As you may know from my personal surrogacy journey, when I first heard about surrogacy in 2001, it was a relatively new idea. I was living in Delaware at the time, and there were no surrogacy agencies close to where I lived. When I decided to become a surrogate, I didn’t have any choice but to do it myself as an independent surrogate. Today, you can find surrogacy agencies all across the country, including my agency — Circle of Life Surrogacy.
If you’ve ever thought of becoming a surrogate, one of the first big choices you have to make is whether to try to become an independent surrogate or use an agency. I went through an agency for my second surrogacy experience, so I’ve actually experienced both options and have some pretty good insights into the drawbacks and benefits of each.
Benefits of Being an Independent Surrogate
When I first decided to go independent as a surrogate, I didn’t have much of a choice since there were no agencies near me. Today, most surrogates have the option of using an agency, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily meet the agency’s standards. There are no set of rules that a surrogacy agency must follow, but most agencies require their surrogates to meet strict qualification standards. For instance, at Circle of Life Surrogacy, we only accept surrogates between the ages of 21 – 41 who have delivered at least one healthy child, do not have a criminal record, and are in a financially stable situation (among other requirements).
Not everyone is able to meet these standards. For instance, I recently had to pass on a very promising surrogate candidate because I found out that her partner had a criminal record. If you find that you don’t meet the qualifications of an agency, you may consider going independent.
Drawbacks of Being an Independent Surrogate
When you decide to be an independent surrogate, you must take responsibility for all the steps in the process. This includes finding a good match with the right couple. You must also hire your own lawyer to create a contract. (Oftentimes parents and the surrogate will use the same lawyer, which can be a big conflict of interest.)
You and the parents will need to negotiate compensation, schedule the IVF transfer, find you a good OB/GYN during the pregnancy, and determine how to handle any complications or disagreements. Things can get hairy if there is a dispute, or if there is a disagreement about the compensation. Independent surrogacy is a lot of work!
Benefits of Using a Surrogacy Agency
If the thought of hiring your own lawyer, drawing up your own paperwork, or trying to find a couple all on your own doesn’t appeal to you, then finding a surrogacy agency is probably the right place for you to be. The biggest benefit of a surrogacy agency is that your care coordinator will guide you through the entire process. The agency will take care to match you with the right couple, will ensure that your interests are protected with your own legal counsel, and will help you find all the medical treatment you need. The agency will also make sure you receive the full compensation you were promised, including any bonuses and additional benefits. In all, an agency can take a lot of the extra work off your shoulders while still offering you competitive compensation.
Drawbacks of an Agency
The main drawback of working with a surrogacy agency, in my opinion, is the possibility that you might not meet the agency’s qualification standards. For instance, you may have recently lost your job and be receiving welfare. This doesn’t mean you can’t be a fantastic surrogate, but most agencies are looking for women who can prove they are in a stable financial situation.
You may also find that a surrogacy agency takes time to match you with a couple. Some surrogacy agencies operate more slowly than others, and every agency has busy months and slow months. If the agency has a lot of potential surrogates and not enough parents, you may not get a match for a while. It may be faster to move forward on your own, especially if you don’t mind doing your research and handling all the details on your own.
Can I Earn More as an Independent Surrogate?
I think a lot of women are initially drawn to independent surrogacy, because they think they can earn more money. This may not actually be the case. Surrogacy agencies do charge intended parents a fee for their services, but they also want to attract the best surrogates possible, which is why they try to offer competitive compensation packages. When I created Circle of Life Surrogacy, I made it a point to create one of the best compensation packages for my surrogates in the country. My compensation package, like many other agencies, also includes a lot of additional benefits, including health insurance coverage, a monthly expense allowance, a life insurance policy, nutritional counseling, travel reimbursements, childcare costs, psychological support, monthly massages, and more.
If you negotiate compensation on your own, the parents may be able to bargain you down. It may also be possible that the reason certain parents are willing to work with an independent surrogate is because their budget is tight and they can’t afford an agency. You must also keep in mind that being an independent surrogate will require you to spend a lot of extra time doing more of the legwork and paperwork. You may also be expected to pay for things like your own health insurance and the cost of your attorney. Make sure you take all of this into consideration as you make your decision.
Personally (though I may be a little biased), I recommend that women consider working with an agency for their first surrogacy experience. This will allow them to see the process from beginning to end and learn the ropes. From this experience, they will be better equipped to determine if they want to go solo on their next surrogacy adventure or stick with an agency.