It all started with Friends.
At least for surrogate Shoshannah Ingersoll it did. While watching an episode of the popular ‘90s TV show where Phoebe becomes a surrogate, Shoshannah’s friend asked her if she would carry her babies if she weren’t able to do it herself. Her response, even as a teen in junior high was, “Of course I would!” From there, the seed was planted in Shoshannah’s mind: she wanted to help women who couldn’t have babies on their own. Now, a professional surrogate with Hatch Egg Donation & Surrogacy, Shoshannah has been a surrogate four times, including for a single mom, a gay couple, and two traditional married couples.
Surrogacy is a process that many people must consider but isn’t often talked about widely. In simple terms: a surrogate carries and births a baby for a single parent or couple who aren’t able to do so themselves. It’s often the path of choice for women who are older, single parents, or gay couples. Traditional surrogacy involves the donation of an egg from the surrogate, but today gestational surrogacy is more common, wherein an egg is removed from the mother-to-be, fertilized with sperm, and transferred to the surrogate. Shoshannah works as a gestational surrogate, which she says is “legally and emotionally less complex.”
According to the California Surrogacy Center, IVF is the most successful type of surrogacy treatment. The process of surrogacy is pricey, but one that many couples find worth it for its benefits. Organizations like the Art Fertility Program of Alabama offer financial counseling to their patients to help them find the necessary resources.
There are many things to consider when looking for a surrogate. Here, Shoshannah shares more about her journey, as well as information on how the process works and some important questions you should ask as a parent-to-be.
Why did you decide to become a surrogate?
Watching that episode of Friends planted the seed for me to know that surrogacy even existed and that pregnancy wasn’t possible for everyone. Fast forward to nearly a decade later when I was blessed with the surprise of my own first baby and it came to mind again. Having a child came so easily for me. Even though I wasn’t expecting it, I had wanted to be a mom more than anything in the world. I dove headfirst into motherhood and reflected more and more on the fact that there were people out there who wanted a child and couldn’t do it on their own. So, I started looking into the process. I had no one but Google to consult with at the time. I did my research and chose to work with Hatch Egg Donation & Surrogacy because of their supportive, incredible team.
What has the experience been like for you?
Surrogacy was and still is a life-changing experience for me. I never imagined when I set out to carry a child for an infertile family that it would change the trajectory of my life. Shortly after carrying my first surrogate baby, I left the corporate world for a job with a higher purpose. I haven’t ever looked back. I’ve been with the Hatch team for over a decade now and it never feels like work. In total, I’ve carried four surrogate baby boys: one for a single mom from Louisiana (Fun story: she met someone during the process and I got to attend their wedding as a guest!), one for a gay married couple from West Virginia, one for a traditional married couple from Australia, and the last for a traditional married couple from Florida. My surrogate babies are 10, 6, 2, and 1 years old respectively, and they are so loved!
Related: Gabrielle’s Surrogacy Story
What would you recommend people look for or ask when finding a surrogate?
My best advice to offer is to find experts you can trust to give you the best possible guidance. That means working with an experienced agency, IVF clinic/doctor, and attorney for the process. Trust your doctor’s guidance to steer you on the medical qualifications for your surrogate, and lean on your agency to make recommendations for the best social fit. So often I see intended parents who become a barrier to their own success and delay their timelines because they are preoccupied with a laundry list of qualifications for their surrogate that will not impact a happy outcome. I’ve seen amazing potential matches not manifest because the parents were set on a surrogate living in a certain location, being married vs. single, in a certain line of work, or with a certain insurance plan, etc. There are criteria that can impact your success and having a great experience, but these aren’t it. The need for surrogates is immense, and the number of qualified candidates is small.
Focus on what matters: having a responsible, compassionate, dedicated woman with a great pregnancy history who is committed to making your dreams a reality. Surrogacy is a process based in mutual trust. You are trusting your surrogate with the most important nine months of your child’s life. She is in turn trusting you with a lifetime with your child. When matching you want to choose each other for the right reasons.
How is it ensured that a surrogate is qualified?
To become a surrogate, a candidate applies with a program she feels is a good fit for her needs. The first step is a detailed application, followed by a series of interviews to educate her on the process and make sure it’s a good fit for her. Medical records are obtained to ensure she has a healthy pregnancy history with no serious complications. Agencies will also run a background check on the surrogate and her partner (if applicable), and then the last stage of screening is generally a psychological screening. The surrogate and her partner meet with a licensed mental health professional for an interview and psychological testing, and a detailed report is written confirming her psychological readiness to become a surrogate.
Once a surrogate is cleared for matching, the process may vary from agency to agency; at Hatch we focus on compatibility-based matching. A great match is more important than the fastest match in order to make it a wonderful experience for everyone. Intended parents also go through an application, intake, and screening process to hire their agency. A great agency works collaboratively to support the surrogate and intended parents on their shared journey together alongside the other experts who are a part of the team, such as the IVF clinic, attorneys, and surrogacy insurance experts. There are a lot of moving parts to surrogacy so expert guidance goes a long way and everyone is a part of “team baby”.
How does the process work once a surrogate has been selected?
In gestational surrogacy, a surrogate will undergo an in-person medical screening with the IVF clinic and a legal contract process before starting the IVF medical protocol, which involves taking hormonal medications pre-pregnancy. After a few weeks of medications and a couple of appointments monitoring the cycle, she will undergo an outpatient embryo transfer procedure. Surrogates remain under the care of the IVF clinic until around 10 weeks of pregnancy before graduating to OB care. The surrogate and the intended parents are in communication with each other and the agency throughout the pregnancy, and in an ideal (pre-COVID) world they all get to share the birth experience together as well. One of the best parts is sharing in all the pregnancy excitement and celebrating each milestone together leading up to the birth day!
What is your favorite thing about being a surrogate?
There are so many amazing things about being a surrogate, but the best part for me is seeing the parents you carried for holding their baby for the first time and knowing you made it possible. The four times I’ve witnessed this have been the most rewarding experiences of my life, next to having my own children. All the challenges along the way, the shots, nausea, are all beyond worth it when you see a family come together before your eyes. There truly aren’t big enough words to describe it. The best I can do is to say those memories lift me up on my hardest days in life and drive me forward.
What advice would you offer to others looking to be a surrogate?
If you have it in your heart to consider giving this tremendous gift to others, go for it! Do your research, make sure the timing makes sense for you and your family, find the program that is right for you and follow your heart in the matching process. While surrogacy is not always an easy process, and you can’t ever know exactly how your personal journey will unfold, it is a life-changing experience unlike any other.