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Surrogacy: The Financial & Ethical Cost of Hiring Someone to Bear a Child

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - It's estimated that between 10 and 15 percent of married couples are unable to have children. Couples may try fertility treatments, or try to go through the adoption process. Another option is to hire a surrogate to carry a child. Legal complications with surrogacy around the world mean people wanting to be parents from other countries are coming here to Iowa, paying people to have their babies.

Jeanna Panosh is an on-the go nurse practitioner in Cedar Rapids. She works every day with women trying to get pregnant, or who already are.

Panosh has had 6 kids, but only 3 are her own. She chose to become a surrogate, to help people who couldn't become parents on their own.

"I had very easy pregnancies, very easy labors. You see all sorts of things on the spectrum. And just wanting to put a few more kids out there into homes where they were wanted was a big driver for it, " says Panosh.

Surrogacy means a woman carries the biological child of another couple. The embryo, an egg fertilized by sperm, is then implanted in her uterus by InVitro Fertilization.

"I use someone else's eggs so I'm just truly a gestational carrier," says Panosh.

Modern society has presented us with an ever changing family dynamic. In Iowa, where Same-Sex Marriage is legal, two men, or two women, may be able to become parents thanks to surrogacy. But that dynamic isn't always recognized by other governments.
In France for instance, a decision by the high court of France states surrogacy "contains provisions that offend basic principles of French Law." The high court's decision essentially bans the act of surrogacy by stating that legally, "the mother of the child is the one who gives birth."

One Eastern Iowa Woman, a surrogate mom-to-be, is hiding her identity to protect a french-father to be from any legal repercussions. Says she knows some people judge the process, but she thinks all people should have the chance to have a family.

"Adoption just doesn't feel right for some people," she says. "For single men, it's extremely hard to find someone who will let you adopt." As she says about the French man who is hiring her for her services? "This is really his only option "

She has a family of her own as well, as do many surrogates. Most agencies require women to have born a child before they can enter into any surrogacy arrangement.

Attorney Allison Slager of Simmons Perrine in Cedar Rapids says legally, surrogacy does present some complications. She says that's especially true for gay couples looking to have a child.

"It's Important to use an egg donor as opposed to the egg of the surrogate in order to have the strongest claim in case the surrogate decides to go back on the agreement," says Slager. But in talking with TV-9, Slager did point out that right now, there's no case law in Iowa pertaining to surrogacy agreements.

Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, Washington State, and Washington D.C. all have laws that either expressly prohibit surrogacy, or stipulate the surrogate can't be paid, or only heterosexual couples can hire a surrogate. In some cases, people face fines of up to $50 thousand dollars. Some states even stipulate one may have to serve jail time for violating these laws against surrogacy contracts.

Again, where Iowa fits in, isn't totally clear, especially with international surrogacy agreements.

Slager tells TV-9 "You would run into issues with removing the child from the country. And then once in France you might run into issues dealing with citizenship, and how you would get the child dual citizenship, especially considering that surrogacy is illegal in France."

Other countries allow international agreements. Panosh served as a surrogate for an Australian couple twice, giving them siblings. She did get paid about $20,000 for each surrogacy.

"You do get paid very nicely, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that was appealing on the side. It was a chance to help our family pay off student loans, while helping another family out going through the whole process," Panosh says. But included in that cost, she says, was a year of her life, beginning with hormone treatments to get her menstrual cycles ready for the embryo transfer, and recovery time after the babies were born. Being under contract put things in a different perspective than when she was having her own kids.

"I was more nervous as a surrogate carrier than with my own children," Panosh said. "You feel this incredible pressure to not screw anything up, partly because someone else is relying on you to bring their child's life into the world."

Panosh also said as part of the contract agreements, there can be stipulations for weight gain, vitamin consumption, and diet. In her contracts, there were even stipulations about crossing icy streets in the wintertime. Slager tells TV-9 Surrogacy Contracts typically then result in the surrogate relinquishing all parental rights. The parents-to-be would need to get a pre-birth order to establish that they would have guardianship. All of these legal layers get even more complicated with international surrogacy agreements, and adoptions.

For those who either struggle with fertility, or a non-traditional family dynamic., this lengthy process can give them the family they've always dreamed of having. It just comes at a price. The process typically costs between 50 and 150 thousand dollars.

Both surrogates we talked to say they want to be clear that they weren't selling the baby; they were selling the service of being able to carry a child in their womb.

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