Circle Surrogacy & Egg Donation is celebrating 25 Years in business this year, and we could not be more excited. The surrogacy industry has seen a tremendous amount of growth and change in these 25 years and Circle has been at the forefront of many of those changes. Circle Surrogacy was founded in 1995 and we continue to pride ourselves in being one of the best surrogacy agencies with the highest success rate in the US. To both celebrate and honor this enormous accomplishment, we sat down with Circle Founder, John Weltman to discuss the changes he has seen at Circle and in the industry over the last 25 Years and what he hopes to see in the future.
We asked John a few questions about his experiences since founding Circle Surrogacy and in proper John Weltman fashion, he did not disappoint. Between his personal experiences, a few touching stories, and his impeccable memory, he has woven a beautiful story of how Circle was created and how he hopes it is remembered in the many years to come.
Kristin: In the 25 years that Circle has been around, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen take place at the organization?
John: The growth of it. When I started Circle, I was doing it 5% of my time. Now, it takes up 100% of 100 people’s time. It’s grown enormously in size and it’s grown enormously in breadth. When I did the first journey, it was for a couple in Massachusetts and the surrogate was from California. We now have parents from all over the world and surrogates from all over the US.
There is also security. We now have a fixed cost for everything. We have so much more security for our parents and surrogates. We care a great deal about who the parents are and who the potential children will be as well.
Kristin: What about in the industry in general?
John: Wow. So when I began – my husband and I were the first American gay couple to have a child through surrogacy – there was only one agency that existed that would match a gay couple and that agency doesn’t exist anymore. Now, I can’t think of a single surrogacy agency that won’t work with a gay couple.
All of surrogacy was domestic when I started. It is now about 50% international. The capacity to help heterosexual couples has dramatically improved. IVF has dramatically improved. Everything was traditional surrogacy in the beginning. There had been a few cases of gestational surrogacy for heterosexual couples only, but the first case of gestational with an egg donor (which is the only thing that can help a gay couple or hetero couple with egg and uterus issues) only happened after Circle began in 1995. That has changed enormously. The capacity to do intracytoplasmic sperm injections hadn’t happened yet. There was still 20% male and 20% female infertility at that time. Male infertility is down to 1 in 100,000 men.
The science has also changed so much. When Circle began 25 years ago, we would regularly transfer 5 embryos to get 1 or 2 to stick and now we almost always transfer one to get one. We also have 5 doctors we work with who are able to guarantee babies and we now have fixed cost programs that guarantee babies. We’re able to do this because we have so much experience.
The world has also changed around us. The world has become much more accepting of surrogacy. From a legal perspective, we had a world that fought tooth and nail to keep these children born through surrogacy from gaining citizen rights and now the European Court of Human Rights is insisting that it is a human right to have the citizenship of your gestational father or mother’s homeland. So, now you can’t deprive these children born through surrogacy of these rights.
The world when I was doing my own personal surrogacy journeys was a world that was very anti-surrogacy, because traditional surrogacy was not seen as being legally secure. Because of gestational surrogacy, most of the United States now sees that as a viable legal option.
Kristin: Do you have any favorite moments at Circle over the last 25 years?
John: To me, what comes to mind is the family that we’ve created here. I think of a Halloween party that we’ve had every single year since Circle began where all of the staff get dressed up in Halloween costumes and we do apple dunking and doughnut hanging.
I think of all of our Thursday afternoon happy hours.
I think of the number of social workers we’ve had come through the door who have said “why would I want to work for a for-profit agency?” They found out very quickly that nonprofit agencies still have to make money, but more importantly, a for profit agency can have ethics and values that they cared about.
I think of an intended mother who lost a surrogate child from a premature birth who thought she would never be a mother. She had run out of resources during her first journey and thought this was her only chance. Because of our fixed cost program, we were able to help her try again with another journey and 11 months later, her and her husband welcomed a beautiful baby.
I now have staff who have been around for 18 of the 25 years we’ve been around. It’s wonderful that we have so many people who care about what we do at Circle. We’re a family of sorts and we have so many people who care about what we’re doing. Many of our staff have been through IVF or infertility or through surrogacy as parents or surrogates or egg donors. And someday soon we will have someone who was a child through our program. I don’t think it will be long before that happens. It’s really remarkable. Our oldest child is now 23 years old. It’s really phenomenal.
Kristin: Are there any internal changes at Circle that you’d like to share about how we’ve grown? Or about how half of our staff is remote and how we’ve made that work?
John: As the world has changed, Circle has changed the way it does its business, but not the feeling it gives. So, when it was me alone, I was not just a lawyer, but I was an intended parent and I had a very good sense of what people were going through. All of the early meetings were all in person and in the Boston office. It wasn’t until about 10 years later that we began traveling. We traveled all over the world. It started first in Europe and then Israel and then China and we were going all over the place to meet people face to face. But with the advent of things like Skype and now Zoom, and especially now with COVID, most of these meetings are taking place virtually with people online. They are still with people looking at you and talking to you and being able to maintain that intimacy. I find that as COVID has happened and as so much of the technology is improving, it is allowing us to work from home really well. We can have stay at home moms working with us. This is something I’ve wanted to progress with from the very beginning. There was a movie called 9-5 with Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin about three working women that prove that women are just as capable in the workplace as men. The idea was that people could work part time and share jobs to work around their own schedule. That’s something we have in droves at Circle. That’s been clear during COVID that we can get the job done lovingly and caringly. We have surrogates talking to intended parents and parents talking to surrogates through Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime. People interact regularly and the functionality of the company has stayed just as high and the culture just as great even with people all over the world. We care about each other. We all have regular meetings. I don’t think we’ve lost any of Circle’s connectivity even if we’re remote and physically or geographically distant.
With that being said, I don’t want Circle to lose the human touch. One of the most remarkable things that I used to say to people is that this is the most intimate thing that any human being can do for another human being – and we’re largely doing it online. It’s important to maintain an office and it’s important to continue to travel to different countries when we can safely do so. It’s important to have reunion parties with our parents through the program. What makes Circle the best agency in the world is that we’ve listened to our intended parents and surrogates over the years and we’ve created things that they need and want. Because of that, we are able now to give a single price where they can have assurances that they will get a baby at that price, and that’s a big deal. We’ve been able to overcome insurance issues, which has always been a number one problem in America. No other agency is doing that. We really listened and we really cared. We were the first agency to do known egg donation. To me, it is the single most important thing in surrogacy for those children to know their genetics. It’s important for them to meet their genetic parents if they want to and those were things that came out of my personal experience, but it also came from other people believing in this. It’s really about being there and having the human contact. We’re listening and sharing our own experiences. We have a staff of people who have those experiences as parents through surrogacy, surrogates, and egg donors which impacts how we treat intended parents, surrogates, and egg donors. It’s what makes us special.
Kristin: Any last things you’d like the share about Circle and the 25 years celebration?
John: I think Circle is the most important thing that I’ve done with my life and I’m so proud that, whatever happens to me, that there is a staff and a set of people who care about this continuing. I think we’ve given a great gift. We were revolutionaries at the beginning; unafraid of the legal challenges that were involved, and did things the right way. We are now setting the standards for the way things should be done and we make sure that children are welcomed into this world. No matter how old I get, and how much my life changes, I have so much joy in knowing that Circle will continue.
We want to thank John for not only sitting down with us to tell the story of Circle, but for founding this amazing company in 1995. In the last 25 years, we’ve helped bring over 2,200 babies into this world. We have made countless dreams come true and are incredibly grateful to have been chosen to help grow all of these families. What John has been able to accomplish is truly inspiring and we cannot wait to continue this legacy for many more years to come.