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In November of 2016, Branda Hebert tells the Indy, a man and woman arrived from Beijing just in time to see her give birth to their baby.
“That’s my most favorite time, is when the baby’s born, and they’re watching, and they see their kid for the first time,” she says. “And the look on their faces, you can tell that they’re in love.”
Hebert, a Kum & Go manager who’s now 35, says that was her second time working as a gestational carrier, something she gets paid for but does mostly because she “loves being pregnant,” and helping people who can’t make a baby themselves. She says carrying a child for the Chinese couple wasn’t much different from her first surrogacy for a couple in Texas — other than the distance and language barrier, which wasn’t something email and Google Translate couldn’t fix.
Experiences like Hebert’s are about to become more common here. Less than a year ago, Chinese firm Incenta bought High Quality Affordable Fertility Centers, also known as HQA Fertility Centers, a Springs-based company with a wide array of services that include in-vitro fertilization (IVF), egg freezing and — especially popular with international clients — surrogacy programs.
The sale was the first purchase of an American fertility center by a Chinese company, says Tony Bevill, HQA’s director of business development. Future plans include expanding to the West Coast.
“[Incenta was] looking for a more affordable approach to reproductive medicine for their patients from China where they’re not capable of doing gestational carriers, because it’s just not legal in China,” Bevill says. “In California it was costing a lot of money, so they were looking for other options, and that’s when they found us.”
California clinics are known for serving Chinese clients, and laws there are friendly to surrogacy. However, Bevill says many of the state’s clinics price services too high: “Incenta recognized that the California clinics that they’d been working with were charging them four times as much to do the same thing that we were doing.”
The Indy spoke to a man and woman from Beijing who visited the Colorado Springs clinic in late September (and requested that their names not be used to protect their privacy given China’s ban on the practice). The couple said they came to HQA on the recommendation of Chinese doctors.
The woman, 41, said she had tried in-vitro fertilization twice without success and was worried that a third attempt would be fruitless.
Asked why they wanted to become parents, the couple laughed. “It is time,” the woman said through a translator.
Another Beijing woman, who also asked that her name not be used for privacy reasons, said she chose HQA after meeting Dr. Paul Magarelli, the company’s founder and medical director, at a trade show in China. The woman, 34, said his friendliness convinced her to come to Colorado Springs to freeze her eggs — another practice that’s illegal in China barring exceptional circumstances.
Though China’s more socially conservative than the U.S. when it comes to fertility care, the woman said “modern young people” who had studied abroad in the U.S. or U.K. like she did would likely have an open mind to seeking the services. She said some of her younger friends were considering freezing their eggs depending on how her experience went.
It’s not surprising that a Chinese firm purchased an American clinic, says Denver-based reproductive lawyer Ellen Trachman, given the country’s increasing demand for fertility care. She points out that the end to China’s one-child policy in 2016 might be one contributing factor. Though couples may now have more than one child, the population’s aging and fewer women are at a childbearing age.
“If somebody is solely focused on the money aspect of it, the interview stops there.” click to tweetThen there’s the women who may not want to put careers on hold to have children. “I think just society-wise that so many people just wait for so long, [because of] careers,” Trachman says. “Or maybe there’s environmental factors there increasing infertility, but it’s become so prevalent.”
The absence of any federal surrogacy law in the U.S. means states are free to make their own — or not. While some states have laws that prohibit the practice or make it close to impossible, and a handful of others have statutes permitting and regulating it, Colorado falls into neither category.
That means surrogacy is allowed. A proper legal process ensures that the surrogate cannot keep an infant that’s not biologically hers. But if the process is a traditional surrogacy, where the woman carrying the baby is also the biological mother, the legal issues can get thornier. So, Trachman says most people choose gestational surrogacy, where the egg comes from either the intended parent or a donor.
Angela Bevill, the owner of An Eggceptional Match, an agency that manages egg donors and surrogates and often works with HQA, says her company “doesn’t touch [traditional surrogacy] with a 10-foot pole.
“That’s just something that we don’t get involved in... The legal and emotional ramifications are just too high to get involved.”
Another common issue: fear that the practice takes advantage of economically disadvantaged women. Often states and countries with laws prohibiting surrogacy will cite the issue, and some state statutes or case law prohibit compensation for surrogacy, with opponents equating it to prostitution.
But Bevill says An Eggceptional Match won’t hire women who are desperate for cash: “If somebody is solely focused on the money aspect of it, the interview stops there.”
An Eggceptional Match only selects about one in 10 applicants to be gestational carriers, says Bevill, who is married to Tony Bevill of HQA. The process includes submitting online forms, photos and delivery records from previous pregnancies. (Generally, she says, women can work with the agency if they’ve had fewer than six babies, including their own.)
If they approve the woman, she’ll be matched with a couple based on their answers to a questionnaire. The carrier and the couple are sent one another’s profile information. If both sides like what they see, they’ll move on to a phone interview, and then a meeting.
“There has to be similarities, there has to be a personality match, they have to have similar moral and ethical backgrounds. Otherwise, it doesn’t work,” Bevill says.
The “match meeting” must include the tough conversations, she says, including how each feels about terminations and selective reductions, how many embryos the surrogate is willing to carry, “and how much involvement everybody wants to have with one another.”
From there, the carrier must take a 600-question personality test, and undergo a psychological and medical assessment. Next, the legal contracts are signed, and the carrier begins taking medications to prepare for embryo implantation.
Compensation for first-time gestational carriers at An Eggceptional Match starts between $35,000 and $45,000, but that can vary depending on the needs of the intended parents and the surrogate. Though pay for second-time carriers is normally higher, Bevill says some women prefer not to take the raise. “I have girls that really feel uncomfortable taking money for the process. They really just want to do it to help,” she says.
Hebert, the Kum & Go manager, soon will go through her third surrogacy through An Eggceptional Match, this time for a couple in New York. Since she’s also given birth to three of her own kids and is aging, she said she did ask for more pay this time, “just because of how risky it is.”