Surrogate parenting in US a goto- reality for Chinese couples
Washington,July27:The first time Dianna Barindelli carried a baby that wasn’t her own was in 2012. “We were done having kids, but I still wanted to be pregnant,” says the Modesto, Calif., stay-at-home mom, whose own daughters are 6 and 9. Barindelli signed up with the Center for Surrogate Parenting in Encino, one of the most exclusive surrogacy agencies in the world.
In 2014, she matched with a Chinese couple. Unlike many agencies, CSP first shows parent applications to the surrogates, rather than the other way around. “It’s little things that you’ll connect with people over,” says Barindelli, who was attracted to pictures of the couple’s extended travels and their traditional wedding photos.
The embryo transfer took place in late 2014. Barindelli emailed the mom weekly, sending updates and ultrasound pictures with WeChat, an app that offers instantaneous translation. The intended parents (IPs) planned to be there for the birth, but the baby boy arrived two weeks early, 24 hours before they arrived. Says Barindelli: “I texted and made sure [the mom] was OK with him staying in my room. I cleared everything with her. I didn’t want her to feel bad that she wasn’t there.”
Barindelli, who used her surrogacy fees to set up a college fund for her girls, is pregnant again, this time with the baby, due Feb. 1, of a Taiwanese couple. She may not be done: Her first Chinese couple emailed her recently, soon after their son’s first birthday. They still have frozen embryos and hope that Barindelli, now 40, will carry their second child.
Commercial surrogacy is banned in most parts of the world, as well as in many U.S. states. Until recently, infertile couples, singles and gay would-be dads had a handful of options to turn to when it came to finding a surrogate, among them India, Thailand, Nepal and Mexico, where surrogacy services have cost a quarter of the $100,000 to $200,000 bill typical in the U.S. But in the past few years, those countries have started enforcing laws banning international surrogacy. Meanwhile, China — the world’s most populous country, with a growing wealthy elite and where some doctors believe infertility is more common than in the U.S. — lifted its decades-long one-child policy.
The result is a soaring Chinese demand for U.S. surrogacy services, one that is flourishing particularly in California, with its culturally friendly enclaves, excellent physicians and favorable state laws that regard IPs as a baby’s legal parents even before birth, if proper court documents are filed. “We have more legal firepower in terms of the statue and case law than anywhere else,” says Lesa Slaughter of The Fertility Law Firm in Woodland Hills, whose own twins were born via surrogate.
“If they can afford to, they’ll demand a California surrogate because they’ve heard they are the best,” says Sam Everingham, founder of nonprofit Families Through Surrogacy, of California’s current foreign baby boom. “It’s a supply-and-demand issue and has raised the prices of surrogacy in California.” Adds Wendie Wilson-Miller, CEO at Gifted Journeys: “Every single [surrogacy] company in the U.S. is advertising for surrogates in California. It drives up the cost, the surrogates themselves become savvy and know they can request more, and the cost of living is higher here.” A first-time surrogate in California, Wilson-Miller says, might get a $5,000 to $7,000 fee premium over an identical surrogate in another surrogacy-friendly state like Nevada, Arkansas, Texas or Oregon. Compensation for a surrogate working through an agency — which is just one slice of the total cost of surrogacy — now typically ranges from $25,000 to $65,000, depending on the location, experience, and qualities of the surrogate and the requirements of the intended parents. Surrogates may also be reimbursed specific expenses, like lost wages in the case of required bedrest, a budget for maternity clothes, housekeeping, and childcare — as well as premiums in the case of twins or a C-section birth (high-end agencies might pay $5,000 for each). Says Jon Anderson, head of Expect Miracles: “Ten years ago, you could have a surrogate in California with a base compensation of $25,000. Now, with all the Chinese people coming here, that base compensation is at $40,000. Europeans and Israelis have been priced out.”
Jerene Underwood, 23, a mother of two in Covina and a part-time In-N-Out Burger cook, recently was matched with a Chinese couple seeking a second son through Growing Generations’ VIP program, a concierge-like service that allows increased anonymity to famous IPs. “I would like to get rid of one of my car payments,” says Underwood, who has seen close friends and family members suffer from infertility and was attracted to the idea of helping others build a family. Paulina Aquirre, 34, who works part time as the Spanish-language coordinator at her agency, Expect Miracles, is now 26 weeks pregnant with a Chinese IPs’ twin girls. “The biggest misconception is that people think you’re giving away your own child,” says Aquirre, who plans to use the surrogacy fee to fund her daughter’s quinceanera and to buy her son a car for his high school graduation. She compares her job to someone donating blood for a friend who needs a transfusion. “Even though you try to explain the science, people seem to think that since you’re feeding the baby through the placenta that somehow it’s genetically your baby,” she says.