By Mary Ellen McLaughlin
We recently came across a thread in a Yahoo discussion group from a would-be gestational surrogate. She had completed an agency’s questionnaire to become a surrogate. And while she understood the rationale for the questions (many of which appeared on the surface to be quite intrusive), there was one that had her puzzled for its relevance: “What is your religion?”
That’s a pretty typical question for agencies to ask. It points to the depth that principled and discerning agencies will go to in vetting prospective surrogates.
The religion question can relate to any number of considerations – beliefs that may influence a decision on selective reduction, for example. And, let’s face it, for both Intended Parents and prospective surrogates, religion may be a sticking point whether it’s relevant to the task at hand or not.
Taking a deep dive into the prospective surrogate’s background, beliefs and support network is absolutely essential to ensure she’s emotionally up to it – and, equally important, is a responsible individual who surrounds herself with people who share her principles and behaviors.
The stories about con artists who hold the baby for ransom are the exception, but they’re the ones that people remember. Not surprisingly, they weren’t properly vetted. We’re not about to take that risk.
A typical surrogacy application form can run up to 20 pages. It’s the first screen; subsequent ones include interviews with the agency’s staff and, preferably, independent mental health professionals. It is not something to be completed in an hour, or even a day. Are the questions intrusive? Some are – of necessity. And prospective surrogates should expect no less given the very important role they’re applying to play.
It asks for the candidate’s and her husband/partner’s five-year employment history and educational backgrounds. It asks about family structure – how many children and their ages, and the support network. It asks whether the candidate or her partner have criminal records or substance abuse histories. It asks health questions including a medical and pregnancy history, ranging from how the applicant relieves stress, to whether she’s had an HIV test and the results, to birth control methods and delivery experiences.
And it asks questions to gauge the candidate’s emotional state. What are her hopes, wishes and expectations? Will she work with same-sex couples or unmarried couples? What are her strengths and values? How does she manage difficult times or experiences? Her partner is asked to share feelings about her taking on this role, and how the partner’s family would feel about it, as well. Descriptions of the couple’s children are solicited, along with how they will be prepared and involved in the process.
They’re also asked about issues that must necessarily be grappled with: How will you deal with relinquishing the baby to his or her parents? How do you feel about future contact with the child and his or her parents? How do you feel about carrying multiples, and the issue of a selective reduction if you’re carrying more than two fetuses?
This is only a sampling of the ground covered in the surrogacy application form. It is exhaustive, though we prefer to think of it as thorough. But that’s what it takes to make sure the surrogacy experience lives up to its promise for everyone involved.