A Rare Inside Look at Surrogacy: Made in Boise on PBS

In our society, there’s still a stigma surrounding surrogacy. While it’s becoming much more common, there’s a cultural lag that prevents it from mainstream awareness and acceptance.

A new documentary, Made in Boise recently aired on PBS. It busts some common myths about surrogacy. They explore the lives of four women in Idaho as they undertake the selfless journey of surrogacy. Following them as they are helping loving intended parents from around the world build their families. It answers many questions—ones you always wanted to ask, as well as ones you didn’t even realize you had.

Here are four of those questions and some key takeaways from the film.

Why do women act as surrogates?

Women and families engage in surrogacy for diverse reasons (and it’s never superficial).

Surrogates are not first-time moms. They have all gone through childbirth and have families of their own. Part of what is fascinating about Made in Boise is you get to see the motivations of four women, their families, and all in different situations.

Nicole is the owner of the surrogacy agency that is profiled in the film. She serves as a surrogate for one of the sets of intended parents. She enjoys the experience of pregnancy and has served as a surrogate before. Her close relationship with one client who becomes a great friend moves her to carry her and her husband’s child.

Cindy is a single mother to several children, including adopted and foster children. She is a NICU nurse and dedicated to helping her community. As her eldest son says, when someone is in need, she’s always the first to lend a hand.

Samantha is a single mother with one son. She loves parenthood so much that she wants to help others experience it. Luckily, she enjoys a strong support network in her mother and sister, whom she calls her best friends. She appreciates having the extra income from surrogacy to help raise her son.

Chelsea’s journey began from a place of loss. After her first child’s heart stopped beating in utero, she and her husband went on to have four more children. However, her grief endured. That struggle made her own surrogacy experience a way to find closure. By helping another family that longed to have children she heals.

Is surrogacy legal?

The legal landscape of surrogacy is complex and changing.

In the film, attorney Monica Cockerille provides insights into the legal circumstances surrounding surrogacy, both in Idaho and around the United States. (Side note—Monica also consulted on our Surrogacy Laws by State project at Love & Kindness, check it out here!) As she shares, states differ in their approach. Some states allow commercial surrogacy arrangements based on established statutes. Others lack specific legislation but rely on precedent through case law. Furthermore, two states (New York and Michigan) have banned surrogacy outright. In Idaho, there are no statutes regarding surrogacy. However, a court parentage order – and sometimes a second parent or stepparent adoption, depending on genetic connections – is necessary to establish parentage.

Also, as Made in Boise points out, surrogacy is illegal in many parts of Europe and Asia. This is why international intended parents often pursue surrogacy in the United States, something we see in the film.

Why do parents choose surrogacy?

Intended parents are really, truly dedicated to becoming parents.

Some of the most touching moments in Made in Boise were about the intended parents. For them – like for most intended parents – surrogacy is not a decision taken lightly. Most have exhausted other options and have dealt with lots of disappointments, loss, insecurities and social pressures along the way.

Any doubts a viewer may have about their motivations are instantly cleared up once you see how much they want to be parents and how appreciative they are of the surrogates who help them complete their families. They aren’t just in and out of their lives; it is often a relationship that lasts for many years. For example, toward the end of the film, we learn that Nicole and her Intended Parents take an annual vacation together, and Ernesto comes back to the United States to celebrate his daughters’ third birthday with Chelsea.

Are surrogacy agencies exploitative?

No! Surrogacy agencies do the hard yet satisfying work of making families possible.

One of the caseworkers in the film compares herself to a matchmaker. Although surrogates and intended parents are matched quickly in Boise because of high demand—often within a week—a lot goes into ensuring that they are the right matches. She and her coworker got into the work because of their personal experiences with surrogacy, and it really appears to be a labor of love. They not only provide a service to intended parents but also provide comfort to the gestational surrogates they work with before, during and after their experiences. Toward the end of the film, after she gives birth, Cindy says: “If I was younger… I would do it again. It was hard, it was, but it was so worth it.”

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