Match Game: The ‘dating phase’

Baden and I are currently in the ‘matching’ phase of our surrogacy journey. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means we are currently trying to match with a surrogate but have not yet found ‘the one’. This is an exciting but nerve-wracking part of the surrogacy journey and one that is incredibly important. Having a solid surrogate/IP relationship is the core of ensuring a smooth journey for all.

Many people have told us that matching is a lot like dating. So far, this seems pretty true. Trying to find a match is much more involved than just determining mutual availability and timelines – we’d love to find someone to laugh with, cry with, and make lifelong memories with. Since the last time I began dating someone I knocked it out of the park and met my perfect person, I have decided to reapply the same dating principles in surrogacy matching (with less emphasis on my killer dance moves and even fewer sprays of cologne) as I did back then. Lucky for you, I’m happy to share.

Allow me to introduce you to the concept of IEP Dating and how Baden and I plan to utilize it in our surrogacy journey.

IEP Dating

In IEP dating, we consider three major attributes of a potential partner. These are Intellectual (I), Emotional (E), and Physical (P). Physical attributes are obvious and speak to whether you find your partner physically attractive. Emotional attributes are qualities that evoke a common emotion (i.e. things you have in common). Baden and I both love similar music (Billy Joel), food (juicy burgers), and travel, for instance. We also have a mutual love for Georgian Bay where we both have family cottages.

Intellectual attributes, often the most overlooked, are certainly the most important. These are your core values: What religion do you practice? How do you plan on practicing it when you raise your family? How do you vote? What is your parenting style? What makes a good role model?

People are often afraid to discuss such heavy topics on a first date and I don’t blame them! However, these are important values that are non-negotiables in how you plan to live your life. If they aren’t settled right out of the gate, I can almost guarantee your relationship will end in heartbreak.

A relationship that shares I/E attributes is that of a friend. This is someone you have a lot in common with, but you never really found them attractive.

A relationship that shares E/P attributes, is that of a short-term boyfriend or girlfriend. You may have a lot in common with them and find them attractive, but eventually, your core values will not completely align.

A relationship that shares I/P attributes, however, is that of a friend with benefits. You may be physically attracted, and intellectually stimulated, but eventually, you will run out of things you have in common.

Only a relationship that checks all three I-E-P boxes is a partner for life. I’m pretty confident I’ve found mine in Baden.

IEP Dating and Surrogacy

People often say you should avoid politics and religion on a date. Why? These are areas you’re likely to find conflict because they are core intellectual values. If you’re not in line with these, you’re probably wasting your time. If you aren’t using the IEP approach, it could be easy to avoid such topics until you’re emotionally invested. Only then do you realize that someone you’re crazy about has one of your deal-breakers. In this case, you both get hurt. In surrogacy ‘dating’, these difficult topic areas are things like genetic testing, termination, selective reduction, pumping breastmilk, how to resolve conflict, and expense management.

After some light get-to-know-you chit-chat (family, work, previous pregnancies, hobbies), Baden and I think it’s important to discuss the aforementioned tough topics. While they can be heavy for a ‘first date’, it’s worth being upfront and transparent. As IPs, this protects us from investing time in a relationship that can’t progress due to conflicting feelings on values. For example, many surrogates want a close relationship with the families they are helping that spans longer than the pregnancy. If that’s not what you’re looking for, that’s okay. Don’t betray her trust if that’s not what you want.

If it’s meant to be, it will be and we know our Ms. Right is right around the corner. Our journey has already led us to meet the most incredible couples and surrogates from around the world and we cant wait to have matches like theirs.

While their is no right way to ‘match,’ the IEP dating suggestion has worked for us so far. We would love to hear how you found your match and what you recommend too!

Have a great weekend!

