“Surrogates are women who foster animals, volunteer at their kids’ schools, give blood,” says Shannon Curry, surrogate business development manager at ConceiveAbilities, a surrogacy agency. “They work at ObGyn clinics, they are nurses, they are teachers …. And they have a lot of empathy for people who can’t carry a child as they find mothering to be one of life’s greatest experiences.”
When you consider the overlap between surrogates and health care providers, there's no eureka moment—it makes complete and utter sense. At their core, health care professionals and surrogates embody a giving, self-sacrificial spirit. And humbled as they are, they’ll just tell you they’re here for the ride.
“I can only speak from my company’s approach, but I feel we are a very surrogate-forward agency, and we want to make sure this is as much the surrogate’s journey as it is the IP's,” says Curry. “She has to love the family, she has to love the experience—she’s absolutely a part of the decision and never has to move forward if she doesn’t want to.”
As it stands, one in eight women experience infertility—and that doesn’t factor in people that may have medical conditions barring them from having a healthy pregnancy. “I have a medical condition with my eyes that could threaten my eyesight during pregnancy,” says Curry, who is herself an intended parent. After delivering a healthy baby boy, she was told by eye doctors and retina specialists that having another child would mean potentially forfeiting her vision. Add to that, the medication she takes to manage her condition hasn’t been tested in utero. She believed the risks were too stacked against her.
“We didn’t feel like our family was complete yet, so we explored adoption and then surrogacy, and ultimately determined that that was right for us.” Curry underwent the independent route, and talked to as many people as possible about surrogacy.
She eventually matched with Nanette Wester, a newborn care nurse for Fairview Southdale who has three children of her own. “Working as a nurse in the mom/baby unit, I get to see the joy that a baby brings to families,” says Wester. “I also get to see different struggles people have gone through to have a baby. I had a coworker that did surrogacy and every time I saw her, I would drill her with questions to try to gain as much knowledge from her as I could.”
Curry says the journey between surrogate and IP doesn’t have a cold stop in the delivery room. “Nanette pumped and gave us breastmilk for the first three months. We’re actually having a date night with her and her husband in the next two weeks!”
Not Giving Up
Staff at ConceiveAbilities is often confronted with long-held misconceptions from interested parties. Chief among them is the fear of “giving up” a baby the surrogate has presumably grown attached to. But in Curry's opinion, maternal instinct doesn’t cloud a woman’s judgment. If anything, it sharpens the picture: Straight out of the gate, a surrogate approaches her pregnancy through a completely different lens than her previous pregnancies.
“In talking to many surrogates, and speaking to my own experience, there’s very much a feeling that she [the carrier] is the child’s forever auntie,” says Curry. “It’s been established from the moment that they did this that the baby isn’t theirs. Surrogates never say they’re giving a baby up—they’re giving the baby back is what they tell us.”
Traditional surrogacy used to involve a carrier’s own egg combined with donor sperm—rendering her genetically related to the child. But this is a rarity in today’s landscape. “There are legal implications that factor in when a carrier is genetically related to the embryo,” says Curry. “There is also fear about attachment that comes into play.”
These days, families opt for a gestational carrier (most notably popularized by Kim Kardashian and Gabrielle Union). According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, when using a GC, the eggs used to make the embryos do not come from the carrier. Because the eggs will be retrieved from one woman and implanted in another, this technique requires in vitro fertilization (IVF). “One of the first questions I get is ‘Is the baby related to me? Do I have to use my own eggs?,’” says Curry. “I say, no, this is someone else’s bread and you are there cooking that bread.”