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Surrogate parenting gaining favor in Idaho

David and Carrie Eichberg pose with their sons Reid, 4, left, and Adam, 18 months, in Boise on May 8. Carrie Eichberg is owner of Treasure Valley Center for Surrogacy. (Shawn Raecke)
David and Carrie Eichberg pose with their sons Reid, 4, left, and Adam, 18 months, in Boise on May 8. Carrie Eichberg is owner of Treasure Valley Center for Surrogacy. (Shawn Raecke)

BOISE – Tara and Randy Tolman had their youngest son, Ashton, five years ago. A string of surgeries followed for the baby, who was born with a congenital heart disease. Then came a moment, when Ashton was about 18 months old and had just received a blood transfusion, that he finally started to perk up.

“I was just so grateful to have my baby feeling better,” said Tara Tolman.

Ashton is now “the boss of this family,” she says. But the experience – and the knowledge that a stranger’s blood helped keep her child alive – made Tolman want to do a life-changing favor for another parent.

The Pocatello, Idaho, couple felt their family was complete with two sons and a daughter, and Tolman’s tubes were tied. But she liked being pregnant and still could carry a healthy baby for someone else.

Idaho company Rocky Mountain Surrogacy LLC matched her with a Minnesota couple. In November 2009, Tolman gave birth to “a beautiful baby, a beautiful gift of God.”

As is the case with other “gestational carriers,” casually known as surrogates, the embryo Tolman carried came from in-vitro fertilization. Tolman says she didn’t feel a maternal bond with the baby, so there was no loss or sadness when she handed the baby over to his parents. Instead, she felt lucky and more complete for helping “a family grow.”

Research published in 2003 in the scholarly journal Human Reproduction suggests that is typical for a surrogate. Parents and surrogates in the British study reported no major problems.

With growing awareness of third-party options like surrogacy and egg donation, more people are using them to have children. It’s not a move people make because it’s easy or convenient. Hopeful parents generally have exhausted other fertility options, or they can’t conceive for medical reasons.

To meet these needs, a cluster of businesses has sprouted up in the Treasure Valley. There are at least six third-party reproduction agencies here. Most are run by former surrogates or donors. One is run by a parent who had two children through surrogacy – known as an “intended parent.”

The Idaho Center for Reproductive Medicine in Boise is the state’s fertility clinic, the only nationally certified reproductive endocrinology and infertility center in Idaho.

More people are choosing surrogacy now than when the center opened in 1998, said Dr. Cristin C. Slater, medical director. That shows in the rising number of “gestational carrier cycles,” a monthlong process at the center to prepare women for a surrogate pregnancy. There’s also an uptick in donor-egg pregnancy.

But “the bulk of our services are couples trying on their own” with more traditional fertility treatments, Slater said.

Couples hoping for a baby can also use sperm donation or embryo adoption.

More younger women are seeking donors than when Tiffany Valentine, owner of Meridian, Idaho-based Nation Wide Egg Donation, started her business, she said. Clients tend to be in their late 30s or early 40s, but she’s seen a recent influx of women younger than that.

“Some of them I have to take my hat off to – they’re being very responsible,” she said. “They know something runs in their family, (like) cancer … and they don’t want to pass on that gene.”

Carrie Eichberg, owner of Treasure Valley Center for Surrogacy, is a psychologist who had two sons through a surrogate.

A mother has to trust her surrogate to make good choices, Eichberg said. So a big part of the agency’s role is finding people whose personalities mesh and who feel comfortable trusting each other.