I Was a Surrogate and This Is What It's Really Like
What do Giuliana Rancic and Jimmy Fallon have in common other than mega-stardom? Surrogacy. They’ve helped introduce us the world of surrogacy through the eyes of prospective parents. And now, Kim and Kanye are doing the same, as the dynamic duo is expecting their third child through surrogacy.
But what is it like actually being a surrogate?
We decided to dig a little deeper to understand what motivates a surrogate to carry for another family. We reached out to Tiffany Jordan, a mother who’s already completed two surrogacies (one boy and another set of twins) in the past three years for her perspective.
Read on to see why she considers surrogacy “extreme babysitting,” plus the ins and outs of the process as a whole.
What piqued your interest in surrogacy?
I had some friends that were looking into donating eggs in college, and I was curious. But about three years ago, there were a couple of women very close to me who were really struggling to get pregnant. One of my best friends and her husband had been trying for years to get pregnant and they weren't able to. Then my aunt was also trying to get pregnant and she was having a lot of difficulty. My sister and I told my aunt that we’d carry it for her. She ended up getting pregnant on her own, but I feel like a lot of people start out having done it for family members or are prepping to do it for a family member and then the issue resolves itself. Then you're left like, "Well, I want to help someone have a baby, so what's next?" It opened my eyes to the fertility issues that women, same sex couples, everyone goes through sometimes to have a child.
VIDEO: Changing the Infertility Conversation
Let's backtrack a little bit. Where are you from and what is your family like?
I'm from Savannah, Georgia, and I actually grew up living with my Southern Baptist grandparents for the longest time. And when I started the first surrogacy, I was 23. I think I was one of the youngest surrogates in our group. So entering surrogacy was actually really taboo for my family. I had some of my family members scare me halfway through my first pregnancy telling me that it was going be hard for me. I started wondering, "Man, is this really going to affect me that much?" And it doesn't. Your mindset doesn't change. At no point do you decide, "Okay, I'm going to keep this baby." It just doesn't work like that. Most surrogacies are not genetically your child at all, it’s an egg donor’s egg, not yours. But by the second time, it was much more accepted by my family. They were supportive the whole time and got just as excited about it as I did.
You have a long-time boyfriend who’s also the father of your son. What did he say when you first wanted to do this?
I'm really strong-willed, so I knew that was it. I was going to do it. And when I told him, I think he was like, "Oh, okay, Tiffany," and didn't expect me to follow through, so in the next conversation we had about it, I was like, "Okay, they're booking our tickets to go to medical screenings," and it took him aback at first. Our pregnancy with my son was just very stressful. So he got nervous not even about having a baby for another family, but about the actual pregnancy. Then once I was actually in the hospital after delivering that first surrogacy baby I told him, "I'm going to do this again." And he was like, "That sounds great. Let's do it again."
Has surrogacy become—for lack of a better phrase—your day job?
This is something that I did in addition to working. My first surrogacy, I was working in membership at a private golfing community and the second time, I was still with that company, but I ended up moving with my family to South Carolina after that time, so I did not work for the last few months of it.
How did you start this process?
I Googled surrogacy and found tons of agencies. Then I really got into what their success rates were, their ratings, and stuff like that. There were a couple major ones: Circle Surrogacy, Simple Surrogacy, and a some in California—I applied to all of them at first with a basic application. They' get your height, your weight, your age, a little bit of information about your previous pregnancies (you have to have been a mother first before becoming a surrogate so you know psychologically how you're going to deal with it and how your body is going to respond to being pregnant), a little bit about your lifestyle, and then they narrow it down from there.
What are next steps like?
There’s a much lengthier application with 20-something pages on your family history, your education, and your interests. From there, you talk with the agency and then they'll request your medical records and either approve you or deny you based on those. Once you're approved, you're in it. You're a surrogate with their agency. For me, it was really quick. I started looking into it maybe at the end of March three years ago and I applied at the first of April. By the end of April, I was signed on with Simple Surrogacy and matched with a couple.
Do you get to choose whom you're a surrogate for?
You do. After you're approved and you're put into their database, there's a couple of major things that you have to match with families, like your willingness to terminate a pregnancy for severe disabilities or if you get pregnant with quadruplets, your willingness to reduce— obviously, if a family would want you to and you wouldn’t, you don’t match. Once they filter those, they'll give you anywhere from three to 15 profiles—all the forms that you filled out, the potential families filled out too. So they'll get your profile and you'll get theirs and if you like each other, you can set up a couple Skype dates with them to know each other.
What was your first family-matching experience like?
