If you’ve considered pursuing surrogacy — either as an intended parent or as a gestational carrier — you may have no idea where to even begin.
After all, surrogacy involves layers of complexities, from legalities that must be ironed out to a series of medical procedures. But before all that can transpire, a surrogate must first match with intended parents. And according to Brian Levine, MD, a practicing reproductive endocrinologist, that hasn’t historically been an easy process.
Dr. Levine founded Nodal, a matching platform through which surrogates and intended parents can lay out their criteria, connect, and potentially work together to grow a family. Through Nodal, Dr. Levine hopes to address some of the major issues in the current matching system, which currently leaves surrogates in the dark, and creates increased wait times and hidden fees for intended parents. The best part? Nodal gives surrogates the power to get really clear about their expectations and criteria for matching. By doing this, Dr. Levine addresses a few major issues surrogates face in the current system.
"We did a lot of market research, and the number one critique we heard about the system is that many surrogates don’t want to travel across the country to go through a surrogacy journey," Dr. Levine noted, adding that this is especially true for surrogates who already have their own children at home. "We found that many of them learn in the 11th hour that they’ve been matched with someone on the other side of the country. It’s such a letdown even before day one for them. Many [surrogates] say, ‘I just don’t want to fly.' Or, 'I want to be there for my kids. What if my kid gets [sick], and now I’m flying across the country for an embryo transfer?' It puts stress and strain on the whole relationship.”
With Nodal, surrogates have the option to set these boundaries surrounding location and travel. Intended parents and surrogates also have opportunities to conduct frank discussions about Covid vaccination and compensation — which may not always happen in such an organic way when matches are made via an agency.
But Nodal isn’t in the business of eliminating the need for surrogacy agencies. “It’s important for people to understand that we are collaborative and not competitive with the current system of agencies today. We’re not looking to get rid of agencies. We’re just looking to get rid of what everyone calls the bottleneck [of matching],” says Dr. Levine. “With Nodal, you can parallel path. You can sign up for an agency because you love their case management, and you can still match on Nodal — and your agency will probably give you a discount if you bring your surrogate. So if you want the agency experience, great.”
Through Nodal, which currently costs $500 per month for intended parents, surrogates and intended parents can match in as little as a few weeks. And, for people who are simply curious about surrogacy and unsure of whether it’s the right path, Nodal also offers a community, resources explaining the surrogacy process, and access to legal resources and nurse practitioner support. Many of Nodal’s staffers have actually been through the surrogacy process themselves and understand the unique challenges surrogates and intended parents face along the way.
“One of the biggest challenges for a surrogate is that their options for how to go about matching with [intended parents] are often quite binary. With an agency, there is little choice; in an independent route, there is too much choice,” says Brianna Buck, Nodal’s community manager and a former surrogate herself. “With an agency, you are typically offered one intended parent at a time that was chosen by the agency. There is a ton of pressure to accept that match because they are ‘hand-picked’ for you and each intended parent has their own story of what brought them to surrogacy that often tugs on the heartstrings. Most surrogates do not want to be ‘picky’ or seen as difficult, so unless there is a glaring issue, they will go with the first intended parents that are presented to them.”
“Conversely, if a surrogate does not use an agency and maybe just goes to social media to find intended parents, they will be inundated with stories and profiles of people looking for a surrogate,” adds Buck. “In this instance, it is hard to sort through or know what would be the best match for you unless you are a veteran surrogate and know exactly what you are looking for.”
With Nodal, surrogates are presented three profiles of intended parents at a time. They can either reject all three (and view three new profiles), accept some and reject others, or connect with up to three intended parent sets. From there, surrogates and intended parents set the tone, steer the conversation, and have the freedom to set expectations as they see best—including working with an agency.
An agency experience is valuable long after a match has been established: Agencies can help both intended parents and surrogates understand the nuances of the process, facilitate relationships with insurance companies to protect both parties, and guide the medical evaluation of the surrogate, which is done at a fertility clinic.
Matching independently can give surrogates the power to better set and communicate their expectations. “If you allow a surrogate to say what she’s hoping to do, what she’s hoping this journey will be like, and the intended parents put out their criteria of who they’re hoping to match with, it just creates support from day one,” says Dr. Levine.
For people considering surrogacy, Nodal provides guidance and community. And understanding what the surrogacy process actually can and should look like may empower surrogates and intended parents alike to create the right kind of experience.
“My biggest advice would be to educate yourself on all your options and ask all of the questions,” says Buck. “Most surrogates come to this journey with the sole intention of helping create a family, and they do not want to rock the boat or make things more difficult. But surrogacy should be an empowering journey for the people who embark on it. I want every surrogate to come to each step of their journey understanding what the best options are for them and what path they need to take to create their ideal surrogacy journey.”
Nodal’s team hopes to create the most positive matching experience for all parties involved — and Dr. Levine believes that when a surrogate reaches out to an intended parent, that potential journey has a beautiful beginning.
“I cannot imagine how amazing it must feel to get that message that someone has selected you to help you start or grow your family,” says Dr. Levine. “I don’t know how you put a price tag on that.”
Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, MarieClaire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.