Sharon LaMothe: The Two-Time Carrier and Agency Founder who Helped Pass a State Law

Rebecca Hochreiter
Rebecca Hochreiter
CMO of Gostork

I was honored to chat with Sharon LaMothe, Director of PNW Surrogacy, Founder of LaMothe Surrogacy Consulting, Surrogacy and Third Party Family Building Educator and Advisor, co-author of Surrogacy Helps Make a Family Grow! AND advocate for the adoption of surrogacy law in Washington State – what an amazing list of achievements! A two-time carrier herself, Sharon speaks about her passion for helping others grow their family and offers advice for intended parents considering surrogacy.

1. You really have done it all.  With over two decades in the fertility industry, from working in the legal arena, to running a surrogacy agency, to consulting to intended parents, to serving on several boards, to carrying two sets of twins as a carrier yourself (I’m tired just writing all of that!) …  how did your passion for this work begin and can you share a couple of your most valuable experiences along the way? 

It seems like the past 20+ years have gone by quickly. My passion for surrogacy started in 1998 when a friend needed help completing his family. His wife had lupus and almost died giving birth to their daughter and he was searching for a solution when I brought up surrogacy, never thinking that I would be the one to actually carry twin girls for him and his wife. I have always been one to care for others which included my working in retirement and nursing homes before my marriage and then raising my own 2 children and taking care of my elderly grandmother for 10 years (she died at age 100). The thought of surrogacy came very natural to me especially because I suffered from secondary infertility myself. (My own kids are 9.5 years apart). That condition alone made me think that I might not be a good candidate but the Reproductive Endocrinologist didn’t have a problem with it as it was hormone-based, meaning I had no miscarriages or other complications. (Side note: This has helped me connect with IPs as I understand the innate desire to become a parent and the need IPs have to provide a sibling for an only child.)

After giving birth to those first twins I was asked to join an adoption lawyers office as she was expanding into surrogacy. I worked there, mostly remotely, for about 3 years when I was finally convinced that I should start up my own surrogacy agency. I had made quite a few connections within the surrogacy arena by that point as well as having the support of my Intended Father and another business-minded surrogate who eventually became my partner. My husband was also very supportive along with family and friends. The agency quickly grew and gained a great reputation for being the first of its kind in Florida.

While running my agency (Surrogacy Consultants of Florida or SCF), I met my second set of Intended Parents. A gay couple who had been together for over 16 years. Their story was very compelling to me so in 2004 I agreed to become their surrogate and ended up giving birth in 2005 to their full term girl/boy twins. As much as I might have wanted to become a surrogate a 3rd time, I knew that at age 41 I was at my limit. Four pregnancies for four different fathers was a running joke at our office. By that time my partner and I had 4 past surrogates working with us and we had a reputation for being a hands on, no drama agency with reasonable fees and a close network of professionals working with us.

As fate would have it, my husband received a job offer in WA state and in 2007 we moved our family to the Seattle area. WA state did not have surrogacy laws that were favorable for an agency so as I slowly closed my FL office (officially closed in 2009), I started a consulting business here in Washington. Currently I am Co-Director of PNW Surrogacy, a part of the Bright Families Futures team of agencies as well as the owner of LaMothe Services, a business solutions company aimed at those within the field of assisted reproduction and LaMothe Surrogacy Consulting for those needing surrogacy education or are going through an independent surrogacy arrangement.

 

2. What advice would you give to intended parents just beginning to think about surrogacy?

There’s a lot of information to consider! My advice for intended parents would be to not to take all selection criteria at face value.  What I mean by that is, learn how to discern helpful information from all the metrics each agency will share.  Here are just a few examples:

  1. It’s great to know how many successful births an agency has had – but remember it isn’t entirely in each agency’s control how quickly pregnancies progress or how many high-quality embryos are available.  The number of babies is really good information to have, but in the end, it won’t be the only predictor of whether you’ll have a good experience.
  2. Some intended parents ask agencies to provide references. You should feel free to do so as well, but realize those will be hand-selected intended parents who had a great experience with the agency. Again, these are great to review, but you should also look for references provided by past intended parents on an objective platform.  Read carefully to really get a sense of the range of experiences – you’ll want to (and deserve to) be treated as a whole person, not just a number or a name on a contract.
  3. The surrogacy journey is expensive – so if you’re looking to save money, just keep in mind that cheaper is not always better.  As just one example of this; you may see one singular cost listed for a given agency journey, but make sure you know the line-by-line breakdown for all components of that journey – ie. everything you’re getting for that one cost.  For example, at one agency, the cost you see may not cover as many services as what a higher cost covers at another agency.
  4. Size and years of experience can be a great indicator of a strong track record, but that shouldn’t discount more boutique or newer agencies.  Your personal preference is also important here. If you feel more comfortable in a smaller or newer agency, continue to research them… they may have lower volume to date, but you could have a great experience.  For starters, some newer agencies’ staff may have really strong skills, honed from being in the industry for a long time at a different agency (which may be well-respected itself, making their overall experience meaningful criteria).  All that is to say that you could have a great experience at a less ‘established’ agency, but at a lower cost as they work on building up their business.  I’m not necessarily saying this is the way to go – the point is not to discount them just for being new.

