Carrying 'Dreams': Why Women Become Surrogates

Since NPR's Marisa Penaloza spoke with Macy Widofsky, she has been deemed a good candidate for surrogacy and matched with a couple.

Part I  

Part II 



AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: And I'm Audie Cornish.

Now, the latest in our series "Making Babies." We've been exploring the complex issues around surrogacy, when women carry a child for nine months on behalf of someone else. There's money involved, and the joys and emotions of pregnancy - but also legal hurdles, serious health risks and, of course, that moment when the child goes to live with its new parents.

So today, NPR's Marisa Penaloza asks, why would a woman want to do this?

MARISA PENALOZA, BYLINE: Surrogacy is as old as the biblical story of Sarah and Abraham in the Book of Genesis. Sarah suffered from infertility, so Abraham had children with the couple's maid - a hush-hush topic then, but not now.

MACY WIDOFSKY: I'm Macy. I'm 40 years old. I have very easy pregnancies. All three times I've been flawlessly healthy, and I wanted to repeat the process. And my husband and I won't be having any more children of our own.

PENALOZA: Macy Widofsky sits in the lobby of a fertility clinic in Reston, Virginia, where she's being tested to find out if she's a good candidate. Surrogacy runs in her family.

WIDOFSKY: My mother was a surrogate when I was 12 years old, and I was very impressed by the fact then that she was willing to help a family out this way, and I didn't realize at the time how uncommon that was.

PENALOZA: Widofsky's mom did what's called compassionate surrogacy, meaning without pay. Some women do it for family or a friend though today, most surrogates get between $20,000 and $25,000 to bear a child for someone else.

WHITNEY WATTS: My name is Whitney Watts. I was a surrogate for Susan and Bob de Guchy. I'm 25.

RAY WATTS: And I'm Ray Watts, Whitney's husband, and I'm 27.

WHITNEY WATTS: To me, being a surrogate, it's like you're carrying somebody else's dreams.

PENALOZA: That's part of what could make some people scratch their head. After all, it's easier to believe that a woman would give up a child from her womb for money rather than a desire to help.

Whitney says in her case, her parents went through infertility nightmares, and that gave her the determination to help someone make a family. Whitney says she didn't think about bonding with the baby. Her surrogacy, she says, was kind of like a science fair project.

WHITNEY WATTS: It was IVF. We - you know, it was their embryos. You just know they're not yours. You're just keeping them for a time, to let them grow, and then you just give them back to their parents - 'cause they were never my babies. It's just my uterus that's keeping them, you know.

PENALOZA: Sitting next to each other in their home outside Baltimore, Ray looks adoringly at his wife. The Watts say they were looking for a couple they could connect with.

WHITNEY WATTS: It was very important to us to have a relationship with them. Yes, it is a business contract in a sense, but it's so much more than business.

RAY WATTS: I think had Susan and Bob just wanted to pay money and get a kid...

WHITNEY WATTS: That would have been a deal-breaker right away.


PENALOZA: Whitney carried twins. The Watts say their good relationship with the couple helped Whitney make it through a tough pregnancy.

There were about 1,400 reported surrogacies in 2010, and no one knows how many go unreported. It's hard to quantify surrogacy even today because it's not regulated. But...


PENALOZA: ...just Google the word surrogacy, and you get about a hundred pages.

Crystal and John Andrews live in Bel Air, Maryland, with their three kids. They are done building their family, but Crystal wants to be pregnant again. She says she feels special when she's pregnant. She's decided to become a surrogate, and her family is on board.

This is how she explains surrogacy to her children.

CRYSTAL ANDREWS: Miss Becky wanted to bake a pie, and she had all the ingredients. And she got her pie together, and she went to put it in the oven - and her oven was broken.

PENALOZA: The issue of money is real. It makes some people feel uneasy because, well, motherhood, it's not a paid profession. Take Whitney Watts. She says she looked into compassionate surrogacy - doing it for free.

WHITNEY WATTS: I would do that if a family member or something like that, I would do that. But for somebody like, you know, you're sent through an agency - that, for me, wouldn't feel appropriate.

PENALOZA: Whitney Watts says she didn't want to put her family through financial stress. And as it turned out, she spent 55 days on bedrest at the hospital.

DR. ELAINE GORDON: I think people automatically feel that if money is involved, then there is no altruism involved.

PENALOZA: Psychologist Elaine Gordon counsels couples on family-building, including surrogacy.

GORDON: And that's not necessarily true. We're all compensated for the work we do, and we still want to do good work even though we're compensated.

PENALOZA: Gordon says many surrogates tell her the experience of having a child for someone else is so powerful, they want to do it again.

Marisa Penaloza, NPR News.