Many years ago, I woke up and had an “aha” moment. I decided that I wanted to make an impact on this world and be a beacon of light and hope for those struggling to have children, facing medical or life barriers, or who simply wanted to experience the beauty and joy of parenthood. Some people didn’t understand why I decided to become a surrogate and be an egg donor, some looked at me like I was out of my freaking mind, and some smiled and encouraged me to follow my heart…and so, 15 years later, here I am.
Welcome to Fertility Cafe’s very first podcast. My name is Eloise Drane, the founder of Family Inceptions, a surrogacy and egg donation agency, and creator of Surrogacy Roadmap, a DIY guide to independent surrogacy, and I’m your host. As a six-time egg donor and three-time surrogate, I’m truly excited to bring this podcast to life because I believe it will help answer challenging questions and address the many barriers that people face on their journey to creating their own families. We will also celebrate with those who already have done just that.
Today, there are no special guests with us, but I will be inviting others to join me in conversation as we explore different perspectives, provide resources and rid the negative stigmas, assumptions, and doubts that may exist in society regarding egg donation, embryo donation and surrogacy.
What’s more major than the creation of life and helping families create their own reality…whatever that may look like? Sit back and open your mind to the world of possibilities that exist beyond your imagination. This is Fertility Cafe. Love has no limits…neither should parenthood.
WHAT IS MODERN FAMILY BUILDING?
Let’s tackle a pretty basic question. What is modern family building? We like to describe modern family building as creating your own family in an unconventional way. Still confused? Well, if you’ve ever seen the television show, “Modern Family” on ABC, you’ve seen a family much different from what society deems “normal.” And as we all know, most families are far from normal anyways (at least mine is), but we tend to make it look good in public.
But what is “normal?” and who gets to decide your normal? What does a modern family look like in today’s world? Let’s look at how many different ways families were built just on the Modern Family TV show alone, and come with me as I think through the various possibilities on how these families came to be…
- First, we have a divorced man with two adult children, who remarries a much younger woman, who already has a child from a previous relationship. Then, this new couple has a child of their own. Given their significant age difference, they very well may have needed to use IVF to conceive. Or depending on her age and health, they may have opted to use a donated embryo instead of creating one using their own egg and sperm.
- There’s also a straight couple who has three children of their own that they seemed to have had the old fashioned way. But what if they conceived their first child without medical intervention, easy peezy. Then, when they wanted to grow their family, it wasn’t so easy anymore. Not a huge gap in time or major medical changes – but suddenly, a couple who had no issues conceiving their first time needs to consider IUI or IVF due to secondary infertility. It’s more common than you think.
- And let’s not forget about the same sex couple who adopts a little girl. Same sex male couples have no choice but to seek out alternative family building options. Adoption is one way to build a family, but many times, same sex couples desire a genetic child and will seek out the services of an egg donor, and then a gestational surrogate who carries their child, to make their dreams of a family a reality.
And there you have it. One extended family, multiple generations, with potentially five different methods for growing their own families – adoption, IVF, egg donation, embryo donation, and surrogacy. You dream of a family – how you get there is totally up to you.
THE EVOLUTION OF FAMILY
For most of our lives, we’re taught either through education, religion, family, or society in general, that families have a mom, a dad, two kids (one boy and one girl if you’re really lucky) and a family dog that brings you the newspaper and your slippers every morning. Sounds a bit out of date? Well, that’s because it is.
Times have changed. The way things have always been done are gradually becoming extinct or enhanced in some way or another. The evolution of the Internet, technology, and social media continues to provide a plethora of information for consumption on a variety of platforms. Armed with valuable (and sometimes not so valuable) information that hasn’t always been so readily available, people are constantly creating their “normal” and what their life and families will look like.
Modern families are a mix of whatever you can think of. It’s a straight couple who adopted an infant after an exhaustive search and finally being selected by the child’s birth mother. A same sex couple who used a surrogate and an egg donor to help them have a child. It’s a single woman that received a donated embryo and carried a baby to term. It’s a single man who was able to adopt a school-aged child. Almost any unique scenario you can think of outside of the traditional or standard societal norms…the list goes on and on.
Whether you are a man or a woman, finding out that you have trouble with fertility can be shocking. Many never think in a million years they’d need assistance with having children. We grow up assuming everything will work as it needs to when the time is right. Until it doesn’t. And then what do you do? The disappointment that settles in can be extremely overwhelming and frustrating. Some just give up on the idea altogether and let their dream of having a family die. And then there are those who look into unconventional ways to have the children they desire through modern family building.
