What makes your agency Stand Out?
We have a different philosophy here. We are not driven by money. We don’t make decisions based on money. We want to help people that need help and we want the Surrogate Mothers to be appropriate. Sometimes there is a longer waiting list for a couple because we’re just not finding the right standard in a Surrogate Mother and we are just really careful with that.
We do psychological evaluations for everyone, including the Intended Parents. There is no test to determine what kind of parents they will be. But it tells us if they have the coping skills to weather a surrogate arrangement. Even when things go great it’s still one of the hardest things they will ever have to do. We want to make sure that there is not going to be a breakdown and they are not too fragile to withstand the process. We are pretty much the only agency that does that.
And we find that the Surrogate Mothers appreciate that because we are ensuring that the couples are appropriate. And the couple knowing all the evaluations that we do to ensure that their baby is going to ultimately be safe is greatly appreciative.
I would say that the last thing that would be is the contact that we have with everyone. We are literally available to our Couples and their Surrogate Moms 24/7. We are with them in good times and bad times we don’t leave their side until we all reach our goal together.
Where are your Surrogate Mothers from?
They are actually all from Southern California.
And how do you select a Surrogate Mother?
The fact that they are local helps us be really involved and have personal contact during the application process. Besides the obvious height-weight range and health and excellent pregnancy history, we also conduct an in-home study and visit with her and her husband and kids. We want to see that she’s living in a good environment.
We feel that we are walking in as the intended parents and how would we feel if our baby is growing here.
If all that goes well we send her and her husband on to the psychologist. If she is qualified she will be recommended for the program and be available for matching at that time.
Do you meet with all the Surrogate Mothers yourself?
Myself or my staff but I do meet with everyone before they come into the program.
Where do your Intended Parents come from?
Literally all over the world. I have couples here in Southern California and all throughout the United States and different countries in Europe, South America and Australia now.
They find me through the internet and Google. More often they are referred to me by their treating physician in their own country or a clinic here. They have to be medically recommended for the program and psychologically cleared as well.
Do you work with other Professionals?
I do. I have a team of professionals that I work with. Dr. Vesna Radojevic is the psychologist for our program and she is the only psychologist that I work with. I depend on her abilities so much and I trust her completely. She has been able to determine who is the right fit for our program for the Surrogate Mothers and Intended Parents. There are two attorneys that I refer to that I completely trust also to handle the couples case and as well as the money. There are a small handful of clinics in southern California that I work with. They do a great job and we have excellent success.
What is your favorite experience with Surrogacy?
Well that’s a really difficult question to answer because there is so much beauty in Surrogacy and so many milestones that are incredible. We get excited when we introduce the couple and the Surrogate Mother for the first time. When we see the pregnancy ultrasounds those are incredible because we get to see the baby for the first time. If you have to say your favorite part I think we would all agree that it’s the birth. It’s our mission and our goal and we’re all together and it’s the most beautiful part that we do.
How did your agency go from a small start-up to an internationally renowned program?
When I first opened my agency my children we still small and they were my first priority. I didn’t want to take on too many cases, five at the most, and I could still be a mom and a wife and take care of my family. It didn’t take long for news of my agency to get out there. And before I knew it my waiting list was getting really long. So I slowly increased a few cases each year. And finally I was contacted by physicians in Europe and they had asked if they could begin referring their clients and I knew then that I had to kick-it to higher gear and turn it into a larger program. I hired some staff and here we are.
Why did you Decide to Open a Surrogacy Agency?
Well I did a lot of research before I decided to become a Surrogate. Initially I was living in Texas and it was illegal there and there was no way I was going to be able to fulfill that dream. When we moved to California I discovered not only that it was legal but that there were 2 agencies here. And today that’s nothing but it was nice to have 2 choices when I got here. But I found one to be very cold, it was definitely a business transaction. I understood that in some of the arrangements that the Surrogate and the Couple never even met. And the other had the warmth but lacked the organization. So I knew that there was a definitely need for an organized but warm agency that couples could come to and feel same, surrogates as well and be able to fulfill their dream of becoming parents. And that’s what I did.
Have you ever been a Surrogate Mother?
You know I have. Seventeen year ago almost exactly, July 1993 I delivered a baby girl for a couple who had struggled to have kids. It was the most amazing experience. It really affects everyone, my husband, my kids; I remember clearly when I first discussed it with my husband. He was like “are you sure? I’m struggling with the idea of you not keeping the baby”. I haven’t been a surrogate before but I explained to the best of my ability “It’s not ours. It’s not our baby”. There is somebody just like my brother and his wife who need our help. And so he said, “I love you, I’m going to support you, let’s just do it.” The kids were young and weren’t super informed but they understood the basic principle of this and thought it was the coolest thing. My daughter wanted to take me to school for show and tell. The best I could explain it to them. Especially near the end is that I love this baby, how could I not. But as one human being to another she had a mom to take care of her and do everything that a mom is supposed to do. I felt that I didn’t have to go there emotionally and bond in that way. So when it finally came time for the delivery and my husband saw this couple with their new baby and were crying and were happy he said, “I totally get it now.” So what I felt what and what I believed in the beginning certainly came to pass and it was the most beautiful experience I think our whole family has ever experiences.
