BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Lacey Tipton is a superwoman.
As a gestational carrier, the stay-at-home mom of two young children carried to term a 7-pound baby for a couple that previously had been unable to have children.
“Carrying someone else’s baby is pretty phenomenal,” Lacey said. “When I saw the family holding their baby for the first time in the delivery room – it made it all worth it.”
Becoming a surrogate takes someone special, said Zein Shamma, founder and COO of Gift of Life Surrogacy Center, which coordinated the match between Lacey and the intended parents.
“No one wakes up in the morning and decides to carry someone else’s baby unless they have that very special feeling inside of them,” Zein said.
Her husband, Dr. F. Nicholas Shamma, agrees.
“The reason that Zein and I chose the name Gift of Life is because we both feel strongly that the gestational carrier’s journey is the most beautiful gift any human can give to another human,” Dr. Shamma said.
As a reproductive endocrinologist and the founder of IVF Michigan and Ohio Fertility Centers, Dr. Shamma has performed over 10,000 invitro fertilization cases and helped thousands of couples achieve their goals of parenthood. He is board-certified in both obstetrics and gynecology, reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Yet he saw the heartbreak of some couples who still couldn’t have a baby despite medical intervention. That’s why he and Zein decided to open Gift of Life, to pair gestational carriers with intended parents in a safe, ethical manner.
“Every intended parent has their own unique situation in life that gets them to this,” Zein said. “Sometimes it’s their only option, as in gay couples, but more often it’s heterosexual couples that have a lot of baggage from previous trials of trying to get pregnant over the years and they have reached the stage where they can only have somebody carry for them.”
Gestational surrogacy is necessary when the intended parent does not have a uterus, such as with gay couples, or for women who don’t have a functional uterus, either because they were born without one, because it was taken out due to disease or because their uterus isn’t hospitable enough to allow implantation, Dr. Shamma said.
“Another category is those who can achieve pregnancy, but they are not able to carry it because of medical conditions,” he added. “And then we have people who have done multiple implantations and they failed. So, at the end of the day, these people have no other option but to use somebody else’s uterus.”
The process involves taking an embryo – either one donated or the parents’ own – and implanting it in the gestational carrier’s uterus. Both the intended parents and the surrogate are patients of IVF Ohio and benefit from the screening process and Dr. Shamma’s skill as a surgeon, Zein said.
“You could have a very good uterus and embryo, but you need a good surgeon to do this,” Dr. Shamma said.
Also unique to Gift of Life is the two-way matching process between the gestational carriers and the parents.
Carriers must be at least 21 years old and must have given birth to at least one child without any complications. The carrier must not be on government or state assistance, on medication for a mental health disorder or use illicit or recreational drugs. The carrier must also be able to travel for doctor’s appointments, screenings, transfers and monitoring. A stable lifestyle with a solid support system is necessary.
Both the carrier and the parents fill out detailed questionnaires and go through interviews to ensure the best match, Zein said. Questions cover viewpoints on abortion, selective reduction (when an egg splits and becomes twins), religious and political beliefs and the type of family the carrier would like to match with, as well as expectations for the relationship after the baby is born.
“It shocks me how well they can match people,” Lacey said. “On our first journey, I read the profile and said, ‘They kind of sound like us.’ Even in our first conversation on Zoom, I felt like I was talking to a friend. That conversation has to feel natural. I always pictured more of a lifelong friendship, even though I know it’s not biologically my baby.”
During the pregnancy, Lacey spoke weekly with the parents, sending updates from the doctor visits and even a recording of the baby’s heartbeat. After the baby was born in January, she’s seen photos and received updates from the family.
Becoming a surrogate is something that Lacey began thinking about before she married and had two children. After seeing family members and friends go through miscarriages or being unable to conceive, she talked about the idea with a friend. Then, when she was working for a day care, one mom shared that she was a surrogate, and Lacey began asking more questions.
At first her husband was skeptical, but after seeing what a huge impact his wife could have for a family, he agreed, and the family – including Lacey’s parents, children and friends – were with her every step of the way.
While her 2-year-old son isn’t old enough to understand, Lacey said her 5-year-old daughter understood that Mommy wouldn’t keep the baby. Using her daughter’s familiarity with farming and baby chicks that need to be kept warm until ready to hatch, Lacey was able to explain why.
“I told her that I’m like the incubator – I’m letting the baby grow and when the baby is ready, I’ll give it to the family,” she said. “She understood the concept and that this isn’t our baby.”
Since the baby was born, her daughter has also formed a close relationship with the baby’s family.
Answering questions from family and friends is part of the process, and Lacey said she doesn’t mind. In fact, one of her friends decided to also become a surrogate.
Of course, there’s also the question that she gets from others, who find out that the process can bring in $30,000 to $60,000 plus coverage of medical and pregnancy-related expenses.
“I don’t want someone to do it for the money,” she said. “You truly need to have in your heart that you want to help someone.”
For those who are interested in learning more about surrogacy, Gift of Life is hosting an informational session at Jonathon Khoi Nail Spa, 6819 W. Central Ave. in Toledo, on Saturday, December 3 at 1:00 p.m. Guests will enjoy appetizers, cocktails, a free pedicure and gifts while learning more about surrogacy. For information, visit www.giftoflifesurrogacy.com or call (419) 575-5506.