Gestational carriers help make families for those who can’t conceive

Diane Harrill helps make families.

The 49-year-old has given birth to nine children. But they’re not all genetically hers. She has five biological children, aged 13 to 30, and she has been a gestational carrier for four others. She calls the four her “surro-babies,” but doesn’t consider them her children.

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“I love those babies, but not the way a mother loves a child,” Harrill said. “You love them, you think of them, but not every day. I think about what they’ll be when they grow up, just like my own kids. I remember their birthdays. But I don’t worry about them, because I know the parents. They were never mine.”

Gestational carriers bring embryos to term that are not genetically their own. The term “surrogate“ is commonly used in place of gestational carrier, but surrogates have genetic connections to the embryo.

The use of gestational carriers is up in recent years. Their numbers increased 13 percent in 2011 from the previous year, according to the most recently available data from the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technologies. The society says totals are up 99 percent since 2004.

Harill was first pregnant as a gestational carrier in 2004 when she was 41. Harrill’s sister-in-law introduced her to a couple unable to conceive, and Harrill says she had no reservations about carrying the child.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” she said. “I didn’t know what was all entailed — 12 weeks of shots, and if it doesn’t take the first time, you do it all again.”

Despite the increased use in gestational carriers across the country, the concept remains new in the Green Bay area. In 2004, Harrill couldn’t find an attorney to help draft a contract.

Typically before implantation, the gestational carrier and intended parents agree to a contract to address all contingencies before, during and after the pregnancy. Those issues include what to do if the pregnancy needs to be terminated, the level of contact, if any, a carrier will have with the family after the birth and what compensation the carrier will receive.

After working out the details, Harrill became pregnant on the first cycle of fertilization. Nine months later, she delivered a healthy baby via caesarean section.

“I’d been blase whole pregnancy,” she said. The intended mother “said all the time, ‘This is so wonderful, what you‘re doing.’ I just completely blew that off … (after the birth) she looked at me, she said, ‘You know, you just made a family.’

“And boing! A lightbulb went off. I got it,” Harrill said. “I went back to my room, tearing up, and my mom said, ‘See, I knew you’d have a hard time letting go of that baby.’ And I said, ‘No, I just got what I did! I just got it.’ They walked in two, walked out three, it’s a family. It’s pretty cool and that really hit home.”

A carrier is typically the last result for most couples looking to conceive, said Carmen Tust, a registered nurse and infertility coordinator for 16 years at Women’s Specialty Care, a Bellin Health affiliate.

“Our couples who have chosen to use gestational carriers have tried in one way or another, had in vitro fertilization and it never worked, it didn’t take or they miscarried,” she said. “They may have had a hysterectomy for whatever reason, or a physical ailment so they’re medically recommended not to carry a pregnancy.”

Physicians traditionally recommend intended parents use a surrogacy agency to connect with gestational carriers, Tust said. With no agency in Green Bay, they often head to Milwaukee or Madison or an out-of-state agency to connect with a surrogate and legal counsel.

Adoption is a similar concept, but it’s much more regulated, said Lynn Bodi, a founding partner at The Law Center for Children and Families and owner of The Surrogacy Center, both in Madison. Harrill connected with the family for her second surrogate pregnancy at Bodi’s agency, which has handled about 150 surrogacy cases in about 20 years.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s guidelines suggest a carrier should not have more than five previous deliveries or three deliveries by cesarean section, and at least one successful pregnancy. Both intended parents and carriers need to undego psychological testing. The society recommends carriers are between 21 and 45, and says carriers older than 45 are acceptable, but note pregnancy risks increase with advancing maternal age.

“Getting pregnant is easy for me, I’m a baby machine,” Harrill said. “I’m very blessed that way. I have super easy pregnancies … for me, it’s a piece of cake. I want to do one more … since I’ve had them all along, that’s what makes it so easy for me to carry again. I love being pregnant.”

Amber Boersma has delivered three children as a gestational carrier, including a set of twins. The 35-year-old who lives in Wausau has two children of her own. She is pregnant again as a gestational carrier.

“I can have my own children if I wanted to, I’m complete that way,” she said. “Now I just want to help other people grow their families.”

Most family, friends and even strangers are supportive of her pregnancies, Boersma said.

She said risks are involved with being a gestational carrier — just like any other pregnancy.

“If you understand why you’re doing it, it’s gonna be something that makes you whole, that will be meaningful for you,” she said. “It’s one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. It’s such a touching moment to see the faces and reactions of parents who get their children. It’s worth everything, all the shots and doctor’s appointments and appointments with my kids I can’t make. It’s incredible, amazing and no way to put into words how special that moment is.”

The cost
Using a gestational carrier can cost as much as $100,000 in Wisconsin. Carriers often receive between $18,000 and $35,000, paid throughout the course of a pregnancy.
• Surrogacy fee (between $18,000 and $35,000, do not normally exceed $25,000)
• Surrogate’s expenses: maternity clothes, missed time from work, mileage to doctor’s appointments, child care
• In vitro fertilization (between $12,000 and $17,000)
• Attorney’s fees (on behalf of intended parents and carrier)
• Agency fees
• Egg donor and sperm donor fees and costs, if necessary
• Approximate cost: $100,000
Source: Lynn J. Bodi, Carmen Tust and Diane Harrill’

—Originally published Green Bay Press-Gazette, April 2013

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