Surrogacy, even during “normal” times, is an involved and emotional process for intended parents, surrogates, and egg donors. In the midst of a pandemic with worldwide travel restrictions, limited access to vital services, and concerns about remaining healthy, surrogacy might seem overwhelming.
With offices in San Francisco, CA; Boston, MA; and New York City, Circle Surrogacy & Egg Donation continues to work with surrogates, egg donors, and intended parents. We guide them through these unique challenges posed by the novel coronavirus, helping individuals and couples realize their dreams of growing their families. Even as government services gradually resume and travel restrictions ease, surrogacy undoubtedly involves unprecedented obstacles during the COVID-19 era.
Key Questions About Surrogacy During the Pandemic
Not only does COVID-19 pose additional hurdles for everyone involved in the surrogacy process, but the evolving situation also requires egg donors, surrogates, and intended parents to adapt to shifting rules and regulations governing travel and personal contacts. We recommend that surrogacy agreements be re-evaluated in light of any delays related to COVID-19.
Gestational surrogacy raises concerns among intended parents who worry about the risk of a surrogate contracting COVID-19. The entire process and the clinics involved with egg donation and embryo transfers have adopted safety protocols designed to help maintain the health of all parties.
At Circle Surrogacy and Egg Donation, our goal is to educate intended parents, surrogates, and egg donors about these changes and reassure them that the process is geared to ensuring their safety during these uncertain times.
In July, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) adopted recommendations to enhance the safety of surrogacy, including:
- Consider the current impact of COVID-19 where the intended parents and gestational carrier or egg donor live.
- Use frozen donor eggs and sperm shipments for embryo creation instead of travel when donors and intended parents live in different states.
- Document if a donor or surrogate has had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, has had a positive test for COVID-19, or has had symptoms associated with COVID-19. Donors or gestational carriers who test positive should have their cycles canceled.
Should We Start the Surrogacy Process in the COVID Era?
That’s a personal decision, but we can say that it’s important to remember that the average time for intended parents to complete their journeys is 18 to 24 months. Predicting the future during a pandemic isn’t possible. Still, if you’re emotionally and financially ready now to start growing your family, then it is an option.
The same is true of women who are thinking of becoming surrogates. The surrogacy timeline is shorter than for becoming parents, but the uncertainty associated with waiting for a vaccine or some other milestone development can be taxing emotionally.
We can say unequivocally that, as an agency, we have been successfully supporting surrogates, donors, and parents since the onset of COVID and will continue to do so in the future.
Applying to Be a Surrogate Amid COVID
We have accepted and processed surrogate applications throughout the Coronavirus outbreak and have signed on many new surrogates. The timeline for a typical surrogate journey can stretch from 12 to 16 months. On average, it would be 1 to 3 months before you were matched with intended parents if you filled out a surrogate application today. That timeline includes submitting all paperwork and being put on the matching list.
You could also choose to fill out your application, fulfill all of your application and medical records tasks, and ask to be put “on hold” until you feel like the situation with COVID is more settled. Once you are ready to proceed, you can then ask to be taken off hold and put onto the matching list, and all of your paperwork will be complete.
Surrogates and COVID: What Has Changed?
Many clinics have adopted safety-related precautions to minimize the risk of infection for both surrogates and clinic employees. These measures include having surrogates fill out questionnaires in the days before an appointment to ensure that they are not a high risk for COVID-19 exposure.
Clinics may have the patient wait in their vehicle until they are called into the office to reduce exposure for everyone. Many medical offices are also limiting who can accompany a surrogate to her appointment. Intended parents may be asked to use a videoconference platform to watch the transfer process.
Additionally, some clinics may require that surrogates get tested for COVID-19 before an embryo transfer, with the understanding that the cycle transfer will be canceled if the test comes back positive. The cycle would restart once the surrogate tests negative.
Telemedicine, videoconferencing, and additional safety precautions enable surrogates and intended parents to move forward with their plans without worrying about increasing their risk of infection.
