Mardi Palan is a 30-year-old Portland hairdresser, who plans to carry twins for a gay couple from Israel.
Palan isn't married, but she has a partner and a one-and-a-half year old son. "When I was pregnant, I carried my son really well and I really enjoyed being pregnant and people mentioned surrogacy as an option to kind of make money on the side," she said.
Palan will get about $25,000 if she successfully delivers a child, plus another $5,000 if she can carry twins. Her plan is to use the money for a down payment on a house. And money isn't her only motive. She also decided to become a surrogate to "do something really nice for someone else," she said.
Over the last few years, Oregon has quietly become something of a center for women willing to carry children for those unable to get pregnant. There are several reasons for that: lenient laws, a critical mass of successful fertility clinics and a system for amending a birth certificate pre-birth.
The first step in the process: Palan needed to sign a contract. And that contract gets into all kinds of nitty-gritty details about her pregnancy.
For example, it states that she has to undergo several medical tests and agree to the exercise and diet dictates of her physician. She's subject to random drug, alcohol and nicotine testing. She can't clean a litter box, get a tattoo or expose herself to x-rays, at a dentist's appointment, for example.
And the contract clearly states Palan is not selling her children or agreeing to terminate her parental rights.
That’s because none of her genetic material will be involved.
The two eggs will come from a donor and the sperm will come from the two fathers from Israel. "The analogy is that I'm the soil and someone else is the seed and someone else is the water, so we come together to make the child," Palan said.
The contract says Palan is getting paid for services rendered and as compensation for pain and any emotional distress she may suffer as a result of the surrogacy.
Palan’s lawyer Marlene Findling, believes it’s a good contract. “By far the vast majority of these contracts go really smoothly,” she said. “So yes, I do believe this contract does protect her.”
Palan signed up through the Northwest Surrogacy Center in Portland. The company was founded in 1994. It will get about $23,000 for facilitating her surrogacy, and doctors get another $45,000 for their work.
The contract is direct at points. It stipulates that Palan will get $2,500 if she loses her uterus. Surrogacy Center Director John Chally said that's intentional.
"The contract needs to be black and white, because there has to be some clarity at one point in the process regarding expectations," he said. "But as with most of those things, those contracts don't describe relationships between people."
Another interesting clause in Palan's contract is that she has agreed not travel across the border to Washington during her pregnancy. Washington allows surrogacy for only a limited set of reasons, and surrogacy for financial gain is illegal there.
Sister Sharon Park is with the Washington State Catholic Conference. She supports the state's restrictions, because she said "the potential for exploitation of surrogates is huge, especially when money gets involved."
But Chally, of the NW Surrogacy Center, said he aims to make sure surrogates aren't turned into commodities. He says he's turned away prospective parents who don't appear to value the relationship with their surrogate.
"Surrogates want to know who they are," he said. "They want to know what kind of relationship the two of them have. They want to see the joy in their eyes about realizing that there's a pregnancy. They frankly want some time and attention during that process, as a manifestation of their care and concern for her, as she's doing a truly remarkable thing for them."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that of the 60,000 births achieved through assisted reproduction each year, only about one percent happen through gestational surrogacy. The Oregon Health Department doesn't track the number of surrogacies in the state.
OPB plans to continue following Mardi Palan's story as she goes through surrogacy.