9 Incredibly Uncomfortable Yet Absolutely Essential Questions to Ask Potential Surrogates

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This is the latest in a series of informational posts I’ve been doing on the gestational surrogacy process. This is for those of you who might be where I was about 5 years ago, weighing the options you have for becoming a parent… or for those who are merely curious about the process. This time, I’m sharing my advice on what questions you need to ask your surrogate before deciding if you’re a good match.

To the rest of you, I apologize. More peepee poopoo jokes next time, I promise.

Meeting with a potential surrogate is like the most awkward first date imaginable. You’re face-to-face with a woman you barely know, and both of you spend most of the time talking about making a baby together. Talk about rushing things.

There are probably a million things you want — and need — to know. I’ve seen some websites that suggest you approach your surrogate with a massive checklist of questions, many of which are not exactly subtle, like:

“Do you smoke?”

“Are you sexually active?”

“What were the results of your last pap smear?”

Sure, those are great things to ask… if you want the surrogate to throw a drink in your face and slap an instant “No Vacancy” sign on her womb.

Remember, this isn’t a job interview. She can reject you, too, and if you treat her like an employee or a menial laborer, she probably should.

Don’t worry, if there are any red flags, they’ll turn up in her medical and psychological exams, and you’ll be made aware of them by a professional, neutral third party.

When you sit down face-to-face with a potential gestational carrier, try to empathize with what she’s going through. After a huge amount of deliberation and soul searching, she’s decided to do something incredibly generous, terrifically inconvenient, and more than a tiny bit risky, for a virtual stranger. She’s nervous to meet that stranger, but also a bit thrilled.

Then you come in and ask about her pap smears.

So what should you discuss in your first meeting? First and foremost, it’s time to take the mystery out of your relationship and just get to know each other. If things go well, you’ll be creating a life together.

That being said, it’s not exactly a first date. You need to check your compatibility on some pretty weighty matters.

If you’re working with an agency, much of this subject matter will be covered by them, but if not, these are the questions you need to ask, in increasing order of unpleasantness.

1. What made you want to be a surrogate?

No one’s going to reply, “I need the money,” and if they do, you should probably run away as fast as you can. Sure, the money is a nice perk, but with all a surrogate goes through, she’s going to earn that cash, and it is a limited sum. No one’s getting rich as a gestational surrogate, so it’s a safe bet she has bigger motives.

Our surrogate heard a report about gestational surrogacy on the radio when she was 19, and it made her cry. She turned to her mother and said, “Someday, I’m going to do that for someone.” Once she’d completed her own family, she googled surrogacy agencies, and that’s how she was eventually paired with us. It was such a sweet story, and it told us so much about who she was as a person.

Raising this basic topic is a great way to get to know your surrogate and to show her that you appreciate the sacrifice she’d be making on your behalf.

2. What were your other pregnancies like?

Again, the medical exam will clue you in to any relevant technical info, so try to keep this as light as possible. How bad did her babies kick? Did she get morning sickness? You may not know very much about the surrogate at this point, but you know she’s been pregnant before (at least in most cases, since most gestational carriers have a proven history of successful pregnancies).

You, on the other hand, in all likelihood have never been and never will be pregnant. Show some curiosity and empathy by asking her to describe exactly what she’d be going through for your benefit. This is also a great way to show you appreciate the sacrifice she’ll be making on your behalf.

And if you find out pregnancy makes her crave pickles and ice cream, file that away. Someday, when she’s carrying your child, you’ll know just what to put in her care package.

3. How do your friends and family feel about you being a surrogate?

Surrogacy is physically and emotionally demanding, and no one can do it alone. Make sure she has a good support system, people who care about her who appreciate what an amazing thing she’s doing. If she’s religious, it’s very helpful if her spiritual leader is on her side as well.

This is especially important for gay intended parents. If your surrogate has a homophobic husband or goes to a gay-unfriendly church, you’re not off to a good start. Someday soon, she might find herself at the Wal-Mart in her tiny town when a woman comes up, points at her belly and says, “Aww, lucky you!” She’ll have to reply, “Oh, he’s not mine. I’m having this baby for George and Steven.” Is she ready for whatever may come next?

Let her know what kind of homophobia you’ve faced and how you’ve persevered. It can be very difficult for a (most likely) straight woman to willingly expose herself to homophobia, but that’s what she’ll be doing by having a baby for a gay couple.

One surrogate my partner and I met with had previously carried a baby for a gay couple, and she hadn’t encountered any resistance, so we knew she’d be fine this time around as well.

