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Womb for hire – when the choice is surrogacy

Illustration by Danielle Meler

For parents who long for a child and find that they cannot have one, the choices are few: adoption or surrogacy. Susan and Gad, a couple from Herzliya, chose surrogacy.

Susan, an Australian-born woman in her early 40s, picks up her chubby four-month-old son Alon (all names have been changed) and gives him a hug. He chortles and waves his arms, happy to be held by his mother. No one would think this bright-eyed child anything but perfectly normal, but in fact, the process of bringing him into the world was anything but normal. After a devastating 14 years of attempting to become pregnant and carry a child to term, Susan and her husband Gad gave up and elected for a surrogate birth. Alon was born to another woman, in another country, using Susan's eggs and Gad's sperm.

What exactly is surrogacy?

It's a means by which parents who are unable to have a baby because of a fertility disorder or for other reasons, can have a child of their own. Eggs are harvested from the biological mother, fertilized with sperm from the father and the embryo placed in the uterus of a gestational surrogate woman. The surrogate, who has no genetic ties to the baby, then carries the baby until birth, when the biological parents take over.

Surrogacy, or at least bearing a child for someone else, is an ancient concept; the biblical Hagar bore a son, Ishmael, to Abraham at Sarah's request, after Sarah was unable to have children of her own. (Of course Sarah was not the genetic mother.)

To many people who are unfamiliar with the concept, surrogacy sounds bizarre and perhaps even ethically dubious. Why would a woman agree to, in effect, rent out her womb for nine months? Why would a couple want someone else to carry their child – at a hefty price?

But to Susan, deliriously happy with her son, surrogacy has been the answer to her dreams.

For many years, she and Gad tried to conceive a baby and carry it to term. "I kept having recurrent miscarriages and it took a long time before I realized that I just wasn't going to have a baby," she explained. "I saw doctors around the world. I was sure that in this day and age, there was sure to be a medical solution to my problem. Finally, after more than 12 miscarriages, my doctor said, 'Susan, that's enough.' It was time to consider other options."

The other options were adoption or surrogacy, and each had pros and cons. Susan and Gad considered adoption and decided that the risks outweighed the advantages. Furthermore, "I wanted a biological child. If that hadn't worked, we would have tried adoption."

How do you begin to look for a surrogate?

Just the way you look for anything these days – you search the Internet.

Susan and Gad discovered that there are two agencies in Israel which arrange for surrogate birth. In addition, a surrogate birth mother can be found privately, through advertisements, though the legal processes must still be gone through. The government strictly controls surrogacy.

In March 1996, the Israeli government legalized gestational surrogacy under the "Embryo Carrying Agreements Law". A state-appointed committee permits surrogacy arrangements to be filed only by Israeli citizens who share the same religion. Surrogates used to be allowed only if single, widowed or divorced, but now married women are also allowed to be surrogates. Only infertile heterosexual couples can have a surrogate child.

Surrogates must be within the age range of 20-35, have a child of their own and no medical problems. A recent change in the law now states that if one parent isn't biologically related to the child (in cases, for example, where another woman's egg is used) the parent who isn't biologically related will no longer have to go through adoption procedures.

There are many issues. What if something goes wrong, for example, and the baby is born with a disorder? Are the parents obliged to take the baby? (Yes.) What if a surrogate is dishonest (as has actually happened in the US) and takes the money but never takes the required hormones? What is to stop excess commercialization?

Based on their experience, Susan says, "I would only recommend going through a reputable agency, in spite of the extra cost, because people rarely have the tools to choose a surrogate on their own."

Surrogacy is a business. According to Susan, in Israel, the surrogate receives a fee of about NIS 120,000, while the agency gets NIS 30,000-40,000. Of course, this is the main reason that a surrogate agrees to carry someone else's baby, but not necessarily the only reason. "There is an altruistic aspect to it as well."

The Israeli surrogate who was found for Susan and Gad was a single mother of 27 from the north of the country, who wanted to earn enough to provide financial security for her daughter. "We met her and we clicked," Susan says.

This was followed by psychological screening, medical tests, hormone treatment, removal of eggs and fertilization and implantation of the embryos in the womb of the surrogate. Unfortunately, the attempts didn't work.

In a panic, Susan decided to try something else. "I felt I was getting older and I didn't have time to wait around."

So, it was back to the Internet and word of mouth information. This time they found a local company run by Israeli doctors from Tel Hashomer hospital who operate a surrogacy clinic in Georgia, in the former Soviet Union. The company has arranged for some 120 surrogate births so far: "Alon was number 51. Within a week of contacting them, we were in Tbilisi with six other Israeli couples. We met with two potential surrogates and chose one. A week later, the embryos were on the way."

The first attempt didn't succeed and they tried again. This time, the surrogate fell pregnant. At seven weeks, Susan flew to Tbilisi for the examination at which the heartbeat was heard.

"It was the first time we met the surrogate. She can't speak English, but we managed to communicate through a translator. She's a wonderful woman. She is married, with a child, and has easy pregnancies. She was paid $12,000, which is a lot in Georgia. In total, the whole process cost NIS 250,000.

"I was a nervous wreck throughout the pregnancy, but it went well. I flew to Georgia six times, for each test, and we 'Skyped' every week."

In order for the biological parents to be present at the birth, the doctors induce at 38 weeks, but in this case, the surrogate mother gave birth naturally.

"I held hands with her at her bedside during the birth, which was a very easy one. My husband and parents waited outside. And then, as soon as he was born, they put him on me. There wasn't a dry eye in the room."

For five and a half weeks, Susan and Gad stayed in an apartment in Tbilisi, waiting for the baby's Israeli passport, and then, they came home with Alon. They have maintained contact with the surrogate mother and frequently send pictures.

"Do you feel you love this baby as much as you would have loved a baby you had given birth to yourself?" I asked Susan.

She is incredulous. "Of course! I love him even more, because the emotion is so intense in having a baby this way. The fact that he was born to someone else is totally irrelevant.

Lots of couples who are contemplating surrogacy have heard my story and have contacted me. I tell them, 'Do it. Do it'."

Companies used by Susan and Gad

In Israel

The Parenthood Center

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

03 736 2284

Merav – Israel Surrogate Motherhood

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

03 952 2081

In Georgia

Manor Medic

03 547 7504 



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