Meet the Women Who Become Surrogates in NY

An applicant’s family members are also screened to ensure they are supportive. Aretha Cagno said her husband and children — who are 12, 9 and twin 6-year-olds, plus a baby due next month — have from the beginning been “100 percent supportive” of her work as a surrogate. As is fairly common in surrogacy arrangements, her family has grown close to the man she carried for and the two resulting children, a 2-year-old and 11-month-old. She noted that the families would get together in person frequently before the pandemic.

A surrogate pregnancy presents some unique challenges for the women who make it through this rigorous screening. Having been selected, in part, for the relative ease of their pregnancies, most have not experienced getting pregnant with the aid of reproductive technologies. The daily hormone injections that carriers must self-administer in the weeks leading up to an embryo transfer often result in side effects, like body aches, nausea and fatigue. This aspect, alone, should dissuade anyone from pursuing a surrogate pregnancy “just for the money,” Ms. Cagno said. “It’s painful at times.”

Then there are the risks associated with any pregnancy, some of which surrogates may not have previously experienced while carrying their biological children. Niki Renslow, 35, who lives with her husband and three children in Buckeye, Ariz., first began to consider surrogacy after conversations with some of her gay male friends. “A lot of them would be like, ‘I want to have a family with my own blood, but I don’t know what to do,’” Ms. Renslow said. “And I’m thinking, yeah, wait, what are you going to do?”

Carrying and delivering her own children had been “flawless” experiences, she said, so she broached the idea of becoming a gestational carrier with her husband. “If we can help other people who this doesn’t come as easy to, why not?” they agreed.

Her experience with surrogate pregnancy, for a gay couple living in France, proved far more difficult — it included two miscarriages; a subchorionic hematoma, which is a pregnancy complication that caused daily bleeding throughout her first trimester; and an emergency cesarean section to deliver premature twins at 32 weeks.

Today, Ms. Renslow works for a Maryland-based surrogacy agency screening potential gestational carriers and uses her story as something of a cautionary tale to ensure applicants are aware of the risks involved. Even with these complications, however, she tells candidates the experience can be a “magical” one.

“It’s truly incredible to see these parents hold this baby that they’ve wanted for so long in their arms,” she said. “It’s the best day of your life.”


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