Surrogacy and Travel During a Pandemic
International travel restrictions have had a significant impact on individuals already involved in a surrogate relationship. For intended parents living outside the U.S., not being able to enter the country as surrogates were nearing their due dates created frustrating hardships. Circle Surrogacy’s president, Sam Hyde, told the New York Times in April that the agency’s legal team prepared letters for each of the families involved in these situations. This helped many get into the country despite travel bans, but it was determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the individual immigration official.
Domestic flights aren’t restricted, but we still recommend limiting travel during the surrogacy process to minimize the risk of getting infected with COVID-19. Intended parents and their surrogate can schedule regular virtual meetings to avoid personal contact. The relationship between the intended parents and the surrogate is important—you’re sharing an intimate and personal experience—and Zoom meetings or FaceTime calls can forge a strong bond.
What if you’re not able to travel when the baby is born because of travel restrictions?
“Once we learned of the impending travel ban, we rolled up our sleeves and quickly put plans in motion, equipping parents with documentation supporting their need for a travel exemption. To date, we’ve successfully worked with the U.S. embassies in the United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands to obtain travel exemptions and visas for intended parents and are actively working with other embassies. In these uncertain times, our family of intended parents, surrogates, and egg donors can feel confident that our legal team is dedicated to helping everyone safely navigate their way to the finish line.”
We also recommend contacting your lawyer to fill out the appropriate paperwork to appoint a temporary guardian. Professionals in the field recommend reaching out to local family members or trusted friends as a first option before seeking alternatives.
What About Being Present at the Delivery?
Even if you can travel to the city where the birth occurs, being present during the delivery depends on the hospital’s protocols, and those rules may change between the time of the embryo transfer and the due date. Even as the baby’s genetic parents, you may still be denied entry by the hospital staff. Knowing that possibility in advance and respecting the hospital’s protocols can alleviate stress and avoid detracting from the joy of becoming parents.
Creating a comprehensive plan with your surrogacy agency that can be adjusted depending on the circumstances can provide both surrogates and intended parents some peace of mind during a time when uncertainty seems to be the norm.
COVID’s Impact on Financial Concerns for Surrogacy
Most intended parents carefully plan every detail of growing their families through surrogacy and have saved and arranged financing to help pay for the process. What happens if you’ve lost a job because of the pandemic? Or if you continue to work but feel less financially secure than before?
If you’re feeling financially insecure, it’s probably not a good idea to move forward at this point with plans to grow your family, even though that may feel like a devastating decision. Combining the stress of worrying about money with the natural anxiety of starting a family is often a recipe for unhappiness at a time that should be filled with joy.
For gay men who plan to grow their families through surrogacy, COVID-related financial concerns may be even more daunting because insurance doesn’t cover the cost of expensive fertility procedures. The Gay Parenting Assistance Program created by Men Having Babies helps gay intended parents gain access to free or discounted services during their surrogacy journeys. The tiered program is designed to offer some level of assistance to all qualified applicants in addition to providing more substantial aid to a select group identified by the program’s grant committee.
Should Surrogates Get a COVID-19 Vaccine?
A vaccine for the novel coronavirus may become available while a surrogate is pregnant. During a normal flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that all pregnant women get a flu shot, regardless of their trimester.
The decision to get a potential vaccine for COVID-19 is one that surrogates and the intended parents should discuss, even if no vaccine is currently available, and something that the surrogate should discuss with her doctor.
In the meantime, it’s important to be as safe as possible while undergoing fertility treatments by following these guidelines:
- Wear a mask when in public places.
- Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds (or use alcohol-based sanitizer made with at least 60% alcohol).
- Cover your mouth and nose with a sleeve or tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid traveling to areas with active COVID-19 outbreaks.
- Don’t socialize with anyone who has traveled to such an area for at least 14 days.
If you develop a fever (100.4°F/38°C or higher) while undergoing fertility treatment, or a cough, or have trouble breathing, head to your primary care doctor or emergency room. Just make sure you call ahead first.