If you're considering surrogacy as a way to grow your family, then you know you have a lot of big decisions ahead. One of the toughest decisions you'll face is whether to work with a surrogacy agency or embark on an independent journey.

Both options — using an agency or exploring an independent journey — have their pros and cons; ultimately, the choice comes down to what's best for you and your situation. Knowing the differences between using a surrogacy agency and pursuing surrogacy on your own will help you make a choice that best fits your family and give you the confidence you need to take the next steps on your path to parenthood. 

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How Does the Surrogacy Process Work?

Everyone's surrogacy journey will look different. While certain components are found in most surrogacy journeys, each step in the process will vary depending on your specific circumstances.

Here's a basic rundown of what the surrogacy process looks like:

  • Finding a surrogate: The first step to your surrogacy journey begins with finding a surrogate who is willing to carry your child. You can either find one through an agency or through your own network. (More on that later!)

  • Receiving counseling: The purpose of counseling is to ensure that everyone involved in the surrogacy process is emotionally prepared and aware of the potential challenges and risks that may arise. For intended parents, counseling may include discussing the challenges of infertility, the decision to pursue surrogacy, and the emotions that may arise throughout the process. Surrogates should also receive counseling prior to matching and sign an agreement to ensure their preparedness for the process. 

  • Navigating legal considerations: Once you've found a surrogate, either through an agency or on your own, you'll need to work with a lawyer to draft a surrogacy agreement that outlines everyone's rights and responsibilities. Some physiological and medical screenings and procedures should be completed prior to signing the legal agreement.

  • Completing medical procedures: Before signing the agreement, your surrogate will also need to undergo a series of medical tests and procedures to ensure she's a good candidate for surrogacy. Once the agreement is signed, your surrogate (and you, if you're using your own products of conception, such as eggs and sperm instead of donor eggs and/or sperm) will undergo some additional medical procedures:

    • In vitro fertilization (IVF): Whether using your own eggs and/or sperm or donor eggs and/or donor sperm, IVF is typically used to create the embryos that will be transferred to the surrogate's uterus.

    • Embryo transfer: When the embryos are created, they are transferred to the surrogate's uterus during a procedure that's sort of similar to a routine gynecological exam (i.e., it's not that bad, but it's not that much fun either!)

    • Hormone therapy: Both the intended mother (if she is providing the eggs) and the surrogate may need to undergo hormone therapy to prepare their bodies for the surrogacy process.

    • Ultrasound and blood tests: Throughout the pregnancy, the surrogate will undergo regular ultrasounds and blood tests to monitor the health of the pregnancy and the developing fetus.

  • Pregnancy: Speaking of pregnancy, once your surrogate successfully becomes pregnant, she'll go through all the normal pregnancy milestones that you would expect, like prenatal appointments and ultrasounds. As the intended parent, you'll be able to be involved as much or as little as you'd like during this time.

  • Birth: When it's time for the baby to be born, you'll be there to witness the miracle of life and to bring your little one home to start your new family!

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Working With a Surrogacy Agency vs Pursuing an Independent Journey

Regarding surrogacy, you can take two main paths as part of your surrogacy journey: working closely with a surrogacy agency or going on your own independent surrogacy journey. Here's a breakdown of what each of these options entails:

Working with a Surrogacy Agency

Working with a surrogacy agency means partnering with a professional surrogacy organization that provides surrogacy-related services. While the level of services that an agency provides may differ, a full-service agency’s services may include:

  • Managing all aspects of the surrogacy journey, from communication with clinics to organizing your surrogate’s travel, and guiding intended parents on all the steps in the surrogacy process.

  • Matching intended parents with a surrogate who meets their specific needs.

  • Providing legal support throughout the surrogacy journey.

  • Ensuring that all surrogates are thoroughly screened before starting the surrogacy process.

  • Handling the financial transactions involved in surrogacy, such as compensation for the surrogate.

  • Providing counseling and emotional support for everyone in the surrogacy journey.

While working with a surrogacy agency can be more expensive than pursuing surrogacy independently, an agency can also provide a greater sense of peace of mind and a higher level of support and guidance throughout your journey. In addition, these agencies can also take a lot of weight off your shoulders since they handle so many parts of the journey that can easily be overwhelming, like the legal and financial processes.  

Pursuing an Independent Surrogacy Journey

Embarking on an independent surrogacy journey means that the intended parents and surrogates work directly with one another without the help of a surrogacy agency. This approach can be more affordable than working with an agency but also requires more work and responsibility for both parties.

Here are some of the key steps involved in an independent surrogacy journey:

  • Finding a surrogate through personal connections, either via social media, online surrogacy networks, or classified ads.

  • Ensuring your surrogate is screened both medically and psychologically so that she’s ready for a surrogacy journey.

  • Sourcing legal support for yourself and your surrogate. Negotiating and drafting a legal agreement that outlines the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved. Whether you're pursuing surrogacy alone or with an agency, it's important to still consult a lawyer on this part of the process.

  • Arranging for medical care, including IVF and prenatal care.

  • Handling all financial transactions, such as compensating the surrogate for her time and expenses.

  •  Providing emotional support for one another throughout the process.

Whether you work with an agency or independently, the overall cost of surrogacy can vary greatly. Several factors can impact the total amount, including medical appointments, psychologists, lawyers, travel costs (if you and your surrogate do not live in the same state), etc.

While an independent surrogacy journey can be more challenging and require more work, it can be a more personalized and intimate experience for everyone involved. In addition, depending on several variables (if you're working with a friend as your surrogate, if the pregnancy has any complications, etc.), it's possible that managing your surrogacy journey yourself may be less expensive because you are not paying an agency fee.

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However, it's important to note that working with an experienced surrogacy agency can help you avoid common pitfalls and assist in navigating any challenges that may occur during the process. The risk of going it alone is you may have an unexpected situation arise and be unaware of how to handle it. Unfortunately, mistakes may be made that will cost you more in the long run.

An experienced agency coordinating the journey contributes to the overall price tag, and fees can range between $100,000 and $200,000. However, the exact ranges can vary due to all the factors mentioned above, including medical costs, like IVF. 

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Do What's Best for You

Deciding whether to work with a surrogacy agency or go on an independent surrogacy journey will depend on many factors, including your budget, the level of support and guidance you want, and your personal preferences. While an independent surrogacy journey can save you money, it may not be worth it to you if you are easily overwhelmed by handling all the different parts of the process on your own. Therefore, it's important that you make a decision based on your needs.

If you are looking for some guidance, Circle Surrogacy can help provide insight. With over 27 years of surrogacy agency experience and more than 2,800 babies born, they’ve seen countless lives changed — and a myriad of lives created — because of the selflessness of surrogates and egg donors. They have an Intended Parent Application you can fill out, and in turn, they will send you a customized package of information about the programs best suited to your needs.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether it's better to work with a surrogacy agency or pursue an independent surrogacy journey. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice for you will depend on your circumstances and preferences.

Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo is a freelance writer, infertility and women’s rights advocate, former stand-up comic, author of the blog, “The 2 Week Wait,” and proud IVF Mom. Her articles have been featured in Time magazine, Huffington Post, and ScaryMommy. She has been interviewed on news outlets such as CNN, NPR, and BBC, where she has demonstrated her ability to make even reproductive issues fun and educational. You can follow her "infertility humor" on Instagram at @jennjaypal.