Published January 8, 2014 | By Greg Hodgson-Fopp
So, now that we’re out of the closet as gay parents intended, it’s time to answer the questions that I keep getting asked by friends near and far. By far the most common question is (of course): “How the hell does that work?”.
This is a long and involved process. I’m probably going to need 2-3 posts to get through the simplest version of describing the process, and even then, there are some parts (like choosing a surrogate) that are so monumental that they’re something I’m going to want to write about separately anyway.
So, let’s consider this part 1 – the bits we had to go through before the magic could even happen.
Seated comfortably? Good.
So, the simple* version goes something like this:
First, we decide to engage in surrogacy (a whole massive other topic for another time), choose a surrogacy agency to assist, review agency profile, meet with agency and sign detailed contract with agency. This was the first part after doing way too much online research (and as time will tell, nowhere near enough at the same time).
We had decided to use a British Agency because both Matt and I hold British citizenship, and so it seemed to make sense and gave us a sense of trust that we felt might be lacking if we went directly to an American Agency. I’m not sure we’d make the same decision again, to be honest, but at the time we really didn’t know enough about the process and so having an agency to hold our hands through it was helpful.
Ultimately, without them, we wouldn’t have met the other partners in the process that we have met, so it was worth it for the introductions if nothing else.
Fertility Clinic & Male Medical Clearance
With agency assistance, we then were directed to choose a fertility clinic and make initial contact to find out the details. Our fertility clinic is California Fertility Partners in Los Angeles. Once the initial contact is made, we then relentlessly googled the clinic to find out details (you can get their success %-ages online, as it’s part of American fertility law to publish them) and make sure they weren’t some small or new clinic that had just popped up overnight.
We then received a checklist from the clinic that was the tests that Matt and I needed to get done before we could even be considered by them. This meant we could start male-aspect medical clearance which involved giving blood (6 vials!) and the first sperm donation (another topic for another time, since Matt and I are both scarred for life by that part of the process). We then went through these expensive tests (expensive in Zurich anyway, and for some reason free in Australia), then repeat expensive tests a month later to make sure you’re still clear of plague. Some of them had to be repeated one month later to ensure that we weren’t getting false negatives, as well.
For us, this part was complicated by my somewhat garden-variety-GP who was distinctly intimidated by the list of tests that I handed him. When he had to get out books to work out what some of them were, I realized it wasn’t just the language barrier we were climbing. This was a doctor more familiar with “I’ve got a cold and want some drugs”, than “I’ve got a list of 15 tests, some genetic, some related to chromosomes, some related to life-threatening diseases like cancer, and a full shopping list of every sexually transmitted disease you’ve ever heard of, and I need you to test me for all of them and provide written evidence of said tests. By Friday.”
I think I was actually tested for Gonorrhea about three times by accident. Aaaaaanyway.
Meanwhile, we were given anonymous egg donor profiles (10 or so at a go, we probably were sent 30+ in total) that matched the initial criteria we agreed with the agency. These profiles are quite extensive medically, feature photographs and full family medical histories, and a reasonable but brief psychological profile as well. You get to choose a donor, be disappointed “Sorry, already taken”, choose different donor, be disappointed “didn’t pass medical”, then choose another donor, finally get to the next stage.
Oddly, we pay upfront for donor to have a battery of medical and psychological tests and if she fails them (our second donor did), then you’re out of pocket for that and back at square one. Seemed a little harsh.
When you get a donor, then the contract part comes into play, you need to place her money with a third party (anonymous, remember?) and then sign a weird contract that lists her by a pseudonym (“Why yes, we do agree to pay CC8877 a princely sum for the fruit of her loins”) which just felt weirdly clandestine.
I have to say, this point of the process was odd for me on a philosophical level. It’s a little bit close to eugenics, as you’re faced with PDFs of 10 different women and you find yourself saying things like “I like the look of this one, but her grandmother had a stroke and her Dad’s short, whereas this one doesn’t have as nice hair or as good teeth, but her grandparents are all healthy and her brothers are all over 6ft tall”.
