Growing Families Director Sam Everingham profiles Kristen Hanson & her business partner Stephanie who have run a leading Texas agency – Simple Surrogacy – for over 20 years
What inspired them to start a surrogacy agency?
Stephanie grew up with a Lesbian mother, attending Gay Pride events and meeting many men there that wanted to be fathers, so from a very young age, she was inspired to help them. Led by that desire, she became a surrogate three times and co-founded Simple Surrogacy with Kristen. Kristen was first an egg donor three times to couples struggling with infertility, and when she met Stephanie they decided that their individual experiences brought a personal touch that was lacking.
How has Simple Surrogacy grown and adapted over the time you have been at the helm?
Simple Surrogacy started off small with just Stephanie and Kristen. We like to have … direct contact with every one of our clients and surrogates. We never wanted to be a factory-style Agency or have so many employees or clients that we did not have time to interact with them each individually. As we have grown, we have only added staff that have direct personal experiences with surrogacy and believe in that mission. All coordinators are Surrogates or have been previously been through our program. We refer to psychologists who are previous Intended Parents. This has enabled us to help more clients while maintaining the smaller-Agency personal approach.
What do you enjoy most about what must be a complex and challenging landscape?
Our favorite part is seeing the joy when we are able to create a family for those who have struggled. While surrogacy has become more complex, it has also advanced so much more technologically, so the challenges have shifted. Because we have been leaders in the Surrogacy industry, we are easily able to guide our clients to make the process as simple and easy as possible.
As you know, managing intended parents expectations is important. What are some key areas where intended parents need most support?
Many Intended Parents have already traveled a long road, and then face even more decisions as they undertake to hire a surrogacy Agency, Clinic, and locate their Donor and Surrogate. If we can impart one lesson to Intended Parents, it is how important patience is to the process. We need our Intended Parents to trust our expertise and ask advice as they navigate their journey. There are many little decisions and steps in each larger step of the process, and it is crucial to not get ahead of the journey.
The anti-abortion laws in some US states such as Texas caused concern for some international IPs. What impact has the overturning of Roe vs Wade actually had on how you manage pregnancies?
There has been a rapid change in laws across the United States in the past few years, not just in Texas but now in 26+ states, but this has had very little actual effect on pregnancies.
We always recommend a thorough and rigorous screening of embryos, so you know that you are transferring only embryos that have been screened for major genetic issues such as Down’s Syndrome, that may have been reasons to terminate in years past. We have not seen that being an issue in over 15 years. Now that embryos can be screened and simply not used, it avoids many past issues.
Second, all contracts for the past few years have stated that your surrogate would only terminate for a terminal condition or anomaly that would be incompatible with life. This testing makes it better for all parties because the embryos with defects are not transferred in the first place, cutting down on your costs and the trauma to your surrogate. So even if this new law were not in existence, the fetus must be terminal or have a flaw incompatible with life before the surrogate could be asked to terminate.
Third, if you did in fact have a terminal defect with the pregnancy, the fetus would also have to have a heartbeat for the new law to apply. Most terminal defects self-terminate. It would be only the ultra rare case where there is a terminal situation and the fetus still has a heartbeat where the new law would prevent a termination in Texas. Your IVF doctor could also weigh in on just how remote a possibility this is.
Fourth, if you did fit into the very, very narrow case where you had a terminal defect, a heartbeat, and a Texas pregnancy, your surrogate could simply travel to another state where termination is allowed. We have seen just three such scenarios in 20+ years.
In the Surrogacy process, terminations are VERY rare, we are seeking to create a life and have the technology to assist to make sure the process does not involve a termination.
US surrogacy law at a state level has shown great consistency, when you compare it to the instability of surrogacy programs and processes in some other countries. What is it that makes surrogacy such an accepted practice in the US?
The United States has a long history of protecting individual’s rights dating back to the founding of our country. In addition, The United States has a legal structure where Surrogacy Laws enshrined at State Level, like those in Texas, are very well protected. In addition, the United States in general is very protective of LGBTQIA+ rights. To discriminate against surrogacy would be a discrimination against them. Further, I think the medical advances in the United States, compared to other countries, paired with the legal representation afforded to surrogates here really protects all parties. When we know that the Surrogate is getting the best medical care, and the best legal representation, we can be assured she is making this choice willingly and freely and as a country, it’s easy to support that.
Where do Simple Surrogacy’s clients tend to come from ?
Our clients come from all over the world (Over 20+ countries and counting) and all over the US. We are very lucky that the laws are based on where the Surrogate will give birth, and we extend those laws to enable any nationality to engage here. We also work closely with attorneys from countries that our clients will return to and can offer support for the documentation they need for the babies as they return to their countries.
There are so many agencies in the US offering surrogacy. What do you recommend intended parents look for when it comes to selecting an agency?
Consider the history of an Agency- How long have they been in business, which tells you their experience level and how prepared are they to deal with any bumps in the road. If you are an LGBTQIA+ family- what is the Agency’s track-record of advocating for that population? Are they members of any LGBTQIA+ organizations? Are they members of other Surrogacy organizations, such as SEEDS, Resolve, and the BBB? Is the Agency able to offer references to others who have recently gone through their program?. Are you just a number on the spreadsheet, or will you have access to the owners, and be treated as someone whose journey they care about?
Finally, surrogate matching and support is obviously what you specialise in. Are there ‘criteria’ that intended parents tend to have that can make it more difficult to match with a surrogate?
Yes, Intended Parents can make finding them an ideal match easy, or very difficult. There are a finite number of women applying to be surrogates, and the more restrictions that are placed on what Intended Parents are looking for in a Surrogate, the fewer women who meet those criteria. As an Agency, Simple Surrogacy already has a 6-point stringent screening process for surrogates before they are even accepted. Fewer than 10% who apply make it through that screening. So, when Intended Parents further limit their candidates, they are reducing that percentage to fewer and fewer women. We always suggest allowing us to send your profile to the greatest number of available surrogates to have the widest number of candidates see your profile.
So What is the parents experience? I talked to one international client of Simple Surrogacy, Barnaby. He and his husband first met Stephanie at a Growing Families Melbourne conference. They clicked immediately.
“Simple Surrogacy were helpful and friendly and had been recommended highly by others. Also they were based in Texas – which we liked the idea of – as opposed to California”.
“We felt very well supported .. when our son was born. The hospital – and the doctors and nurses – had obviously dealt with our situation regularly and had systems in place to manage what can be more complex logistically”.
Having developed a strong friendship with their Texas surrogate and her family, Barnaby & his partner are over the moon to be working with her again on a sibling journey.
Barnaby, what advice would you give to prospective parents?
“If you are lucky enough to have a baby in the USA, research carefully the requirements for obtaining an Australian passport (or US passport with Australian visa) well in advance of the birth.”
Growing Families offers a Concierge Support Service to provide international clients with all the necessary support to help them arrange the necessary insurance up-front and travel documents