With a flag hanging outside her house, a crate of Girl Scout cookies in her living room and a dog named for Disney sensation Miley Cyrus at her feet, Laurie Thompson is about as American as it gets.
The same cannot be said for the 14-week-old twins in her gently protruding belly.
Conceived with a donor’s eggs, they are the children of a same-sex couple from Spain who turned to Thompson because paid surrogacy is illegal in their country.
“There’s such pride in knowing that I did this for somebody,” Thompson says of her experience as a surrogate, which has also included a pregnancy for a married couple from Serbia.
“This is something that is probably hard for most people to do — with the emotional connection and everything — and I was able to do it.”
She laughs: “And do it again, obviously.”
Thompson, who lives in McHenry, five miles from another woman who recently carried a child for a European couple, represents a new twist in global fertility tourism.
In the last five years, would-be parents from as far as Istanbul and Uruguay have turned to healthy young mothers from Illinois to carry their children.
The babies are born U.S. citizens, surrogacy agency officials say, but that’s not a primary motivation for the parents, who typically come from European and Latin American countries where surrogacy is illegal or unavailable. The parents have exhausted other options and are willing to pay about $50,000 to $100,000 — part of which goes to the surrogate — to have biological children.
No one tracks how many of the estimated 1,400 babies via surrogacy in the U.S. each year are carried for international parents, but one of the larger U.S. agencies, the Center for Surrogate Parenting in Encino, Calif., estimates that about half of its 104 births in 2010 were for international parents.
In Illinois, which has had one of the most surrogacy-friendly laws in the nation, at least two dozen international babies were born to surrogates in 2010, according to a Tribune survey of major agencies. The only other states that explicitly allow contracts for paid surrogacy are Arkansas, California and Massachusetts.
“We’re getting inquires from international parents constantly. Because of the referral process, it’s skyrocketed,” said Zara Griswold, director of Family Source Consultants in Hinsdale. “We recently got an inquiry from somebody in China.”