I had decided I was interested in surrogacy, but wasn't sure where to start. So I did what just about everyone does when they need answers - I Googled it. When you google "surrogate" or "surrogacy" the first things that pop up are several websites with tag lines like, "Surrogates Needed. Great Pay!" Having done no prior research, I assumed I'd found what I needed. There were several different agencies I could choose from. So after a couple days of browsing around, I went ahead and filled out the preliminary application form for the agency whose website I liked the most.
In case you were wondering, not everyone can be a surrogate. There are more requirements than just the desire to help a needy couple (or, I guess get "great pay" like these websites seemed to think is the driving reason to be a surrogate). You have to live in a surro friendly state. You have to have had at least one child of your own, and had full term, uncomplicated pregnancies. There are upper and lower age limits, weight requirements, and neither you nor anyone in your household can smoke. These seem to be the most basic requirements, although some agencies are pickier than others.
Based on the website's info, I learned that once my initial application was accepted I would have to complete a much more detailed application, submit my medical and insurance information, undergo some medical and psychological screening, and have a background check and STD test run on both my husband and myself. So when I received a fairly curt reply from the agency that based on my initial application I would be approved but they would not work with me until I was finished breastfeeding, I was a little confused. I understand not wanting to match you with someone until you are finished breastfeeding, since you can't start any IVF meds during that time. But it seemed like it would take quite a while just to get through all the initial screening, and I didn't see why we couldn't get some of that out of the way before my daughter was weaned.
So I decided to dig a little deeper. Luckily, through continued Google searching I stumbled upon a website called Surrogate Mothers Online (SMO). Man, and I glad I found that site. The forums there are so helpful, and lucky for me they contained a thread listing just about all of the surrogate agencies out there, along with extensive reviews of each agency. Upon reading reviews of those big agencies that I had found websites for, I realized why they are advertising so heavily. It turns out that they DO need surrogates, because surrogates in the know do not use those agencies. Complaints ranged from the irritating (such as continued attempts to match you with IPs who don't meet even your most basic requirements), to the bad (drawing up contracts which heavily favor the IPs), to the potentially life ruining (failing to ensure that IPs have enough money to pay for the surrogacy journey, and then failing to pursue them when IPs stop paying your bills).
Using the SMO forum, I was able to identify several highly regarded agencies. I also discovered that you don't even need an agency in order to do surrogacy. If you are willing to put yourself out there and do your own legwork, this is potentially a much cheaper way to go for the IPs, and therefore they don't need to be gazillionares to have children via surrogacy.
After some more research and consideration, I decided that at this time I am more comfortable moving forward with an agency than going independent, for a few reasons. First, you just never know who you are going to meet online. Just as agencies screen potential surrogates, they also screen IPs, and they don't share contact info until you are officially matched. That way I'm not out there in internetland for some baby-crazy person to start harassing. Secondly, I like the idea of having the agency mediate through the contract negotiation phase, as that part makes me nervous. I think it will be much easier to ask for what I think I need to make sure my family and I are covered and secure during this process without having to deal with the IPs directly. And I think most importantly, I like the aspect of financial security you get from an agency. Most agencies require that the IPs create an escrow account at the beginning of the journey with enough money to cover both the expected costs as well as contingencies of the IVF process and the pregnancy.
There are a lot of good reasons to choose either option, but I feel like with my level of inexperience, the agency route is the better choice for me. After extensively reviewing the feedback for many agencies, I contacted about five more agencies, and then narrowed it down to two. I contacted the first one back in February, and although they did not want to match me until I was done breastfeeding, they let me fill out all of the initial paperwork and collected and reviewed my medical records. I also did a phone interview (my caseworker is super sweet and a former surrogate herself), and now they are just waiting for news that I have weaned my daughter and am ready to go. They are an agency in California with clients all over the world.
The other agency is a smaller agency based in the Midwest, with most of their IPs also being from the Midwest. Since it is smaller it might take a little longer to match, but the draw is that I could potentially be much closer to my IPs. I have just finished submitting my paperwork to this agency, and I have a call with the caseworker tonight! She has no problem screening and matching while I am breastfeeding since the process takes a few months, and has even mentioned that she has a couple in Chicago that she thinks I might be a good match for. So we will see how the interview goes tonight!