Family Planning Continues Amid Uncertainty

man with twin infants
Surrogate Steps client William Salzman holds his newborn twins. | Photo by Ursula Mohr

Yifat Shaltiel witnessed fertility clinic operations grind to a halt in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 has really, really impacted the infertility community,” the director of Surrogate Steps said.

Planning a family via surrogacy or adoption has always been complicated, and the global health crisis hasn’t made things any simpler. Despite these hurdles, agencies like Shaltiel’s are still working to help couples and individuals become parents.

Surrogate Steps, which is based in Maryland and operates in the Philadelphia area, serves clients of all backgrounds who want to have children via surrogacy. It also specializes in helping Jewish parents build families through surrogacy in compliance with Jewish law.

In the spring, Shaltiel was helping clients cope with delays. Embryo transfer — the process of implanting a fertilized egg in a surrogate’s uterus — could not take place. Surrogates already carrying embryos could visit their clinics only if they did not have to travel there by plane.
Now that stay-at-home orders have been lifted in most states, clinics are proceeding with caution. Surrogates must wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines before their embryo transfers. Surrogate Steps also requires surrogates and their immediate contacts to quarantine as much as possible and get tested for COVID-19 before the procedure.

Deborah Spivack, an adoption and surrogacy lawyer and fellow at American Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys, said one of the most challenging aspects of negotiating surrogacy during the health crisis is enabling parents to be at the hospital when their surrogate gives birth to their child.

Spivack, who is Jewish, said most of her clients work with surrogates who live in the same region, if not the same state. However, if a surrogate lives in a different state, parents often must quarantine immediately before or after crossing state lines to meet their child. Most opt to quarantine at home and then drive to the hospital.

Additionally, every hospital has different policies about allowing visitors during birth. Many require temperature checks and a negative COVID-19 test before entry.

Adoption agencies also have changed their operations to place children with families.

Open Arms Adoption Network, a program of Jewish Family and Children’s Service, has adjusted to conducting home visits virtually.

Meredith Rose, director of Open Arms, said in pre-pandemic times her staff would conduct three to four visits to the homes of adoption applicants to learn more about them.

In addition to making sure residences are safe for children, home visits are a chance to evaluate whether an applicant would make a good parent based on personal conversations about their work, family and values.

Zoom has proven to be an efficient way to transfer the meetings online. Typical home visit distractions, such as toddlers or pets underfoot, are easier to avoid on a call.

Rose said COVID-19 has not had much impact on the number of birth parents seeking an adoption plan for their children. Her agency specializes in providing resources and support to expectant and new mothers unsure if they will be able to care for their babies.

“Eighty percent of women we work with will choose not to move forward with an adoption plan,” Rose said. She is proud of that number.

If expectant parents do choose to pursue an open adoption, they can choose the family that will raise their child.

They typically have many personal reasons why adoption is the best choice for themselves and their children, and the pandemic is not a determining factor.

Some adoptive parents, on the other hand, are rethinking their plans, especially in the face of job insecurity and unemployment.

Shaltiel said the pandemic has had a financial impact on parents pursuing surrogacy. Many surrogacy contracts require them to provide a monthly allowance to surrogates to cover prenatal care like vitamins, and the payments had to continue even as egg donations, embryo freezing and transfers were delayed.

Spivack said people are still determined to follow through on their family planning despite logistical and financial challenges.

“They’ve adapted to the changing needs in the medical community and have continued down this journey because it’s not something that can be indefinite. People want to grow their families at a certain time of their life, and I haven’t seen that change dramatically as a result of this,” she said.; 215-832-0729


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