WAUWATOSA — Milwaukee-area mom, Princess High, has given the gift of life to other families twice. She is birthing their babies, serving as a surrogate and she did it during a pandemic.
"I actually loved being a surrogate during the pandemic," she says.
"They made the announcement at work that we were going home and they didn't know when we were coming back and I was like, 'Yes!' Because I was pregnant. I was tired, I was getting big. So, from that point on I was working remote," High, who works as a Realtor, said.
At the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 restrictions did impact certain parts of the surrogacy process.
"I was going to appointments alone. Parents who were a city away, maybe an hour and forty-five minutes, where they probably would have wanted to attend, they couldn't attend. I had to go by myself," she says.
So far, 31-year-old High, who is a mother of one, has been a gestational carrier for two couples and has signed a contract with a third, hoping to serve as a surrogate again soon.
"I got very curious about surrogacy and I googled it and I found my agency. It came up in a search. I was like, 'Okay, I'm going to apply.' I applied for it and they called me," she said.
The surrogacy agency High is referring to is Chicago-based ConceiveAbilities, who at first dealt with changes at the start of the pandemic.
"IVF centers did shut down. So there weren't really patients to match, we couldn't match our surrogates. So that part paused," said Nazca Fontes, Founder & CEO of Conceivabilities.
"The actual servicing and support of those families really didn't change all that much and the fundamentals of how we manage journeys since then actually haven't changed at all," Fontes said.
Surrogacy is a booming business, with some accounts projecting the industry to bring in $27.5 billion by 2025.
"And now as we see this health crisis starting to ease, intended parents who may have decided to put this on hold for the past year, they're now, they're ready," Fontes said.
"Surrogacy has really been normalized I'd say in the past decade, where it used to be a sort of fringe or outlier treatment option, now it is so routine, the concept has been normalized. More surrogates than ever answer the calling and so I only see this as on a very steep and robust upward trajectory," said Fontes.
Fontes says generally, on average women who choose to become gestational carriers can earn $48,000 to $60,000.
"We were in that range," said Randall Rowan and Kyle Keegan.
The Ohio couple will soon be first-time parents. They found their gestational carrier in Denver.
"There's a whole world of associated costs," Rowan said.
"Even if the baby is delivered via C-section, that's an extra cost as well. So we're not out of the woods just yet," he explained.
"The compensation is inclusive of doctor's visits, so we're talking parking, childcare, housekeeping, lost wages, time off. If there's an unforeseen bedrest event, maybe daily compensation for eating a certain diet, if you will," Fontes said.
"It could be for vitamins, it could be for belly bands, or you know body pillows. I mean, anything that you can think of that is required for a healthy pregnancy, we help support that," Fontes said.
Fontes stresses a good candidate for a gestational carrier is a woman age 21 to 39 who is already a mother and had a healthy birth. Fontes said she needs to be emotionally and financially stable.
High explained the detailed steps involved in the surrogacy procedure. After you sign on to be a carrier, there's a psychological evaluation, medical check-up and a matching process where you're connected with intended parents. There's also the legal phase: a surrogate and intended parents sign a contract so everyone is on the same page when it comes to the pregnancy.
High said after that step, you get a box of medicine and start your procedure like In vitro fertilization (IVF) and hopefully get pregnant.
Rowand and Keegan's carrier is in Colorado.
"Colorado is actually, we will say friendlier to same-sex couples and it's an easier process," Rowan said.
"For example in Ohio, we would have had to go through an entire adoption process post-birth. But in some states like Colorado, you can do this pre-birth," he explained.
"Same-sex couples actually don't need to adopt their children born through surrogacy in Wisconsin," said attorney Melissa Torto, Esq. with Torto & Associates, LLC.
"Gestational surrogacy is permitted in Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in Paternity of F.T.R., Rosecky v. Schissel. While parentage orders are often issued pre-birth, they are considered 'interim' orders and require a subsequent, final order issued after the child's birth to facilitate obtaining the birth certificate. In most cases, a hearing is required where all parties are expected to appear. Typically, same-sex parents can obtain parentage orders placing them on the birth certificate so long as there is at least one genetic connection. It is preferable if they are married," Torto explained.
Rowan and Keegan's gestational carrier is being induced on May 21.
"Things changed a little bit as vaccinations started to roll out. In the beginning, there was some, a lot, of uncertainty about whether we could be in the hospital during the birth and I think now that vaccinations are rolling out, that is something that we are going to be allowed to do. And so I think that is making it a bit more real for us just knowing that we can be there for that moment," Keegan said.
"There are a lot of people with infertility issues who feel stigmatized. Perhaps we had it a little bit differently. We're used to stigmatizing," Rowan said.
"The entire process has been a learning experience for us," Keegan said.
"It's hard to know what this would have been like in a normal year. I feel like no one's process for this is normal and there are always surprises," he added.
"For people like me who like the experience of being pregnant, it's a wonderful thing," High said.
"It's just the most awesome, most wonderful thing you can do for a family that can't do it for themselves. Like that joy that you feel when you have the baby and the parents are holding the baby and it's just like, it's so powerful. It's such a beautiful feeling," High said.
"When I talk to other surrogates and I'm like 'Oh my god, you are a surrogate and you carried a baby for someone?' That is so beautiful, and then I'm like 'wait a minute, I did that too,'" High said as she became teary-eyed.