Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mourning the loss of surrogacy options in Thailand, Starting to embrace and celebrate Surrogacy in Mexico

It's been a crazy 6 weeks for both CSS and for the international surrogacy community.   The changes in Thailand send me over for an unscheduled trip as I had 8 newborn babies "stuck" while the various Embassies negotiated with the Thai government to discover the appropriate ways for Intended Parents in the process to be allowed to exit.   It was amazingly stressful and scary as my clients were the first to be turned away at the airport (I was literally watching through the glass at immigration while the first client was turned away).   I can't accurately describe what that feels like aside from TERRIFYING.   I feel such a level of personal responsibility for each of my Intended Parents and their babies, so having this unfold right before me was surreal.  I immediately called the US Embassy in a panic (we weren't sure if the officials were going to attempt to keep the babies or the father, or what) and was told by the person answering the phone that anyone who could help me was "out to lunch".  Yes, I have a client being interrogated by the Thai police and immigration, and I was told that everyone was at lunch, and they'd call me back later.   Imagine my reaction to those words!  I am usually unflappable, but admittedly was quickly dropping my basket - the cheese had totally slid off of my cracker.  We all think that our Embassies are the places that we run for help when we're in a foreign country, and it was a rude awakening to discover that often their hands are really tied and there's not much they can actually do for us at the start of a "crisis".   Later, of course, when we went to the right people at the Embassy, the help was there for us, but it did take some time and some hard work on the part of the Ambassador, and the head of ACS in Bangkok, Paul,  to get things resolved.   Also, Trudy from the Australian Embassy was fantastic.  But, none of us could do anything but push the various Thai officials to make a decision on how to let everyone go.  We spent a lot of time with all the babies in our "war room" at one of the hotels, everyone trying different strategies to get out of the country to no avail.   The Thai government wasn't prepared for all of this firestorm.  Thai culture is quiet and respectful - a very proud culture.   I do not think that when all of this started, anyone understood the true number of people who were directly impacted by scandal and the resulting changes.   Well, now we know.

 I was so glad that I was able to be there on the ground to provide support, despite rumors circulating that the Thai military was going to be hunting down any "agents" involved in surrogacy. (Found out they were really looking for the agents who provided surrogates, that's NOT what I do, I facilitate and educate).   We were all hiding from media too - the first thing that the Thai gov't wanted was for the press to settle down and let everyone figure out the real facts and let us get on about the business of getting everyone home.   I had long meetings with the US Embassy, attorneys, and basically anyone who would have an idea on what we should do next.    I was not going to leave without exhausting the options, and each of my clients were just amazing despite the high emotions and fear that we all felt.    The bonus - I got lots of good baby time, and even got to have a newborn roomie for a few nights so that daddies could get a little sleep.   Something about cuddling with a newborn in the middle of chaos brings a level of peace that no amount of Xanax can provide.   I'll treasure those middle of the night moments with Little Miss Clare for the rest of my life.

Of course, the end of the story from our angle is that all Dads and babies got home within the normal time frame.   We have exit regulations in place, which are the same that I've always had for my clients.   I'm not anticipating problems with exits moving forward for those of my clients still pregnant in Bangkok.    All pregnant surrogates are safe and receiving appropriate ongoing care.   This does not mean that surrogacy in Thailand is open for business.  The current Military Government has made it clear that they do NOT support commercial surrogacy.  These exit regulations are really only going to be granted for an amount of time that gets those currently pregnant out of the country.

This whole thing is so unfortunate for the surrogacy community and I feel that the Thai government is making a huge mistake in eliminating this option for people.  Thailand is a PERFECT place for a REGULATED surrogacy option.   Thailand is medically one of the best countries - the doctors are educated, the hospitals FANTASTIC, the lodgings affordable, and the women who are surrogates are amazingly caring and grateful for the opportunity to help people have their families.    How can it be wrong for a grown woman to opt to use her body to help people have families?   Regardless of if she is compensated or not?   Yes, there are problems that arise when surrogacy is left unregulated, but I truly feel that it would be possible for Thailand to really become a world leading pioneer in how to undertake surrogacy correctly.  They could set the example for the rest of the world, frankly.  It's a win win for the economy, and for the women of Bangkok.   If we set appropriate rules and regulations and oversight on things like surrogate compensation, standards of care, appropriate embryo transfer numbers, compensation for egg donors, and guidelines for how many times a donor can safely cycle, which doctors and clinics can operate as surrogacy centers, insist on financial transparency and have inspections of these places on a regular basis, there is zero reason that this needs to be totally shut down as an option for people.   Also, it is important that we do insist on background checks for Intended Parents.   I think that we've all learned that through the horrid stories that were running the Australian news for so long.    Australian media sure likes to beat a dead horse to many degrees of Hell.  I have to say, we had all the "bad surrogacy myths" hit the news all at once.   It was a nightmare to watch unfold.

So, a few days after my return from what clients and I are dubbing "Argo Bangkok", I traveled to Mexico City to meet with doctors and clinics there.   Everyone knows that I was hesitant about entering Mexico for surrogacy, I've been pretty honest about that.  First thing that everyone needs to understand - ALTRUISTIC Surrogacy is legal in Mexico - and ONLY in TABASCO.   You must have appropriate legal documents from the start.   The cost in Mexico for surrogacy is higher than my programs in Delhi and the one I had in Bangkok, and legal costs are one of the main reasons.   Also, medical costs in Mexico are slightly higher, and surrogates are compensated a little more as well due to cost of living being higher.   There are several things that anyone looking for International surrogacy options need to consider.  I'm going to do a bullet point on that in the coming days.

Please let me know if you are considering options outside of Thailand.  I am still only able to take on a certain number of IPs per month or group, and I am hoping to enjoy the same successful results in Mexico that I have in India and Thailand.   Surrogacy in Mexico will NOT last forever.  So, if you are seriously considering this option, do it quickly, but BE SMART.   The big agents are setting up in Cancun, and I know that there will be resulting negative media.   People feel so desperate to have children that they will overlook so many things just for the chance - this kind of rash decision making is the true downfall for the industry as a whole.   Don't go for bottom barrel pricing, that means that there are corners being cut that you can't afford to cut.  Look for established IVF practices, transparent financial dealings (again, do NOT pay a 3rd party for fees that should be paid directly to clinics and doctors), make sure that your surrogate is housed the entire time in Tabasco.   THIS is a MUST in my opinion - this moving surrogates around from place to place, particularly those with higher risk multiple pregnancies is a recipe for disaster.  If your baby is born outside of Tabasco because of complications, you will be truly devastated at a time that you should be celebrating.   Sure, I'd love to visit Cancun, who wouldn't, but this is NOT a vacation.  This is having a baby in a foreign country that has very specific rules and regulations.    BE SAFE.  BE SMART.  HAVE BABIES.

ps.  more coming later this week on what to look for in Mexico Surrogacy.