring surrogates have discussed their decision with their partner
- Establishing expectations in terms of communication and the future relationship
“When Intended Parents are introduced to surrogates through an agency, it’s always my hope that agencies are introducing them to surrogates that meet the parent’s criteria,” Leia adds. “This is a huge timesaver, as the parents don’t need to have these discussions with every surrogate they come across. These conversations can take quite a bit of time, but by using an agency Intended Parents will know upon their introduction that surrogates have already passed this screening process.”
“Remember to enter into this process not through a place of sadness or grief,
but from a place of hope”
Maintaining Healthy Boundaries
Throughout the evolution of the relationship, Leia advises that Intended Parents and surrogates have realistic expectations and set clear boundaries: “It should feel like you are co-creating this mutually beneficial relationship together, where both parties feel positive and secure” Leia mentions. For example, Intended Parents and their surrogate may decide on weekly Skype dates where both can connect and communicate on a more personal level. Or perhaps the majority of communication goes through one Intended Parent over the other because they are emotionally stronger. Furthermore, you may establish from the onset that neither of you discuss the financial aspect of the process, and any dealings of that sort are settled through the lawyer or agency. But most importantly, Leia suggests that you trust yourself: “You should feel comfortable sharing this experience with your surrogate; you should both feel able to freely express your disappointments and frustrations along with your feelings of excitement and joy throughout this process”.
Finally, keep in mind that you are your child’s advocate the moment you begin this journey, so it’s necessary to practice parenting throughout the pregnancy and remember to fully embrace your role. “Canadian Fertility Consulting is here to support your choices so that you feel safe and empowered,” Leia states. “Remember to enter into this process not through a place of sadness or grief, but from a place of hope. There is a myth that there are not enough surrogates in Canada for the number of Intended Parents who are searching for one. I honestly believe this isn’t true. I know that for each Intended Parent that comes to Canadian Fertility Consulting, there is a surrogate that is the right fit for them”.