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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Surrogates helping more area couples expand their families

Snack time for every baby should be filled with this much love.

Little John has his mom Tara Morris with him and the woman who brought him into the world, Brooke Collawn.

“I can’t imagine not being a parent myself,” Collawn says with emotion.  “So to help others has been amazing.”

Collawn has been a surrogate for three different couples, all complete strangers at the beginning who are now bonded for life.  After having three sons with her husband and miscarrying a fourth child, Collawn decided to mend hearts for moms who couldn’t carry on their own.

“It can be a beautiful thing,” says Morris, explaining she already had son Tripp with her husband.  They desperately wanted another child, but a medication she needed to control an anxiety disorder prevented her from safely getting pregnant again.

On the very same day the Morrises explored their options with a fertility specialist and lawyer, both offices got a call from someone special who wanted to give another couple a gift.

“It was her,” Morris points to Collawn who sits next to her on the couch at her Charlottesville home.  “Through the lawyer and through the doctor’s office, it kinda came that way.”

“Yeah, we kinda felt like it was fate,” Collawn added.

Richmond surrogacy attorney Colleen Quinn recalls this relationship she helped make possible.

“Brooke Collawn is an amazing individual.”

This is just one of the arrangements she’s guided from start to finish at The Adoption and Surrogacy Law Center near Willow Lawn.

“I can easily say ten years ago I had done hundreds of surrogacy arrangements.  I can now say I’ve done thousands,” says Quinn.  “They definitely are happening at a pretty rapid rate.”

Quinn, who was working out five surrogacy contracts the day of our interview, says it is becoming more acceptable in Richmond.  What’s called compassion arrangements make up about a quarter of them.  That is when a sister or best friend carries for a woman who cannot.  The rest and overwhelming majority are matches made online, through clinics or lawyers.

“I kinda see it as long-term baby-sitting.  I know going into the process that the baby is not mine,” Collawn explains how she’s been able to carry children who would not be hers in the end.  “Just the look on the parents’ faces when you place that baby in their arms makes it all worthwhile.”

Quinn says it can take up to two years from start to baby.  The lengthy process involves a background check.  The surrogate must also be cleared by her Ob/Gyn and must pass psychological screenings.

“What is their motivation, and is it generally altruistic in nature?  Is this person going to be able to carry a child and then be able to detach?” Quinn goes down the list of questions considered.

Quinn says it is a must that both sides map out a plan together and get it in writing.  Her contracts include everything from whether some wine consumption is okay during the pregnancy to whether both sides are pro-choice or pro-life.

“How is this relationship going to process, how is it going to occur over the next year?” Quinn encourages her clients to address everything.

Quinn says a Virginia statute requires all surrogacy payments be tied to household living and medical expenses associated with the pregnancy, paid monthly over ten months.  From her experience, first-time carriers can expect about $18-25,000, but intended parents also pay all attorney fees.  Add-ons like life insurance policies, reimbursements for C-Section recovery and more are also often included in the contract.

According to Quinn, however, Virginia law is very complicated if a surrogate who uses her own egg decides she wants to keep the child.  There is no case law on point, but Quinn says it is likely the woman could get custody of the child.  The genetic father would ideally get visitation and a support obligation.  If the surrogate carries the intended parents’ fertilized egg, Quinn says it is unclear what would happen for a non-court approved contract.  It is why she recommends couples do their homework and put as much planning as possible into their arrangement.

“We do have occasional hiccups, but for the most part these arrangements if vetted well on the front end do amazingly well,” she says, noting her thousands of success stories, like the Collawn-Morris arrangement.

“Aunt Brooke,” as she is now called, is a big part of the lives of the children she carried.  She says she gained as much as she was able to give to the three couples she helped.  She is grateful for the beautiful friendships and beautiful babies she now has in her life.

Morris is too.

“She made our family complete,” she said.

Baby John turns one on Friday, September 25.  Collawn will be there for the festivities.


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