It takes a lot to be a parent. A lot of energy. A lot of patience. And — let’s be honest — a lot of money. Haven Life wants to lend a hand. No, we’re not available to babysit, but we’ve spoken to some experts (plus a few moms and dads) to get their advice on starting a family, raising a family, and yes, paying for a family. These are their stories, and this is our “Growing Family” series.
There’s more than one way to make a baby. Some hopeful parents struggling with infertility choose to reach out to another woman to carry their embryo to term, in a process known as surrogacy. Christina Thursby, who’s been a surrogate for 10 years, opened up about the financial and emotional sides of carrying someone else’s baby.
Becoming a surrogate
Christina has been a surrogate since 2007. “I was a stay-at-home mom,” she said. “I came across an ad looking for surrogate mothers that said, ‘Do you want to help people? Do you love being pregnant?’ I called, inquiring what it was, and they explained it to me. I thought, ‘This is something I can do.’”
She met with fertility doctors for medical and psychological screenings and decided she wanted to move forward. Within two months, she’d found the first set of intended parents whose baby she would carry.
That was in 2007. Since that first match, Christina has completed four pregnancies for intended parents, including two sets of twins. She opened her own surrogacy agency, Dream Surrogacy, and is currently 25 weeks along with surrogate baby number seven.
The emotional price of surrogacy
The obvious emotional question for many people new to surrogacy is, “How do you hand over the baby you’ve carried for nine months?”
“A lot of people say, ‘I could never do that, I could never give up a baby,’” Christina said, but it hasn’t been an issue for her. “I’m not giving up anything–it’s not my baby. I feel like the babies are more like my niece or my nephew. I love them, I want the best for them, but I don’t have that motherly instinct. It’s not my pregnancy, it’s our pregnancy. That’s how I see it, so I want to make [the intended parents] a part of that journey. That’s why I want to be close to them.”
The emotional highs and lows for Christina center on her relationship with the intended parents. She looks for matches where she can share prenatal appointments and family barbecues with intended parents, put the mother-to-be’s hand on her belly to feel kicks, and get updates on the kids as they grow.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out. Christina’s second surrogacy journey took a sharp turn after she delivered twin boys by C-section.
“I only got to hold one baby, I didn’t get to hold both of them. Then [the parents] checked themselves out in the first 24 hours without notifying me.” Christina didn’t know they were gone until the following day. “A friend had come to visit me and wanted to see the babies, and I walked over to the room and the bed was unmade. They hadn’t told me [they were leaving], even though I was across the hall. That was really upsetting. It felt disrespectful and hurtful.”
Hurtful enough, in fact, to drive Christina to take a three-year break from surrogacy. The experience was also her push to take the matching process into her own hands, so she could avoid feeling used again. That’s a main reason she launched her own surrogacy business.
Feeling part of the family
Thankfully, later surrogacies have been much more positive. Christina carried for a couple that welcomed her into their family, so much so that her current pregnancy is for that couple’s sister and brother-in-law. The match happened at one of the most informal settings possible: the twin boys’ 4th birthday party.
“She was 46 and had gone through many failed IVF attempts [to ultimately gain one daughter], and she was starting to think another baby just wasn’t in the cards for her. She told me, ‘Maybe I’m just supposed to have her, maybe I’m not supposed to have two children… but I have these dreams, and I see my son.’”
The main obstacle was cost. Surrogacy is prohibitively expensive for many couples, with typical costs ranging from $100,000-150,000. Christina and the hopeful mom were both surprised at what happened next. The twins’ grandfather offered to pay for the surrogacy.
For health reasons, this pregnancy will have to be Christina’s last. Ending her surrogacy journey with a couple she feels she can depend on for an ongoing friendship makes the experience all the more meaningful.
How much money do surrogates make?
Wondering where that six-figure price estimate comes from? Surrogacy is a complicated process, with various medical, legal, and emotional factors to consider. Here’s how the cost breaks down.
- $40,000: Base fee. This is the money the surrogate herself receives for the service of, essentially, renting the use of her uterus to the intended parents. This number is based on an uncomplicated, vaginal delivery for one baby. A twin pregnancy, C-section birth, or other complications come with fee increases.
- $13,000-15,000: Health insurance and healthcare. The intended parents cover their surrogate’s medical expenses, which means taking out a special health insurance policy and handling out-of-pocket costs.
- $30,000-42,000: Fertility clinic expenses. Testing the parents, harvesting eggs, conducting IVF cycles, and other fertility treatment costs add up quickly, especially if it takes multiple cycles for the surrogate to conceive.
- $8,000-9,000: Legal expenses. Both the intended parents and the surrogate need attorneys, who handle things like the contract and parental establishment documents, which make it clear that the intended parents have full rights to the baby or babies.
- $5,000: Medication for the surrogate. Because it’s not her biological embryo, Christina needs injections and medication for the first 16 weeks to help her body adjust to the pregnancy.
Besides additional fees to compensate for any complications, many surrogates also collect fees such as:
- Maternity clothing allowance
- Housekeeping fees (fatigue and potentially harmful fumes can make it difficult to keep up with chores while pregnant)
- Stipend for typical supplies like prenatal vitamins
Christina offered her intended parents an all-inclusive fee instead of itemizing these costs, and she negotiated on their behalf with attorneys she’d worked with before. All in all, she estimates that she was able to save the current couple about $25,000 off of what they might otherwise have paid.
As for her share, Christina said her family has been able to meet several financial milestones faster because of her surrogacy journeys.
“We’ve bought cars with the surrogate money. We also paid off our debt, and saved a down payment and bought a house. We’ve started college funds for our two kids as well. There are things we’ve accomplished faster because I’ve been a surrogate that otherwise would have taken us twice as long, but the current money I get right now doesn’t go to my living expenses at all.”
Surrogacy is Christina’s passion, so ending her personal journey is a bittersweet time. Through her agency, she’ll still be able to help connect eager surrogates with couples hoping to have a baby. While the surrogacy fees have been a welcome boost for her family’s accounts, it’s clear that the real value for her is in the joy of what she does and the close relationships, both of which will long outlast the money.
Jessica Sillers is a writer who specializes in financial services, business, and parenting. She lives near Washington, D.C. with her family.