I first met Dawn Bennett in 2007 at my fertility doctor's office. Her long black hair was pulled back from a face with almond-shaped eyes and a casual smile, as if the idea of carrying my baby in her body was no bigger deal than a night of babysitting. With five failed IVFs, a trio of miscarriages, and my 41st birthday behind me, I didn't know whether to shake the hand of this potential surrogate mother or hug her, so great was my fear that she would disappear if I made one wrong move.
That early spring day, the bees busy pollinating orange blossoms, my FSH level (a monthly test that measures a woman's fertility) had fallen dramatically; lower is better and mine was 14. Since most fertility doctors won't do IVF on a woman with a level higher than that, I felt breathless with hope. In another miracle of timing, Dawn and I discovered that we had both started our menstrual cycles two days earlier—which meant that our bodies were already synchronized. From a biological perspective, we were idling at the starting line, ready to go.
"I have to talk to my husband and kids first," said Dawn, whom I had met through a mutual acquaintance, "but I think we should do it." As a long-time television news journalist who had investigated bank fraud, identity theft and corrupt politicians, I knew that "just do it" might not be the smartest slogan when it comes to outsourcing your reproductive needs, but logic was steamrollered by desire. Applying the usual metrics for deciding to move forward with surrogacy—chiefly, a legal contract, a psychological examination, and a detailed, pre-set fee schedule—would have been the reasonable thing, but if things went well, the takeaway from this meeting would be a baby, something I ached for. And so, after a quick conversation with my skeptical husband, we decided to go ahead on faith.
The number of babies born via surrogate mothers in the United States has almost doubled in the last decade, according to the American Society Of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), a trade group that tracks gestational surrogate births. In 2004, the number was 738, compared to 1,448 in 2010, but since ASRM tracks only those surrogacy arrangements that are reported by clinics that belong to The Society For Assisted Reproductive Technologies (an ASRM affiliate), some slip through the cracks. Andrew Vorzimer, a reproductive law attorney in Los Angeles who has been practicing since 1994, says his office handled more than 400 U.S. based surrogacy arrangements in 2011 alone, nearly doubling business from 2010.