If Tina Franklin could be pregnant every day for the rest of her life, she would.
The 37-year-old has given birth to 10 children over the past 18 years. The first three were her own. She is raising them with Steve, her husband of nine years. But here's where the story takes a twist—the next seven, including a pair of twins and a set of triplets, she handed over to other parents after carrying them as a surrogate mom.
On Sept. 1, Franklin, who had been running a similar business from her home in southwest Washington, opened the Oregon Surrogacy Center, one of four in Oregon. (Surrogates in Washington cannot be compensated beyond medical and legal expenses. Oregon law allows surrogates to be compensated further.) No longer carrying surrogate babies herself, Franklin says her agency in Rainier, 50 miles northwest of Portland, matches surrogate mothers with potential parents according to factors such as age, location and how each side would feel about aborting the pregnancy if problems arise.
Franklin took a break from playing matchmaker last weekend to talk about what it's like to carry someone else's baby, the things she enjoys about pregnancy and childbirth, and her decision to open shop.
WW: What do you say to women who hate being pregnant and ask, "Are you nuts?"
Tina Franklin: I hear that a lot, "You're crazy, what are you thinking?" First of all, I tell them I'm really sorry they hate being pregnant, because I love it. I tell them I wish they could enjoy it as much as I do.
What is it you like about being pregnant?
I've never had morning sickness; I've never thrown up once. Since I don't have that part of it, I love to do it. When you're in that position of bringing a human being into the world, it makes you feel extremely powerful. Also, I really enjoy labor. When the baby comes out, that whole situation, everyone hustling and bustling and taking care of you and taking care of the baby—that feeling, that's what I love about it.
What made you decide to be a surrogate the first time?
[Our third child] was only 10 days old when we decided for my husband to have a vasectomy. We talked about it, and I said I can't imagine not ever being pregnant again. Surrogacy was the best of both worlds for me—being able to be pregnant again, but not having to raise the baby.
How does a surrogate get pregnant?
Gestational surrogacy is an [in vitro fertilization] in a clinical environment. The surrogate is not biologically related to the child in any way. It's either donor eggs or the intended mother's eggs and donor sperm or the intended father's sperm. Traditional surrogacy is where the surrogate is the egg donor and also the carrier. She comes to the clinic for insemination or can do home insemination also. Some traditional surrogates will also go through IVF.
How does your family feel about you being pregnant all the time?
Everyone in my family, my kids and my husband, they're used to me being pregnant. It's like anybody else's job. They understand that's what mom does to help couples who can't have children. It's so important to have family support, because your family has to give just as much as you do in the process.
Isn't it hard on your body?
The only major effect I've had was from carrying the triplets. They were 5, 5½ and 6 pounds. You hardly ever see triplets that big. I need a tummy tuck real bad, but it's really expensive.
How much weight have you gained since you began?
I haven't put on any weight because of my pregnancy.
What food do you crave the most when you're pregnant?
I'm really big on fruits and vegetables when I'm pregnant—especially melons (laughs).
What percentage of your wardrobe is maternity wear?
A good third of my closet.
Do most parents and surrogates maintain a relationship after the birth?
Most of them do, but they're not bound by a contract. It's really based on both individuals.
Don't you have to keep yourself emotionally detached from the babies you carry?
It's not a detachment; it's a state of mind. You know what you're expected to do, what your job is, and you agree to that before you get pregnant. I love my surrogate babies tremendously, and I would be very sad if something happened to them, but they're not my children. It's a niece or nephew type of love. I would never work with a couple if I ever began to think I'd want to keep their child.
Franklin's center charges $4,500 for full case management. The surrogate moms she works with must be 21 to 40 years old, in good health with no history of drug use and have delivered at least one healthy child and be raising the child.
Franklin says first-time surrogates make anywhere from $18,000 to $20,000.