-- Tanya Prashad thought she was the perfect candidate for surrogacy. Having given birth to healthy children of her own, the 33-year-old wanted to give others the same joy she had known, and decided to be a surrogate for a same-sex couple.
“Hundred percent motivated just to help another couple,” Prashad said. “As far as compensation was concerned it really was just enough to cover health insurance, life insurance, missed work, that was it.”
Although she had signed away her legal rights to be a parent, Prashad, an accountant who lives in the Minneapolis area, used her own egg and said she had worked out a deal with the couple allowing her to still be involved in the child’s life.
“I chose to have the baby with a gay couple because there’s not another mom,” she said. “The plan was for me to still act within the capacity as her mom.”
Prashad gave birth to a baby girl, but immediately after, she said she felt she had made a mistake serving as a surrogate.
“When she was right there in my arms, all those little pieces of paper that we signed kind of just fell away,” she said. “I never for a second thought about what was right for her and what she deserved.”
Prashad eventually had to fight to have a continued relationship with the daughter she gave birth to.
“We ended up in court,” she said. “We actually didn’t fight it out in court. We agreed on a joint custody order together.”
Her daughter is now 10 years old, but Prashad said she is still haunted by her decision.
“I felt like someone that sold my child,” she said.
For thousands of parents unable to conceive, surrogacy has been a viable option to still have biological children. But some are speaking out against surrogacy, claiming that there are risks involved and breaking that mother-newborn bond can have consequences.
Jennifer Lahl is one such woman, and she is on a mission to ban surrogacy in the United States.
Lahl, a mother of three and a former neo-natal nurse, is the filmmaker behind the critical documentaries, “Eggsploitation,” about egg donation, and “Anonymous Father’s Day,” on sperm donation. Her new film, “Breeders: A Subclass of Women?” features women who have deep regrets about being surrogates. Prashad shared her story with “Nightline” at a recent “Breeders” screening.
Through “Breeders,” Lahl accuses the multi-billion-dollar global industry of concealing the health risks for prospective surrogates and equates it to selling organs.
“If you want to be a kidney donor, we say that's wonderful, but you are not allowed to be paid… because what happens when commerce enters in is people will make decisions that are not in their best interest for their health,” Lahl said. “Women are not breeders. Children are not products and commodities. Women are not easy-bake ovens baking cupcakes for nice, other people.”
Lahl is also the president of the conservative-leaning Center for Bioethics and Culture. Though she holds a masters’ degree in bioethics from a well-known evangelical university and books speaking tours with conservative groups, Lahl said her personal religious beliefs do not inform her position on surrogacy.
“I tell people all the time, I’m against surrogacy, I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, single,” she said.
But Lahl’s anti-surrogacy position is controversial, especially since children born through gestational surrogacy, meaning the child’s parents’ egg and sperm are inserted into a surrogate’s womb through in-vitro, is on the rise. Children born through gestational surrogacy increased 150 percent from 2004 to 2012, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
“I’ve been threatened, I’ve been told I should have a bullet put to my head,” Lahl said. “The industry hates me because I’m not good for the bottom line and I might hurt business.”
In recent years, surrogacy has had some high-profile attention, from Nicole Kidman to Sarah Jessica Parker and Ricky Martin, all using the method to expand their families.
Traci Woolard, who gave birth to a child for a couple that wasn’t able to conceive on their own, has been protesting Lahl’s “Breeders” screening and publicly defends her right to be a surrogate mother.
“I have successfully carried for two families, delivering four babies, to help complete their families,” she said. “It is something that I can give back, and something that I can help another family achieve.”
But Lahl believes surrogacy is wrong, and says fracturing the bond between birth mother and newborn “can have significant damage, short and long term.”
“Just because somebody can’t have a child doesn’t mean that I have to say by all means, any way you can get a child is fine,” she said. “There’s a long step between I can’t have a child, and what are the ethical ways to fulfilling that need to getting a child.”
ABC News senior medical contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton says that there are many ways for someone to be a parent, not just through giving birth to a child.
"I think one of the most important things for people to remember when they talk about unconventional ways to become parents today, is that a lot more goes into being a parent than biology," she said. "It's very important to remember that. People can get very, very emotional when they talk about these types of issues. The medical ones are straight forward, the social ones get a little trickier."
British researchers at the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge recently released a study that followed surrogacy children from infancy to adolescence and found these children were very well-adjusted and had good relationships with their parents. However, surrogacy children showed slightly higher levels of psychological problems at age 7 in comparison with a group of non-surrogate children. The researchers found this difference usually disappeared by age 10.
However, Ashton cautions that more research is needed.
“They’re very small studies. They are very limited in number and any differences tend to disappear or resolve themselves by early adolescence or late childhood so I think we have to be careful in interpreting this data and literally not throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak,” Ashton said.
The Cambridge researchers believe the raised levels of psychological problems for surrogate children happen at age 7 because that’s when they gain a better understanding of how they were born, and they have questions.
Jessica Kern, 30, a Minneapolis area restaurant worker who is featured in “Breeders,” said she spent her entire childhood in the dark about being born through a surrogate, but wondered why she looked so different from the woman who raised her.
“For some reason, intuitively within me, I had this sense of what family was, and what it should feel like, and I never experienced it,” she said.
She eventually discovered her biological mother was a surrogate her parents used, and tracked down the woman who gave birth to her. When she found her, she also learned her biological mother had been paid $10,000 to carry her to term.
“I'm not fond of the fact that I'm born through a paycheck,” she said.
Prashad believes her daughter is still overcoming issues stemming from being born through surrogacy.
“She’s got a lot of insecurities and a lot of fear. She needs a lot more reassurance, a lot more,” she said. “All kids need nurture but you know, she needs that extra pat, that extra hug, that extra everything’s going to be OK.”