Zane

Seeing the cup as half-full

When I used to picture what planning a family would look like, I can’t say I ever imagined what Baden and I are going through now. Just as she imagined being pregnant, I imagined my role to be different as well: I pictured making late night trips to Dairy Queen to fulfill her ice cream cravings, giving her foot rubs, or practicing driving the route between our home and the hospital. These were predominantly physical action items. While I still get suckered into the occasional foot massage, it’s obviously not because Baden is pregnant. Just as she has had to do a complete mental shift in how her journey to motherhood will look, I’ve been reexamining what it means to be a father-to-be, and where I fit into the surrogacy puzzle.

What I’m learning as an Intended Father through surrogacy is that my role leading up to and during the pregnancy will be providing more emotional support than physical Lately, I’ve found that the best way to support my Baden is through knowledge. I hate when she looks at me despairingly, unsure of a particular answer to a complicated question we’ve uncovered during this process. I’ve made it my mission to support her by doing an immense amount of research so when she has a question, I already know the answer. This not only reassures her, but it gives me a valuable role to play in this journey. Optimism, or ‘seeing the cup as half full’, is not just a fertility pun. It’s a necessity.

Surrogacy so far has taught me that any couple combatting infertility has to be incredibly resilient. A couple experiencing infertility of any kind needs to know each other extremely well, practice patience, and be adept at verbal and non-verbal communication. Aside from giving your partner a kidney, this is the only time in medicine where both you and your partner are considered the patients together. It is imperative that you be there to support each other.

A lot of my focus lately has been on shifting my perspective. Infertility teaches you some powerful lessons (whether you were asking to be taught or not), and I’ve come to realize that each new challenge we face is an opportunity to become a better emotional support. It’s not a bad time to be learning the lesson either – anyone at this life stage (young couples trying to plan their families) regardless of their fertility journey need to undergo this total shift from prioritizing the self to prioritizing the family. When Baden is having a rough day, she’s confident she can turn to me and I will focus on her with the attention and empathy she deserves to receive. In return, I’m watching her learn these same lessons alongside me. When I get overwhelmed (yes, men can get emotionally overwhelmed in fertility journeys too!), she is there for me.

My advice for other men in this situation is simple: remember that your partner’s struggles are also your own. By going through this together, each of you have a role to play in supporting each other. Listen, learn, and be understanding. Find common ground. Show support and compassion while continuing a positive outlook. The point is not whether the cup is half-full or half-empty, being a supportive partner means reminding her that the cup is always refillable.

Zane

About us (because we’re more than just Intended Parents!)

July 2012
Zane had more hair then!

Before Zane and I were ‘Intended Parents’ or ‘that couple behind the Not My Tummy blog’, we were just Zane and Baden (Zaden to certain friends!). In fact, until about a year ago, we were fairly private about our fertility journey. While we’ve always dreamed of having children, there’s a whole lot more to know about us than that. This post is dedicated to us as people who have lives, hobbies, interests and passions that extend far beyond fertility.

Let’s start at the beginning of our story as a couple. We met in Ottawa while studying at Carleton University (Go Ravens!). I was finishing my first year in the Journalism program when I decided to run for a position on the school’s Board of Governors as an undergraduate representative. It was a long shot. I had basically zero connections in student politics, but it felt like the right move – I’ve always been interested in community volunteer work and felt that I may meet some interesting people by throwing my name into the race. Zane, a second-year student studying Public Affairs and Policy Management, had similar ambitions. Unfortunately for me, he was by far the more qualified candidate in the race and I lost. Fortunately for me, he invited me for a friendly coffee afterwards and nine years later here we are.

Outside of his mischievous grin and fantastic culinary abilities, there were a number of things that have always drawn me to Zane. They’re the same reasons why our friends adore him too. While he’ll playfully tease anyone he loves (he’s a big brother to two sisters, which is where it comes from), he will also drop what he’s doing immediately to go support a friend or family member in need. He is reliable and mature, but has a zest for adventure. Scuba diving? Loves it. Skiing? He used it teach it to kids with special needs. CN Tower EdgeWalk? It’s on his bucket list. He needs to find someone to go with him, because I wouldn’t be caught dead at any altitude above a stepstool.