SURROGATES & EGG DONORS
So you have the intended parents – the men or women who are determined to create or grow a family no matter what hurdles they must overcome. But they can’t do it alone. There’s a piece of the modern family building puzzle that only can be filled by the most caring, most generous, most selfless of women. No, I’m not talking about Wonder Woman… although you’re not too far off. I’m talking about the egg donors and surrogates.
For many egg donors and surrogates, they feel it is a calling. A deep desire to do something bigger than themselves. It’s not a quick decision or something that is decided on a whim. It takes thought, preparation, planning, and most importantly, fortitude and courage, to be an egg donor or gestational surrogate. These women are stepping into the most personal of spaces – the creation of a child – and are willing to take on the ENORMOUS challenge that it entails.
For those loving souls who decide they want to help a family in their modern family building journey, the process can be more than expected. However, the end result and reward for both the family and the woman who steps up, is life-long. I’m no stranger to parenthood. It’s one of the most challenging, yet most rewarding experiences in life. At least in my opinion. I’ve been gifted with four wonderful children of my own and a beautiful stepdaughter. Not only that, I’ve had the privilege and honor of assisting some amazing families by being a surrogate, or if we’re using proper medical terms, a gestational carrier. I delivered four surrogate babies…twins the first time. The second birth was a boy and the third time was a girl. Not only did I assist with the journey of surrogacy for several couples, I helped six other families by sharing the gift through egg donation.
With the first couple I carried for, the intended mother had breast cancer. Right before her double mastectomy surgery, they completed a round of IVF. Once everyone was ready, we had the 1st transfer but it wasn’t a success and we had to go through two more transfers. Eventually we were successful and I got pregnant with twin girls and I carried out a successful pregnancy and safe delivery.
The second couple I assisted were able to carry a pregnancy initially, but unfortunately it ended in a tragic stillborn death. Doctors discovered she had medical concerns and issues that could threaten her life if she chose to carry again. With the risk of the mother’s death at stake, the couple decided to use a gestational carrier. I was pleased to be able to have a healthy baby boy for them.
The third couple I assisted were a same sex couple who used donor eggs. On the very first attempt, I was able to get pregnant and carry a beautiful baby girl for them.
Of all three couples, each situation was unique and all had reasons why they needed to create their own family using one form or the other. The alternative option they chose, made them no less a family. I think the problem with society is we’re so judgmental about how things should be for the next person. We go around trying to impose our own beliefs and values on the lives of others with no regard of the freedom to choose what fits best for their life. It’s as if we believe our way is the only way, and that is what keeps so many people confined to the opinions of others. It’s time to change the narrative and open our minds – and hearts – to the world of alternative family building.
MYTHS ABOUT SURROGACY AND EGG DONATION
In our culture, there are so many stereotypes, cultural stigmas, and a lack of useful information. Yet another reason I’ve created this podcast. Through ongoing education, surrogates and egg donors can feel competent and confident when helping others become parents… single men and women and couples, both straight and same sex. Family doesn’t look the way it always has and is not based on sexual orientation, gender, or genetics. Family is about love.
There are some interesting myths surrounding third-party reproduction methods like egg donation and surrogacy. One common myth is that only close friends and family members are willing or able to be egg donors or surrogates. This is far from the truth. Many families choose people outside of their family circle to help them become parents. Yes, compassionate surrogacy is very common. This is also called altruistic surrogacy, and it’s where a close friend or family member carries a child and receives no compensation for her time and effort beyond medical costs and other pregnancy-related expenses. But many times, it’s a perfect stranger who steps up to help where no one else could.
Another myth in surrogacy is that the gestational carrier would have parental rights. She carried and gave birth to the baby – it’s partially hers, right? Wrong! Provided the child is born in a surrogate friendly state, no parental rights are given to the gestational carrier who volunteers to help the family through this process. Even in cases of traditional surrogacy, in which the surrogate is the biological mother of the child she carries, the surrogate will not have parental rights to the baby. There are a number of important legal steps a couple can take to secure their legal parentage – a topic we will definitely cover on this podcast in the future!
One of the most popular myths is that only the rich and famous and celebrities have gestational surrogates or use egg donation. With celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Cameron Diaz using surrogates, the concept has permeated pop culture in recent years. But don’t be fooled – surrogacy and egg donation isn’t just for the elite. There are everyday people who find modern family building to be beneficial and fitting for their lifestyle. While the cost can deter a lot of people, there are financial options that can be put in place to help cover the expenses of creating your own family.
