ST. ALBANS — Jes Stumpf considers herself very lucky to have her own children but knows many prospective parents struggle. When one of the St. Albans resident’s close friends suffered several consecutive miscarriages, she considered being a surrogate for her, leading her to look at surrogacy more broadly.
That thought process led Stump not only to becoming a surrogate mom but to help create the Vermont Surrogacy Network. It opened its doors a few months ago to bring the gift of life to those who cannot conceive naturally.
“I’m not interested at all in having more children. I have two wonderful kids who are 11 and 13 and that’s great. I love being pregnant, and if I knew about surrogacy 10 years ago, I would have already done this multiple times,” said Stumpf.
“I thought, if I’m willing to be a surrogate for a friend, why wouldn’t I be willing to be a surrogate for someone else?” Stumpf asked.
About a year ago, Stumpf, who today is executive director of the Vermont Surrogacy Network, approached her now business partner, Kurt Hughes, the primary surrogacy and fertility lawyer in Vermont, to jumpstart her dream of starting a local network.
Stumpf said her main objective in doing so was to support the growth and development of new families. She is also a gestational carrier for a family in the network, and her desire to do so stems from her sympathy for families who cannot have children themselves.
When a woman shows interest in becoming a carrier for the Vermont Surrogacy Network, she must fill out a lengthy application and obtain clearance from her OBGYN.
Carriers must be between the ages of 21 and 42, and they have to have at least one prior healthy pregnancy. Once cleared, the network does a home study on the applicant to ensure that they live in a safe and clean environment. If they don’t have any potential risk factors, the network then sends photos to the potential family before actual introducing them to the surrogate.
Single men, single women, same-sex couples, and couples are all eligible to become parents. The agency does background checks on intended parents, and Stumpf said moral and ethical guidelines are followed.
The network matches surrogates with families based on several factors, and it’s essential that they agree on all of the major decisions.
“It’s very important to match people to personality. If a big decision needs to be made, such as termination or decreasing, it’s important that it is addressed initially,” Stumpf said.
The Vermont Surrogacy Network offers a starting rate of $25,000 for a surrogate, in addition to $15,000 in legal fees. Including the separate fees for in vitro fertilization, Stumpf estimates the entire process costs around $60,000 for intended parents.
There is a gestational carrier contract agreed upon before the in vitro fertilization (IVF) takes place. It states the specific involvement the intended parents want to have in the pregnancy, and what guidelines the surrogate must follow. There is also a requirement of a $500,000 life insurance policy that the intended parents pay for the surrogate.
Every contract is different depending on the situation, but there are always clauses. If the surrogate breaks the contract, she must return all funds and the parents have the right to terminate the pregnancy, Stumpf said. There would also be a major lawsuit involved, she said.
There are certain pieces in the contract that Stumpf refers to as the “incase clauses.” “Incase” the surrogate has to have a C-section, or loses an ovary, or the uterus has to be removed, extra fees are attached to help compensate.
“You can’t replace someone’s uterus by paying a fee for it, but it compensates that extra time it takes and the healing process,” Stumpf said.
After the extensive matching process is finished and the contract is signed, the surrogate goes to the clinic for the IVF transfer. Stumpf said it’s not likely that the surrogate will have multiple pregnancies, because most clinics only implant one embryo. According to Stumpf, one in four transfers produce a child.
Stumpf is currently 13 weeks along in her pregnancy.
She became pregnant after her first try with the IVF, and said she is slowly making surrogacy her full time job. Stumpf is married, and said her husband is completely fine with her being a surrogate for another family.
“My husband doesn’t care. He knows who I am and how important family is to me. He knows it’s not our child,” she said.
Her children are also on board with her pregnancy, and Stumpf said she wouldn’t have been able to do it if they hadn’t been.
“My kids think its pretty cool. My son right off was like ‘OK, you’re going to help this family have this child.’ My children know how very significant they are in my life, that I can’t even possibly imagine life without them. So why would I not want to help someone else have that? They agree with that. Family means a lot,” she said.
Stumpf said she is not at all worried about developing an attachment to the child, as it is in no way her baby.
“It’s not genetically, biologically, in any way my child. This is a relationship you’re building is with the intended parents, more than the child,” she said.
The hardest part of being a gestational surrogate is the hormones, Stumpf said, because they cause her to be overtired. She said she isn’t worried about suffering an emotional toll from the pregnancy but the agency does address psychological affects on the surrogates, and offer counseling services for them even after delivery.
After Stumpf gives birth, she said she would continue to have a relationship with the family. This isn’t always the case, though, as some parents do not want contact with the surrogate after the child is born.
“I’m comfortable with anything,” Stumpf said. “It’s not about me. There are other surrogates who feel completely the opposite, so it’s about matching them with the appropriate couple,” she said.
If parents do want to be heavily involved in the pregnancy, they will likely pay more for the surrogate, Stumpf said. “You’re literally asking to control someone’s life. You’re not paid for surrogacy, you’re compensated for pain and suffering,” she said.
Stumpf said the feedback the agency has received has been mostly positive, because most people know someone who has dealt with infertility. She said if she is faced with adversity regarding the agency, she won’t be offended.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion and everybody feels the way they feel for their own reasons and life experiences. You feel that way, and you’re absolutely entitled to that, but I don’t feel the same. We can have a discussion about it. They don’t have to like what we’re doing. There are people who are opposed to surrogacy mostly because of the IVF piece and using embryos.
“It could be anybody who doesn’t think it’s right, not for religious views or any other reason, they just don’t. But I feel for every one person you get, you get nine that think it’s a great idea. That it’s an amazing gift we are able to offer at this point with technology being what it is,” she said.