Zane also has a memory like an elephant, often recalling details from conversations years later to weave into thoughtful gestures for others. This memory also serves him well on road trips to our cottage on summer weekends – the lyrics are always correct when he sings along to the radio. He grew up on his parent’s classic rock, but has a soft spot for jazz music, country music and campfire classics. For me, if it isn’t Billy Joel or Paul Simon, you can bet I’m loudly stumbling along through every song.

As for me – Zane often says that I’m the ‘silly one’ of the two of us. I love to laugh, and it doesn’t take a lot to make me smile. Most of our friends refer to me as a ‘golden retriever’, a nickname I’ve earned because I’m an extrovert and am happiest around other people. Like Zane, I enjoy traveling and good food, but my guilty pleasure differs from his – even though I don’t watch reality TV shows, I love keeping up with reality stars in the news.

We’ve recently purchased our first house together, a renovated 1950s bungalow in North York, and are busy deciding on furniture and getting ourselves ready for the move. I’m about 90% excited and 10% stressed, which is pretty typical of how I approach any major changes in life. Zane is looking forward to the move, but is a little overwhelmed by the idea of packing to get ready for it. Dodi, our puppy, doesn’t know how good she’s about to have it – she loves visiting other people’s backyards, so I know she’s going to love running in circles on our new lawn.

Zane’s love for public policy has led him to a career in politics, while my studies in journalism and health communications has lead to a career in health marketing and communications (I now work for an organization focused on children’s mental health). We’ve both been working from home since the onset of the pandemic, but have made the most of it by making our way through Netflix, prioritizing sushi delivery, and taking a healthy amount of walks outside.

From June to September, we are a cottage-on-the-weekend family. We’re eagerly awaiting the warmer weather so we can dip toes in the Georgian Bay water and put burgers on the BBQ. The cottage is an especially joyful place for us because of how overfilled it is – with laughter, people, and too many pairs of flip flops crowding the doors. This summer in particular our weekends will be a welcome distraction from all of the things we have on our plates.

I’m looking forward to sharing more about Zane and I as individuals and as a couple as the months go on. If you want to learn more about us please reach out (the golden retriever in me will be thrilled!). To write about infertility, IVF, and surrogacy without giving the context of who its affecting is only telling half of the story. This is a snap shot of who we are – and we can’t wait to share even more with you.

Baden

Canadian Infertility Awareness Week

We are the one in six.

Today marks the beginning of Canadian Infertility Awareness Week 2021. Infertility affects roughly 16% of the Canadian population, and in honour of the individuals and couples affected by infertility, we’re using our platform to share some important facts with you.

Let’s start at the beginning: what is infertility?

The clinical definition of infertility is a couple who has been having unprotected sex for one year and hasn’t conceived.

Many individuals face infertility without necessarily fitting this clinical definition. For example, we have not tried to conceive naturally because we know that the risks to my health make it unsafe for us to do.

What should I know?

According to Health Canada, one in six couples in Canada experience infertility.

There is a persisting myth that infertility is a women’s issue – this is simply not true. Infertility can be rooted in either Intended Parent, or both. Canadian statistics suggest that:

  • 3 times out of 10, the cause is in men.
  • 4 times out of 10, the cause is in women.
  • 2 times out of 10, the cause is a mix of factors from both male and female.
  • 1 time out of 10, at first, no specific cause can be found.

The most common infertility treatments are intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Canadian surrogacy has seen a dramatic uptick in the past decade, with some estimates placing the increase at 400%. Even with the increase in Canadian surrogacy journeys, Intended Parents can spend years searching for a surrogate.

There are two types of surrogacy: traditional surrogacy and gestational surrogacy. In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate’s acts as an egg donor and is genetically related to the child she is carrying. In gestational surrogacy, the surrogate is carrying an embryo she is not related to. Gestational surrogacy is the more common type of surrogacy in Canada.

