On November 9, 2016, I woke up, like more than half of Americans, to the unthinkable: A monster was now running the world. My brain immediately swerved to my frozen embryos, patiently waiting at an IVF lab. Was this a world I still wanted to bring children into? And how would I search for a surrogate in the apocalypse?
After five years of failing to get pregnant, and every test my doctors could fathom, I was told my uterus wasn’t going to behave. I make embryos just fine, but they don’t implant. If I want a biological kid, I need someone else’s body to help. A surrogate.
A gestational surrogate carries and births a baby they aren’t genetically related to, for an intended parent (or, IP). The embryos I have on hold — made from my eggs and donor sperm, because I’m single — are left over from my IVF attempts. It was overwhelming enough to learn, last year, that surrogacy is my only route to birthing those embryos. The current political climate has only made the prospect of selecting a surrogate even more stressful.
It can’t be just anyone. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a surrogate should be at least 21 years old, have given birth to at least one child, had complication-free pregnancies, had no more than three C-sections, have a "healthy" BMI, not smoke, not abuse drugs or alcohol, be financially stable, not be on government assistance, live in a surrogacy-friendly state, be emotionally stable, have a strong support system, have a squeaky clean legal background, and be able to pass rigorous medical and psychological screenings. It may seem that such a laundry list would be a pretty clear-cut way to find “the one.” But there’s even more to it for me.
Getting from your 'match' to taking home baby can take years.
The surrogacy process is long. It can take many months to “match,” or mutually choose to work with a surrogate; many more months for screenings and legal contracts; and about six weeks to medically prepare a surrogate’s body for the embryo transfer. And then, transfers aren’t always successful. Miscarriages happen. Sometimes it takes multiple transfers before a surrogate gets and stays pregnant. And so getting from your "match" to taking home a baby can take years.
In part, because of this time commitment, surrogacy requires an immense amount of trust, and a willingness to accept the discomfort in a profound set of unknowns. I'm finding the chaotic state of the world only makes it more strange and complicated. In reviewing potential surrogates, how do I work in subjective qualities, like kindness, honesty, patience, and compassion? Because a surrogate could meet the basic requirements but still be an asshole, or a narcissist, or boring, or racist, or homophobic, or humorless, or a Trump supporter.
For me, this is not a business scenario or merely renting a womb. I’ll be spending a lot of time with my surrogate, getting to know them, talking on the phone, texting, sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms beneath TVs blaring the news. I’ll be experiencing one of the most profound journeys of my life with this person. They can’t be someone whose beliefs make me want to punch a wall. And, these days, a lot of people's do.
While I don’t need or expect a surrogate to be exactly this far to the left, I do want us to share at least a sliver of worldview.
I grew up as the red diaper baby of a red diaper baby. My paternal grandparents were active members of the Communist Party and told colorful stories of the FBI staking out their house. My dad was more of an armchair radical, but still. The first complex sentence I uttered was Karl Marx’s mantra, “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” and the first time I saw Angela Davis speak was in kindergarten. For my parents, Democrats weren’t liberal enough. While I don’t need or expect a surrogate to be exactly this far to the left, I do want us to share at least a sliver of worldview. Even the tiniest smidge.
So, how do I find one? There are two ways: through an agency or on my own. Agencies can charge tens of thousands for their matching services and overseeing the process as a third party. Going about it independently, known as “indy,” means following all the same steps without that intermediary. As someone who’s detail-obsessed, enjoys navigating logistics, and is comfortable discussing “difficult” topics like vaginas and money, I’m a pretty good candidate for going indy.
Essentially, I have to be my own yenta. Not only must I match with someone who meets the basic requirements, but we must also align on surrogacy’s big issues — one of the biggest being compensation, a complicated song and dance in itself.
In addition to "base compensation," which is an agreed-upon fixed fee that can be influenced by factors such as what state a surrogate lives in, and whether they're a first-timer or "experienced," I'll be paying a slew of other expenses we need to agree on. For example, there are maternity clothes, the embryo transfer, a monthly stipend for incidentals, and so forth.
And there are other questions with answers that could stop a match in its tracks: How do we each feel about termination (in the case of genetic abnormality, say); how many embryos to transfer (just one? Try for twins?); delivery (in a hospital, home, or birth center?); and communication before, during, and after the pregnancy? These are critical, make-or-break preferences. An IP who wants a hospital birth shouldn't match with a surrogate who desires a home birth. IPs who want control over all baby-related decisions shouldn’t match with a surrogate who wouldn't terminate a pregnancy if the fetus were to have medical concerns.
Given all that, it may seem silly to add politics to the cauldron. But the right match is everything. No doubt there are Trump-cheerleading surrogates out there who ace every official requirement. But I would be an alien to them, and them to me. While political tendencies and general numbskullery aren’t necessarily passed through the womb, scientists learn more each day about the subtleties of the in utero connection; I’d rather be safe than sorry.
I can't pick a surrogate who's too like me, nor one who's too not like me. Who does that leave?
This year has taken a toll. Like most people I know, I’m in a fairly constant state of rage, worry, and exhaustion because of the person who happens to be president. And now Trump has even infiltrated my selection process for the monumental decision of who will grow my child.
While I don’t want to match with a MAGA-hat-wearing lover of Trump, I’m also concerned about matching with a passionate hater of him. I’d prefer my surrogate not be stressed, afraid, or adrenaline-spiking mad every time they read the news. Which is to say, I can't pick a surrogate who's too like me, nor one who's too not like me. Who does that leave, just someone who's blissfully disconnected from the broader world?
There’s so much uncertainty that comes with needing a surrogate in the first place. Your body can’t do what you expected it would. You must trust someone else’s. You cede control. And hope, with all anxious hope, that it works. Every day I wish I wasn’t an IP. I wish my kid, whom I’d birthed myself, was already napping on the couch next to me. But here I am. Looking around in a polarized and unstable world for the person who, for nine months, will make the stablest world she can, a world in which my baby will grow.
Welcome to Mothership: Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking about or passing on kids, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big if — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.