Family management

Surrogacy management provides a tailor-made approach to surrogacy. Its founder doctor Neven Wassall Ph.D tells Pride Life what inspired him to set up his surrogacy service.

My partner and I met by chance in 1998 and pretty soon became inseparable. We both enjoyed professional careers with healthy incomes and made the most of what living in Central London had to offer. After several years of working hard and playing hard, we decided to move to Sussex to enjoy a more serene pace of life. We commuted to London every day for work, but in the evenings and at weekends enjoyed our dream house and spending time with our two beagles. Our lives were close to perfect; yet, there was something missing.

Both of us yearned to be parents. We felt that we had a lot to offer to children so we began exploring options that were available to us in order to start a family. We thought long and hard about adopting. After pursuing adoption for almost two years, for a number of reasons we reluctantly came to a conclusion that it was not quite right for us. Our thoughts then turned to surrogacy.

For several months, a lot of our free time was taken up with researching the subject. Which countries allow surrogacy? What about gay surrogacy? What are the legal implications? How much will it cost? How long will it take? How do we know if the clinics and agencies involved are reputable?

It soon became clear that the world of surrogacy was shrouded in the unknown. Internet research proved more confusing than enlightening. We were going round in circles. Eventually a friend introduced us to a couple that already had children through surrogacy and they put us in touch with a California-based agency. Soon afterwards, our journey commenced. Although perhaps not as smooth and straightforward as we had hoped, it ultimately resulted in the birth of our beautiful twin daughters.

We were the happiest and proudest parents there could be. Upon our return to the UK from California, we were greeted by the warmest of welcomes by family, friends and neighbours. The early days with the girls were deceptively easy; we were lucky that they were both healthy, fed with ease and, like all newborns, slept a lot. We were wondering what all the fuss was about. With time, we learned, as all first-time parents do, that having a baby (and especially twins) means a lot of hard work and many sleepless nights, but the results could not be more rewarding and are little short of truly magical.

As word of our new arrivals spread, more and more friends approached us asking for advice about surrogacy. This eventually led me to the idea of setting up Surrogacy Management, a complete surrogacy guidance and case management service. The surrogacy process is extremely complex and can be very tricky to navigate. I wanted to make it as simple, straightforward and enjoyable for my clients as possible and be there for them during each and every step.

I was inspired to do things differently to other agencies by capitalising on my own previous work experiences (I have a science-based Ph.D and have worked for several large companies in a number of senior executive roles). In order to offer the supreme level of customer service that surrogacy necessitates, I manage all my clients' cases myself and take pride in being at least as knowledgeable about each individual case as the parents-to-be. I only work with the very best experts in the field and am not limited to just one surrogate agency, egg donation agency, fertility clinic, legal team or insurance company – this provides greater choice allowing me to meet each client's exacting requirements.

While I am very happy to bring my own knowledge and experience into the equation, I am passionate about safeguarding the discretion and privacy of all my clients. For me, the surrogacy process does not end at the point of pregnancy and I offer help long after the birth of the child (or children). This includes practical advice on baby equipment but also help with finding maternity nurses or nannies, if needed.

I am passionate about surrogacy and feel privileged and lucky to be able to help individuals and couples (both gay and straight) realise their ambitions to have a family.

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Surrogacy Management founder Neven Wassall prides himself on the tailor-made and personal service he provides. He took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to Pride Life.

WEB Neven WassallHow long has Surrogacy Management been established and where are you based?
We have been established for a couple of years now but my interest in surrogacy started much before the agency was set up. We are based in Los Angeles but also have an office in London.

Are there any criteria a same-sex couple must fulfil before being accepted for the surrogacy process?
Absolutely. Apart from the usual health, criminal background, financial etc. checks, I get to know my clients very well through initial consultations. These are free of charge and allow me to understand the clients' motivations for having children but also practical information such as how they plan to organise their childcare arrangements, where they live etc. The clients also get to know me as well as how I work. This all contributes to the decision whether surrogacy is the right option for the clients and – if so – whether we feel that we are all happy to move forward together.

How do you select your egg donors and what checks do they receive?
Egg donors need to meet a number of health- and age-related criteria as well as undergoing a thorough psychological evaluation. Their profiles also contain lots of information on their interests, education, family health histories and several photos. I work closely with clients to select their preferred egg donor, based on the clients' requirements. Surrogates and their partners also undergo very thorough checks – health, criminal background and psychological. Legal paperwork with both the egg donor and surrogate needs to be in place before any reputable clinic will engage with the intended parents.

What do your clients sometimes find difficult during the process?
Clients can initially struggle with the question of trust. Most clients are very successful, wealthy individuals/couples and are accustomed to having a large degree of control over their affairs. Surrogacy requires a slightly different approach and mindset – a lot of control has to be relinquished and trust be placed into your agency, egg donor and especially your surrogate and her family or support network (e.g. that she will behave responsibly, eat the right foods, take the right supplements etc.). This is where a reputable agency makes all the difference and, in my experience, this becomes a complete non-issue after the initial one to two meetings with the agency and with the surrogate.

Are there any special things or issues LGBT couples should take into consideration?
I always draw clients' attention to the question of biological parentage (if applicable): how would you feel if your partner is the biological parent to the child? Would you want to be a biological parent yourself and try again? What if this fails? To most couples, this makes absolutely no difference at all but it is something that they do need to think clearly through as a couple before they start the surrogacy process and ensure that they are entirely comfortable with every eventuality that nature may bring.

How does one go about arranging an initial consultation and where would this be held?
If not through word of mouth, the engagement with my clients normally starts when they complete a form on my website – Because of the personal touch that my agency prides itself on, I like to hold meetings in person at a mutually convenient location whenever possible.

What makes your agency different to other agencies?
Most surrogacy agencies utilise the "one size fits all" approach – I believe that this could not be further from the truth. I pride myself on really understanding what my clients are looking to get out of this journey and making it as smooth and comfortable for them as possible. This is based on my own surrogacy and previous business experiences but also on working very closely with each client. Every individual and couple that I have worked with has necessitated a slightly different approach in one way or another – I can tailor the surrogacy process to meet their exact requirements. I am not tied to any single provider and work with several very carefully selected egg donation and surrogate agencies, fertility clinics, legal teams and insurance companies. Not only do we all share the same ethos but this also gives my clients much more choice than a "regular" agency could offer.

We do provide advice on surrogacy in London too and this can be done in person rather than over Skype or by phone/email. We support intended parents during the entire surrogacy process and our support continues beyond the point of pregnancy – we can provide practical advice on baby equipment and can help with finding maternity nurses and/or nannies. Finally, our fees are completely transparent – we charge a flat fee for our services and do not mark up any of the other costs involved – unlike the majority of our competitors.

Why not adoption?
Adoption can be a wonderful and extremely rewarding process but is not necessarily always right for everyone for whatever personal or other reasons. Having said this, I do know many great LGBT parents who have very happy families through adoption. It is wonderful that we as an LGBT community now have options to create our own families based on our individual circumstances and preferences!

On a personal level what is the greatest satisfaction you derive from your job?
My partner and I have been extremely lucky to have two wonderful girls through surrogacy. Being able to assist intended parents and bring some of that happiness to other people's lives is immensely rewarding. And what job could be better than the one where babies are born as a result of a lot of hard work from everyone involved? It's definitely the best job in the world!

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