This year’s Canadian Infertility Awareness Week Theme is Hear Us – a command we absolutely take to heart. While we knew several years ago that this was the path for us, it was only at the beginning of this year when we launched this blog, that we began to meet so many other infertility warriors. These men and women, through no fault of their own, are brought together by a common desire – to grow a family. This desire is something that so many take for granted, while for us, it’s something we can only dream of. Over the past few months we have met women born without a uterus, couples suffering from repetitive miscarriages, and a number of gay men that would make the most amazing dads. Infertility impacts more folks than you’d suspect.

If these are the individuals that are public enough with their struggles to reach out to us, we can only imagine the countless more that face the perception of shame and stigma of not being able to grow their family in the way that they had first planned. Just like you hear us, we hear them. We hear that voiceless silent majority of those who just want what so many others take for granted.

We are fortunate to live in a country that accepts surrogacy as an altruistic calling. Not commercializing a person’s body means that we know whomever our surrogate is, that (like they say on The Bachelor) she is in it for the ‘right reasons.’ We are also fortunate that we live in Ontario, with a funded cycle of IVF available for any woman that needs it under the age of 43. Ontario also has gender-neutral parentage laws that allow Intended Parents (like us) to legally register the birth of our child with little government red-tape. Lastly, we’re fortunate that our employer-paid insurance coverage will cover 90% of our IVF medication when the time comes.

We say this not to boast, but to show the discrepancy within our own country. This CIAW matters because even for those who have gone public with their infertility struggles, they face countless hurdles in terms of access to affordable procedures and medications or bureaucratic nightmares. Fertility Benefits Matter has launched a new campaign to bring awareness to the struggle of infertility, and to raise its profile in employee benefits packages. We all can do our part to show solidarity with those who are experiencing infertility. We hear you.

Baden and Zane

Want to learn more about IVF funding across the provinces, surrogacy ‘lingo’, and surrogacy in the law? Visit our Resources page.

Baseline testing: the results

After visiting our clinic back in February for a series of tests, we were eager to meet with our fertility doctor and hear the results. Fortunately for us everything is looking great!

Let’s start with Baden’s details:

The anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) is one way to measure ovarian reserve. It is a simple blood test that measures the potential for how many eggs could be in your basket. While this number tends to decrease with age, Baden’s actually increased, from 33 a year and a half ago to 41.9 today. This could be for a variety of reasons, such as conducting the test on different days of her cycle. This number shows a healthy reserve for her age, without a risk of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

The pelvic and transvaginal ultrasound (her visit with Wanda – as the transvaginal ultrasound is known) was also successful, with 47 follicles counted (corroborating the AMH levels). Typically, each follicle could produce one egg on retrieval day. While 47 eggs would be far too many, a high number shows that there are lots of follicles ready for stimulation! These figures give us cautious optimism about IVF. Baden often tells me “I hope I’m like a hen house – full of eggs!” on retrieval day.

Important note: The ultrasound technician noted that Baden’s IUD was firmly in place and the doctor reminded us that you can certainly keep your IUD in place during IVF. This was a great reminder as we were unsure as to whether it could stay in when she had it inserted a few years ago.

My results went swimmingly:

With my contribution making up 50% of the embryo, we needed to make sure that everything was in good working order! Fortunately it was, with my sperm DNA fragmentation (which measures the integrity of genetic material in the sperm) at 6.6% (under 20% is normal) and all positive marks for sperm shape and motility (speed). I don’t know how they counted each one, but my umm…deposit…had over 90 million sperm (27.4 million/cc), with 66% of them swimming (40-50% is normal). The doctor said that I too am in perfect working order and everything looked great.

The bad news:

The doctor reminded us that because we need a surrogate for medical reasons, proceeding with a funded IVF cycle through the Ontario Fertility Program, means we need the name of an Ontario-based surrogate that has never acted as a surrogate before beginning IVF. While we had thought this was only suggested, we now know it is required. It does narrow our search for Ms. Right quite a bit, but given our positive results, we are confident that once we find the right match, IVF will be only one small step in our journey to bring home Baby Colt.

