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Why I will become an incubator for Lisa

 

By Miranda Wood, Health reporter, Loa Angeles  National  August 24, 2003  The Sun-Herald


Krisy Prelewicz is hoping to give a Sydney couple the ultimate gift.

The speech therapist, who lives 1 hours from Los Angeles, has wanted to be a surrogate mother since she was 20 after she heard an advertisement on the radio.

"It struck me immediately that this was something I could do," she said. "At 20, I was thinking, 'What if I don't want children, but I would really like to experience birth.' "

Ms Prelewicz, now 36, will be impregnated with John and Lisa Banfield's embryos at a fertility clinic in LA this week.

Mr Banfield, a senior executive, escorted the embryos to the US after he received a special permit from Customs Minister Chris Ellison.

The Federal Government has banned exporting embryos overseas for commercial arrangements with surrogate mothers but the Banfields were given permission after persistent lobbying by Mrs Banfield altered the regulations earlier this year.

A married mother of two young children, Ms Prelewicz said: "I want to do something grand. To have somebody else's kid would be a little bit above and beyond the norm.

"I call myself the incubator or the oven. I always think, 'Well, your oven's broke and you're trying to bake a cake. Come over and use my oven and when your cake's done, I'll give you your cake."'

Ms Prelewicz came into the Banfields' life last year when she chose the vivacious couple from the program at the Centre for Surrogate Parenting (CSP) in LA.

"When I first saw them, they were so astounding looking," she said. "To me, he looked like a professional athlete and she looked like an actress. That's what struck me and that sounds kind of shallow, I know."

Ms Prelewicz joined the surrogacy program about two years ago, shortly after her last child was born.

Although she would never donate her own eggs, Ms Prelewicz is able to disconnect emotionally from carrying another couple's embryos.

The Banfields will pay her $27,600 when she has the baby, a small amount when compared with the $180,000 they have outlaid to the surrogacy program so far.

"She only gets the money when she gets pregnant," Mrs Banfield said.

"It's paid in instalments. They don't do it for the money."

Ms Prelewicz said: "[Money] is not the reason to do it," she said. "There are so many other ways, a lot of easier ways, to make a lot more money."

On Thursday, fertility specialists at Huntington Reproductive Centre will start the process using the Banfields' four embryos.

Mrs Banfield, 37, said: "I'm very excited - and relieved because it's now completely out of my hands.

"I have no control. It was pretty much down to me to form embryos and how many eggs I could get. That was part of what I had to do.

"I can't put my head in the space of deciding what to do if it doesn't work because I can't cope with knowing that it might not work this time."

In 1995, a New Zealand gynaecologist twice failed to perform procedures to prevent abnormal cells detected in a routine Pap smear from turning cancerous. She complained to authorities and he was later struck off.

Mrs Banfield was later diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1996 and underwent a radical hysterectomy. After a scar site recurrence in 1998, she couldn't produce eggs because of the effects of chemotherapy and radiation but in 2002 she began ovulating again.

And, throughout her cancer treatment, the tenacious sales executive continued her mission to start a family.

She used her sister's eggs, husband's sperm and girlfriend's womb but after six failed attempts, the Banfields turned to the surrogacy agency in the US.

Mrs Banfield's sister's remaining five embryos were transferred to Ms Prelewicz in November last year but with no success.

Soon afterwards, specialists at Sydney's Royal Hospital for Women were able to perform a special operation to remove Mrs Banfield's eggs and, in March this year, Ms Prelewicz became pregnant using John and Lisa Banfield's embryos. But the amazing news was short-lived. Seven weeks into the pregnancy, the foetus died. Almost four months later, Mrs Banfield is still trying to come to terms with the loss.

"It was my turn to get a successful pregnancy," she said. "To get that pregnancy first off was pretty damn cool and we just lost it."

US fertility doctor Bradford Kolb said he felt very disappointed for Mrs Banfield but was optimistic about the next attempt.

"You're not only dealing with the loss of your embryos, you're now dealing with the loss of a pregnancy," he said. "Her only bonding experience was with phone conversations and ultrasound pictures that we had sent to her.

"On the other hand, the other positive light you could take from this is that it has restored hope for her.

"There was a pregnancy and it did rechargeher batteries, per se, where she was eager to proceed with another cycle."

Ms Prelewicz said she was considering leaving the surrogacy program if she did not become pregnant this time. Despite being "exhausted" from raising two young children and working, she also wanted to spend more time with her family.

"I didn't want to get pregnant past 37 years old and I didn't want my kids to be old enough to even know what's going on," she said.

"He [my husband] doesn't really view it from the point of view that this is selfless. He thinks I'm just getting to do what I want to do.

"I'm doing everything I can to not involve him."

Mrs Banfield said she hoped to persuade Ms Prelewicz to keep going.

"I don't want to have to ever plead for her to be in it for the long haul. It's too hard on my soul also but it's also awful to beg somebody," she said.

And, by Mrs Banfield's side the entire time, will be her devoted husband.

Mr Banfield said: "I think the rationale that Lisa and I have been using is one step at a time . . . and it's not necessarily the expense, it's more the constant factor of it not working and how much you can actually take.

"I say to Lisa all the time, 'I love you, I married you for who you are and not for us, necessarily, to have children'.

"I would love to have children but it's not the be-all and end-all for me. I could live for the rest of my life without having a family."

But Mrs Banfield can't imagine a life without a child.

"I want to have that baby when it's one minute old and give it a really, shit-hot life and give it a great start to life," she said.

"I want that. I need that."

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