Top fertility agencies scramble to meet foreign demand for the States’ surrogate moms as new wealth and the end of one-child laws bring baby seekers willing to spend $200,000.
Kalee Thompson reports: The first time Dianna Barindelli carried a baby that wasn’t her own was in 2012. “We were done having kids, but I still wanted to be pregnant,” says the Modesto, Calif., stay-at-home mom, whose own daughters are 6 and 9. Barindelli signed up with the Center for Surrogate Parenting in Encino, one of the most exclusive surrogacy agencies in the world. In 2014, she matched with a Chinese couple.
“If they can afford to, they’ll demand a California surrogate because they’ve heard they are the best. It’s a supply-and-demand issue and has raised the prices of surrogacy in California.”
— Sam Everingham, founder of nonprofit Families Through Surrogacy
Unlike many agencies, CSP first shows parent applications to the surrogates, rather than the other way around. “It’s little things that you’ll connect with people over,” says Barindelli, who was attracted to pictures of the couple’s extended travels and their traditional wedding photos.
The embryo transfer took place in late 2014. Barindelli emailed the mom weekly, sending updates and ultrasound pictures with WeChat, an app that offers instantaneous translation. The intended parents (IPs) planned to be there for the birth, but the baby boy arrived two weeks early, 24 hours before they arrived. Says Barindelli: “I texted and made sure [the mom] was OK with him staying in my room. I cleared everything with her. I didn’t want her to feel bad that she wasn’t there.”
“We’ve seen a surge. There’s a lot of money in China that’s being put into the second child.”
— Christene Anthony, who matches Chinese IPs with American gestational carriers
Barindelli, who used her surrogacy fees to set up a college fund for her girls, is pregnant again, this time with the baby, due Feb. 1, of a Taiwanese couple. She may not be done: Her first Chinese couple emailed her recently, soon after their son’s first birthday. They still have frozen embryos and hope that Barindelli, now 40, will carry their second child.
Commercial surrogacy is banned in most parts of the world, as well as in many U.S. states. Until recently, infertile couples, singles and gay would-be dads had a handful of options to turn to when it came to finding a surrogate, among them India, Thailand, Nepal and Mexico, where surrogacy services have cost a quarter of the $100,000 to $200,000 bill typical in the U.S. But in the past few years, those countries have started enforcing laws banning international surrogacy. Meanwhile, China — the world’s most populous country, with a growing wealthy elite and where some doctors believe infertility is more common than in the U.S. — lifted its decades-long one-child policy. The result is a soaring Chinese demand for U.S. surrogacy services, one that is flourishing particularly in California, with its culturally friendly enclaves, excellent physicians and favorable state laws that regard IPs as a baby’s legal parents even before birth, if proper court documents are filed. “We have more legal firepower in terms of the statue and case law than anywhere else,” says Lesa Slaughter of The Fertility Law Firm in Woodland Hills, whose own twins were born via California surrogate.
“We’ve seen a surge,” says Christene Anthony, who matches Chinese IPs with American gestational carriers for CSP, which has facilitated more than 2,300 births since 1980 and is responsible for helping Elton John, Elizabeth Banks, Angela Bassett and Mitt Romney’s son Tagg become parents. “There’s a lot of money in China that’s being put into the second child,” she adds, noting that it has become common for reproductive endocrinologists, fertility attorneys and surrogacy agencies to hire Mandarin-speaking staffers to cater to Chinese clients. Despite CSP’s Southern California location, 51 percent of its clients now are foreigners, up from 15 percent a decade ago. Rival agency Growing Generations (clients have included Sarah Jessica Parker and 30 Rock director Todd Holland) also sees half of its clients coming from overseas, as does Gifted Journeys, a boutique agency in Pasadena. At San Diego’s Expect Miracles Surrogacy, international clients account for 80 percent of IPs. And of foreigners participating in this permutation of California’s birth tourism, the number of Chinese IPs is growing the fastest, making up the most common single foreign nationality for many agencies right now. Read the rest of this entry »