Documenting Surrogacy In 'Made In Boise'
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In the opening scene to a new documentary, Shannon Rayner is having her baby shower. Seated at a picnic table, two guests strike up a conversation.
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NICOLE WILLIAMSON: So how do you know Shannon?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We work together.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And how about you? Kind of you - what's your connection?
WILLIAMSON: Just the surrogate.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Shannon's surrogate, Nicole Williamson, relishes the woman's reaction.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Just the surrogate?
WILLIAMSON: (Laughter) That was awesome.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Made In Boise" is about the thriving industry of surrogacy in the Idaho community and follows the lives of four women who've chosen to help intended parents raise families. Nicole is not only a surrogate. She actually runs Idaho's largest surrogacy agency, and she joins us now from our studios in New York.
Thank you so much.
WILLIAMSON: Yeah, thanks for having us.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And with you as well is Shannon Raynor, whose child you carried. Thank you, also, for being with us.
SHANNON RAYNER: Thank you. Good morning.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning. Before we broaden out to talk about the phenomenon of surrogacy in Idaho, I really would like to hear about your specific stories. I'm going to start with you, Shannon. How did you arrive at the decision you needed a surrogate?
RAYNER: Well, we had done fertility treatments for several years. I had four failed IVF cycles. And unfortunately, the doctor had to just tell us that nothing was going to stick. So we had an option to do one last egg retrieval and create embryos - as many embryos as we could to go the surrogacy avenue. And it was a miracle because we only had one embryo.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Nicole, how did you decide to become a surrogate for Shannon?
WILLIAMSON: So Shannon had came to my agency. I think we had matched her with four different surrogates, and unfortunately, something came back with blood draws or something where the clinic, you know, wouldn't let them move forward. After about a year, I became pretty close with Shannon and Tom and watched her really struggle after not being able to find a surrogate and get the process moving forward. And I just knew in my gut that I had to do it. So at that point, I told my husband, I just - I really need to do it. And I got my kids' blessings and called her and said, I'm going to carry for you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what was your reaction at that point? - because I know it's so emotional, the entire process of trying to get pregnant and then to be told something like that by someone that you know.
RAYNER: I'm emotional right now. I get emotional every time she tells that story because I just wanted this so badly, and it was such a difficult process. You know, there's a lot of bad days, but that day that Nicole told me that she was going to be carrying for me was a really good day. This was it. We had one shot, and she just knew that. And she was the expert. She just knew that she had to do it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you named your daughter Grayson Nicole (ph) after Nicole.
RAYNER: I did. Yes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nicole, tell me a little bit about why it's so important for you to do this. I mean, the baby you carried for Shannon was your fourth, I believe, as a surrogate, and you started a surrogacy agency. Explain a little bit why this is meaningful.
WILLIAMSON: You know, I think a lot of people just take it for granted. When you get pregnant, you know, they just think it's this, you know, normal thing. You get pregnant. You have your babies. And you know, that's just what happens. People take it for granted all the time, and they don't realize the struggle that so many people go through. They can't have babies, and they just want a family. And to be able to help somebody complete their family and give them what we have and allow them to just have that love for their own child - it's undescribable (ph). It kind of seems selfish not to help them, honestly.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think people get wrong about surrogacy, Shannon?
RAYNER: Oh, I think there's a number of things. I still have people wonder, like, is she genetically mine? A lot of people don't understand how the actual, you know, scientific process works.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, actually, let's talk a little bit about that. Nicole, do you want to step in?
WILLIAMSON: Yeah. I mean, so there's a variety of ways just depending on the situation. But, like, in Shannon's case, you know, her and Tom used, you know, his sperm and her eggs, and they created embryos. You know, some people get an egg donor. You know, some people get a sperm donor. It just - it totally varies on the situation. But once the embryo is actually created, you know, at the clinic, that's where the surrogate steps in. And they...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the surrogate is never using their own eggs.
WILLIAMSON: No. So this is gestational carriers, meaning we just carry the embryo. So it's never the surrogate's biological baby.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nicole, one of the things that we learn in the documentary is that there are no federal laws regulating surrogacy in the United States, and state laws can differ greatly. Why Idaho, and why Boise in particular - what makes it a destination for people seeking a surrogate?
WILLIAMSON: I think there's a couple reasons. One, you know, the women there - they just - they tend to live pretty healthy lifestyles. Everyone's pretty active, outdoorsy. I think, also, costs - you know, the cost to have a surrogate and to use the fertility clinic in Idaho is extremely lower than other states and...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because the whole process can cost $100,000 to $150,000, right?
WILLIAMSON: Yes. Yeah.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Surrogates make about $27,000, sometimes more. How do you make sure that your surrogates aren't exploited?
WILLIAMSON: So when we look for surrogates, the first thing they have to do is fill out, like, a prequalification form. And so we have to verify that they're not on any state assistance, that they are financially stable, that they don't have any mental issues or anything like that. There's guidelines that we have to make sure that we follow. Association for reproductive medicine, you know, sets out guidelines on age restrictions and types of pregnancies. You know, you can't have more than - they suggest no more than two C-sections. They suggest no more than six pregnancies. You know, 44 is the cutoff age. And we have the fertility clinics that we work with review all their medical records to make sure their previous pregnancies - there was no complications.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Both of you have been friends now for a long time. Did that make your experience easy or, in a way, more complicated than you initially expected?
RAYNER: Definitely easier. I trust Nicole. I - you know, she carried my most precious cargo that I could ever, ever have, and I never worried about her. You know, what is she eating, or is she, you know, taking care of herself? If anything, it was completely the opposite. Like, she's an expert, clearly, at what she's doing. She knows her body really well. So I didn't have any stresses with her.
WILLIAMSON: And I think it's really important to stress that that relationship between the intending parents and the surrogate - that is a huge component of the surrogacy process. And I think afterwards - like, you know, the staying in contact and getting pictures and updates - that's huge. You really develop, like, a lifelong friendship. It's this amazing journey that everybody goes through and commits to together.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nicole, do you see Grayson?
WILLIAMSON: I do. We go to Seattle, and you know, we went to Mexico on a family trip recently. And we FaceTime. My daughter Adeline (ph) loves to FaceTime and just hear Grayson's voice and see her. Yeah. Shannon and I definitely have a very, very strong friendship, and they are extended family to us. And I can't imagine it being any other way. It just - that's the way it works.
RAYNER: I would agree, hundred percent.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nicole Williamson and Shannon Rayner - they're featured in the new documentary "Made In Boise," which launches the new season of "Independent Lens" on PBS tomorrow night.
Thank you both very much.
WILLIAMSON: Thanks for having us.
RAYNER: Thank you so much for having us.
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