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Serving as a surrogate is an act of profound generosity, the honor and magnitude of which is difficult to overstate. But too often times, surrogates are treated as mere pawns in a larger business transaction, and deliver a child without the praise, care, and protection they deserve.

Whether you’re only first starting to explore the possibility of serving as a surrogate or you’ve already delivered a child for another couple and are looking to do so again, there are important matters to keep in mind to ensure you’re properly protected and supported during your pregnancy. Throughout the process, you need to make decisions which are best for you and be steadfast in your refusal to enter into any arrangements which you don’t understand. Partly because there is no federal regulation governing surrogacy on a national level, the practice is rife with schemes and fraud, and this murky legal structure can leave surrogates especially vulnerable.

The first step is to find and connect with your intended parents. Whenever possible, you should meet face-to-face with your intended parents, and be skeptical of any agency which limits your interaction to mere email exchanges. You should decide for yourself where there’s a mutual fit and whether you’re comfortable delivering a child for the intended parents. If any surrogacy agency, consultant, or lawyer presents with you an overly aggressive take-it-or-leave-it approach in choosing your intended parents, take it as a sign to look elsewhere.

Once you’ve found your intended parents, the next step is to execute a legal agreement which you fully understand and which properly protects you. Please be aware: you should have your own legal representation. If your surrogacy agency or intended parents are asking you to accept joint representation, refuse. And, to be frank, walk away right then and there. There is too much at stake in a surrogacy agreement for both intended parents and surrogates not to have their own separate, individual legal representation. In fact, California has recently recognized this and formally required each party to have separate legal representation. But you should make this demand no matter where you live – and do so with confidence, for in a fair and equitable surrogacy arrangement, intended parents should cover the cost of your legal representation.

Within the agreement itself, some legal considerations are fairly standard, but there are specific situations which should be covered. As you know, there can be unexpected occurrences during your pregnancy, and sometimes these developments prevent you from following your normal routine. A properly drafted agreement will provide additional income to you in this situation, or will provide for help in your home if necessary. A sound agreement will also protect you from any financial losses resulting from the pregnancy by ensuring that all potential expenses are covered. These are just the basics — there are many more situations that should be covered by your contract and a competent lawyer can address those with you.