Picking an agency (or going ‘indy’): Part 1

Perhaps we’re biased, because we’re in the thick of it now, but finding the right match is probably the most difficult part of the surrogacy journey. While surrogacy doesn’t require a paid agency in Canada, it is often a helpful resource for IPs and surrogates alike.

We are going to break down our agency evaluation into two posts. This first post will outline the different ways to find a surrogate, and the values we are looking for when we partner with an agency. As we are still in the final stages of partnering with an agency, we will save the announcement of who we picked (and why) for a future post in the coming weeks.

Where to find a surrogate?

Our research has led us to believe that IPs can find a surrogate in one of three ways: Someone you already know, someone you don’t know but find independently, or someone you don’t know but find through an agency.

Obviously, matching with someone you know (like a sibling, cousin, or close friend) would be amazing! There is a natural bond that is already built, and negotiating reimbursements can sometimes be easier amongst family (i.e. a surrogate may require childcare while she is at an appointment, but you would be happy to watch your nieces/nephews while your sister is preoccupied, free of charge!) Even if your surrogate is someone you know, you will both have independent legal council, and can discuss the terms of your contract with your lawyer in private. While this situation is not for everyone (Baden and I are the eldest of our siblings, none of whom have had children of their own), it is an option available for those who choose to pursue it.

Alternatively, you can put together a profile and ask your friends and family to like and share it online. (While this blog is not meant to find us a surrogate, we’re still looking. Visit our Dear Ms. Right page to learn more!) If you find someone and match using either of these two options, your match is considered independent (or ‘indy’). On the one hand you save on fees paid to agencies and consultants to help guide you through the process, but on the other you lack their guidance, knowledge, referrals, and support. Either way, there is no wrong answer, as long as you find the right match in this process for you.

What is an agency?

If you haven’t found a surrogate using either of the two ways above, you can certainly partner with an agency to help you with your search. It is important to note that unlike adoption agencies, surrogacy agencies are entirely unlicensed, unregulated, and for-profit businesses. This is often why many prefer to be called consultants, as an agency implies an action as an intervenor, where a consultant is just one who provides guidance. Perhaps this is semantics, but when the Assisted Human Reproduction Act specifically states you cannot pay a surrogate, or cannot pay someone to find you a surrogate, words matter.

But Zane, if you can’t pay an agency to find you a surrogate, how do you find a surrogate (and what are you paying for?!)

I’m so glad you asked. Consider the ‘matching phase’ of your partnership with an agency somewhat like online dating. Surrogates are drawn to work with an agency because they provide support, guidance, and fellowship. IPs are drawn to agencies because surrogates are drawn to agencies. So, just like you would sign up for E-Harmony, agencies are available with surrogates who are interested in meeting IPs. Every agency structures their matching process differently, with some having surrogates review IP profiles first, while others allow the IPs to review surrogate profiles and reach out to those they would like to meet. This way, all of the matches are organic and independent. Once you have found your match, your agency is there to offer guidance and support through the medical, legal, and gestational stages of the process as well.

What to look for in an agency?

As mentioned, agencies are unlicensed and unregulated. Knowing this, we had a number of different questions we asked each agency we met with. Below are some of the points we considered most often:

Matching:

  • How many IPs are waiting for surrogates at any given time?
  • How many surrogates enter the program each month?
  • How many matched couples are you managing right now?
  • How long does it take to match?
    • This question is VERY subjective. Factors can include whether you’re local or international and what you’re looking for in your potential match. Specifics like age, location, dietary expectations, or views on termination, will impact how long it takes to find Ms. Right.

Account Management:

Agencies often set up a private bank account to manage the reimbursements between IPs and surrogates. IPs are responsible for putting money into the account and after expenses are reviewed and approved by the agencies’ bookkeeper, the surrogate’s expenses are reimbursed. This allows the agency to assume the liability that they are not paying surrogates in contravention of the AHRA. However for IPs, this often means they are handing over a sizeable chunk of money to a company that has little oversight. Some people are very comfortable with this, while others are more cautious. Please speak to your fertility lawyer if you have any questions about this process. They will know best. Here are some of the questions we asked:

  • Do you use a trust account to manage expenses?
  • How much needs to be in the account at any given time?
  • What is your expense review protocol?
  • Are we able to review individual expenses/receipts?

Miscellaneous Questions:

  • How long has your agency been in business?
  • What makes you stand out amongst your competitors in this space?
  • How much does joining your agency cost? What is the deposit structure?
  • What additional services come with the joining your agency?
  • How are IPs supported throughout the process?
  • How are surrogates supported throughout the process?
  • What steps do you take to resolve conflict (between IPs and surrogates, between IPs and the agency)?
  • What happens if our match falls through and we restart our journey with someone new?
  • How are surrogates supported post-partum?

I’ll be honest, it has been difficult to balance precisely what we’re looking for in an agency with what is available right now. There is no perfect fit. Nevertheless, we are taking support for both surrogates and IPs, respect for the law, financial prudence, and matching wait times all into consideration at the same time. We have made a detailed spreadsheet and rank each agency after we meet with them to see how they stack up to what we require. I would suggest you do the same.

We’re close to making our final decision and will write a post about why we chose them once we do.

Zane

P.S. We’re curious to hear your thoughts too. Which agency did you choose and why? How did you meet your match?

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