Love & Kindness: An Interview With Director Jasmine Hsieh
Director Jasmine Hsieh started Love & Kindness Surrogacy with one goal in mind: to create an agency that marries transparency, fair practices, and clear communication with approachable costs and an extremely high level of care. I sat down with her recently to speak more about Love & Kindness, her previous background in the surrogacy industry, the state of the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the future of the agency.
Read a transcript of our conversation below!
Would you tell me in your own words what Love & Kindness does?
We help people to become parents in any way that they need us to — so if they need a sperm donor, or an egg donor, or a surrogate, we help them with that.
Would you tell me about your pathway to starting Love & Kindness?
Yes! Prior to Love & Kindness, I worked for around 4 years as an international liaison for intended parents (mostly from Asia, but also from numerous European countries and Israel.) During that time, I spoke with more than a thousand clients or couples in different stages of their surrogacy journey to help them move forward in the process.
I started Love & Kindness because I saw a lot of things I didn’t like. A lot of parents, because they weren’t familiar with the US, or because of a language barrier, were being taken advantage of by some agencies, either intentionally or unintentionally. I wanted to create an agency with more transparency and communication.
What was the most memorable experience you’ve had working in the surrogacy industry?
I’ll give you a positive one and a negative one. In one case, the babies were born prematurely. The intended mother blamed it on the surrogate, because she thought that the surrogate, who was supposed to be on bedrest, wasn’t following her doctors’ orders. The babies weren’t doing well — I’m not sure how they’re doing now — but the doctor said there would be lasting complications. On top of everything, her husband also asked for a divorce. I was with her for the whole thing, from the beginning to the very end, and we even kept talking for about 6 months after I left my position. I was speaking to attorneys who might help her — it went beyond what I was paid for basically — and it was heartbreaking, but I know she appreciated the help that I provided her, and I do strive to go above and beyond in all my cases.
A more positive story – When it came time to purchase insurance for a surrogate, the insurance agent we got the quotes from delivered the bad news to us that there wasn’t any policy available for purchase under Obamacare. Because we expected that the surrogate might have a c-section, the budget for her intended parents would have to increase a lot, most likely would double, if we need to look at cash pay options or private insurance solutions. These intended parents were on a tighter budget, and we take a lot of clients like that (and take pleasure in taking clients like that.) You normally do not doubt what you’re told by the professionals you work with. But as a last resort, I decided to pay out of our own pocket for another insurance agent’s assistance, and they were able to find a plan that would prevent the intended parents from all of a sudden looking to spend double the budget on medical expenses. From all my experience and interaction with so many agencies across the U.S., I know what I had done and how much we really cared about it wouldn’t occur everywhere, but it made a huge impact on the intended parents’ future.
Have you seen any big changes in the surrogacy industry in regards to things like law, or personal perception?
I will say, I no longer have the biggest insight into the surrogacy industry at large. I actually feel a little out of the loop now — but that’s normal. What I had in my last experience wasn’t: normally you work in one agency in a very localized setting. So having that first-hand experience with so many different agencies, attorneys, and clinics at once was incredible.
That being said, one definitely noticeable difference is that clinics are becoming stricter in their acceptance of surrogates. For an example, I would see, several years ago, clinics accepting women who had had six or seven pregnancies. In the last few years, though, I’ve worked with several clinics — I’d say more than five — who have changed their criteria. And now, anyone with more than five births isn’t accepted. And I think that’s a good thing in general, but it makes recruiting and matching harder.
What’s the biggest struggle facing the industry today?
I’d say definitely the pandemic. We have a lot of parents and potential surrogates who want to work with us, and of course they have hesitancy to continue and want to wait until COVID-19 is under control. But of course this happened last March [in the US] and hasn’t gone away yet. So while we still have a lot of interest, and the demand of intended parents isn’t going away, the intended parents and surrogates are also not starting the process nearly at the same pace you’d see before the pandemic.
Tell me more about how COVID-19 has changed the surrogacy process.
In the past, it was generally the case that surrogates don’t live near where the clinic they’ll attend is. I’m sure it happens, but if I had to guess the percentage, maybe less than 30% of the surrogates live near their IVF clinic. You’ll get matched with intended parents from anywhere, so the IVF process can take place anywhere in the U.S. Now that COVID is a thing, I’m seeing a lot more demand on a local basis; which of course adds on a recruiting difficulty. And I’m seeing a decline in applications for surrogates, and a further decline in surrogates who proceed after that.
What’s a normal day in your work life this year look like?
During the week, I generally work anywhere between 4 and 10 hours a day in-office, and make my schedule flexible for consultations. My last call the day before was at 8PM, because it was 9AM in Asia. We’re always working — whenever a client needs us, we’re there.
What’s next for Love & Kindness?
As of right now, unfortunately because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, our priority is to stabilize our business. Last year, on top of the revenue loss that many businesses face, we lost and rehired most of our staff, purely due to the fact that every surrogate is a mom, and our staff had to homeschool their children last year when schools closed. So doing that and keeping up as case managers was just impossible. All that transition has been done, and I think we’re stabilized now. So this year we’ll focus on riding out the pandemic, and keeping our costs low and reasonable. I want to make sure people know that it’s not unwise or unreasonable to start their surrogacy journey now — every clinic has adapted their policies and hours to accommodate, and safety precautions are being taken. We are always trying to make the process more affordable and more fair. We’ve implemented a new measure, where we’ll search for surrogates and won’t charge intended parents until we find a match. That’s kind of what we stand for — transparency, honesty, and an exceptional level of care at an affordable price.