Given the fact that I'd all but fallen off the Earth, I was quite surprised and beyond honored that Baby Smiling and Lori thought to dig my email out of oblivion to ask if, given my special perspective as a surrogate, I would be willing to participate in their Dollars and $ense of Family Building series. I had to get re-cozied in my space and provide explanation of my absence before I could tackle this topic.In addition to my lojacked probie, you can also thank the two of them for my triumphant return.
All joking aside, the issue of dollars and cents is one of the major surrogacy aspects to make sense of. It is subject to great controversy and carries with it many splinter implications and issues, many of which in and of themselves can be controversial. There is no way that I could examine the full depth and breadth of finances in surrogacy. Instead, I'll dispel some of the basic myths and misconceptions. Before I delve into them, let me first answer a few of the Dollars and Sense questions to a.) introduce myself to those of you who don't already know me, and b.) tell a bit about the dollars and cents involved in my own infertility struggle.
Here are the facts, plainly stated: we tried to conceive naturally for 2.5 years without success. One visit with an OB/GYN (with fertility specialist etched next his name) lead to a soft diagnosis of anovulation (much later, I was given a full and proper diagnosis of PCOS). Once we figured out what the problem was, conception was relatively easy with the assistance of Clomid. My twins Kyra and Jaiden (age 9) were conceived on my 2nd 50mg Clomid cycle, my son Jordan (age 7) was conceived on the 1st 50mg Clomid cycle, and my daughter Kaelyn (age 5) was conceived on the 3rd Clomid cycle. By then I was up to 150mgs Clomid and a bonus hCG trigger. All told, I spent much more in gas driving back and forth to the doctor than I did in treatments. This is surely not said with intent to boast. In fact, it was the "subfertility" of the first miserable 2.5 years without conception plus the four years of blessedly easy concpetions which lead to my decision to become a surrogate. I was in the "uncomfortably warm" section of the hell that is infertility; it burned enough that it hurt, but I wasn't so scorched by infertility that it prevented me from wanting to reach out and help yank out someone else who was in a deeper, more fiery ring of the inferno.
Because the most I spent in any given cycle was probably around $50, I don't think that many of the questions in the Dollars and $ense line-up really apply to me. While I sometimes ruminate on the emotional cost it took to conceive, I almost never consider the financial cost of having my children. We didn't have to balance treatment costs vs. the ability to save for college of any hopeful children. We didn't have to take out second mortgages or max out credit cards. However, had my infertility struggles been to such an extent that I would have been the intended parent and not the surrogate, I would have done all of that and more, if that's what it took. Many people do just to do IVF for themselves, and do even more when a third party such as an egg donor or surrogate is introduced. Which brings me to the first myth…
Dollars and $ense of Surrogacy Myth #1: All Intended Parents (IPs) are rich.
Just as many couples need to use creative financing to pay for IVF, many couples need to get really creative with finances to pay for the added cost of surrogacy. Most save for months, even years to finance a surrogacy journey. Others use inheritances or refinance homes. Many live on one salary and save most or all of the other. They clip coupons and bargain shop, leaving every available cent to fund a future or current journey. Of the four couples I've had transfers with, none were what I would classify as rich. Fiscally wise? Yes. They used a combination of sound financial strategies to save for surrogacy. All saved as much as they could of their incomes. Two couples also used inheritances to add to the fund. Former IM and Former IF, to whom I delivered a son in 2006, worked extra hours throughout the pregnancy and saved beforehand as well. Near the third trimester, Former IM sold the house that she inherited from her father and downsized to a smaller home. She'd always called it her "baby house," knowing that one day it would fund an adoption (she later learned of surrogacy and pursued that route instead). While there are plenty of intended parents who are rich, surrogacy surely isn't exclusively for the rich.
Dollars and $ense of Surrogacy Myth #2: All surrogates are of low socioeconomic status/uneducated.
Education is a somewhat relevant topic as more education usually means more income, so I'll discuss the two in tandem. The flip side of the "rich intended parent" coin is "dirt poor and dumb surrogate." I don't know of any formal statistics ever taken regarding the comparison of IPs' income and education levels to that of surrogates'. However, on Surrogate Mothers Online, there have been several informal polls about the topic through the years. In general, IPs do tend to have higher income levels and more education than surrogates. However, vast majority of surrogates (at least from what I've seen in my ten years in the surrogacy community) at least are high school graduates (or have GEDs) and are comfortably middle class. Most surrogates have college degrees, and of those who don't, I've seen many use part of their compensation to pursue higher education. On the issue of finances, agencies usually do not accept women who are on any form of public assistance. Whether with an agency or independent, it is never a good idea for a surrogate to be financially dependent on the money earned from surrogacy. Yes, there are some surrogates out there who do depend on the funds to take care of every day living expenses and/or lack high school diplomas. But I have two graduate degrees and as my family's main breadwinner, I singularly have a year salary that is greater than what both IPs earned in two of my former matches. There are plenty of other surrogates out there like me.
Dollars and $ense of Surrogacy Myth #3: Surrogacy is an easy way for a woman to make a lot of money in a short period of time.
*snort* Wait a minute. I need a moment to collect myself. I can't stop laughing. It cracks me up even to have written that, even just so that I can dispel it as a myth. I can't breathe.
