16 May The surrogacy walk: heartbreak, suspense, and family
“Infertility is a disease that affects about 6 million American couples, roughly 10 percent of the reproductive age population.” (TheAFA.org) Susan and Bob de Gruchy are regrettably among the millions of couples who comprise this statistic. After five failed rounds of in vitro fertilization, including a heartbreaking miscarriage, they finally decided to adopt. They bonded with a handsome newborn baby boy for just three days, when the birth mother changed her mind, leaving the de Gruchys once again childless and in agony. Then a friend suggested surrogacy and placed an ad online for the couple. Whitney Watts, a Navy wife from Maryland, responded to the ad with enthusiasm. She and her husband genuinely wanted to help the de Gruchys start a family through a gestational surrogacy arrangement.
Often times, as in Susan and Bob’s case, couples turn to surrogacy after failed attempts at pregnancy or when medical conditions pose insurmountable barriers. However, surrogacy is not a decision to make lightly, due to emotional, legal and financial ramifications involved. Surrogacy technology initially offered a vehicle for couples to utilize a surrogate’s ovum, or egg, and fertilize it with the intended father’s sperm in order to create child for the infertile couple. Unfortunately, the method yielded many arguments and trials over parental rights.
The first public debate about surrogacy arose in 1988. A couple in New Jersey commissioned a woman to donate her egg to be fertilized and carry the baby to term. But when the child was born, the surrogate changed her mind and wanted to keep the baby, her biological child. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against the intended parents, stating that surrogacy contracts were invalid and citing the surrogate’s genetic relationship to the child. (NPR.com) Since that early case, case law and some (but not much) state legislation favoring surrogacy has developed in multiple states over the years to provide legal protection and support for couples using a surrogate. However, it is crucial that couples who choose to become parents via surrogacy obtain expert legal support and have a detailed surrogacy agreement to ensure all parties are protected during every step of the process.
Surrogacy agreements offer both the surrogate and the intended parents a list of expectations, or blueprint, for the pregnancy as well as pre-established processes to resolve disagreements through counseling or arbitration. Details like physician selection, physical examinations, medical instructions, early termination parameters, after birth contact, even delivery agreements and parental rights should be finalized before the pregnancy begins.
Nearly all surrogacy arrangements today include in vitro fertilization using the intended parent’s sperm and/or ova when possible; it is much less common today that the surrogate is genetically related to the child she carries, alleviating some of the legal issues. In a recent article by NPR News titled Carrying ‘Dreams’: Why Women Become Surrogates, Whitney Watts revealed her take on the gestational surrogacy agreement she fulfilled with Susan and Bob de Gruchy,
“It was [in vitro fertilization]. It was their embryos… You just know they are not yours. You're just keeping them for a time to let them grow and then give them back to their parents, because they were never my babies. It's just my uterus that's keeping them." (Carrying Dreams)
While Whitney and her husband Ray were happy to help, they also wanted to ensure they could connect with the intended parents. Thankfully, they did. “’It was very important to us to have a relationship with them,’ Whitney says. ‘Yes, it's a business contract in a sense, but it's so much more than that.’ Her husband agrees. ‘Had Susan and Bob just wanted to pay money and get a kid, that would have been a deal breaker right away’” (Carrying Dreams). By building a solid relationship and planning ahead for the pregnancy, the de Gruchys and their surrogate embarked on the journey together.
The de Gruchys were nervous at first about what Whitney was doing during the pregnancy and whether she was eating right and keeping herself healthy. Even as Whitney diligently followed the letter of the surrogacy agreement, there were still complications. She was hospitalized for a time due to elevated risk during the pregnancy, but she managed to deliver a healthy set of twins for the de Gruchys. Working together as a team alleviated the suspense and anxiety of the surrogacy experience for all parties involved. Whitney’s final comments about her experience are touching: "Seeing her face see his face, my soul felt complete. I had done everything in my power, and it was the most amazing feeling. I will never forget her face seeing his face, for the rest of my life." (Carrying Dreams)