Legalizing Gestational Surrogacy

parent with twins born by surrogate
Photo by Lisa Viscovich/Courtesy Felicia Lebow

Editor’s Note: On February 15, the Child-Parent Security Act (CPSA) went into effect in New York. The new law makes paid gestational surrogacy legal in the state, which had previously banned it. A gestational surrogate carries embryo(s) for a person or couple wishing to become parents, but does not provide her own eggs for fertilization. Gestational surrogacy allows people to become parents when it is not medically or biologically possible.

“For far too long, LGBTQ+ New Yorkers and New Yorkers struggling with fertility were denied the opportunity to start a family because of arbitrary and archaic laws and I couldn’t be prouder of the way New York came together to say we won’t stand for this any longer,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “With this law now in effect, no longer will anyone be blocked from the joys of starting a family and raising children simply because of who they are.”

Before the new law, New Yorkers including Felicia Lebow seeking to use gestational surrogacy to become parents faced enormous challenges. Obstacles included finding and hiring surrogates far from their homes, in states where paid gestational surrogacy was legal. Below, Felicia shares her story, gestational surrogacy tips, and reaction to the CPSA.

Becoming a Parent as a Single Woman

I always knew I wanted to be a mother but I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to get married. By my mid-30s I had decided to have a child with a sperm donor. My first child, who is now 12 years old, was conceived through IUI, a simple procedure of insemination. I got pregnant on my first try! When my son was born I fell instantly in love and knew that I wanted more children. Unfortunately, I was 39 and my clock was ticking. I tried insemination several more times before I switched to IVF. Cost was very difficult for me. When I was 42 I became pregnant through IVF with twins! Unfortunately one of the twins never had a heartbeat, and at 10 weeks the second twin lost his heartbeat as well. I was devastated. I decided at that point that I would not try to get pregnant again with my own eggs. I went through several years of trying to get pregnant with donor eggs, but cycle after cycle failed. Finally at 46 years old my doctor told me that I was well into a dangerous zone—advanced maternal age. But I could not get rid of this feeling that I wanted another child.

What Is Gestational Surrogacy? 

Having another woman carry my child through surrogacy would address the issue of my age, but I knew surrogacy was expensive. Costs (including legal, medical, surrogate’s and surrogate’s agency fees) range from $60,000 to $150,000. To my incredible surprise, a friend wanted to help me with the cost, and I was able to raise money for it too. My journey was underway.

Gestational Surrogate Match

I started the process with a gestational surrogacy agency in New Jersey. Because of the surrogacy law at that time, my surrogate was not allowed to live in New York or New Jersey. I also had additional limitations as certain states did not allow single parent/surrogate relationships. I was presented with several profiles until I found my surrogate. I never reveal her real name for privacy; I call her Joy and her husband John. They are a lovely couple from Georgia. We scheduled a phone session. We discussed different scenarios that can happen during pregnancy to make sure that we would be on the same page. At this point I had to figure out the DNA aspect of all of this. I ended up using an egg donor and the same sperm donor that I had used for my older son. I never felt any hesitation that this child would not share my DNA. I had investigated adoption through many different channels but found that it was very difficult for single people to adopt. I wasn’t looking for a DNA connection, I was just looking to grow my family.

Sharing the Pregnancy

Joy and John came up from Georgia so that Joy could have routine testing with a doctor in Connecticut. We spent some time together and had a great connection. After that first visit I did not see them again until they came to Connecticut for the embryo transfer. We were all in the room when they transferred two embryos into Joy’s uterus. I remember John putting his hand softly on my shoulder and telling me to hold Joy’s hand during the procedure. At that moment she looked like the most beautiful person I had ever seen. I managed to choke out the words “thank you for doing this,“ through tears.