 

3. Are there certain things you see intended parents are often surprised by throughout the journey that you can help them better predict or prepare for?

I think that new Intended Parents often underestimate what the surrogacy process can cost. I often quote a low-end budget of $120,000 to a higher end of $150,000 and above depending on if they need an egg donor or not, if they are international or domestic and if they have a special need that they want their surrogate to fulfill for them such as extra travel, attend certain pregnancy specialist appointments, pumping breast milk after the birth or wanting her to voluntarily stop working for the duration of the pregnancy.

Other considerations when going through a surrogacy journey are the costs of insurance, lost wages, child care, bed rest and unexpected complications that can take a toll on any budget. An unexpected twin pregnancy where a single embryo splits can also be a surprise that comes with higher costs and specialists not to mention baby care after the birth. Failed transfers and miscarriages that might result in a surrogate backing out and a rematch will also cost more. There is also a team of professionals that need to be paid which can include the surrogacy and/or egg donation agency, consultants, escrow services, attorneys, mental health professionals, fertility clinic, pharmaceutical company, OB/midwife, doula, and so on all have to be paid out of the surrogacy budget. Let’s not forget the surrogate herself who will receive anywhere between $30,000-$60,000 depending on her experience and location plus expenses.

 

4. Not many people can claim that they’ve helped pass a state law.  As one of the few who have, can you tell us more about that experience and the outcome? 

When my family and I moved to WA state in 2007 I understood that commercial surrogacy was not allowed. I started my consulting business so I could help those who were working with a family member or close friend for uncompensated surrogacy arrangements. Compensation is just one component to the surrogacy process and IPs along with their surrogates still needed to be guided through the process including legal, mental health, medical, and managing the expectations of such an arrangement.

I believe it was 2009 when a bill was first introduced into the WA State House regarding compensated surrogacy. I was asked to testify in the senate after it had passed the house but because the republicans were not on board and they held the majority of the seats the bill did not pass that year. The same thing happened in 2011 and it wasn’t until 2019 that finally the Uniform Parentage Act was put into place and allowed women to be paid as surrogates. (The actual law was signed in 2018 but not legal until 2019)

I met a lot of wonderful professionals, Intended Parents and women who were surrogates during this legal process. Most talked about how hard it was to build their relationship long distance due to the fact that they needed to leave the state in order to find a surrogate to work with them. Others told of heartbreaking stories of missing the birth of their own children or the added burden of the extra expenses/time that traveling cost all involved. Personally speaking, talking to the law makers about my experiences and why I supported such a law was very fulfilling and I was happy to be an advocate for those without a voice. There are many women in WA state that just could not follow their calling to help others as surrogates because it was a criminal act to accept compensation. Now they can, if qualified. I was just a very small part of the process but happy to be included.

 

5. 2020 has been hard for everyone, to say the least.  But to look on the bright-ish side for just a moment; do you have any new hobbies, new favorite recipes or books, or anything else you’d like to recommend that you may not have discovered – or had time for – in The Time Before

2020 has certainly been a challenge! We put our home on the market in February and it sold in 4 days. Then the lockdown due to Covid-19 hit and we needed a plan ASAP.  Our new home, which is still being built and we might not move in until October, forced us to isolate with a good friend. So the 3 of us, my husband, myself, and our friend, have all been trying out new Keto recipes, working in her garden, and doing a lot of online shopping for the new place. We also visit our stuff in storage every so often! I love to read and I just finished The Generations Trilogy by Scott Sigler which was surprisingly good if you like Syfy. Also we all just binge-watched LOST as I was raising my kids when it was on and never made it past the 3rd season. Our kids are adults now and have been marching for Black Lives Matter and we only see them periodically and try to stay within the WA state guidelines. It’s hard but there is a lot of texting and facetiming going on. My mother is located in FL and my husband has his parents in Maine so we try to stay connected as best we can. I feel like we won’t be anywhere near normal until we have a working vaccine available to everyone.

 

Thank you, Sharon, your achievements throughout the years and the support you provide intended parents are truly admirable!

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