When Seth and I decided that we needed a surrogate to bring a baby into this world, we were in a fragile part of our lives. We had just lost our son, Luca. I wanted to find a solution ASAP, to fill the loss in my heart. We started asking around if anyone knew anyone who would want to be a surrogate for us. We found someone who was interested at first, but a few months into the process, she got pregnant with her own baby. The night that she texted me that she was pregnant, I hit rock bottom. I was so devastated. So much bad had already happened in 2019, the year that we lost Luca, and her getting pregnant after committing to be our surrogate just cut me deep. As I write this, I still feel a jab at my heart.
After our stab at an independent journey failed miserably, we decided to use an agency. Our thought process was: if someone is willing to go through all the hoops of applying at an agency as a surrogate, then it must mean that they’re serious about being a surrogate. Also, as another Intended Parent (or IP) told me, hiring an agency felt like we were taking out an “insurance policy” on the surrogate we would match with. In case something went wrong, the agency would be there to handle it. Our agency matched us with Jennifer, for whom we are eternally grateful, but I hardly heard from the agency during the journey. Jennifer and I handled all the coordination and the escrow company took care of her expense reimbursements.
Our experience is not unique. I’ve heard from many surrogates and Intended Parents that their agency was nonexistent during the journey, and many IPs feel like they overpaid for agency fees. Many surrogates also have stories of their agencies abandoning them when they ask for reimbursement or treating them like cattle: soon after they’ve given birth, the agency already wants to sign them up for a new journey ASAP.
But, I have also heard some good things. It’s human nature for bad experiences to stick with us more than good ones, I think, so it’s not surprising to me that I’ve heard more negative stories than I have positive ones. Sometimes, IPs can be a lot to handle, and agencies can be there to advocate on behalf of the surrogate when things get too intense.
I think one reason both IPs and surrogates are underwhelmed by their agencies is that they don’t really understand what they’re signing up for (or, for IPs, what they’re paying for). The surrogacy journey seems super mysterious before you begin, but afterward, it becomes really clear and much less intimidating. This is why you see many surrogates opt for an independent journey for their second surrogacy pregnancy.
In my opinion, the real value that agencies provide is matching surrogates and IPs and being an intermediary in case problems or misunderstandings arise. Personally, I don’t find value in the education part or coordinating part, because those are things that I can handle or that my fertility clinic handled. In fact, I made sure to educate myself on surrogacy before beginning my first journey. When it comes down to it, it isn’t the steps involved in surrogacy that are complicated; it’s the emotions during the journey.
If you’re starting out as an Intended Parent, here are two important pieces of advice I have for you:
- Don’t fall for meaningless services from agencies
Here’s an example that really bugs me. This famous, unnamed agency writes on its website: “For our $40,000 fee, we will help you with a legal strategy for specific state or court requirements and marital and embryo status.” Let me tell you right now that your surrogacy lawyer and your clinic will handle this for you. This is actually not a service that an agency provides (unless it is also a law firm, which this agency is not). Here’s another service that it says it provides: “Medical alignment on IVF’s clinics surrogate protocol and requirements.” My fertility clinic did this for me. And: “We coordinate a mock cycle.” Again, my fertility clinic did this for me.
2. Agencies don’t own surrogates
I totally understand the desire to want an agency involved in the surrogacy journey in case something goes wrong. But let’s take an example where a surrogate stops communicating with the IP(s) for some reason. Yes, you can reach out to the agency for help, but other than also reaching out, there isn’t much else the agency can do, especially if the surrogate doesn’t respond. If you’re getting ready for legal action (which I hope never happens), it’s your surrogacy lawyer who you’ll need, not your agency. Your agency is just there for emotional and coordination support, which may or may not be very valuable to you, and is something the agency may not even deliver on. All this is to say that it’s important to have realistic expectations of a surrogacy agency.
If you’re starting out as a surrogate, I think using an agency to facilitate your journey is a great idea. Personally, I would love to have a go-to person during my journey just in case something goes awry. It would make the whole process a lot less daunting. But if you meet an IP that you click with outside of an agency, I would still consider doing an independent journey. I might suggest asking the IP(s) to pay for a fertility counselor or to find a third-person mediator in case something happens and you need support.
Something to keep in mind, though, if you’re interested in doing a second journey, is that you may be able to negotiate a higher compensation if you do an independent journey. It might take more time to find a match, but if IPs are saving about $25,000 by not using an agency, then they can afford an extra $5-$10K for you, perhaps bumping your compensation up to $40-$45K. By not involving the agency, you and the IPs can capture more value from the transaction.
Learn more about independent journeys here.
What about you? How was your experience with your surrogacy agency? Comment down below!