Exploring all of the options to growing your family

By Jennifer Florendo

Approximately 20 percent of the population is affected with fertility challenges. While many choose to pursue in vitro fertilization, others chose lesser-known methods such as surrogacy or gestational carriers.

Recently, a young couple who have documented their struggle to conceive in a realty television series brought to light both fertility challenges and the concept of using a gestational carrier to help make their dreams of a family come true. Bill and Giuliana Rancic have spent several years trying to conceive a child naturally through correctly timed intercourse. When that didn’t work, they sought out fertility treatments, chronicling their journey for their reality television show, “Giuliana and Bill,” on Style Network.

Upon their third attempt at IVF, it was discovered that Giuliana Rancic had breast cancer and was advised that she not become pregnant for at least three to five years to avoid any further health complications. For the 37-year-old Giuliana Rancic, this news was heartbreaking. Their doctor suggested they explore a gestational carrier, a concept that is innovative and gaining exposure.

While the term surrogate has been around for quite some time, a gestational carrier is a relatively unknown concept and an idea that may benefit many others who desire a family of their own.

With a gestational carrier, the couple will go through a procedure, such as IVF, to produce the embryo that is their biological child. That embryo is implanted in the gestational carrier’s uterus and she carries the baby to term. The baby then goes home with the biological parents.

“People think of fertility treatments as IVF only. Of course, it is still in vitro fertilization, but people think that it is very narrow and there aren’t a lot of options, but there are more than you might think,” said Shelly Cochran of The Fertility Center of Las Vegas.

In a recent special, “Giuliana & Bill: Baby Dreams,” broadcast on the Style Network, Giuliana Rancic admitted that she wasn’t aware of what a gestational surrogate was and that it would be a viable option for her and her husband. “Gestational surrogacy has given couples, who might not otherwise be able to have children, a great chance at families of their own,” she said (during the program).

Gestational surrogates aren’t just for celebrities. Take Tara*, a mother of five who is currently pregnant with a child for another couple. She first learned about gestational surrogacy from a friend.

“I thought she was pregnant with her third child, but she explained what she was doing and it stuck with me and is something I felt compelled to do,” said Tara.

In late 2011, an agency set her up with the couple whose dreams she would help come true.

“Gestational surrogates are found through agencies, but referrals can come from the fertility clinics,” Cochran said. “If you want a family and are willing to look at every option, there is always a way.”

Gestational carrier candidates undergo a psychological screening, a full medical evaluation and home visits to ensure that they are ready and able to fulfill their duties. Couples are able to select their own gestational carriers and the process includes  phone interviews and in-person meetings. At The Fertility Center of Las Vegas, they work with agencies from around the nation, not just locally.

For Tara, she takes satisfaction in knowing that she can be a part of process and help a couple fulfill their dream of parenthood. “For them, it is their first child, which makes it more exciting for me,” she said.

While many wonder why a woman would want to do this, the question never seemed to come up for Tara and her family. “It is something that I felt like I’ve wanted to do for years and what I get out of it is the absolute elation in knowing that this is something I can do to help some people become parents.”

She also made certain her own children were informed of her choice in an educational way. She and her husband explained to their children that mommy is carrying a baby for another family and that it is not in any way related to them. “They felt so stable in knowing we were very honest with them. They take it so matter-of-factly. A friend of my 5-year-old said that her mommy was pregnant. And my daughter said, ‘My mommy is pregnant too for so-and-so.’”

For some, this may still be an unexplored option, but for others the gift of a life is truly priceless.

*Name has been changed.