Surrogacy: A new normal in parenting

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Surrogacy is one option for families who want to have children but struggle to conceive.

By Anne Arntson

Chelsea Jarvis delivered twins last year, but they were not her own.

Kelly Stoeber gave birth to a baby girl on April 6, but her two young sons did not get a sister.

“For that 40 weeks, it kind of provided as my identity,” said Stoeber, a first-time surrogate.

The three children delivered by Jarvis and Stoeber are among 750 babies who are born in the United States every year through gestational surrogacy, according to WebMD. In Illinois, a surrogacy-friendly state, the two women are gestational surrogates, who carry children for families who cannot conceive but do not provide the eggs.

Shirley Zager, director of Parenting Partners, said: “For legal reasons that makes this process much more streamlined, especially for getting parentage established with your child.”

She added: “For emotional reasons, too, that seems to be a better fit for surrogates. They don’t feel like they’re giving away a baby that is related to their family.”

In 2005, the state passed the Gestational Surrogacy Act, which established the standards for families and surrogates to follow. Under the law, only the intended parents’ names are listed on the birth certificate.

Neighboring state Indiana does not have a similar law. In fact, if a surrogate travels into a state without an existing law and the surrogate goes into labor, her name could go on the baby’s birth certificate.

According to Creative Family Connections, a surrogacy agency and law firm headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, Illinois is among 19 states that allow surrogacy.

Legal issues often surface with regard to surrogacy.

In 1985, Mary Beth Whitehead agreed to serve as a surrogate for William and Elizabeth Stern. Whitehead agreed to be inseminated with William’s sperm, carry the pregnancy and turn over parentage to the Sterns for $10,000. After the baby was born, Whitehead changed her mind. She kept the baby girl and gave up the $10,000. The Sterns sued Whitehead. In 1988, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that the surrogacy contract was invalid and illegal, but awarded custody to the Sterns, stating it was in the child’s best interest.

The  case marked the first time surrogacy was addressed in court.

TV personality Sherri Shepherd is undergoing a legal battle with her ex-husband, Lamar Sally, involving surrogacy. With Sally’s sperm and a donor egg, Shepherd and Sally had a baby using a surrogate. During the middle of the pregnancy, Shepherd and Sally broke up. Shepherd said she did not want the child. A Pennsylvania judge ruled recently that Shepherd was the legal mother and her name must go on the child’s birth certificate.

Before becoming a surrogate, a woman must pass a psychological screening by a mental health professional and sign a contract with the intended parents, which details both of their responsibilities. She must also have one healthy child of her own so she understands a new mom’s emotional connection with a newborn.

Despite the pain, Jarvis said being a surrogate is worth it: “You forget the crappy parts and the parts that made you want to say never again when you see the joy on the parents’ faces and those sweet little babies.”

Photo at top: Surrogacy is one option for families who want to have children but struggle to conceive. (Anne Arntson/Medill)