U.S. SURROGACY: Working with Intended Parents from Foreign Countries

ARTparenting talks with gestational surrogate Kristina about international surrogacy.

Like many women who decide to be gestational surrogates, Kristina enjoys being pregnant and always found giving birth to be a positive, fairly easy experience. A psychiatric nurse by profession, she lives with her husband and four children, including a 12-year-old stepdaughter, twin 10-year-old boys, and a 3-year-old boy, in Carroll County, Maryland, about 45 minutes west of Baltimore.

“When our youngest child was about a year old,” Kristina recalls, laughing, “I said to my husband, ‘You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I think I’d like to be a surrogate.’ Knowing me as well as he does, my husband thought for a minute, looked at me and smiled, and said, ‘I get it.’”

Like all the women who choose to work with Meryl Rosenberg and ARTparenting, Kristina went through the required application and evaluation steps. She “passed” with flying colors and was matched with a young Scandinavian couple seeking a U.S. surrogacy. On February 12, 2014, she gave birth to a healthy, eight-pound, 15-ounce baby boy.

The reality is that in many countries, surrogacy has not yet become an accepted, legal means of building a family. In some countries the process is illegal, and in others it is regulated in such a way to make it “unavailable” to many. In only a few nations is it permitted to have a woman carry a child as a surrogate. The United States is one. As a result, there is an increasing flow of intended parents from other parts of the world coming to the U.S. in need of an international surrogacy program with U.S. gestational surrogates.

“I didn’t think twice when I was matched with a couple from Northern Europe,” Kristina reports. “It didn’t even occur to me that geography would be an issue — and in fact, it wasn’t. They might as well have been in Boston, it was such a non-issue.”

Were there language hurdles?

“Not at all,” explains Kristina. Most Europeans speak pretty fluent English, with the exception of some medical terminology which took a bit more explaining. Frankly, I wish Americans were as multi-lingual as the average European is.”

Kristina reports that the intended parents made a total of three trips from their home-country in Scandinavia to the U.S. during the surrogacy process — once to meet her and get to know her; once at 20 weeks to share the experience of looking at the 20-week ultrasound images; and ultimately a third trip to be present for the birth.

“The couple did 100% of the traveling,” Kristina insists. “The whole thing was probably more of a burden on them than it was on me. But they seemed perfectly willing and eager to travel. Also, it turns out that this was the intended parents’ second experience with international surrogacy — they already had a three-year-old daughter born through a previous U.S. surrogacy arrangement with ARTparenting, so they really knew the ins and outs.”

Kristina’s recollections of the process are uniformly positive.

“My husband’s and my first meeting with the intended parents was over dinner at a local Red Lobster, on their first trip to the U.S. — they brought their three-year-old daughter along, who played happily with our own three-year-old. It was very congenial, and there seemed to be a lot of mutual respect.

Did she keep in touch with the couple throughout the pregnancy?

“Absolutely,” answers Kristina. “If they’d lived locally, would we have seen them more often in person? Possibly. But we emailed them after every doctor’s appointment to give them an update. We scanned and emailed ultrasound pictures too because they liked being in the loop. And we often used Skype®. Because of the six-hour time difference, we’d sometimes set up an appointment on the weekends to talk. Or occasionally, we’d Skype on Wednesdays at noon Eastern, which would be dinnertime in Europe. You just work around these things, it’s no big deal.”

Kristina is careful to note that her 12-year-old stepdaughter was an enormous help to her during her pregnancy, helping to entertain and watch her youngest when she was busy or tired.

As for the intended parents, to be certain that they’d be present for the birth near Kristina's home, they flew over and sublet a place for two months in nearby Annapolis.

“Obviously, this was toward the end of the pregnancy,” says Kristina, “and their being in the country was a bit challenging in one way. They wanted to get together and socialize a bit more than my husband and I really wanted to — I was kind of tired, obviously, and yet the couple was feeling kind of like they were on vacation. But this was a very minor thing, and they were so well-meaning – I simply had to remind them that I was still working full-time, hadn’t started my maternity leave yet, and needed my rest. They completely understood. But you couldn’t blame them, they were in a strange country in a rented apartment for two months, not knowing many people, and just waiting.”

The baby came on time, the only hitch being that, as luck would have it, Kristina and her husband, as well as their children, were down with the stomach flu at the time.

“Because of that, it wasn’t the greatest labor and birth in the world,” Kristina admits — “I’d been dehydrated from the stomach flu, I felt lousy, and I honestly hadn’t quite been ready for such a big newborn — nearly 9 pounds! But in fact, he was completely healthy — the intended parents were both in the delivery room, and everything went fine.”

“I honestly don’t know why some surrogates are leery about working with an international couple. I guess they’re assuming that there will be some sort of cultural gap or differences in custom, but honestly, people are people. The couple I worked with had a lot of support, and on the third trip to the U.S., the husband’s mother came over with them, just to help out. That impressed me.

“I personally learned a lot working with an international couple,” Kristina feels. “I even learned about other countries’ social services and medical benefits. For example, with the intended parents I worked with, each of them, incredibly, got seven months of parental leave to take care of a newborn. Seven months each! The mother and father can take the time in sequence, so for the baby’s entire first 14 months of life, he never has to be without a parent. It’s impressive how advanced some countries’ thinking is about parental leave.”

Has Kristina remained in touch with the couple?

“Absolutely. We’re not super-best-friends,” she says, “but we do stay in touch. Somewhere between pen-pals and first cousins. It was a very good experience.”