It’s a very odd thought process to find yourself going through. I’ll detail more specifics about our egg donor journey to find ours in another post. It was a minor side rollercoaster on the whole rollercoaster process.
Simultaneously, we would be looking at Surrogate profiles. These are much more friendly, and interesting in different ways as the surrogates identify themselves and often include pictures of their family and statements of their intent and reasoning behind being surrogates. Some were very short (half a page, one photo) and others were very detailed. Sift through these potential candidates trying to make a world-changingly important decision based on gut feeling and grainy photos.
Once a surrogate is selected, you generally have a phone chat, then maybe exchange a few emails before finally meeting them in person to have a final “fit” conversation. Both sides of the partnership have to feel comfortable with the other people. This is a huge, massive leap of faith and trust and as such it’s really important to get it right. Looking back at our first two candidates (not successful on one side or another), and comparing to some other people’s stories on the grapevine, I realize how incredibly, truly lucky we are to have found and connected so well with Natasha.
So much so, I’ll save that whole process for another post and introduce her properly then.
Once a surrogate and an egg donor have been arranged, then they go through their medical clearance, while at the same time a lot of lawyers get involved. There are contracts to set up between egg donor and agency, agency and us, surrogate and us. These contracts occur in the US, so most of the time it was via extensive emails and documents being sent back and forth for reading, red-lining, clearing and ultimately signing.
At the end of the process (and because law is involved and it’s ultimately a contract, there is always some confusion, some clarification, some clauses that are worded badly or not appropriate at all), eventually you get “legal clearance” to proceed on both parts.
This part was a bit stressful. The surrogacy contract has a million “What if” clauses that really hammer home the risks of the process. It was chilling stuff to be signing.
Medical Clearance for the Ladies
If you’re also lucky, by the time legal clearance has been given, you then also get medical clearance.
I’m somewhat out of the loop on what this involved, actually. For Matt and I, it was a relatively simple, if incredibly awkward process. For the egg donor, I believe there are ultrasounds of follicles, counts taken, hormone levels assessed and balanced and the required psychological assessment to ensure she is sane. For the surrogate, the process is different again, also involving probably invasive processes at the fertility clinic, more ultrasounds, blood tests for all sorts of things. If I’m brave enough, I’ll ask Natasha next time we see her, and if I’m not asking too personal a question, maybe she’ll allow me to post an update of what that involved at some later point.
From our personal point of view, this part of the process was a few bills and a lot of incredibly nervous waiting. It would have been gutting to get to the point of finding someone you really matched with only to be told a physiological idiosyncrasy stopped it.
Medical Clearance for the Gents Redux
Also, for us fathers, our work wasn’t done yet! Despite being medical pre-cleared, we were still required to do all the tests again in the US once the process was ready to start. This mean 6 more vials of blood and another generous deposit of genetic provided in an awkward and distinctly unromantic little booth at the fertility clinic.
And that’s not all. Due to some quirks in American law, we then had to repeat those tests again once more, when back in Switzerland, to ensure we were still clear of the entire gamut of sexually transmitted diseases a month later.
My poor GP was utterly confused by this point, and I dealt mostly with his efficient receptionist/nurse who just took the blood, filled in the form and had the paperwork ready for me a few days later.
Synchronize those Biological Clocks
If you’re lucky and timely, the surrogate and egg donor are then ready to synchronize. This involves them taking normal contraceptive pills for a month, then somewhat expensive hormones for about a month more.
At this point, Matt and I were done. Our generous and healthy contributions to the process had been left safely in the hands of a nurse at CFP (who I like to think trembled slightly when I handed her my vial of manliness, but that was maybe my hands not hers). Our part was frozen a month before and ready to be put into the mix when the ladies were ready.
And a month later, cycles synchronized, (and I bet both of them were sick of the daily injections by that point), they could come back into the reassuring and ultra-high-tech offices of CFP for the little bit of magic to happen.
And that, I’ll write more about next time