Surrogacy on rise in York County
When Valerie Reimold's water broke early Sunday morning in January, she wasn't sure how she was going to get to the hospital.
The storm that blanketed parts of York County with up to 31 inches of snow had just subsided, and the street outside Reimold's New Salem home had yet to be plowed.
Already a mother of two, Reimold was successfully rushed to York Hospital, where she gave birth in less than 20 minutes — she swears it felt longer — to a healthy boy, who wasn't hers to take back home.
The boy's parents, a gay Norwegian couple, were able to get to the hospital a couple hours later to meet their second American-born child, Sigurd Jonsbu.
Though Reimold carried Sigurd in her uterus more than a week past her due date, she is not biologically related to him because she served as the gestational carrier, often referred to as surrogate.
Gestational surrogacy involved in vitro fertilization, where a donated egg is fertilized by sperm outside the body and then implanted into a woman's uterus.
Program in place: York Hospital has been running a program to help support gestational carriers and intended parents through process since 2007, according to Sue Dolla, the hospital's Women and Children Services outreach coordinator.
Mary Miller, Labor and Delivery Department nurse manager, said the hospital has grown from delivering two or three babies through gestational surrogacy per year in 2009 to 10-15 per year recently.
"We've had couples from Israel, Norway, Russia, Canada, Spain and all over the U.S.," Dolla said. "The word is getting out."
Dolla said York Hospital's program has helped streamline the process by having plans in place to work with surrogacy agencies, lawyers and offering tours.
"York Hospital really extends the red carpet to help it be a positive experience," Miller said.
Reimold said York Hospital's staff was very accommodating, making sure she got her paperwork in on time and setting up the intended parents in their own room following the birth.
Jessica Waltersdorff, a current gestational carrier living in Felton, toured York Hospital last week with the future child's intended parents, and she said all parties came away impressed.
"(The staff) made the parents a lot more comfortable with the situation," Waltersdorff said.
Both Reimold and Waltersdorff were matched with couples through surrogacy agencies, which help facilitate the whole process.
Growing practice: Dean Hutchison, director of legal services for Boston-based Circle Surrogacy, said gestational surrogacy has been on the rise throughout the United States for numerous reasons.
Before in vitro fertilization became feasible, heterosexual couples were more hesitant to turn to traditional surrogacy, where the carrier's eggs are used for impregnation, because it wouldn't be biologically related to both parents, Hutchison said. Social stigmas have also changed in the past 5-10 years, he added.
"I wasn't sure my family and the community would be accepting when they found out I was having a child that wasn't mine," Waltersdorff said. "But so far, everyone has been extremely supportive."
Circle Surrogacy has been around for 20 years and, in the beginning, no hospitals had any protocols in place for handling the process, Hutchison said, but most hospitals now have a committed program. Spring Garden Township's Memorial Hospital also has a surrogacy program, according to spokesman Jason McSherry.
According to a 2010 Council for Responsible Genetics report, the number of babies born in the U.S. through gestational surrogacy nearly doubled from 2004 to 2008, with an estimated 5,238 babies.
International couples are a major contributor to that growth because surrogacy is prohibited in many countries, and other countries where it is legal, such as Ukraine or India, don't have the same level of medical care as the U.S., Hutchison said.
Ole Aleksander Dyrkorn and Magnus Jonsbu, now back home in Norway with their son Sigurd, previously had a daughter through a surrogate in Rhode Island, according to Dyrkorn.
"In Norway, where we live, surrogacy is not allowed," Dyrkorn wrote in an email. "Same sex couples are allowed to adopt, but very few countries that cooperate with Norway allow children to be adopted by a same sex couple. We know several couples who have become fathers through surrogacy in the U.S., and their experiences have been very positive."
Hutchison said America is also a popular choice for international couples because the baby can easily travel home with them with a U.S. passport.
Pennsylvania, in particular, is a popular place for surrogates because there are no state laws governing surrogacy, Hutchison said, which simplifies the process into a simple court order similar to an adoption process.
Expensive babies: While America may be simplifying the process, it's not a cheap proposition for hopeful parents.
Depending on needs, a couple could end up spending as little as $75,000 or as much as $175,000 in surrogacy fees, which can include an egg donor, insurance, medical costs, background checks, agency costs and gestational carrier compensation, Hutchison said.
Reimold recalled the extensive process she needed to clear through her California-based agency, Growing Generations, including medical and psychological tests.
"A lot of women are willing (to be surrogates), but very few meet our requirements," Hutchison said. "During any given month, we may have 1,200 women look into the process and only about 25 make it through."
Those who do make it through are compensated well. Hutchison said gestational carriers are paid $25,000-$35,000 at their agency.
"The majority don't do it for financial reasons though," he said. "Many had a friend or family member go through infertility issues, and they want to help someone else."
Reimold said compensation played no role in her decision.
"My greatest reward was finally seeing them hold their child and the joy that it brought them," she said.
— Reach David Weissman at email@example.com.