Mindy Berkson is a matchmaker of sorts. She uses her experiences as a mother who has had infertility issues and as a businesswoman in the venture-capital world to connect people trying to have children with egg donors and surrogates.
Since 2005, she’s headed Lotus Blossom Consulting, which has clients worldwide and is headquartered in Dallas. She was in Austin recently, meeting with fertility doctors to see how she could better serve their clients.
In her own experience, she found the world of infertility difficult to navigate. She didn’t know what questions to ask. “The answers I got were only as good as the questions I asked,” she says.
About 60 percent of her clients are international. Half of her clients are in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. She also works with many women who have had cancer or a hysterectomy.
For the rest, who thought they would be able to have a baby naturally, sometimes the realization that they need to try something other than in vitro fertilization with a couple’s own eggs and sperm can be difficult.
It is easy to fall into that trap, she says. “They don’t want to give up the chance of having a biological child.”
Often, while doctors are being honest about success rates, couples hold onto any hope. A doctor might tell them there’s a 7 percent chance of getting pregnant, she says, but the couple has selective hearing. They think, “Oh, there’s a 7 percent chance!” she says.
But if they used an egg donor, it might go up to a 72 percent chance because you take out fertility issues, such as premature ovarian failure and advanced maternal age.
“It’s difficult for some women,” she says. “They now need to find an egg donor. It’s a grieving process. The path to parenthood is not linear. They can’t do it this way; now they have to do it that way.”
Using a surrogate or an egg donor is also not cheap. Berkson estimates that using a donated egg costs between $25,000 and $35,000. A surrogate is about $120,000. On the other hand, a private adoption is $60,000-$70,000 and can take longer.
With an egg donation or surrogacy, a couple also can still retain some biological connection either by using the man’s sperm and a donor egg or by using the couple’s embryo in a surrogate. Or they can choose some of the genetic features — such as hair and eye color — as well as education level and family background of the egg donor.
Affording any of it can be a struggle, she says. “You never expect to have to save for a baby.” She’s known couples to cash in stocks, take out a home equity loan or ask family members for assistance.
She helps families find the egg donor or the surrogate. Surrogates go through an extensive physical and mental health evaluation. The surrogate also must have had her own successful pregnancy in the past.
“A good surrogate can be hard to find,” she says. “It takes a special person to become a surrogate, to be that giving of themselves.”
Before families choose a surrogate, they need to decide what the end goal is. Is it one baby? Is it more than one over several pregnancies or at the same time? That will determine how many embryos to fertilize and how many to insert at first or freeze for later.
Berkson also considers what state the surrogate lives in versus the family’s needs. In Texas, a married couple legally can use a surrogate and have the couple’s name go on the birth certificate instead of the surrogate’s name — as long as the surrogate is also not the egg donor. The same is not the case for a gay couple. They would have to then adopt the child. The state where the child is delivered determines what the law is.
Berkson also can help them figure out all the legal documents that should be drawn up before surrogacy begins.
Right now, she has about 110 active clients and 92 pregnancies. She says that even surrogacy with an egg donor isn’t a guarantee, but it’s about a 90 percent success rate.
“It’s never a pathway anyone would choose. But science and technology have allowed us to have this opportunity,” she says.