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By Robin von Halle

One of my Facebook friends recently posted a New York Times article from a year ago, titled Facing Life Without Children When It Isn’t a Choice. It told the story of a couple who unsuccessfully tried to have a family for 11 years using methods ranging from acupuncture and artificial insemination to IVF treatments. They finally decided enough was enough and stopped their efforts – and dreams.

It was heartbreaking, but made me want to inform couples who are at the “How much more can I endure?” stage that there is another option to having their own biological child: gestational surrogacy. This is when an embryo with no genetic ties to the women who is carrying the child is placed into her uterus through in vitro fertilization.

Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband recently shared that they are expecting twins via surrogate. A friend stated that Parker and her husband had been trying for years to add to their family ever since the birth of their son, James Wilkie, now 6. But the road hasn’t been an easy one, and they concluded that this was going to be their best option for expanding their family.

The issue is how long you are willing to stay in the game.

Making the decision to stop all medical procedures to help get pregnant is a painful one. Surrogacy shouldn’t be pushed on anyone who has decided to remain childless. (And for those who have decided to throw in the towel, and need a resource to help them cope, visit www.coming2terms.com, a blog that discusses how to deal with the decision to not have children.)

Ultimately though, we encourage couples to research their options and know that they can have their own biological child if they are willing to look into gestational surrogacy.

We work with many intended parents who come to us as the last resort to have a family. For most, it’s not an easy decision. The surrogacy process can take up to two years and costs between $50,000 and $100,000. However, the outcome – holding your baby for the first time – makes the process worth the time and effort.

Find me on Facebook by joining the group “Alternative Reproductive Resources.”

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By Robin von Halle

Time magazine recently reported on health concerns such as infertility and cancer surrounding egg donations, tying them to the rise in inquiries by prospective donors in the current economy.

It’s interesting that of all the sources quoted, there was not one comment by the agencies that recruit and work with the donors. In fact, our agency and many others we know are far more than just “recruiters.” We take our advocacy role for donors and surrogates very seriously.

The article was one-sided, leaving the impression that all egg donor agencies are guilty of lax, if not unethical practices. It negates the very important role that many of us play.

At Alternative Reproductive Resources (ARR), each donor is educated on the risks involved to egg donation, such as hyper stimulation, the most common side effect after retrieval. We make sure each donor is aware of what can possibly happen with their bodies as a result of the donation process. We require them to undergo psychological screenings to make sure they are emotionally fit to donate. We also maintain contact after egg retrieval and at least one more time after she menstruates. (And sometimes we even share our cell numbers.)

We understand that many of these young women looking into egg donation are motivated by the compensation, but that should never override good sense. Here are a few questions they should ask their agency upfront in the interests of ensuring informed consent.

  • What are the health risks, specifically and statistically?
  • How many donation cycles do you allow?
  • What’s your level of experience, based on total donor cycles completed?
  • Do you provide qualified legal representation for donors?
  • Do you provide insurance in the event of medical complications?
  • What does your donor screening process entail?
  • Can I talk to your current and past egg donors?

As the fertility industry grows, it’s up to us to make sure we’re meeting the highest standards of practices and behaviors, and follow guidelines established by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. ARR developed a code of ethics to help protect our donors, surrogates and intended parents through this process.   However, donors must remember that it’s their bodies and no one is as deeply vested in their health as they are.

By Mary Ellen McLaughlin

One reason my job is so rewarding is that I get to help create families every day. It warms my heart to see proud new parents, otherwise unable to conceive, holding a smiling baby after working with our team.

I’ve often heard us called “the middlemen” between parents and the egg donors and/or surrogates. That term doesn’t reflect the complexity of this process, which can be extremely stressful, both physically and emotionally. I’ve seen first-hand how much it helps to have an experienced third party guide parents, egg donors and surrogates through the process and provide a shoulder to lean on.

I recently received a letter from a surrogate-to-be telling me how happy and relieved she was that her experience with ARR was a comfortable one. I was incredibly touched, since we don’t often get direct thank you’s from surrogates, and it was a nice reminder of how much my actions impact a whole family.

So I thought I’d share some of the client’s words.

“I wasn’t sure how all of this was going to pan out or who I would be able to go to with questions. You have made me feel like I’m not just a person whose paperwork needs to be dealt with, which was what I was expecting. If the rest of my experience is as good as it has been to this point, it will have far exceeded my expectations.”

Her words reaffirm what we all do to help build families at ARR.  We pride ourselves in keeping all parties well-informed and content. Everyone going through this experience deserves and should expect the same treatment.

By Robin von Halle

Statistics show that at least one in five couples of reproductive age deal with some degree of infertility. In their quest to create families, an increasing number turn to Assisted Reproductive Technology, using donated eggs and, often, the services of a gestational surrogate.

Typically, intended parents enlist the services of an egg donation and surrogacy agency, which screens candidates and guides them through the process. It can be overwhelming and confusing – but being armed with information makes it easier. Some guidelines to help you on this path:

  1. Find the right agency. All agencies are not the same. Do your research. How long have they been in business? Is the agency reputable? Is the personal chemistry there? What resources do they employ to help you, like an experienced family law attorney? Get references. The intimacy of this process makes it mandatory to find an agency you’re comfortable with.
  2. Know what to expect. Your agency should explain the entire process, from fees to how they screen donors and surrogates to their policies. For example, if your egg donor cycle isn’t completed through no fault of yours, we’ll cover the rematching and related non-medical costs. Details like this are important to know in advance.
  3. Be ready to soul search. What traits are must-haves versus nice-to-haves in your egg donor? Does it matter to you if your surrogate works full-time? Lives close or far away? Are you unwavering about selective reduction or adamantly against it? Have you considered future issues, like whether to tell your child circumstances of his or her conception? These questions and more will come up; being prepared will ease the process.

A variety of resources are readily available to help you on your path. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (www.asrm.com), for example, has a wealth of information, from its guidelines on compensation to egg donors for their time to FAQs on a wide variety of fertility-related topics. (Many are also written in Spanish.)

This may be the most important journey of your life. Your due diligence now will remove the bumps from the road that leads to the ultimate reward – a healthy child to complete your family.

Robin von Halle is President of Alternative Reproductive Resources (www.arr1.com). It was the first egg donation agency in Chicago and the Midwest, and one of the first in the country. She can be reached at info@arr1.com.

Visit our Web site at www.arr1.com.

About Us

Conception Connections is a blog about alternative paths to family creation. It is maintained by Alternative Reproductive Resources. Contributors include intended parents, egg donors and gestational surrogates in addition to ARR staff. Our goal is to facilitate conversations about trends, issues, current events, technology and personal stories surrounding infertility, egg donation and gestational surrogacy. If you'd like to contribute, please e-mail shodge@hodgemediastrategies.com. We also welcome your comments and suggestions. Note: Comments are moderated and posted on approval.

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