With Canadian Infertility Awareness Week beginning on April 18, we know that our positive results may cause others to have mixed feelings. Many couples seeking fertility support due so following months or years of negative pregnancy tests, miscarriages, and less than ideal results from the same tests we’ve just passed with flying colours. There is no rhyme or reason as to why some people struggle with aspects of fertility that pose no issue to others.

We feel for the couples (and single parents) who are trying to build their family. While our situations may be different, our end goal is the same. We all want healthy children. Supporting each other throughout Canadian Infertility Awareness Week, and each and every week following, is the best way to build community and validate each other’s lived experience.

Zane

P.S. While I have been pleasantly surprised by how vibrant the fertility community is, I would be remise not to mention one area I find is lacking. Male partners often avoid (or stay silent in) online fertility groups, opting to let their female partners take the lead on making a match, researching and engaging in conversation. An Intended Father’s role doesn’t begin at the birth of his child – it begins in the fertility clinics with their own health, at home with their partners, and providing additional support to their surrogate – and to each other as well. Baden and I both monitor the @notmytummy Instagram and Facebook pages, and we are both engaging with IPs, surrogates, and supporters from around the world. Know that if there is an Intended Father that has a question about fertility, surrogacy, or our journey, I am there to answer it. When men feel empowered to be active participants in surrogacy journeys, we can be much stronger supports for the women in their lives as well.

Building a profile and telling your story

How do you show a snapshot of your entire lives in just a handful of pictures and paragraphs? These are the questions we found ourselves asking this week when we began to create our profile on our surrogacy agency’s website. This daunting task felt like building a dating profile and in many ways it is.

Why is a profile so important?

A profile, whether it is on a surrogacy agency website or in a post on an independent surrogacy Facebook group, is your chance to put yourself out there and tell your story to a potential surrogate. Unless you’re lucky enough to know someone personally who can be your surrogate, your profile is the first impression potential surrogates will have of you, your family, and the life that you live. If they’re interested, this could lead to a match!

What to include in a profile:

Photos

Our agency, 4U Surrogacy Canada, encouraged us to share a variety of pictures in our profile. We choose mainly recent photos, and even included our puppy in a few of them to give the full picture of our little family. We tried to pick photos that could add some colour to who we are. For example, we’re big Blue Jays fans and included a picture of us decked out in our jerseys.

A video

While our profile doesn’t currently include a video, we’ve been told that this can be an effective way to connect with potential surrogates.

Your story

There are a number of elements you’ll want to include in the written portion of your profile. All profiles should cover the basics like where you live, how old you are, where you met (if you’re a couple) and why you’re turning to surrogacy to build your family. Beyond that, you get to decide how much detail to share.

It was suggested that if describing yourselves is hard to do, write a brief letter about why your partner would make an amazing parent. It’s often easier to write about someone else, than to write about yourself. Another suggestion we received was to ask for testimonies from friends and family speaking about what we would be like as parents. Instead, we wrote a brief letter to our future surrogate (much like the letter we wrote on the page Dear Ms. Right) outlining the basics. We figured between the photos, letter, and this blog, our public profile speaks for itself.

The best tip we learned was that a surrogate wants to help someone she can relate to. We would suggest throwing in a few fun facts about you to help paint the picture of who you are.

Who’s your favourite musician? Billy Joel!

What is your favourite Disney movie? Parent Trap if we’re talking live action, The Lion King if animated.

What is your favourite food? I would say sushi, Zane would argue it’s burgers and fries. The Cowfish Sushi-Burger-Bar in Orlando solves all arguments!

Perhaps these things will resonate with our future surrogate. Perhaps they resonate with you? Reach out to us anytime and let us know what you would put in your profile, or if you know us well (hi Mom!), what you think we should include!