My first Skype date lasted almost four hours. You can totally hit it off or you could realize, "This isn't for me.” You're going be involved with these people very closely for a really long time. You want to make sure it's the best match that it could be.
Can you decide that you don't want to do it anymore at any point?
I could definitely tell the agency, "Hey, put me on hold" or "I change my mind." But I haven't met a surrogate that has decided against her family after they've completed contracts, which happens after you’ve gone through more in-depth medical and psychological screenings—that's like four months into being matched with people. But it has happened. Generally though, as long as you're not pregnant yet, you can pull out at any time. Sometimes there's some consequences 'cause it's not fair to the family if they've paid for all of the screenings for you, all of this travel for you, and then you decide, "Oh, never mind."
So once you are pregnant with someone else's child, does it ever feel like you have no agency over your body anymore?
You’re still in charge of your body. You're still the one going to these appointments. The agencies do a really great job of letting you take the lead on what procedures you want to have done—all of that's pre-decided in the contract. But on the other side, you are talking to this family or this person almost every day about their child. You’re like, "Guess what happened at the ultrasound?" or you're FaceTiming them in the ultrasound, or you're calling them as soon as the appointment's over. They're still very involved.
What are the risks? Do they increase because of the IVF?
No, it's really just a risk of giving birth. As far as we know right now, IVF doesn't appear to come with any increased risks, other than you're just crazy hormonal. But I have C-sections, so with each C-section you have, it's increased risk of hemorrhaging or losing reproductive organs. You just have to make the decision that you’re going to take each risk for someone else.
Have you ever regretted it?
No, never. For me, with the C-sections, I could do only one more. I want to do it again, but the twin pregnancy was really difficult. There were some health problems, so my boyfriend is not really on board right now for doing another. But luckily, I'm only 26, which is young enough where I can still decide in the next 10 years if I want to do another.
You just have your one son now. Would you ever have children of your own again?
I don't think so. I used to want more, but he is so self-sufficient now, that it's hard to go backwards.
How do you explain this to people you meet?
You talk about the pregnancy so differently 'cause you're pregnant, but you're not having a baby. They're having a baby, so aside from you actually being pregnant, it almost feels like your sister or your brother is expecting a child and you're just there for moral support.
What was your first pregnancy like?
Well, I understood why they require surrogates to have had their own children first. Most of the time, that’s how you figure out if it's something you would be able to do, like whether you can detach yourself or you can't.
I hate even calling it that. But I personally am not one of those women who are so in love with their baby while they’re pregnant. After my son was born, then I was like, "Okay, now I'm a mom.” It doesn't click for me before that.
And your son was four years old during your first surrogacy. How did you explain what you were doing to him?
He’s an only child, so I've never been pregnant and brought home a sibling to him—that concept was really foreign. And both surrogacies I’ve done have been for same-sex couples. I explained to him, there isn't a mommy, there's no belly for the baby, so they're going to borrow mine and they're going to give me their baby, I'm going to grow it in my stomach, and then they're going to take the baby back when he's healthy and ready. He never thought anything weird about it.
People would ask him at the grocery store all the time, "Oh, are you going to be a big brother?" or "Are you excited for the baby?" and he'd say, "It's not mine. It's—" and then he'd say the parent's name. He'd say, "We're just making sure it's healthy." I was really lucky that he got it right off the bat, so the second one was just a repeat.
Have people ever been rude to you about this?
The initial response is usually, "Oh, I don't know how you do that. I could never give away my child, you must be something special,” in a very condescending tone. I just snap back now. I say, "Have you ever babysat?" and they're like, "Yeah!" I say, "Did you kidnap the child? Did you try to keep the child?" and they're like, "No, never!" But that's the same thing as surrogacy. At no point was this ever my baby. This was always someone else's. I just took care of it for a while until the parents were ready for it again.
Have you heard of any horror stories, like of a surrogate mother searching for the child after this?
I have heard horror stories, but not like that. Some people choose to have two surrogates pregnant at the same time. I know of one surrogate who went into premature labor at like, 23 weeks and it passed away. The family had nothing to do with it, they never came to the hospital, they didn't bury their baby—she had to do all of that. I've heard more of things like that than I have about the surrogate having issues with the parent.
Did you ever break down mentally while going through one of these pregnancies?
At the end, when you're so swollen, hormonal, and uncomfortable (when you normally would just snap at your partner) that’s the hardest because I can't go off on the intended parent. That's just not appropriate, it's not their fault that I'm so hormonal. The last month and a half is hard ‘cause they are so stressed watching from a distance, hoping that everything goes well while still being a plane trip away. If you suddenly go into labor, they're scared they might miss the birth, whereas you're on the other side, just being uncomfortable. I have to remind myself that they're going through so much more than I am.
