The surrogate is in Oregon. The parents are in China. And the baby is in limbo. – OregonLive

First-time gestational surrogate Shandi Phelps realized her life was about to take a bizarre turn when President Donald Trump announced in January that the U.S. would restrict travel between China and the United States due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Phelps, of Grants Pass, is two weeks away from delivering a Chinese couples first child, and the soon-to-be parents are now stuck more than 6,000 miles away on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

You think of all the things that could go wrong, Phelps said, but never in my wildest dreams would I expect a pandemic happening just weeks before having this baby.

Phelps and her husband, Geoff Phelps, who had prepared themselves and their two children for a swift handoff after the birth, now face the reality they may be holding onto this baby indefinitely.

Phelps story is not unique, as Oregon is a popular international destination for gestational surrogacy, an industry banned in many states and countries.

Tabitha Koh, legal director for Northwest Surrogacy Center in Portland, which is not involved in Phelps surrogacy, said she and staff have worked overtime since January helping dozens of families get into the U.S. before their babies births. Some families are arriving two months early. Many had to travel through other countries and complete quarantine. Two missed their babies births due to premature deliveries.

The situation has been evolving so quickly, Koh said. Its been difficult to manage everyone with all the details.

Koh, managing partner and attorney for law firm Bouneff, Chally & Koh, is encouraging Northwest Surrogacys overseas families to contact U.S. embassies to explain their situation. In France, she said, some parents trying to get to the U.S. are being asked to show the babys birth certificate.

Under normal circumstances, Koh said, Surrogacy Center and other agencies shes worked with have seen occasional cases of parents being held up by visa problems or family emergencies. But circumstances where you have a baby thats ready to discharge from the hospital, which is usually one to two days after birth in Oregon, and the parents are not there to take responsibility, is really unusual, she said.

In Phelps case, the babys parents can no longer fly from China to Southern Oregon for the birth of their son. The husband scrambled to use his Canadian visa to get overseas, but Canada has restricted entry to non-residents who dont have family in Canada.

They are very disappointed, Shandi Phelps said. They were looking forward to being here, and not only for the birth, but to have this really big, incredible moment. Now, they wont be able to be here for who knows how long?

The parents declined comment.

Their agency is offering to place the newborn with a nanny in Southern California until the parents can arrive from China, Shandi Phelps said, but she and her husband decided keeping the baby is the least they can do for the heartbroken parents.

In my mind, it will be like having a foster baby, said Geoff Phelps. Im sure we will get attached, and it will be hard to say goodbye, but its worth it for us to go through that knowing the baby will be taken care of.

Shandi Phelps is offering to pump breast milk for the baby, since she considers breastfeeding a little too bonding. She and her husband are also offering to extend the babys care without additional compensation on top of what shes already receiving as a gestational surrogate, except for any lost wages if she needs to take additional time off from her full-time job as a family support supervisor for a Southern Oregon nonprofit organization.

For me, this isnt a business transaction, she said, adding later, I want a lifelong relationship with this family. I want pictures and to watch this little guy grow up. It is important to me, and they were on the same page with that.

Phelps said she had wanted to become a gestational surrogate for years, but it took a long time to convince her husband. The idea of never experiencing pregnancy again was very sad to me, so if I could just be pregnant and not actually keep the baby, that would be perfect.

Geoff Phelps said he was hesitant mostly due to concerns about putting his wifes health at risk. Becoming more educated on the process and seeing how informed, confident and passionate she was about this, made me more comfortable.

When the surrogacy agency notified Shandi Phelps that shed been matched with the couple in China, she and her husband made a point to check in with their own children, 12-year-old Addie and 5-year-old Wyatt.

The Phelps family of Grants Pass: (from left) Geoff, Shandi, son Wyatt and daughter Addie.Courtesy of Geoff and Shandi Phelps

Weve had a lot of conversations about Mommy carrying this baby for someone else, and that hes not ours, and we dont get to keep him, she said.

I thought it was cool and interesting, Addie said by email. I didnt know someone could do that. I thought if people couldnt have a baby they had to adopt. I thought my mom was brave and cool because she wants to help other people.

The future parents selected one of their frozen embryos, a male, to be implanted in Shandi Phelps uterus. She took hormone supplements and daily shots to prepare her body for a pregnancy. In August, the embryo transfer took on the first try.

Syringes surround an ultrasound image of the baby Shandi Phelps is carrying as a gestational surrogate.Courtesy of Geoff and Shandi Phelps

Shandi Phelps said shes sad that her vision of the delivery wont come to pass: Having the baby, the couple holding him for the first time, that magical moment of watching them become parents which is really the whole goal of this thing.

The Phelpses are in constant communication with the babys relatives, reassuring them theyre doing everything possible to protect the baby and themselves from COVID-19.

As a sign of their bond, the future parents invited the Phelpses to select the babys English name for the birth certificate.

Its their tradition to have both a Chinese and American name, Shandi Phelps said. We came up with four or five choices, but I wanted the parents to be involved. Plus, its not easy to pick a name!

When asked if shell ever volunteer to be a surrogate again, she slowly mulled over the idea of sticking with the same family or finding a couple closer to home.

How about we just get through this one, first?

Libby Dowsett:

Continued here:
The surrogate is in Oregon. The parents are in China. And the baby is in limbo. - OregonLive

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