With the rise of infertility and growth of nontraditional families, for some Canadian couples, surrogacy is the only ticket to having a child who shares their genetics.
Each year, an estimated 150 babies are born to surrogates through one Toronto-based agency alone.
Despite the interest in alternative options to building a family, lawyer Sara Cohen says many myths still exist. Global News recently spoke with Cohen, who has a practice devoted exclusively to fertility law.
Laurel Gregory: What can you tell me about compensation? There are a lot of myths about that in Canada.
Sara Cohen: It’s illegal to pay a surrogate in Canada. Completely illegal. You are, though, entitled to reimburse her if you so choose for any of her out-of-pocket reasonable expenses that are incurred as a result of the surrogacy or the pregnancy.
For example, things like maternity clothing, maternity vitamins, travel to and from the clinic, child care while she’s at the appointments. Someone might want to do prenatal yoga. I’ve worked with a surrogate who, every time she gets pregnant, her teeth don’t behave very well so she needs extra dental appointments. It really looks different for each woman.
LG: What other myths around surrogacy would you like to clear up?
SC: First of all, people ask all the time: “Isn’t it really hard for the surrogate when she has to say goodbye to the baby?” I do a lot of surrogacy every year. I’m involved in a lot of this work and I have to say most of the surrogacy is something called gestational surrogacy so that’s when the woman who is carrying the baby does not have a genetic connection to the child she’s carrying.
I can at least tell you in those cases, it’s really not a concern that the surrogate is going to have trouble giving up the child.
It’s not even just nine times out of 10. It’s something like 99 times out of 100 that it is just not an issue for the surrogate. What people have expressed to me, because many people do it again and again, they just feel they’re doing something wonderful and they’re giving the child to the parents. It’s not their child to give up. It’s very different than the adoption world and we have to be careful not to kind of conflate the two because they are very different worlds. Another thing I would like to clear up is, in my experience, it’s usually a very fulfilling experience for the surrogates and that’s why people do it a number of times because they think they’re doing something wonderful and they are.
They’re doing something amazing and they’re bringing life into this world that couldn’t be here without this amazing thing they’re doing.
I think people are so concerned about people being taken advantage of or it being so difficult for them or it being a terrible experience. In my experience, what I’m seeing is that people are very proud of this.
LG: Is it true that 95 per cent of Canadian surrogate are gestational surrogates versus traditional?
SC: The only empirical evidence we have on that, the numbers are something like 95 per cent at least are gestational in Canada. So I think that’s a pretty good guesstimate. We don’t see a lot of traditional surrogacy and I think part of the reason for that is… anecdotally, some traditional surrogates do find it more difficult. When they are genetically related to the child it is a harder emotional situation.
Legally we don’t think it’s very likely a traditional surrogacy agreement would be upheld so we really encourage clients, where possible, to consider gestational surrogacy over traditional surrogacy.
LG: Do you think the demand for surrogacy will grow as we see more diverse families?
SC: I think, first of all, times have really changed. Our comfort level as a society with third-party reproduction – whether that be sperm donation or egg donation or embryo donation – has really, really changed. A number of years ago, I would have people come into my office and tell me: “When I do a surrogacy, I’m going to wear a fake belly because I don’t want people to know that my baby was born through surrogacy,” and I never see anything like that anymore.
People, for the most part – not everybody but most people – are willing to share their story and are proud of this and don’t really see this as a secret. I think that’s really healthy and a good thing.