Gestational surrogacy for Ohio and Michigan couples could be the answer to infertility woes – WTOL

Infertility affects many U.S. couples. But for those looking to start their families with a child that's genetically theirs, gestational surrogacy is an option.

SYLVANIA, Ohio While the joys of getting married and starting a family seem to fit together like simple puzzle pieces. The reality for many couples across the United States is that those pieces don't always easily fit together in the traditional sense.

National infertility data found around 9% of men and 11% of women experience fertility issues. One answer for couples looking to start their families with a child that's genetically theirs is through gestational surrogacy. But, surrogacy isn't legal in every state.

Upon research by WTOL 11, in the state of Michigan, financial contractual surrogacy is illegal. The contracts are specifically prohibited by the Michigan Surrogate Parenting Act MCL Section 722.851.

Thus local couples are able to look to surrogacy agency services, like that of Gift of Life Surrogacy Agency, for help. Co-founders Dr. F. Nicholas Shamma and Zein Shamma started the Sylvania-based agency three years ago.

While Dr. F. Nicholas Shamma has been an endocrinologist and infertility specialist in Michigan and Ohio for decades, his wife Zein explained there are some couples that needed surrogacy help, that's why they started their agency.

"It's the best feeling," Zein Shamma said. "Hopefully everyone will leave for home happy with a baby. We are so pro-family building. That's our mission."

Zein Shamma explained that parents in both states deserve a chance at a baby. The agency has helped single parents and couples, heterosexual or homosexual, have their children.

"Everybody is welcome in our agency. Mainly if you think about the heterosexual couples, they go through so much until they get to our door saying we need a gestational carrier. But then again, if you think about gay couples, that's where they start," Zein Shamma said.

Therefore, with the goal to help more families in need, she's looking for more gestational surrogates in Ohio. Those interested must already be done having their own children and have a great support system before starting the journey.

Surrogacy is in two forms: traditional and gestational. A traditional surrogate uses the surrogates' egg for fertilization, whereas, a gestational surrogate only houses the parents' or donors' embryos. Gestational surrogacy ensures that the surrogate is not the biological parent of the embryo.

"Now in more and more states, and in most states, traditional surrogacy is frowned upon. It's gestational surrogacy the only way to go. That protects the intended parents, embryo and the gestational carrier," Zein Shamma added.

Numerous Lawyers, various contracts, large costs and thorough health histories are heavily enforced during this process for the parents and gestational surrogate. Thus, this process takes months and Shamma noted that the actual matching process between the surrogate and parent(s) could take up to a year.

The agency allows both parent(s) and surrogate to lay out how they'd like their surrogacy journey to go.

"We're with you every step of the way. We play cupid with our couples to make sure it's the right match for everyone," Zein Shamma said.

First-time gestational surrogate Laura Aranda said this was something she's been interested in since she wrote a paper on the topic in high school.

Now a happily married mother of two, she and her husband agreed since they were done having children, she'd jump through those numerous legal and medical hoops. The biggest reason she wanted to become a gestational surrogate was to give another family a chance for a child.

"It's so rewarding. It's exciting, and you get a different perspective on life, I think. When you take this journey, whether you're the surrogate or the partner of the surrogate, for my husband, I think we've grown since this journey," Aranda said.

She joked with her husband that at times he was more attentive during this pregnancy than her first two.

"Where were you those other times?" Aranda laughed.

At times, one of the biggest factors in the legality of surrogacy is the financial aspect. Shamma explained that Gift of Life Surrogacy Agency does ensure that surrogates are compensated for their journey.

"If the gestational carrier has zero experience going through a journey she gets paid $30,000. If she has an actual insurance that covers her plan for a surrogacy journey her compensation goes up to $35,000. If she's already had a journey before she gets paid $40,000. But if her insurance is also friendly she gets paid $45,000. So, anyway it varies from $30,000 to $60,000 dollars," Shamma said.

She added that this financial journey for the intended parent(s) is not a cheap one. While there are payment plans, and potentially some financial assistance, this could range from $90,000 to nearly $120,000 dollars. But, Shamma said those numbers shouldn't scare anyone; it's just best to be prepared.

For local couple Anuja and Mahul Shah, they were prepared to take the plunge since the traditional method for having children has been a big challenge for them since 2013.

"The doctors were like 'Ah, you're fine, you know.' 'Just keep going.' I just knew there was something was wrong and we ended up finding out after many tests, many different doctors that we were both born with chromosomal translocations," Anuja Shah explained.

The pair had fallen in love and gotten married in 2013 and began their parental effort of trying for a baby. But, Anuja kept having miscarriages.

News of their chromosomal translocations meant neither Anuja nor Mahul could give the correct number of chromosomes for a sustainable pregnancy. In fact, their genetic makeup is so rare, only 1 in 10 million couples have even experienced this kind of hardship.

"The [doctors explained] likelihood of you guys creating a genetically healthy embryo is going to be one in 64," Anuja Shah said.

While their story is rare, unfortunately, the story of infertility across the U.S. data found1/3 of infertile couples is due to the man, another 1/3 is the woman and the final 1/3 could be both.

Gestational surrogacy was where the Shahs found themselves around 2017. Anuja Shah said infertility can cause war not only within a relationship but within yourself.

"There was so much hard work, and perseverance and dedication and crying and bawling and anger. All of the emotions that you can think of," Anuja Shah said. "I read a stat, I believe it was like one in three couples that go through infertility get divorced. It's hard. Women and men are so different."

Aranda said that while she loved and believes that if other women want to they should definitely think about the surrogacy journey. But, she added that this isn't for the faint of heart.

"You'll have to be a strong-minded individual," Aranda said. "Do research, research, research, and actually speak to people who have been a surrogate, because reading versus talking to someone who's gone through it is very different."

She explained that every gestational surrogate learns something about themselves and their own families while growing in their journey.

"I already had the mindset that is not my child it doesn't have my DNA. Although I'm carrying it and yes I to this day I love him like he was my own," Aranda said.

She gave birth to a healthy baby boy in June 2021 and said she's already ready to help another family.

The Shah's are appreciative of women like Aranda, because the pair had their daughter Gianna Shah through gestational surrogate Emily Westerfield and welcomed identical twin boys Kaelin Shah and Niall Shah with Westerfield again in 2021.

"I feel like we both learned about this whole new world out there. About fertility and how it wasn't the end of the road for us," Mahul said.

If you're interested in learning more about becoming a Gestational Surrogate or want more information on help with infertility issues, Gift of Life Surrogacy Agency and The Shah family say they're happy to help.

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Gestational surrogacy for Ohio and Michigan couples could be the answer to infertility woes - WTOL

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