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Mommy Minute: A Look At Surrogacy

In this two-part special, Fox CT’s Sarah Cody takes a look at women who use surrogacy to start their own families.

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Elijah’s smile lights up his little face, framed by a full head of thick, dark hair.

“He’s just silly; he’s a love,” says Erica Harmelech of Glastonbury, who once wondered if she’d ever become a mom.

While trying to conceive, with help from a high risk team, she suffered a pulmonary embolism. Since pregnancy was no longer an option, she began to think about surrogacy.

“It was terribly strange to me,” says Erica’s husband, Etan. But after research the Harmelechs decided it was the right choice, became matched with a surrogate and embarked on an IVF procedure with her eggs and his sperm . The next year was filled with nerves, gratitude and, ultimately, joy.

“It’s weird, it’s complicated, it’s a variety of feelings,” says Erica, remembering the moment when she heard the surrogate was pregnant, admitting she felt “terrified” until after the first trimester.

While a lot of mothers change their lifestyle as their belly grows, Erica struggled to figure out how to prepare: “You can’t change your eating habits, you can’t change your social habits, so I knit! I knit, like, four-thousand hats!”

The couple only saw their surrogate, living in Kentucky, two times during the pregnancy, but they were in the hospital room when Elijah was born.

“She wanted us to do ‘skin-to-skin’ in the room with her,” says a grateful Erica. “We have a very open relationship.” The baby hadn’t heard his parents’ voices, but he took to them right away.

“When I held him, for me, that was the moment I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s our kid. That’s our guy,” remembers Etan.

See Sarah Cody’s interview with the Harmelech family below:

“Sometimes it’s stressful,” says attorney Victoria Ferrara, founder of the matching agency, Worldwide Surrogacy Specialists in Fairfield. “You’re dealing with people’s hopes and dreams of having a baby.”

Insurance can be a complicated issue. The Harmelechs’ plan was used for fertility treatments, and the surrogate’s insurance covered the pregnancy. Surrogacy’s huge price tag — about $100,000 from start to finish, including clinic services, legal fees and the surrogate’s payment — can also be an obstacle.

“We couldn’t afford surrogacy,” says Erica. “So everybody in our family and everybody in our community gave whatever they could.”

Ferrara helps people understand the complexities. “It’s like a puzzle, putting the pieces together for establishing legal parentage for the ‘Intended Parents’,” she says. “Every state is different in terms of figuring that out.”

Elijah, now 5 months old, will always be 100 percent aware of his birth story.

“I think it’s a great lesson for him about kindness and giving,” says Erica. “He literally is a child of love, and I think that’s cool for him to know.”

The Harmelechs saved an embryo from their first IVF procedure and would love to give Elijah a sibling, but they remain overwhelmed by the financial commitment. For now they will keep playing with their son, their dream come true.

She held a tape recording to her stomach so the twin boys she was carrying could get used to the sounds of their mom and dad’s voices.

“I think I was about 9 and someone said, “What are you going to be when you grow up?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to have babies’,” says Lisa Marie Basiliere, a 37-year-old surrogate mother and social worker from Danielson.

Gay marriage and such celebrities as Sarah Jessica Parker and Jimmy Fallon have put the spotlight on surrogacy, which is becoming a more common way to have a child. But myths and misconceptions remain, so Basiliere is proud to speak out about her “unique journey” to help others become parents.

“I’m glad that people are starting to change the way they look at surrogacy,” says this single mother of five who was inspired to become a surrogate after experiencing the pain of a friend who couldn’t conceive. “I felt that God had given me my soul group, and I was done, and now I could help other people get there, too.”

But she didn’t take-on this job lightly, worrying about her kids’ confusion, the stress on her body and her emotions. After a psychological screening process, she joined with Worldwide Surrogacy Specialists in Fairfield, the first full-service “matching” agency in Connecticut, established in 2000 by lawyer Victoria Ferrara, well-known for her work with the gay community.

Over the last two years, Ferrara says her business has tripled: “Connecticut happens to be a very favorable state for surrogacy.” In 2011, she won a landmark case in front of the Connecticut Supreme Court, enabling both “intended parents” to be listed on the birth certificate as long as a valid surrogacy contract is in place. But laws vary from state to state, and Ferrara believes old-fashioned stigmas remain.

See Sarah Cody’s interview with Victoria Ferrara below:

“We do gestational surrogacy. So the woman is not carrying her own baby. She is agreeing to be paid to carry an embryo that’s made from a different sperm and egg,” Ferrara says, noting that her surrogates, who earn between $25,000 and $40,000, outside of medical expenses, are primarily educated women that enjoy being pregnant. “They know what they’re doing; they’re respected,” she says. “It’s really a very positive group of people coming together to help a family have a baby.”

Basiliere read children’s books about surrogacy to her kids, so they would understand her job. After the birth of the twins, she waited 15 hours to meet them to give herself time to process the event. Now 3-1/2 years later, she keeps in touch with the family and says she has a special love for the boys: “For me, the relationship is huge. They would come to appointments, we would get together.”

She recently signed a contract to go through the process again. When curious people ask her, “How can you simply be a vessel?” Basiliere answers: “It’s definitely the way you go into it. You definitely have to know this is a gift you’re giving to somebody else.”

>>This series on surrogacy will continue in the Courant and on Fox CT next Monday, Nov. 11, with the story of a Glastonbury family who had a baby through a surrogate.

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