Do you see the baby after it's born?
I have held the children both times. The first time, the couple was international, so they were here for four weeks after the baby was born. When they got to the hospital, we had separate rooms, but they would come see me. And after we all got discharged, they would come over for dinner, I'd meet them out at lunch, all that. Then the second time, it was even more of that. I delivered the twins five weeks early and stayed in the hospital for four days. We would just go back and forth to each other's rooms. If one of them needed to go run errands or shower, I would be in there to man one of the babies. Before they left, I was over at their hotel, they came over to my house and I keep in touch with them pretty regularly. I think it's very important to get to see the baby that you helped create. It gives me closure.
Do you still have any contact with the children? Or will you, as they grow up?
I still Skype with all of them. My first one being two and a half, so he's little enough that I don't think he really remembers who I am yet, but his family is very open to us continuing contact. And the twins are in New York, so I'm hoping to visit them over the next six months.
Do you send birthday presents or holiday presents?
My surro-son in Belgium, less so, just because contact is already difficult due to the time difference and such, but I definitely remember his birthday. I call him and tell him "Happy Birthday.” But our holidays are different, so they'll tell me, "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Thanksgiving" and things like that, but I'm honestly not sure of what all their holidays are like. The twins that live in New York were born right around Christmas, so I am planning on sending them birthday gifts and their dads actually—my birthday was last month—sent me a gift as well.
Getting a little bit technical here, what is the compensation like?
You're never out of pocket. They cover everything that you go through—all medical expenses, mileage for doctor's appointments, childcare if needed while you're at the doctor. As far as the compensation goes, there's a wide range around the country. It can start at $18,000, but in California, it goes up to 70 grand. At my agency, the compensation is between $35 and $50,000, depending on factors like is it an international couple? Do you need a translator if it is? Things like that would add on to the compensation.
Are medical bills added to base compensation or taken from it?
They're added to it. Your base compensation's not touched by anything and in addition to your base compensation, there are things like maternity clothes allowance. Once you hit a certain month in your pregnancy, they'll send you money so that you can buy clothes. If you go on bed rest, there's a fee paid out to you to cover income that you may be missing out on, childcare because you'll need the extra help, things like that.
Do you think some people do this for the money?
I would never do it for free because of everything you go through and the risk that you put your body through to have a baby. You definitely have to be compensated. It’s definitely not the reason I did it, but it is a nice perk. You have to remember that we are paid pretty much a teacher's salary. And the base compensation is normally divided into 10 monthly payments that start at around three months pregnant. Sometimes this can go on for two years and that compensation doesn't change. My second surrogacy, we miscarried and then our next rounds of IVF had issues, so I ended up doing four rounds of IVF, which is extensive time that you're going through all of this and the compensation doesn't change, which is fine. It shouldn't change, but at that point, you're definitely not in it for the money.
What have you learned through this experience?
You learn so much about sacrifice and loving others more than you love yourself. It pushes you to want to do more good. I know that sounds a little bit ridiculous, but the world is so chaotic and it's so hard to leave any sort of mark or make a long-lasting positive effect on people. But with surrogacy, you do. You have forever changed these people's lives for the better. Once you're done with it, it doesn't leave you empty, it almost leaves you on a high.
What has been the most surprising part of this whole experience for you?
Honestly, letting go of the parents. Everyone thinks it's giving the baby away and it's not, at all. Surrogacy is just extreme babysitting, and I've never wanted to kidnap a child I've babysat. I think the same feeling goes for when I have a surrogacy baby. But you become so attached to these parents 'cause you are in daily contact with them (sometimes for two years) and you go through all of these things together. Having to give space to your newfound best friends is hard.
What has been most rewarding?
With a C-section, they pull the baby out like Simba and they just hold him up to the light—it's very dramatic, but it's also very moving for me and for the parents. You get to watch this overwhelming love come over them. It is the most addicting high that you could never get. I would do this a million times if I could.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be a surrogate?
I've never met a surrogate that didn't have a handle on what she was doing. It's something that's inside of you. If you're okay with being a surrogate, if you're going into that world, you are the most levelheaded person ever.
How about someone looking into finding a surrogate?
Just trust the process. It will be fine, your baby will be fine. Let your surrogate sulk and soak her swollen ankles and try to relax. It's very hard letting someone else be in charge of giving you a healthy child.