Now that we have fourteen embryos cooling their heels on ice, our next step is to find a surrogate who would carry and give birth to our children. In a way, finding a surrogate is much more difficult than finding an egg donor, because we want a surrogate who we could stay in touch with and have our children know. It seems to us that having a woman in the picture, aside from being a biological prerequisite, is important because our children are bound to begin asking questions about their origin as soon as they realize that their family is not a traditional one. (At least they will if they’re as smart as we hope they’ll be!) So a surrogate is a lot more than a checklist of characteristics: we have to like her and her family enough to have them be a part of our lives for the rest of our lives. Not every day and not in some sort of quasi-parenting capacity, but at least often enough for the kids to recognize and be aware of who she is. Yikes. It’s hard enough to get to a place where you like yourself, let alone fall in love with someone else likes you and whom you like in return. We would be OK with a surrogate who just wants to carry the children and walk away after birth, but that feels like a much less healthy situation for our children – because they need to know that they were always intended to be our children and be in our family. That’s why I love the phrase that’s commonly used for both gay and straight couples going through surrogacy: Intended Parents.
By the way, that’s why we elected to freeze our embryos instead of taking the “fresh transfer” approach: we didn’t know how long it would take to find a surrogate and we certainly didn’t want to deal with the nightmare of coordinating cycles and calendars between our egg donor and surrogate. And since our endocrinologist doctor told us there was minimal differences in success rates between fresh and frozen transfers, we elected to go the less complicated route. Fresh versus frozen: it sounds like we’re grocery shopping, doesn’t it?
There’s a much longer wait for surrogates than for egg donors, which makes sense if you think about it. Not only is there a much longer time commitment (less than a month for an egg donor, and at least nine months for a surrogate), but a lot more groundwork needs to be laid. A good agency will have a really rigorous process for matching surrogates with intended parents, to make sure baseline expectations are set. So at minimum we know that any potential surrogate we’re going to meet has at least one child of her own and doesn’t need to be a surrogate for the money. And we know that our surrogate won’t let our angry teenager turn to her as a parental alternative years from now. The net effect of this matching process, in addition to the number of women open to being a surrogate in the first place, means that there are more intended parents than surrogates – so you end up waiting months for a surrogate to pick you to work with.
Unlike the egg donor process where intended parents have the initiative and pick their donor, a surrogate gets intended parent profiles from the agency. We spent more time putting together our intended parents profile than our online dating profiles (my husband and I met online), carefully editing our responses and curating photos to present the perfect couple: the kind of gays that hip, young women want to be friends with. With a dash of authenticity and reliability. (In case you missed it, I tend to overanalyze things just a tad.) So we put our carefully crafted profile out on our agency’s website, fervently hoping that it didn’t come across as tortured and overworked. Talk about a bad case of channeling Mary Katherine Gallagher. (#superstar) I wonder how many surrogates looked at and rejected our profile?
After a few months of constantly pushing the subject out of my thoughts, and after imposing a ban on my husband buying children’s books (his expensive and less than practical way of dealing with the stress of waiting), our agency finally called to tell us that a surrogate had agreed to work with us! The first thing that jumped out as we looked at her profile was that she was only 20 years old. But she was married with two children, and had apparently decided to become a surrogate because of her aunt’s struggle to have children. She had just had their second child and, having finished building her family, now wanted to be a surrogate. I was completely on edge when we drove to our agency’s offices, where a psychologist would facilitate our first meeting with our potential surrogate and her husband. It felt a little like a first date, but with all the pressure of knowing that your and your children’s entire future hinged on that moment. No problem, right? So it was extremely helpful to have the psychologist there, breaking the proverbial ice by explaining the components of a successful surrogacy partnership, because the word “awkward” wouldn’t even begin to describe how things could have gone otherwise. It wasn’t exactly the kind of situation where you make small talk and tell cocktail party stories.
Our surrogate and her husband made a really interesting couple: he had the dour, clean cut look of someone in the military while she had an edgy, slightly gothic look with dark hair and tattoos. We went out for lunch together after meeting with the psychologist, to get to know each other better in a more casual setting. Well, it should have been more casual. But I couldn’t shake feeling awkward, starting when I ordered a margarita (it was a Mexican restaurant and past noon so don’t judge me) and realized afterward that she wasn’t old enough to drink. There went the potential of my favorite social lubricant! We got through the next few hours pretty well anyway, if you overlook the moment when I tried to seem cooler than I really am by (attempting to) break-dance with a group of street entertainers. Thankfully, our surrogate and her husband found the episode amusing (even if that wasn’t the impression I was necessarily going for) – and the next day our agency let us know that our surrogate had agreed to work with us, confirming our match. So we ecstatically marched forward to signing a surrogacy agreement.
