Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 15
Surrogacy International Inc. is the 21st century stork
BY AMY ASMAN
Dorothy* is the proud birth mother of eight children—from five different families.
“And I’m currently carrying babies nine and 10,” she told the Sun in a recent interview. “This is my second set of twins. The first set will be turning 18 this year.”
The 50-something medical professional is a surrogate for Surrogacy International Inc., the first-ever agency on the Central Coast offering legal and assisted reproductive services to infertile couples and individuals.
Launched this year by husband-and-wife legal team Robert Walmsley and Marlea Jarrette, Surrogacy International Inc. offers attorney services, support, and resources to intended parents, surrogates, and egg donors alike from Santa Maria to Ventura and beyond.
Dorothy started her journey as a surrogate nearly 20 years ago by carrying a child for a then-co-worker and her husband.
“She was having trouble conceiving, and had lost three adoptions because the birth parents backed out at the last second,” recalled Dorothy, who ended up giving birth to the couple’s child.
Since then, she’s worked primarily with gay men.
“I have two boys in Australia, a girl in Florida, and a girl in England,” she said.
The twins she’s carrying now belong to the family in England.
“These couples sacrifice so much just to get the chance to be parents—so many struggles and papers and legal fees and faxing,” she said. “And after the kids come out, they just have the most fabulous lives. They’re adored and they’re cherished.”
A seasoned surrogate and mother of two of her own biological children, Dorothy said she’s never felt the urge to keep the babies after they’re born.
“They’re not my babies; they’re not my property. I’m just grateful to be involved with the families after they’re born, but I don’t have to be,” she said.
Through her experience, Dorothy has created a diverse extended family.
“We Skype a lot because most of them are in foreign countries, and sometimes they’ll come visit me,” she said. “There was one time when I was pregnant with the European baby and the Australian couple visited me and we went to Disneyland with my two kids.”
Dorothy said it’s hard to explain why she chooses to be a surrogate.
“Everyone tells me, ‘Oh, you must really like being pregnant,’ and I say it doesn’t bother me. I don’t think anyone truly enjoys being the size of a house,” she said. “And then a lot of people say, ‘Oh, you must really love kids,’ but the truth is I don’t really like kids. … And I’m not a saint; I’m kind of a dragon.
“But when you’re in that [hospital] room and the parents are there and you see them hand the baby
over, [the reason] dawns on you all of a sudden, and it all makes sense,” she said.
“One day we’re going to get [the children] all together in the same room and I’ll say, ‘Oh, my god, I did that,’” she said.
The legal history
To Jarrette and Walmsley, helping men and women unable to have a baby on their own start families is more than just a business opportunity.
“It’s part of our lives,” Jarrette said. “I had a child when I was in my 20s, but I was never able to get pregnant again.”
After failing to conceive the old fashioned way, the couple decided to get medical help, and Jarrette underwent several artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization procedures—to no avail.
“It’s an extremely painful thing to not be able to have a child if you want one,” she said. “You see babies across the courtyard, and it almost hurts to see them.”
Jarrette eventually learned the reason she couldn’t conceive again: lupus. The disease, which causes the immune system to attack the body’s organ systems, can sometimes be linked to infertility.
Faced with that knowledge, the couple decided to adopt a child instead (they are the proud parents of a 5-year-old boy). Jarrette said she wouldn’t change a thing now, but she wishes she would’ve known about all the options available to her back then.
It was about five years ago that the two lawyers also decided to open their own family law practice, Jarrette and Walmsley LLP, which eventually expanded to include Surrogacy International Inc.
“It’s the happier side of marital law,” Jarrette said of surrogacy and egg donorship, “as opposed to divorces and custody battles. We kept referring people to agencies that didn’t have the personal experience and passion for it that we do, so we decided to do something about it.”
While Walmsley wasn’t the one to undergo IVF, he’s had extensive experience dealing with the complexities of infertility, both personally and in the courtroom.
In 1993, he was one of several attorneys to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court in the milestone case Johnson v. Calvert.
In this case, a surrogate named Anna Johnson agreed to carry the embryos of intended parents Mark and Crispina Calvert.
“But when [Johnson] was six months pregnant, she changed her mind and said she was the mother of the child and that she had parental rights,” Walmsley said.
“The Supreme Court ruled that the intended parents were capable of asserting parentage through paternity testing,” he said. “This was a seminal case in identifying the intended parents as having parental rights in contended IVF cases.”
Since then, case law for surrogacy and other forms of assisted family development have grown exponentially, especially in California, which Jarrette called “the pioneer front” for those kinds of procedures.
In 2005, the Supreme Court updated Johnson v. Calvert to include same-sex couples trying to become parents. Another case specified that intended parents who get divorced during a surrogate pregnancy are still legally bound to care for the child or children. (Twins and triplets are more common in these types of pregnancies because of the number of eggs that are used—but more on that in just a bit.)
