SARASOTA, Fla. — After almost 20 years of helping countless families grow a little larger Souad Dreyfus and her Sarasota-based surrogacy center, Open Arms Surrogacy and Egg Donation had pretty much seen it all.
"Many times, I'm asked how many babies and we never slow down to count," she said.
That was at least until March 2020.
"Honestly nobody saw that coming," she said.
A global pandemic meant getting creative when it came to managing deliveries and clients, especially international ones.
"There was the travel ban and I had surrogates that were about to deliver and parents that are not able to come to get their babies," she said.
As the world begins to open back up and more families who put off the process are now seeking surrogates, Dreyfus said the fertility industry is now facing another unique COVID-19 related challenge.
"To my surprise, many of our surrogate moms are against the vaccine. They don't want to be vaccinated. We respect that. We respect it," she said.
This often creates a bit of a problem because some fertility clinics require surrogates to be vaccinated, due to guidance from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Dreyfus said many families are left in the middle.
"I've seen it where the intended parents have to make the choice to say I'm going to stay with my clinic, we need a surrogate that's really more open to being vaccinated and I've seen it where they say, we love her too much we're willing to go to a clinic that's a little more flexible," she said.
Those choices also mean a shift in costs and expectations for those families.
"So, I could quote you before six months to find you a surrogate. Now it's eight months to a year before I find a vaccinated surrogate, someone who is vaccinated. So, you know, it made the process also far more expensive because we don't have as many surrogates. We're paying a little bit more," said Dreyfus.
Dreyfus tells ABC Action News that these changes are now part of a conversation they're having upfront with intended parents and prospective surrogates.
ABC Action News also sat down with two surrogates who work with Dreyfus' center.
Lori Reyes has been a surrogate since 2017. She's already been through one pregnancy, giving birth to a baby girl in 2018. Reyes said she felt called to the field.
"It's just something that God placed on my heart and I knew I wanted to do," she said.
Reyes is currently working with the same family to try for another baby.
While she's vaccinated, she said the requirements from clinics are one of many things prospective surrogates should keep in mind, if they're interested in the process.
"You do have to do a lot of research and ask questions," she said.
Fellow surrogate, and Open Arms Surrogacy and Egg Donation employee Jenna Eder agrees.
She's given birth to two surrogate babies since 2016. Eder said she became a surrogate to honor a friend, who died from pregnancy-related complications.
"I just thought to myself 'Well there has to be more people out there that could have problems getting pregnant or even that they can't,'" she said.
She gave birth to her second surrogate baby in October 2021 and said the vaccination requirements didn't really impact her journey.
"When I was matching [with prospective families] it wasn't even available at all," she said.
In the end, as the Open Arms Surrogacy and Egg Donation center navigates these changes —with their surrogates and families—what all three women tell ABC Action News is that the end result is worth it.
"It's beautiful. It's everything that I could have dreamt for, everything the parents could have dreamed for," said Reyes.
"When you get to see the parent with the baby, it takes every bit of the bad and brings all the good forward," said Eder.
"When we get the birth announcement or we get the pictures, it's personal," said Dreyfus.