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FROM SURROGACY ‘EXPERIENCE,’ TWO BIRTHS

chloeThe arrival of Blair Sullivan Cuje’s daughter Chloe, who was carried to term by another woman, gave rise to a new Red Bank business. (Click to enlarge)

Because of longstanding health issues, the advice doctors gave Blair Sullivan Cuje four years ago after the birth of her first daughter, Sophie, was firm: don’t try having another child.

Neither, Cuje (pronounced ‘koo-jay’) nor her husband, George, had a fertility issue: the problem lay in the childbearing process itself, which caused her serious medical complications. Still, the Little Silver couple wanted a larger family.

After considering their options, including adoption, the Cujes took the surrogacy route, in which another woman carried their fertilized egg to term. The process resulted in the birth of their second daughter a year and a half ago, when, by prior arrangement, a maternity nurse in a Wisconsin hospital handed the newborn Chloe directly to Cuje, not the surrogate mother.

And in that emotionally weighty moment, it might be said, was also born the idea for a new business, one that caters not only to couples like the Cujes, but to women like Tina Dettlaff, the Milwaukee woman who bore Chloe.

Cuje’s venture, The Surrogacy Experience, opened earlier this year on Bodman Place in Red Bank. The agency serves as a matchmaker specializing in gestational carrier births, linking couples with carefully screened women willing to serve as surrogates for a fee.

First-time carriers are typically paid between $18,000 to $23,000, and experienced carriers up to $30,000.

The agency is not in itself unique, though Cuje hopes to make it stand out in its field by offering more complete and accurate information about the entire process than she and George found in their search for a surrogate.

“There’s just so much to understand,” including reproductive law and other legal issues, the relationship between the intended parents and the surrogate and concerns about the carrier’s motives, she said.

The enterprise also prides itself on the thoroughness of its screening of prospective surrogates, and its efforts to ensure the best possible pairings of couples with surrogates, Cuje said. The Surrogacy Experience currently has about 10 carriers on its roster, each of whom has undergone extensive screening for physical and psychological health, criminal records, personal finances and more.

But one area in which Cuje thinks she can carve out a niche is in paying greater attention to physical and emotional needs of the carriers.

“Many agencies are intended-parent focused, and the carrier kind of gets lost in the process,” said Cuje, who said she’s heard of carriers being abandoned by agencies and getting stuck with insurance bills that should be paid by the parents. “Our program is really carrier-focused, from decision through delivery and beyond.”

Cuje said that even though she and Dettlaff had tried to anticipate every possible detail of their relationship, she found herself surprisingly concerned after Chloe’s birth about Dettlaff, with whom she and George had formed a “warm bond.”

“There was this flood of emotion,” she said. Until Chloe was born, “the baby wasn’t tangible; Tina was. And then the baby was born and that chapter kind of closed, and both my husband and I were kind of surprised at how emotional it was for me. It’s just an overwhelming sense of gratitude.”

Dettlaff and her husband already had a 16-year-old son and didn’t want another child of their own. She became a surrogate as many others do, after being touched by the inability of a friend or relative to have a child naturally. A highly organized businesswoman, she “really prepared herself” as fully as possible for the nine-month journey, Cuje said.

Still, “after the hospital, Tina  went home and was very sad for two days. And it wasn’t longing for the baby, it was like, this exciting experience that was so positive is now finished,” Cuje said.  She also found herself “caught off guard” when someone in a store came up to her and asked, “how’s your baby?” said Cuje.

Cuje believes her agency can help carriers by preparing them for the possible emotional waves ahead “and by just picking up the phone and calling them to check on them. A little of that goes a long way,” she said.

Dettlaff has written about her own experience in carrying Chloe, her first surrogate child. She’s also blogging about what’s expected to result in her second surrogate pregnancy, this time via the Surrogacy Experience, for another Red Bank area couple.

Dettlaff has also played a “large role” in sharing her own experiences and those of other carriers with whom she networks in helping the Surrogacy Experience develop its services, said Cuje.

“They truly understand the pains of going through all this,” Dettlaff tells redbankgreen. “At the end of the day, you want someone who is genuinely there for you – not just during the pregnancy, but afterward as well.”

“Many carriers will try to go on this journey alone,” Cuje said. “We’re there to be their partner in the process.”

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