4. Are you comfortable with me/us being in doctor’s appointments and the delivery room?

Sorry, guys, when you came out of the closet, you probably thought you were exempt from discussing (and possibly seeing) ladyparts. Not any more. Obviously, let the surrogate know that you’ll respect her privacy as much as possible. But one of the main benefits of having a baby with a surrogate is being able to participate in all the exciting prenatal moments, like finding out the baby’s sex or seeing him or her for the first time on a sonogram monitor.

Most surrogates will fully anticipate and welcome your participation in the process, but raising the issue in a polite and respectful manner will set the right tone for when those intimate moments inevitably arise.

5. What kind of communication would you like to maintain after the birth?

There’s no correct answer to this. Some surrogates and intended parents want to stay in close touch. Others might want to be your Facebook friend so they can see pictures of your kids growing up. Still others may be content merely to get a holiday card every December. As long as both parties are on the same page, anything can work.

My advice is to offer up a safe but minimal amount of contact. If you and your surrogate hit it off (as we did with ours), you can always have more contact than you planned.

It’s important to reiterate that your surrogate will have no legal rights to your child. Once your baby is born, you are well within your rights to cut off all contact with the surrogate and never see her again. I’d imagine that kind of clean break only really happens in extreme circumstances. Most people and their surrogates form a bond through the process and want to stay in touch afterward.

Once your child is old enough to understand how he or she came into the world, they’ll likely be curious about who their surrogate was, so it helps if you’ve kept up the relationship.

6. How many fetuses are you willing to carry?

My partner and I were very lucky to have twins with our surrogate, but it made the pregnancy considerably harder on her. She was confined to bed rest for most of the third trimester and there were a few scares where we thought she might be miscarrying one or both of the fetuses, which meant some late-night trips to the emergency room.

Thankfully, everything worked out okay for us, but the more fetuses involved in your pregnancy, the higher the risks. A woman carrying triplets is almost always put on bed rest. It’s not surprising then that many surrogates limit the number of babies they’re willing to carry to one or two.

If you were hoping for octuplets, in other words, you’re out of luck.

7. Would you be willing to undergo a selective reduction?

Here’s where the questions start to get really dicey.

Even if your surrogate only wants to carry one baby and you only want to have one kid, you may still want to transfer multiple embryos to increase the odds that one of them attaches.

So what happens if your surrogate becomes pregnant with two or three embryos? In that case, she may undergo a selective reduction, where excess embryos are removed from her uterus at a very early stage, leaving only the number of babies you’re willing to have.

We interviewed a surrogate who had undergone this procedure with a previous pregnancy and, for various reasons, didn’t want to go through it again. She was asking that we not transfer more than two embryos, so she could be mostly assured she wouldn’t have to carry more than twins.

Some IPs plan to transfer as many embryos as they can, then reduce down to just one or two if too many of them take. That’s fine if the surrogate agrees to it, but not everyone will be comfortable with that.

This is obviously a very tricky ethical situation, so for everyone’s benefit, it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page.

8. If we were to decide, due to complications with the fetus, to terminate the pregnancy, would you be willing to do so?

You and the surrogate are both entering into this agreement with the same goal: to make a baby. Neither of you wants to think about terminating a pregnancy, because that goes against the very reason you’ve come together.

However, everyone knows that things do sometimes go wrong, and the baby will be yours, not hers, so if there are complications and you become concerned with what your child’s quality of life would be, it should be your call to make.

There are people — surrogates and intended parents alike — who would never terminate a pregnancy under any circumstances. That’s fine, of course, but if you feel that way, it’s good to have a surrogate who would defer to your judgment in the case that your feelings change.

Again, no one wants to think about the worst case scenario. You both want a healthy baby. So bring this up now, and then forget about it. Hopefully, it won’t end up being an issue.

9. What concerns do you have about us or this process?

You never know what your surrogate may be thinking or how you may come across to her. She might have a special request that’s very important to her or a fear she’s working to get over.

Our surrogate had two requests: One, she wanted an epidural, because she went without one when her son was born and didn’t want to do that again. And two, she wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t be handed the baby in the delivery room. When doctors first handed her her son, that’s when she bonded with him. To make sure to establish the right boundaries, she didn’t want to see the baby until later on, when she was in the recovery room.

Let her know that her concerns are important to you, and in case she does have a vastly different idea of how the birth should go, it’s better to find out now rather than a trimester or two into the pregnancy.

 

Hopefully, you’ll find plenty of common ground with your surrogate on these topics, because once you’ve discussed them and agreed about the important things, you’ve earned the right to never discuss them again. In all likelihood, you won’t have to, and now that you’ve gotten past the tough stuff, you can talk about things that don’t really matter: what her favorite sports teams or TV shows are, what kind of sense of humor she has and what she thinks of the baby names you’ve picked out.

Then, finally, you’ll know for sure if you’ve found “The One.”