The high of that moment, however, didn’t last very long because it turned out that our particular agency didn’t do as thorough a medical screening evaluation as we had been led to believe. So when our surrogate was examined by the doctor who would be doing the embryo transfer, he found a uterine polyp that needed to be removed. Apparently uterine polyps are not uncommon, but they can potentially inhibit embryonic implantation and need to be removed. I didn’t object to paying for removal, but did start to get a sinking feeling that this was only the first of many hidden “gotcha” costs. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wrong – because our surrogate’s blood work showed recent exposure to varicella (the chicken pox virus). Not necessarily surprising, given that she had two children both of whom were under two years of age. But the doctor wanted to wait until it cleared, which took another three months. Although I honestly didn’t begrudge paying the monthly allowance the surrogacy agreement called for during these delays, I have to admit that I was concerned because I had no idea how long these delays would continue – and I did want to have some money left at the end of this process. During those months, we regularly visited our surrogate and her family (she has some of the most beautiful and photogenic kids I’ve ever seen): barbecues, birthday parties, etc. We even went to Chuck E. Cheese with them, which incidentally is why I’m going to do everything possible to prevent my children from learning about that place! And I thought Little Caesar’s had horrible pizza.
I realized later that these delays were probably a good thing, because we realized during the extra time we spent with our surrogate and her family that there were some significant issues to work through. For example, while we were discussing what it would be like for two gay men to raise a daughter, our surrogate said that she would talk to our daughter about puberty and menstruation. When we talked to our agency’s psychologist about this and other concerns, we were told that her attitudes were a factor of her youth and immaturity – but that it could be managed through vigilant and open communication. So we kept things moving forward, because overall she really was a sweet person. After all, she picked us, didn’t she?
About the time that our surrogate finally cleared all her medical hurdles, my husband’s appendix burst. (Apparently it was our karmic turn for health issues.) Thankfully, he recovered and I still have the world’s most wonderful husband – but it did hit us with a really large, unexpected expense at a really bad time. So we told our agency that we needed to delay the embryo transfer for three months while we put our finances in order. (Agencies usually require that you fully fund a trust account with the entire anticipated cost of the surrogacy right before the process starts, which is when the surrogate begins hormone injections.) Up to this point our agency had been helpful, if somewhat snooty. So their response caught us a little off guard, because they told us they were going to match our surrogate with another couple instead of waiting. We were told we would go through the matching process again when we were ready, and that we’d be at the end of the waiting list. I totally understand why the agency took the position it did, given how many couples are waiting to be matched with a surrogate at any given point in time – but I did wish that they would have asked our surrogate if she wanted to wait for us or be matched with another couple. In other words, let the surrogate make the choice. And I’ll be honest: the agency’s response added exponentially to my already usually high stress levels, so I was more than a little bitter.
And because I’m gay, the drama can’t possibly stop there. When our surrogate learned that we needed a few more months and that the agency was going re-match her with another couple, she refused the agency and elected to wait for us. I remember being completely overwhelmed and touched by her decision, and began seeing light again at the end of what was turning out to be a ridiculously long tunnel. But right as we finally began getting ready to start again, our surrogate called to tell us that she had fallen in love with another man and was leaving her husband. Yeah. I’m not kidding – you can’t make shit like this up. So we thought about how hard pregnancy is to begin with – not to mention surrogacy and our surrogate’s maturity level. And we made an incredibly hard decision: we asked our surrogate to delay transfer for another month or two. It was emotionally devastating, but we wanted her to be sure and in a stable place before proceeding. Our surrogate responded by leaving us. One moment we were integral parts of each other’s lives, and the next moment she and the better part of a year was gone. I received a touching email from her husband, wishing us luck, the same day she unfriended and blocked me on Facebook.
A job change and life in general after that led to another delay, but we started fresh again with a new agency to find our surrogate. I was devoutly hoping that we wouldn’t have to go through three women for surrogates like we did for egg donors. One of the things that cheered me up was that our new agency was much more transparent and comprehensive in their explanations. There was nothing that we had to coordinate with someone else on: legal services, insurance, complete medical screening and services – it was all taken care of. And it didn’t look like any hidden costs would take bites out of our budget. The one thing was, because our new agency was so good, they had a long list of clients waiting to be matched with surrogates. I cried a lot during those months, with every passing day making me realize how very much I wanted to be a father. It turns out that my husband was suffering as well, but we tried so hard to be cheerful for each other that I think we ended up not supporting each other as much as we might have. Lesson learned. At any rate, we ended up waiting almost ten months before finally getting a call from our new agency to tell us that we were potentially matched.