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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Business profile: Surrogacy service changes everything for same-sex couples

SAN DIEGO, California -- Lilly Frost is the co-founder of Surrogacy Beyond Borders, an affordable program which uses surrogates from Mexico to keep costs low for same-sex couples who want to build a family, but might find other agencies too expensive.

Her agency works with the world renowned San Diego Fertility Center (SDFC) to help gay and lesbian couples realize their dreams of having a family of their own.

Frost, who is expecting, took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to San Diego Gay & Lesbian News ( about how her company works, the process of using surrogates in Mexico, and how modern science can help couples who didn’t think it was possible or even affordable. Couples living with HIV can also make their dreams come true through washing, a process in which scientists can separate the fertilizing sperm from the infectious fluid.

Frost is also the founder of My Donor Cycle, a company that uses egg donors from the United States to help couples who cannot bear children for medical reasons or the restrictions that come with age. Frost explains how this service works.

“They would come to this website and choose one of our 680-plus egg donors. My Donor Cycle was really more helping older community who medically were not able to have children. The first step is that they come in here; they get full information, medical health backgrounds and full photos.”

An egg donor herself

Frost says she initially started My Donor Cycle because she was a donor herself. Her experiences in that process were inspirational in that she knew there must be a better, more personal way to interact with clients, making it a special experience.

“I got into this because I was an egg donor myself, four times before,” she said. “I felt like this is something that can be improved. There should be more hand-holding for the donors and intended parents; more of a personal process. That’s why I started My Donor Cycle.”

The personal experience was not the only thing Frost was contemplating while starting her company. She said the cost of surrogacy was too high, and that there should be a more affordable option that kept the personal, professional and scientific processes in place.

“About a year and a half ago, I became very inspired to start looking at more affordable options. Surrogacy in the U.S. can cost anywhere from about $140,000-$190,000 on average if you’re using a donor and a surrogate," she said.

"I was seeing my clients mortgaging their house, liquidating retirement accounts and things like that to afford these services. Also finding that it really wasn't accessible for most gay couples because a gay couple would like to start having children when their heterosexual counterparts are having children; ideally in their late 20s early to mid-30s, and there’s not very many people that can afford that at that stage of their lives.”

Why Mexico came into play

Understanding that same-sex couples were also looking for ways to fulfill their dreams of a family, she began looking outside of the country and found an option right next door.

“Surrogacy in Mexico had kind of started, although it had a very rocky start," she said. "There was a bunch of scandals going on — scandals mainly with companies that didn't really know what they were doing.”

Taking her experience with My Donor Cycle, Frost began work on Surrogacy Beyond Borders. This company would specialize in hiring surrogates from Mexico, keeping all of the high standards being used in the U.S. while keeping costs low as a byproduct. Frost explains her initial idea.

“So I decided to come into the market and basically bring the background and experience and the same model for the U.S. surrogacy program into Mexico. And so with that we use the same screening procedure, we use the same IVF, for egg retrieval, we use escrow to make sure that the clients funds are always being secured — we insure the process, we insure the surrogate, we insure the donor. We do full psych-evals on everyone, we make sure that everything is fully safe and secure.”

Using a surrogate from Mexico is very cost-effective to couples, same-sex or otherwise, who may just be starting out with the business of living. With student loan, home and car payments, the average young couple wanting to start a family might feel they cannot afford to expand. But Frost says that her program can ease a little bit of the financial burden by offering a safe, low-cost alternative.

“With surrogacy in Mexico, our program can range from $62,000-$80,000, and this is for surrogate and donor. The only reason it would hit $80,000 is because you’re using a donor who’s an Ivy League prior donor, lives in New York and needs to fly cross-country, and you’re using gender selection, two semen providers, creating two different sets of genetics,” she said.

Two gay men can create their own genetic offspring

The service is so advanced that two men who want to have their own genetic offspring can opt for a process that might create twins. Frost explains how this works.

“A man and his partner could say we each want a genetic offspring. So we are going to choose one donor, we are going to take her eggs, divide them into two groups, and fertilize on with one, and fertilize the other with the other. And then when we transfer to a surrogate, we’ll transfer one of each, so they have a very high chance of twins with the same donor, but with each of their genetics,” she said.