The Equally Important Flip Side of Thankful

“Good morning, Sutton! Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Mmm! Something smells delicious!”
“Those are the chocolate pies I was baking last night when you went to bed.”
“Yum! Can I have some?”
“No, I’m so sorry, honey. I burned them and we had to throw them out.”
“Oh. Well, maybe next Thanksgiving!”

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More Mommy Man!

It’s official.  I’m a mommy blogger!

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be doing occasional posts for Lifetime Moms, a really great site with a fantastically funny group of contributors — and starting today, me!  I’m the first dad to blog for them.  Take that, glass ceiling!

They’ll be rerunning some of my favorite posts from the past, plus I’ll be contributing some new stuff exclusively for them, so I hope you’ll click over and check it out.

This will still be my primary blog, and I’m planning to keep posting here just as frequently as I always have.  So stick around here, too.

But until my next post goes up on this site, I hope you’ll go over there and read my first post for them.  It’s called 5 Ways My Kid Have Improved My Adult Conversations.  Hope you like it!

A Happy Election Day, At Last

I don’t know why I like Election Day so much.  It always lets me down.

In 2008, the passage of Prop 8 pretty much ruined whatever excitement I had about Obama winning the presidency.

In 2004, I was so angry with the results, I wrote this.

Let’s not even talk about 2000.

Still, something about the interactive maps, the endless statistics being churned out and the pageantry of democracy always brings out my inner patriot.

I try not to take the results personally.  After all, who wants to be one of those jerks who’s proud to be an American only when things go their way?  That’s not the point of democracy.  We all vote, not just you, so if you don’t like the outcome, well, you had your shot.  That’s what I tell myself, at least: Don’t take it personally.  It’s not about you.

Still, for all of my voting adulthood, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this country.  I love it; it hates me.  At least, that’s what I always seem to come away with after Election Day.

The first time I was old enough to vote for president was 1992.  Bill Clinton won, and he supported letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military.  I should’ve been ecstatic.  But the same night I was celebrating his victory, Colorado’s viciously homophobic Amendment 2 passed and let me know where I stood in society.  We all know how the gays in the military thing turned out, too.

It was such a relief this year that neither candidate talked much about gay rights.  The president was on record as a supporter of gay marriage.  I just want to type that again: the president was on record as a supporter of gay marriage.  And his opponent barely brought it up.  Occasionally some old video would surface where Romney would show his disgust about gay parents or something like that, but for whatever reason, the new Romney was mostly keeping his bigotry on mute.

Still, my guard was up.  Something would spoil this.  It always did.  With four states voting on gay marriage issues on Tuesday, there would be plenty of opportunities for a punch in the gut.

Then, minute by minute, the news kept getting better.

Barack Obama Re-elected.

First Openly Lesbian Senator Wins Election in Wisconsin

Openly Gay Candidate Wins Congressional Race in New York

Openly Gay Candidate Wins Congressional Race in California

Maine Approves Same-Sex Marriage

Maryland Approves Same-Sex Marriage

Washington Approves Same-Sex Marriage

Minnesota Shoots Down Amendment That Would’ve Banned Same-Sex Marriage

Four ballot measures, four victories.  In one day, four states agreed that gay people are as good as anyone else and deserve the same rights.

This was only 4 years after Proposition 8.  9 years after the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws.  13 years after Maryland got rid of its sodomy law.  It was 20 years exactly after Colorado’s Amendment 2, and I couldn’t help thinking back to that election.

In 1992, I was in college — and in the closet.  The end of college was looming, but the end of my fear and self-loathing was nowhere in sight.  Today, I’m totally open about who I am.  I even write a blog about it.  I have children with my partner, and I have the right to marry him in more places than ever.

This Election Day, there was no down side.  Voters embraced gay rights and gay candidates like never before.  As the statistics poured in, I could geek out and enjoy the night without feeling like I was crashing someone else’s party.

So I’ve decided to take the election results personally again.  And I want to say thanks.  Thanks to the people who voted for equality yesterday and to the people who believe in it in their hearts.  Thanks from me and thanks from that scared kid from 1992, who never thought he’d see this day.

Thanks, America.  I’ve always loved you.  It’s nice to know the feeling is mutual.

An Open Letter To Everyone With a Vote

Look, I know no one needs me to tell them how to vote.  I’m just a guy, like you, and while I’m full of opinions, I know the cool thing about opinions is that everyone’s entitled to their own and that if I don’t like yours, I can clasp my hands over my ears or put down my newspaper or click on one of the other ten gadzillion blogs written by someone I don’t really know and go, “Hmm… I wonder what they think?”

Besides, if you’ve read my site before, you probably can probably guess how I’m voting tomorrow.