We said goodbye to each other and waited for the first pregnancy test. It was positive! A few weeks later we were able to FaceTime during the sonogram to discover how many gestational sacks there were. Although I knew it was a good chance that I would have twins, I just never believed that I would. I was in total shock and screamed at the top of my lungs when the sonogram technician said there were two sacks. I could not believe it! A few weeks later, we found out they were boys and I was elated.

Gestational Surrogacy Challenges

My relationship with the surrogate throughout the pregnancy was fantastic. She would send me pictures of her belly periodically so that I could see the growth. It was difficult to be far away from Joy and the babies. I had intended to record my voice and have her play it to her belly but that just never came to fruition. But we spoke a lot and I was present at every doctors appointment via FaceTime. I got to hear the heartbeats and see the babies moving around. But it still would’ve been nice to be closer. It was not an option for me because paid surrogacy in New York was still illegal.

Joy was induced at 38 weeks with John and myself in the delivery room. I got to see baby A born vaginally, but baby B had to be a C-section. After they were both born they came right to me. I was in Georgia, by myself and had no idea that they did not have nurseries in the hospitals! I was given my own room and immediately I had twin infants 24/7 by myself! Joy had a room across the way so we were able to visit and I was able to bring the babies back-and-forth so she could see them. Her children were there all the time and they were able to meet and hold the babies also. I had driven down to Georgia with the intent of driving back but after spending four days in the hospital with my two sons, by myself, I was exhausted! Fortunately I had two amazing friends who flew to Georgia to save me! One of them drove my car home and one of them got on a plane with me, Charlie and Sawyer, who were just four days old.

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Gestational Surrogacy Benefits

The night when I arrived home with Charlie and Sawyer, I introduced them to their big brother Eli. We all sat on the bed together. It was the happiest moment of my entire existence. Joy and John and I remain friends on Facebook and we message constantly. We are hoping to be able to see each other soon. We had plans this last year that were foiled by the pandemic. But they will always be family. It was an amazing experience. More than I could ever hope for, times two!

It was frustrating not to live in the same state as my surrogate and my babies. There were moments that I was kind of angry that it was illegal in New York. But the joy of the whole situation always wiped those moments clear.

The Child-Parent Security Act: A Life-Changing Law

I was absolutely over the moon about the long overdue legality of paid gestational surrogacy in New York. This law is so important because gestational surrogacy is life-changing for so many families. Let’s face it, when you are considering gestational surrogacy, you are at the last stop in your fertility journey. You have probably tried everything else. It’s not what you originally wanted but you want a child. You want your family to be complete and for many people, such as same-sex male couples, surrogacy is the only option. I know many male couples in New York who used surrogates living in Los Angeles. It was logistically and emotionally challenging.

Surrogacy for compensation should be legal in every state. It is the greatest gift that anyone can give a family. My surrogate was an incredible woman who became a surrogate to help people like myself while at the same time making an income to support her family. The legality of paid gestational surrogacy in New York is a huge step toward making it easier for families to have the children they have waited their whole life for.

Surrogacy Tips

If you are going to use a gestational surrogate for compensation, go through the correct channels. Work with an agency. Do not work with somebody off of Craigslist or a friend of a friend. Working through an agency made this entire process incredibly simple. My other recommendation would be to prepare financially for a lot more than you think you’re going to need. And whatever it costs, find the money and do it. You will never experience happiness like holding your child in your arms when you have waited so long!

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Felicia Lebow is the founder and owner of Photography by Felicia. For 30 years she has had the privilege of capturing memories for families all over Long Island, specializing in family portraits, newborns, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, elementary schools, preschools and special-needs schools. At 39 years old, Felicia became a single mother by choice to her oldest son Eli. Nine years later she welcomed Charlie and Sawyer through the gift of surrogacy. Felicia loves spending time with her three boys. Together they enjoy traveling, the outdoors, visiting Maine and Vermont, making music, kayaking, hiking and snuggling as a family with their two cats. A born and bred Long Islander, Felicia enjoys a peaceful life in Sea Cliff.

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