Jennifer Clarke with three of her children. (photo from Jennifer Clarke)
By the time Cyrus and Pam Mizrahi met in the summer of 2015, Pam had already gone through menopause, yet they wanted to have kids. After getting married in December of that year, the couple decided to explore their options.
“We both wanted to have children and Pam was not in a condition to have babies, so it was adoption or a surrogating program,” said Cyrus.
They chose surrogacy, Cyrus explained, because with “surrogacy you have all sorts of options when it comes to having your own kids or children. Adoption is different. You take babies from another parent.”
The Mizrahis did some research and opted for an agency in their home city of Boston, called Circle Surrogacy, an established firm that connected them with a surrogate from the City of Surprise, Ariz. Though they would have loved to have found a Jewish surrogate, none was available at the time. They consulted their rabbi.
“We contacted the rabbi who officiated our wedding,” said Cyrus. “He approved it and said it was a great idea. He said that what is more important is how we bring up our babies – providing Jewish education and raising them Jewish, if we want them to maintain a Jewish identity. It’s certainly important, of high importance, to us.”
The next step was working with the laboratory to produce the embryos. The Mizrahis wanted a boy and a girl. Luckily, both embryos took, and the twins were born on May 17, 2016.
“The first thing we did when the babies were born was we had the bris for the boy, of course,” said Cyrus. “I’ve taken them to shul a number of times and I’ll continue doing that. We have a kosher kitchen at home. We’re not Orthodox, but we observe to some degree. We’re hoping to send them to Jewish school and provide them with a Hebrew education.”
He said, “We named them after my parents’ Hebrew names. Our son is named Sol for Solomon (but only Sol) and our daughter is named Alexa. Sol is after my father – we have the tradition that we can name him after someone who is alive – and his middle name is Michael, named after my wife’s uncle. Alexa is a Hebrew name, named after my mom.” (It is an Ashkenazi custom to not name a child after a living person.)
The connection with the surrogate was very positive and strong. She has come to visit the twins and new parents three times within the past year.
“She lives far away, but she comes from time to time to visit us,” said Cyrus. “We’re always welcoming and it’s fine with us. We want to keep her as a friend in the family.”
With Cyrus having many relatives in Israel, he is anxious to take his kids for a visit there – and he and Pam are planning to do so when the twins turn 4 or 5 years old. “I have many cousins, first and second cousins,” said Cyrus. “A whole tribe. They are all over Israel – Petah Tikva, Jerusalem, Kfar Saba, all over.”
As for the surrogate, her name is Jennifer Clarke. She teaches high school Spanish just outside Surprise, which is a suburb of Phoenix.
For Clarke, the idea of surrogacy arose a few years back when she saw an ad at her church posted by a couple who could not have their own children. They were seeking a surrogate, and Clarke thought to herself, “I can have babies so easily…. I have four. I’ve never had any problems or complications, and others can’t and really want kids. So, I thought I’d offer to do that if she’d cover the medical expenses…. I talked my then-husband into it – he did think I was crazy … but he was used to my crazy ideas and eventually was accepting of it. I approached the girl about it and they had just received confirmation of getting two children from Mexico, a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, so they didn’t need a service like that any longer.”
But, as Clarke already had made up her mind to help, she began doing some research, looking for someone else she might be able to assist. Clarke found a few companies that provide surrogacy service and went through the extensive application process.
“They want to make sure you’re mentally stable and that you’re financially sound,” she said. “You can’t be doing this if you want money … they don’t offer very much. It’s mostly just expenses plus a bonus. You can’t be in it for the money.”
The application took about two hours to complete over the phone. The company also screens the surrogacy applicant’s friends and spouse (if there is one). Everyone gets at least one hour-long phone call, to try and ensure that the surrogate has a strong support system and that there will not be an issue with the spouse or anyone else close to the surrogate. If the applicant qualifies – including being given the green light by their doctor and obstetrician/gynecologist – a profile is created of her, which is shown to “intended parents” (IPs).
The company selects some potential surrogates who match what the IPs are seeking – including factors such as how much communication they want with the surrogate, what the surrogate’s habits are (for example, diet, activity level, etc.) – and shows their files to the potential parents. “They sort of match you like a dating service,” said Clarke. “It might take a couple of interviews to find someone who fully suits you, but then you get matched and start the process of hormone treatments, implantation and such.”
Having Our Baby: The Surrogacy Boom, a documentary by Vancouver filmmaker Nick Orchard, aired recently on the Documentary Channel in Canada. While there are some differences between Canada and the United States when it comes to surrogacy, it seems that both countries’ systems work to ensure that the surrogate is entering the arrangement with mainly altruistic rather than monetary aims.
According to Orchard, infertility is often a “disability, for lack of a better word,” that couples hide. Therefore, he said, “most people are unaware of how, for some couples, it’s a real problem – conceiving and having a child of their own. So, it’s a situation where couples and gay couples and, every now and again, some single people really want to have a child, but they can’t do it without help from someone else. That’s when they reach out.”
He said, “The surrogates are doing this because they very much want to help someone. What they are doing is incredibly selfless – to put their … in many cases … own lives on the line. There are dangers involved in having a baby and to do all of that, I find it quite incredible. That was one of the things that first drew me to the topic.”
Some of the costs involved in hiring a surrogate in Canada, according to Orchard, include $10,000 to an agency; $20,000 for a surrogate’s expenses; $30,000 in fees for the clinics doing the transfers, developing the embryos, and so on; and $30,000 in legal fees for agreements drawn up between the surrogate and the IPs, to reduce the risks of having a surrogate change her mind and keep the baby once the process is done.
“You have to really want to have a child and, of course, it’s never a sure thing either,” said Orchard. “You can pay that money and you create the embryo … you might have to get the eggs from an egg donor … who you cannot pay [it is illegal]. You can get the embryos created and implant them, but, in many cases, they don’t take on the first go-around. So, you’ve just lost $10,000 and you have to start all over again.”
For more information on Orchard’s documentary and some of the facts about surrogacy in Canada, visit cbc.ca/documentarychannel/docs/having-our-baby.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.