I don’t want to talk too much about this, because I know some people I care very much about will be voting a different way from me.  Let me first tell those people no, I won’t hate you forever.  Some other people I care about have been arguing very vehemently that Romney is so anti-gay (which he is) that voting for him amounts to some kind of personal attack against every gay person you know (which it isn’t).  I mean, it sucks.  You want to vote for Romney?  Yeah, that bums me out.  But I’m not going to take it personally.

I’ve written before about how I don’t want to be anyone’s token gay friend, and I stand by that.  But I’m not looking to shun half the voting public forever.  So if you support my equal rights but you’re voting for Romney anyway, that’s OK.  Just don’t tell me that you’re voting for him in spite of his stance on gay rights — tell him.  Tell everyone you vote for.  Make sure politicians of both parties treat this as what it is — a human rights issue, not a partisan one.

If you live in Washington, Minnesota, Maryland or Maine, you can do this tomorrow, because your state has a ballot measure on gay marriage.  I’m sure you already know this because you’re probably sick of all the TV commercials, flyers, yard signs and personal haranguing you’ve been subjected to over the last few months.

Yeah, I’m sick of all the hype about this subject, too.  I wish we didn’t have to debate it again every single election day.  But the only way that’s ever going to stop is if people support gay marriage sooner rather than later.  The homophobes aren’t going to stop fighting until they realize they can no longer win, until the millions and millions of dollars they pump into fighting my equality every chance they get nets them exactly nothing.

So far, they’re undefeated.  Every time gay marriage has been put to a vote, the public has voted against it.  And that’s the #1 argument against gay marriage.  Most people don’t want it, they say, so vote against it.

Well, now’s the time to tell them you’re not falling for that argument anymore.  You know what’s right.  You believe in equality.  You may still be uncomfortable with gay people personally, maybe your religion assures you all gay people are going to burn in Hell, but you believe in the ideals of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.  Yes, I know the Declaration of Independence says “All men are created equal”, and there was a time when they did mean “men” only.  White men, even.  But you know what?  That was wrong, and so is limiting equality to heterosexuals.  Over time, America has gotten more fair, not less.  Let’s keep moving forward.

And to those of you who aren’t cool with gay people, who worry what will happen to this country you love if you vote to support gay marriage, let me give you a glimpse of the future as I see it.  I know the TV commercials are telling you that legalizing gay marriage will lead to kids being indoctrinated in the mechanics of sodomy in preschool, but I’m guessing that’s a bit of a stretch.

You want to know what “the gay agenda” really is, what kind of world us radical homosexuals are hoping for?  Well, here’s a glimpse of a world where gay marriage is legal, as I see it…

- Every kid probably has one or two classmates who have gay parents.  Maybe those parents are cool, or maybe they’re weenies who smell of scented candles and you’ll try not to get stuck sitting next to them at PTA meetings.  “Yikes, here come Mindy and Jill!  They never shut up about their Labradors!”

- By kindergarten, most kids know some people have two mommies or two daddies or that Uncle Dave and Uncle Joe are in love, just like Mommy and Daddy.  They still don’t know where babies come from or that the Tooth Fairy is a crock.

- The gay people you know are more comfortable with themselves, more open about who they are and your relationship with them is closer than ever.  Guessing who among your friends is closeted is less fun than it used to be because almost everyone is out.

- The topic of homosexuality is raised in high school health classes, by a teacher who’s just as uncomfortable discussing it as he or she is talking about heterosexuality with a bunch of horny teenagers.  But all the kids, regardless of orientation, learn how to protect themselves from STDs, which makes the world safer and healthier for all of us.

- If your own kid turns out to be gay, you can be comfortable knowing that they’ll grow up with all the rights and opportunities you had, and they probably won’t kill themselves before they’re old enough to vote.

That’s it.  That’s our endgame.  If you vote to support gay marriage, that’s the world you’re voting for.  Notice nothing happened to your marriage or your rights in that scenario.  That’s because gay marriage does nothing to infringe on the rights of straight people, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a shameless, unprincipled liar.

I’m lucky enough to live in New York, one of the states where gay marriage is legal, and the world I just described is pretty much what it’s like in my town.  It’s nice here.  People are happy.  I’m happy.

If you live in one of the four states that’s voting on gay marriage tomorrow, do the right thing.  You really can’t have it both ways on this one.  You can’t say you support me and my equality and then vote directly against it.

So vote like this chart says.  Do it for me, do it for your gay friends and family or your favorite gay celebrities.  (You don’t want to hurt Neil Patrick Harris, do you?)  Just do it.  And spread this message to everyone you know in Washington, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota.  Tell them you care about this issue, and that they should, too.

Regardless of whether you’re red or blue, tomorrow, let’s paint a couple of states pink.  Let’s show people that a world where gay marriage is legal is nothing to be afraid of.