Another thing that makes Surrogacy Beyond Borders so unique is that the surrogates live together in house in Cancun under the watchful care of Program Manager David, a close and trustworthy family friend. The surrogates must remain in the villa for several months before they can be considered for active surrogacy. Keeping a close eye on the potential surrogates not only ensures well-being, but keeps them healthy and happy, she says.

“We have the surrogates in our house for about three months before we do an embryo transfer to them. And we do that in part because we want to see how stable everything is, we want to get their nutrition levels up, they’re usually anemic we want to get them on prenatal vitamins, and get their levels up for folic acid so that they’re really good carriers,” she said. “They live like queens.”

How the process works

Legally, Frost makes sure that all the formalities are addressed and each potential surrogate signs a contract. These contracts are in Spanish, she says, because no contract is legal in Mexico unless it is written in Spanish. The first contract is presented to the women once they move into the house and the second is issued when and if they are selected by the intended parents for surrogacy. The latter contract is initially written in Spanish, then translated into English. The stringent notary guidelines enforced by the Mexican government make misunderstanding the contract impossible.

So how does the process work from beginning to end? First, a semen sample is given to a fertility lab. Most people submit theirs to the San Diego Fertility Center, a partner of Surrogacy Beyond Borders. From there, science takes over.

“The donor comes in, does her screening, does the retrieval," Frost said. "We create the embryos -- that process takes about three months. The embryo’s shipped down to Mexico. We do one shipment per month. We group a bunch of sets of embryos on the same shipment: It saves on cost for the intended parents. The embryos get there … at that point they have already been matched with a surrogate. When they’re matched, they get the full health profile, they can talk to her on Skype, they can go and visit her in person if they want. It’s very transparent and open.”

Once the pregnancy is successful, the intended parents can maintain any relationship they want with the surrogate. The surrogate stays in the surrogate house in Cancun for six or seven months, then she is moved to a new location in Villahermosa in Tabasco state. Once the surrogate is ready to deliver, the intended parent comes down to Villahermosa for the birth. All babies are delivered via Cesarean section, after which they remain in Mexico for three weeks until passports and birth certificates can be finalized.

Gay couples wishing to start a family by surrogacy may want to consider using the services provided by Surrogacy Beyond Borders. Frost explains that international surrogacy can be complicated, even illegal for gay couples.

“What’s great about Mexico is the fact that it’s legal," she said. "It’s not legal in India for gay couples or Thailand. Nepal is the only other country, but it’s not actually legal there, it’s just not illegal. Because they have a very, kind of loose system set up, there’s not any laws prohibiting it; there’s no laws set up allowing for any sort of birth certificate rights or anything. In Mexico when the baby is born, whoever the semen provider is goes on the birth certificate as the father and the mother’s name is left blank. And when they come back to the States, depending on what state they’re in, they can do a second parent adoption. And so both parties can be on the birth certificate.”

After the baby is born, the intended parents make a trip to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City with birth certificate in hand. Once a DNA test determines that the child is in fact genetically related to a U.S. citizen, they are given a passport and are free to leave the country.

Agency's first birth is expected in February

Having just opened in January of last year, Frost says the agency is celebrating one birth in February, but predict as many as three births per month beginning in April, then increasing to five and up thereafter. She says the service currently has 36 clients in various stages of the process and 20 pending cycles.

With her staff in Mexico -- Michelle, the house manager, Cindy the accountant, Denise who oversees things in Villahermosa, Leon the attorney and nannies that help the mothers -- Frost seems to have all the bases covered. The process is running smoothly and thus far there have been no complications, she says.

Same-sex couples, unlike heterosexual couples, may need a little help in starting to expand their family. Surrogacy Beyond Borders can help those couples realize their dreams, keeping costs low and making it personal in the process.

Given all that she does -- running her own company, handling clients, learning about laws both domestic and internationally -- one wonders why Frost is so committed to helping others in this way.

“I love it," she says. "There is nothing better than being able to tell someone they’re pregnant, and tell someone their C-section is about to happen, and have that person go home with a baby. Seeing the joy ... and I get pictures of the baby … knowing that if I was not doing what I was doing that child wouldn’t exist. They may have some child at some point later on, but that particular child existed because of the work we put into it.”


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