Now, in this community of infertiles, I'm pretty sure that we all know that anything involving IVF or IUI is anything but easy, and throwing surrogacy into the mix is even more difficult. I'm sure that you understand how ridiculous the above statement is, but there are plenty of non-infertiles out there who believe just that. I've had a couple of coworkers who've at some point said something to the effect of, "I need to try to carry somebody's baby so that I can get paid a lot of easy money like you! How much do you get paid for that?" The answer that I want to say is, "Not enough to put up with turd jugglers like you," but with the expressed purpose of showing that I have more class (and tact) that they do, I simply answer, "Surrogacy is anything but easy, and surrogates are compensated justly for the efforts we put into helping people become parents." Period, end of discussion.
In actuality, when someone (whether in the infertility community or not) is asking in the interest of truly wanting to know more about the facts of surrogacy, I have absolutely no qualms about discussing the specifics. So, I'll tell you that for my pregnancy with Baby M, the base compensation that I asked for and received was $18K plus expenses (gas/mileage, maternity clothes, lost wage reimbursement, etc). In my three (failed) surrogacy attempts since then, had I been able to acheive pregnancy my base compensation would have been $20K-$25K (I signed contracts for different terms within that range, depending on what was agreed between the IPs and myself). $18K is low-average for a first-time surrogate. $20K is low for an experienced surrogate and $25K is average for an experienced surrogate.
The thing about base compensation is that it does not begin until pregnancy is achieved and confirmed. As an infertile, you're thinking what I always have – until it happens, acheiving pregnancy seems like an almost or completely unreachable goal. Whether they realize it or not, surrogates CANNOT depend on achieving pregnancy to earn the base compensation, nor can they depend on SUSTAINED pregnancy to continue earning the money. Base compensation is never given in lump sum amounts, lest it reek of "babyselling." Base compensation generally begins with confirmation of pregnancy and then continues in regular installments throughout the pregnancy. Usually there are nine or ten payments of equal amounts (or graduated amounts), totalling to the amount agreed for base comp. In each of my contracts, I basically would have recieved one-tenth of my base compensation each month, with the remainder due at delivery (for any delivery past 34 weeks of pregnancy).
But what about before pregnancy is achieved, or if it's never acheived, as has been the case with me for the last three years? All surrogates have other expenses that build prior to achieving pregnancy. Work might be missed for medical, psychological, and/or legal appointments. Travel to those appointments can add up, especially if the clinics are far from the surrogate's home. Depending on the clinic, I had to drive anywhere from 1-4 hours for all appointments. Other surrogates might have to fly across the country to get to thier clinics for testing and transfers/inseminations. Childcare might need to be covered to allow surrogates to attend appointments. In general, most money given to the surrogate prior to pregnancy goes towards covering the above expenses. Said differently, surrogates really don't see any profit from surrogacy until after pregnancy is achieved. Not to let too much of my cynicysm show, but it must be stated again – a surrogate CANNOT depend on a journey to make money, and by the time she does get to the point of seeing profit, it surely wasn't "easy" to come by, even if pregnancy is achieved with the first transfer/insemination.
Furthermore, in unfortunate circumstances where surrogates and their IPs have been through more than one or two cycles with no success and finances get even tighter than they were before, some surrogates choose to reduce or eliminate all or part of their expense fees prior to pregnancy. This means that a surrogate might actually lose in effort to make continuing pregnancy attempts at least a little more feasible for their intended parents. Many of you were around for my journey with Chance and Apollo. When our first transfer ended with a chemical pregnancy, they were initially unsure whether they would be able to afford a second fresh transfer. They determined that they would be able to, but as Chance needed a high amount of stims, we would need a healthy supply of donated medications to help make it possible. Several of you answered my cry for help and donated unused meds and many of my surro-friends were also able to donate some of the meds that I would need. In the end, Chance and Apollo only needed to spend $200 out of pocket to get the rest of what we needed. What I never told you then was that for that second cycle, I refused to take any money for anything. I didn't take gas money for the 3-hour drive one-way and back to the clinic or for the several 2-hour round-trip drives to and from the local monitoring clinic. I didn't accept reimbursement for the sick days I used for transfer and bedrest. I waived the customary Start of Meds and Transfer Fees. I did it because like most other surrogates, I wasn't in it for the money; I was in it primarily to help grow a family.
As a surrogate, I've had one negative cycle, four chemical pregnancies, and have delivered ONE baby. Surrogacy is an easy way to make money? Like hell, it is.
When I speak with my children about the cost of having them, it's the emotional cost I speak of and not financial. Every once in a while at bedtime, the twins like to hear the story of how I prayed and hoped for so long to have children, and how I cried many nights waiting for them to come to me. They laugh at the part where I nearly tripped when I ran down the hall to show Frank the positive pregnancy test, because I was so excited that I almost forgot to pull up my pants. They know that I cried again when they were born, only then they were tears of joy. And they always finish the story for me: "And that's why you carried baby Baby M and tried to be a surrogate again - because we were worth it."
Yes, they were. They were worth it all.
Have any questions or comments about Dollars and $ense as it pertains to surrogacy? Drop me a line in the comments.
Be sure to visit Write Mind Open Heart for more perspectives on the Dollars and $ense of Family Building and to add your own link to the blog hop by May 1, should you want to contribute your thoughts.