How did you First Learn about Surrogacy?
I’ve been exposed to infertility pretty much my whole life. I have an older brother whose wife couldn’t have children. And we all went through that with him, with the suffering. But thank God that they eventually did adopt 2 children. That was really good news for us. I got to see early on that bad things happen to good people who are very deserving of having children and it couldn’t happen for them. So that seed had already been planted at that point. I would say that in the mid 80’s I saw a Life magazine article about surrogacy, It didn’t have that name yet, but it was clearly that, it was sister for sister surrogacy and mother to daughter. It was so beautiful and it was then that I knew that this was the best thing ever.
Why do you Evaluate Couples? Can you tell who can be Good Parents?
I get asked that question frequently and there is absolutely no measure to actually evaluate who can be a good parent or not. And that is not why I am performing the psychological evaluation. There is data to indicate, however, and research, we know this in psychology, that previous behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. So if I knew the history of their parenting, then I might be able to say this is what they are going to be like. But that is not what we do. The reason I evaluate our couples is because they are entering a roller coaster ride that could be exhilarating at times, and at times it might feel like that low point, and scary. The journey is not always perfect. I always say it’s not a perfect science, so we want to make sure that we are doing our due diligence and that our couple is stable, emotionally, to start the journey with Building Families.
Dr. Vesna Radojevic
What is Discussed in the Surrogate Support Group Meetings?
Well, we have our meetings, they are mandated once a month for the surrogates, and they all have to show up. Because it is important for them to have a vehicle where they can discuss, not only the surrogacy itself and what is going on with them in the surrogacy. I make sure that every single surrogate gets a turn to talk about her surrogacy every month because it’s important for us to understand where they are in the process, it’s important for us to understand where they are in their life. While we focus on the surrogacy, there is real life that happens, and they may be having issues with their child, for example, or other incidents in their lives and we want them to have a place that is safe, that they can come to and talk to us about it. So we may discuss a number of different areas and topics, in addition to their surrogacy and how they’re doing and how their couple is doing. Sometimes it’s a completely joyful group, for example, if we’ve had a birth story. If someone successfully delivered a baby for a couple, and that is ultimately very, very joyful. And other times we are dealing with things like it make take another transfer to conceive for a couple.
Dr. Vesna Radojevic
What are the Possible Recommendations of the Psychological Evaluation?
There are a number of different possibilities after a couple has undergone a psychological evaluation with me. One of them is that, most of the time what we see is that they are “cleared” psychologically. There is no real “pass/fail”, if you would, in the psychological evaluation. Although, I think that most of our couples come into the psych. eval feeling like I am going to “fail” them or that is what I am there for, and I really am not.
I am there to protect them, and to protect the surrogate, and the agency, and everybody involved with the process. So I would not typically reject people right out unless there were some major flags both in the clinical component as well as the psychological test that says to me, “this is not going to work well for this couple”. However, most of the time they are “cleared” psychologically. Other times, they may have to wait several months, maybe 3 months, maybe 6 months, and come for a re-evaluation to start the program.
Sometimes couples will score on the test in a way that, after my clinical component with them, I feel that they have misunderstood the questions, so I may actually go back and call them to go through items, if you would, to see if they actually meant what they endorsed. Sometimes they misunderstand the question, so that is testing the limits, if you would, and in that case it would clarify for me, “yes they are ok to start the program” or “they need to wait longer”, either way.
Dr. Vesna Radojevic
What are the Benefits to Evaluating the Intended Parents?
Frequently I say it is really critical that we actually do no harm to anyone, especially our couples. They have suffered through many things. Some of them have had tremendous losses. They have lost a baby, in the third trimester that is tragic in itself. Having not dealt with that, they are really not prepared to go forward.
We want to make sure they have dealt with it fully and that they are ready to go forward with the program. They have to deal with the loss and the grief that is inherent in this process before we start. We don’t want to open up old wounds for them, and hurt them in any way. I think that is really important. Some of them have just discovered that they cannot go forward again to carry their own child. So that has to be dealt with, before we begin the program. These are tragedies indeed.
I closely examine their relationship and their current mental status. Are they oriented to reality? Are they prepared to go forward? Do they have any emotional or mental issues, as a result of their infertility history that needs to still be worked through? Do they have the coping skills to deal with a surrogacy arrangement effectively?
We in the program, Building Families and myself, maintain constant contact with the Couples and their Surrogate Mothers, that is true, and the support is ongoing. We must be prepared, ahead of time, before on this journey and that is my job which I take very seriously.
Dr. Vesna Radojevic