In October 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1217, a “best practices” law that requires intended parents and their surrogates be represented by separate legal counsel.
“An attorney can’t represent both parties at the same time, it’s not ethical,” Walmsley said. “I have a big problem with agencies that purport to represent both parties. That’s fine if everything is perfectly smooth, but in every case there’s some kind of hiccup.”
The law also requires that surrogate contracts be completed before transplanting embryos or administering reproductive medication, and it allows intended parents to establish parentage prior the child’s birth.
Walmsley said having laws and policies that are more black and white makes the process less confusing for everyone involved and more enjoyable for the intended parents.
“Becoming a parent should be one of the most wonderful, important memories you’ve ever had,” he said. “No worrying, ‘am I going to be the parent of this child?’”
How does it work?
For many people, surrogacy, IVF, egg donorship, and other modern reproductive procedures still remain a mystery.
“The stigma is that it’s some old country procedure with a turkey baster in the kitchen,” said Maile Maly, an administrator with Surrogacy International Inc. “We’ve come a long way since then.”
While the agency doesn’t offer any of the medical procedures, its employees are very knowledgeable about each one.
For example, when it comes to donating eggs, Maly said, “The first question I get is, ‘is it going to hurt?’”
The answer: no. And neither does IVF.
Both procedures involve hormone injections in the hip or stomach—“It’s not painful. It’s just a little prick done with a pen needle,” Jarrette said.
Then comes the insertion or retraction of eggs with an ultra-sound-guided needle while the patient is sedated.
“I don’t even remember it,” Jarrette said of her IVF procedures. “There will usually be some cramping and maybe some bleeding for about 24 hours afterward.”
Surrogacy is considerably more complicated and time consuming.
According to the agency’s staffers, all surrogates must undergo physical and psychological evaluations.
“There’s an extensive background check done on the surrogates by trained professionals to ensure that the women are healthy and mentally stable enough to become surrogates,” Maly said. “It’s a big commitment to do something like this.”
The surrogates are also required to have had at least one child (to prove that they are capable of giving birth to a healthy child), and they must have support systems.
“If they said, ‘I don’t want anyone to know I’m doing this,’ they wouldn’t be the right fit for surrogacy,” Maly said. “Surrogates typically want to be part of something bigger, to have a relationship with the intended parents that is more intimate.”
Surrogates also get paid anywhere from $22,000 to $35,000 depending on how experienced they are, and get their medical, travel, and other expenses covered. However, Maly said the agency makes it clear to women that “this is not a career path.”
“We make sure they know what they’re doing, and that they’re not just desperate to get the money,” she said.
The entire procedure can cost intended parents anywhere from $90,000 to $100,000, depending on how complicated the pregnancy is.
“Most of our clients have tried everything and this is their last resort,” Maly said.
The cost, ethics, and laws of surrogacy are subjects that have been debated at length around the world, with most states and countries choosing to ban the practice. Many opponents—feminists, ethicists, Catholics, and atheists alike—argue that surrogacy exploits women and violates human rights; that it’s an industry driven by making money; and that it’s unnatural and enables humans to “play God.”
“The simplicity of the human desire for children notwithstanding, there’s nothing simple about the surrogacy business—and we haven’t scraped the surface of the metaphysical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological issues with which a brief flirtation evokes mind-twisting complexities,” one opponent wrote in a May 2013 op-ed piece published in The Washington Post.
According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Simplified, “Any techniques (such as donation of sperm or ovum, [or use of a] surrogate uterus) that entail a disassociation of the spouses by the intrusion of a third party are gravely immoral.” It goes on to say that artificial insemination and fertilization infringe on the child’s rights to know who his mother and father are, and the couple’s “right to become a father and a mother only through each other.”
Techniques involving only the couple are seen as less reprehensible but still morally unacceptable because they disassociate procreation from the sexual act. “These methods entrust the life and identity of the embryo into the hands of doctors,” the Catechism states. “They place the power of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person.”
Others argue that infertile people wanting to become parents should just adopt. The staffers at Surrogacy International Inc. agree that adoption is a wonderful thing, but they feel it shouldn’t be the only way to become a parent.
“The option of adoption isn’t available to everyone,” Jarrette said. “A lot of people will not give their children to a gay couple or a single parent, and in some places gay couples are only allowed to adopt older children or children with special needs. A lot of states just ban it outright.”
Both she and Walmsley said there “isn’t an abundance of healthy babies out there” for adoption because of the length of the legal process and the fact that many children put up for adoption suffer from various physical, mental, and behavioral issues.
“There’s such a penalty imposed on infertile couples who want to have children,” Jarrette said.
“We have the science available for these people who so desperately want a child,” Walmsley added. “In many ways, we may be creating more attentive parents because they’re actively pursuing having a child and being a parent.”
* Last name withheld for privacy.
Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at firstname.lastname@example.org.