Baden

Picking an agency (or going ‘indy’): Part 2

We have exciting news to share! After months of careful research, we have decided on pursuing our surrogacy journey with the help of an agency instead of through an independent journey. (If you haven’t read the first part of this article, I would highly recommend doing so.)

This was not a decision we took lightly – these past few months have been filled with long, informative conversations with surrogates, other IPs, our lawyer, and representatives from the dozen or so surrogacy agencies operating within Canada. We quickly learned that while each agency is passionate about helping to build families, there are many philosophies on exactly what role an agency/consultancy can fill to make that happen.

Why work with an agency?

While embarking on an independent surrogacy journey initially seemed tempting from a financial perspective (why pay an agency if you don’t have to?), we ultimately felt that the support we stood to gain from partnering with experts outweighed the savings we might have.

This is our first surrogacy journey, and despite our research there is a lot we don’t know. By signing with an agency, we now have a team behind us to answer questions, support us in finding our perfect match, help us manage reimbursements with our future surrogate, and provide guidance as we move through our journey.

So…who did we choose?

After much consideration, we have signed with 4U Surrogacy Canada. This move feels right to us for many reasons – not only do their core values of transparency, positivity, and support resonate with us, but we love that 4U was founded by both a surrogate and an IP together. It is important to us to know that both our and our future surrogate’s interests will be valued equally, and that our agency’s philosophy is built on understanding the perspectives of both.

4U also offers one of the more rigorous vetting processes for both surrogates and potential IPs. By taking the time to ensure everyone entering their program is committed, healthy, and has a strong understanding of what is expected of them in a journey, they aim to minimize potential for disappointment or unmet expectations. This gives us confidence in their program, and will hopefully help our future surrogate to feel comfortable with what she can expect from us.

In terms of cost and fee structure, 4U was an excellent match for us as well. Not only do they have one of the more IP-friendly pricing structures in the industry, they are also based in Alberta (saving us having to pay Provincial Sales Tax!). Their price is also meant to support IPs in bringing home a baby – not simply facilitating support for a set number of transfers. This may at face value seem like an obvious statement, but when we questioned other agencies about what might happen to us if we had matched and then our surrogate decided not to proceed with us (or vice versa) after a failed transfer, we were informed that we might incur additional administrative fees to access surrogate profiles again. This did not sit well with us, especially given how expensive accessing the support of an agency can already be.

We spoke briefly in the previous article about expense management. This is a touchy subject for agencies and surrogates alike. We don’t see reimbursement as a taboo part of this experience – quite the opposite! We are clearly very open people, and we would never want our surrogate to be out of pocket for any expense she incurred. However, by having an agency manage the bookkeeping, it gives us the opportunity to focus on building the relationship and enjoying the pregnancy together. 4U values transparency and gives us the opportunity to ask questions and understand in detail what is being expensed, without making our surrogate feel like her spending is under a microscope.

Included in 4U’s services is psychological counselling for both surrogates and IPs. This is a requirement at our clinic, CReATe Fertility Centre, to be done in advance of embryo transfer. This is just one example of a way 4U is working ahead to simplify the process and help reduce IP costs.

We also really appreciate that 4U keeps a short roster of intended parents. By having under 20 pairs of IPs waiting for matches, we know that we are getting the personal attention we are looking for from an agency. Likewise, once we match with a surrogate, we appreciate that we will be only one of a few other matches in that stage of the process. We know that we will be able to call Lindsay and her team with any questions we have. We will not simply be clients, but part of the 4U Circle.

In all of our conversations with 4U so far, we have felt understood and respected. They seem genuinely excited to help us build a family, and exactly the type of cheerleaders we want on our team.

We look forward to the next steps in this process: building a profile and matching with a surrogate!