And then there are the stigmas… the negative and ignorant opinions people place on the world third-party reproduction. Trust me, after 15 years in the industry, I’ve heard them all. “Why would you create a new baby when there are so many babies waiting to be adopted?” “Why are you trying to play God?” “Maybe there is a reason you can’t get pregnant!” “Surrogacy exploits women!” “What if you donate all your eggs and you don’t have any left for yourself?” “The baby will come out looking just like the surrogate – it’s made with her blood after all!” Uuuugh – don’t get me started on the nonsense people come up with.
Taking the myths and stigma from the process of egg donation and surrogacy can only be done through ongoing conversations, education, and more and more people sharing their knowledge and personal experiences.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE NEED TO UTILIZE ALTERNATIVE FAMILY BUILDING METHODS?
There’s so many ways of modern family building: through adoption, egg or sperm donation, or a combination of both, embryo donation, and surrogacy. And there’s so many reasons why someone or a couple would choose one over another or perhaps a combination.
Recently, I conducted some research and discovered some truly interesting facts. According to the CDC, infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant or to conceive after one year or longer of unprotected sex. It also stated that one in eight couples (or 12% of married women) have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy.
The research went on to reveal that 7.4 million women, or 11.9% of women, have received any infertility services in their lifetime. Approximately one-third of infertility is attributed to the female partner, one-third attributed to the male partner, and then one-third is caused by a combination of problems in both partners or, most frustrating of all, the infertility is unexplained. Couples struggle with infertility and seek help to become pregnant, however, it is often thought of as only a woman’s condition or problem. But, in about 35% of couples with infertility, a male factor is identified along with a female factor. In 8% of couples with infertility, a male factor is the only identifiable cause.
There are many reasons, besides infertility, that some families would choose to complete their family through the modern family building process. Obviously, same sex male couples would need the assistance of an egg donor and gestational surrogate to have a genetic child. Same sex female couples will need a sperm donor, and often choose to do a genetic gestational surrogacy – where embryos are created with the eggs of one woman and then the baby is carried by the other woman, making them both an equal part of the process. Single-parenthood-by-choice is growing more and more prevalent. Single men and women who want to have children of their own are seeking out new options not available to them previously. Many individuals are deciding that they want to be moms or they want to be dads and not have to worry about finding the perfect partner. They decide that now is the time and so they’re going to go ahead and complete their family…however they want to do it.
Years ago, there weren’t many alternative solutions for family building. Luckily, we live in a time in history where if we can’t have a child the traditional way, we have the option to decide how we want to complete our family. Yea, we’re pretty spoiled these days and we’ve come a long way. On top of that, thankfully, many people have become less traditional and free in their decision-making. What’s important to know is that there’s no right or wrong way. Whether you decide to adopt, have a child using a gestational carrier, use donated eggs, sperm, or embryos, it’s still your decision at the end of the day.
THE FINAL WORD
I’ve had the privilege of helping hundreds of families complete their family building journeys. I’ve helped straight couples, gay couples, single men and single woman. We’ve helped families that carried their own child and only needed the assistance of an egg donor. We’ve had families that have used embryo donation with a gestational carrier. We’ve had families that have used their own genetic material. We’ve had families that have used combinations of sperm donation and egg donation or one or the other. However, every single one of these families had one goal. They simply wanted to be able to have a child. They wanted to have their own family to feel complete.
I think modern family building is going to become the norm, between infertility rates rising at a substantial rate, the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the increase in single-parenthood-by-choice.
I feel like with all of that really more and more people are going to start looking into different ways to be able to start or grow their family and the modern family building process is just going to be a standard. It’s going to be the “new normal.” And again, that’s the beauty of it. We don’t have to really wait for someone else to make that decision for us. We take control of our own lives and make that decision for ourselves.
And once we make that decision for ourselves, figure out what the next steps are, and how to go about and complete that goal. Of course, the modern family building process isn’t going to happen without the selfless women that are willing to step up and share the gift of their bodies and themselves for another family’s child. They to help create legacies and help to fulfill somebody’s dream of becoming a parent.
Whatever your role, whether you are seeking to become a parent or you are willing to be a donor or a gestational surrogate, you’ll have to weigh all the pros and cons of each option before you decide what will be best for you. Some methods may be too time-consuming, too painful, too expensive, or it may disrupt your family dynamic too much. But the best way to start deciding on options is to research and to talk about it. And we’re here to have that conversation with you when you’re ready.
What’s important to know though is, it’s up to you how you decide to build your family. Opinions from others on how you should complete your family, yes it’s good to listen, but at the end of the day you make the final decision. I feel a shift has to happen in society as to how we think a family should be. I feel we should disregard everything that we’ve been taught about what a family is supposed to be and celebrate the family that we are.
Thanks for joining me. ‘Til next time.
And remember… Love has no limits. And neither should parenthood.