The Guttmacher Institute reported in June that 40% of women changed their plans about when to have children, or how many children to have, in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic. But what about women who had no choice? For many women attempting to conceive through gestational surrogacy during the pandemic, their plans have changed, too.
As the Medical Director with WINFertility, the nation’s leading family-building and fertility benefit management company, I’ve seen patients in tears, overwhelmed by the situation. These are people who have had fertility problems, which is stressful enough in itself. They haven’t been able to have their families when they wanted to. Add to that the stress of a pandemic, and life in general, and their anxiety level understandably shoots through the roof.
Surrogacy During a Pandemic
During normal times, gestational surrogacy is a popular means to parenthood. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 10,000 children have been born to US parents through gestational surrogacy since 1999.
Each year gestational surrogates from around the country are matched with couples intending to have children. Surrogates come into a clinical setting for medical and psychological screenings, and to meet the intended parents.
That hasn’t been easy in 2020. As of September 1, 17 states and the District of Columbia were observing quarantine restrictions or recommendations. New York―the fourth-most populous state in the US―enacted a law in June requiring a 14-day quarantine for all travelers entering from states with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or higher than a 10% test positivity rate, over a seven-day rolling average. We have clinics in New York and Connecticut, which enacted a similar restriction.
Pre-COVID, our process was straightforward but thorough. Surrogates spent one day at one of our clinics, met with the intended parents and a psychologist, and tested the uterus using saline stenography to make sure it’s normal. Now it’s a little more difficult. Surrogates typically make another trip here to do an embryo transfer, but for some that isn’t possible.
What You Should Know
Couples need to be comfortable with the woman who will be carrying their child, and Zoom calls, although helpful, are a poor replacement for in-person meetings. Depending on the current interstate travel restrictions, couples might choose to meet with surrogates at a neutral location for both parties in a less restrictive state.
Even if couples are able to clear these logistical hurdles, COVID-19 presents additional challenges. It’s important for carriers to limit their exposure to the novel coronavirus. Intended parents might require surrogates to sign a formal contract that defines behavior protocols to reduce their risk of infection. Carriers who work a high-risk job―an ICU nurse, for example―might not be able to assuage nervous couples.
After all that, the waiting might be the hardest part. Around the globe, embryo transfers were paused as physicians assessed the risk of the novel coronavirus to pregnant women. They’re still assessing risks. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine regularly issues up-to-date guidelines for physicians and patients, but it’s up to individual clinics to determine when to pause and resume embryonic transfers.
Understandably, this has created a backlog of intended parents and gestational carriers waiting to get pregnant. June, July, and August have been catch-up months across the industry. As a doctor, preaching calm and patience is a must. The net effect is an enormous challenge for patients and doctors alike.
Parenting during a pandemic isn’t easy. In your most stressful moments, remember the many couples who are waiting for the opportunity to experience your stress.