Baden

P.S. If you’ve ever considered surrogacy, please see 4U’s health and lifestyle requirements below:

  • between 21 and 45 years of age
  • delivered your own child, carried to full term
  • no more than 2 previous c-sections
  • healthy BMI (ideally 38 or less)
  • non-smoker
  • financially stable
  • no previous serious pregnancy or delivery complications
  • in excellent mental health
  • live in a stable, healthy home environment
  • a good support system in place
  • no history of drug or alcohol abuse

The myth of the vain Intended Mother

When Kim Kardashian came forward a few years ago stating that she would be working with a gestational surrogate to have her third child, the media exploded. It seemed like everyone had something to say about Kim’s choice, and very little of it was kind. Even the people I knew who didn’t typically follow celebrity news seemed well aware of the Kardashian-West surrogacy journey and would loudly share how shallow of a choice they felt it was.

This was disheartening to hear for two reasons: 1) I’m don’t like listening to people tear down women. 2) I knew full well I would likely be using a surrogate when the time came for Zane and I to have children, and hadn’t yet publicized that information. The saying ‘Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.’ clattered around my brain frequently.

Building a family through surrogacy is not a vanity exercise. Through my extensive research and many conversations with other IPs, I have yet to meet one person who wouldn’t have loved to carry their own child if they could have, yet somehow the myth of the vain Intended Mother persists in the surrogacy narrative. In truth, choosing surrogacy is tough and leaves women with mixed emotions, including guilt and sadness.

The key to fixing this is to share the reality. Intended Parents, surrogates, and those working in the surrogacy field have an opportunity to bring much-needed awareness to surrogacy. With every person who shares their story, the mystery and misinformation surrounding surrogacy can begin to be replaced by understanding and compassion. It seems daunting, but remember that you don’t need to start a blog to start a conversation.

Zane and I aren’t celebrities with celebrity-style reach to talk about surrogacy, and maybe that’s exactly why we can accomplish something more meaningful. People need to see surrogacy as what it is – not just something reserved for the rich and famous. I hope that together we can challenge the preconceived notions about Intended Mothers.

Baden

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?

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

“Oh, you can’t carry on your own? Why don’t you just adopt?”

This is something I’ve heard a number of times. So far, I’ve answered it just about the same to everyone: that it’s important to my partner and I to try to have biological children for the same reasons it was before we realized we needed to utilize surrogacy. That’s our personal choice, and for that reason it’s what we plan on doing.

It’s a simple answer, but it rarely satisfies the question that’s really being asked. In my view, most (not all) of the people who ask the question subconsciously mean this: ‘If you’re a parent who needs a baby, why don’t you just adopt a baby who needs a parent?’

I applaud the couples and single parents who choose adoption. Adoption is a wonderful thing. However, it isn’t the right choice for everyone. Right now, at this stage of our lives, adoption isn’t a choice that Zane and I have decided to pursue – and that’s totally okay!

Talking to people about how they’re building their family is something that should always be done respectfully and gently. Even those who put on a brave face can be struggling. Though we’re very public in our journey with surrogacy, not every person is.

Be aware that when you ask Intended Parents (IPs) using surrogacy why they don’t just adopt instead, they may feel that you’re diminishing their choice and minimizing their experience.

Let’s flip the situation: If a couple confided in you that they were going to begin to try for a baby, would you ask them if they’d considered continuing birth control and adopting instead? You wouldn’t, because that would be an inappropriate and judgemental comment. The same goes for surrogacy. People have the right to choose how they would like to become parents, and it’s our job to respect their choices.

A friend of ours, who underwent IVF for secondary infertility had a particularly precocious 7-year old who asked, “Mom, was I made the regular way or the science way?”

“The regular way.” Our friend replied, not knowing precisely if she knew what the ‘regular way’ entailed.

“Oh…” said the 7-year old. She paused and then simply said, “Ew.”

Even though our baby will be made the ‘science way,’ I can guarantee you it will have the same love, care, and magic that goes into making a baby any other way. I’m sure of it.

In short, my answer to the question, “Why don’t you just adopt?” is simply, “Why don’t you?”

Baden