JP Tammen was 12 weeks pregnant when she received the cancer diagnosis.
Instead of treatment, Tammen — a Chico resident — decided to press forward and have the child. After her daughter’s birth, she got the news: she would need a hysterectomy.
As she was preparing to go into surgery, doctors told Tammen that they would save her eggs, and that it would still be possible for her to have more children with a surrogate mother.
“I started smiling right there on the table. That gave me hope,” Tammen said.
Once she recovered from surgery, Tammen started researching options for surrogacy. But Washington law didn’t allow for surrogate mothers to be paid — a family member or friend would most likely have to volunteer to carry their child.
Instead, Tammen and her husband found a surrogacy agency in California. They were matched with a woman from Long Beach who eventually gave birth to the Tammen’s second child, Jon.
Since then, Tammen has pushed to change legislation that prohibits compensated surrogacy. She got her wish last year, when Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that allows surrogate mothers in Washington to be paid for carrying a baby for another couple.
“I just thought, this isn’t right that we should have to go to another state to produce our family, in an honest, fair way,” Tammen said.
The law, which went into effect Jan. 1, is an update to the state’s Uniform Parentage Act, which covers surrogacy and others parental rights issues. Surrogates previously couldn’t be paid more than medical and legal expenses.
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The changes would have allowed Tammen to search for a surrogate in Washington, saving thousands of dollars on travel costs and allowing her to be closer to the woman carrying her child for the duration of the pregnancy.
“I’m so happy to have helped bring this to our citizens here, and just for the emotional aspect, being a woman who wanted to have a family and kind of seeing that fall through the cracks,” Tammen said.
Uniform Parentage Act
The Uniform Parentage Act was adopted in Washington in 1973 and amended in 2002. The newest iteration also includes a regulatory framework for surrogacy in the state and includes changes to provisions that govern parentage.
Under the law, prospective surrogates must be at least 21 years old, have previously given birth to one child, and undergo medical and mental health evaluations. The law also prohibits anyone from being a surrogate more than twice.
Bill sponsor Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, has had four children with his partner via surrogacy. The old legislation made surrogacy more expensive and prevented parents from attending important doctor’s meetings out of state, he said. LGBT families and families with fertility issues have more options when looking for a paid surrogate.
“There are large numbers of people, a lot of female couples but straight couples as well, who have fertility issues,” Pedersen said.
After her son’s birth, Tammen contacted Pedersen, calling him or writing him each session and asking to help with the cause. She testified four times with her son Jon: First in 2011, when a compensated surrogacy measure didn’t pass, and again in 2018 before the bill passed.
“She was a stalwart,” Pedersen said.
Opponents of the law argue that allowing compensation commodifies women’s bodies and opens the door for human trafficking. Groups who testified against the bill include Human Life of Washington and the Family Policy Institute.
Pedersen called the claim “ridiculous,” and Tammen said the experience was more akin to babysitting. Regulations introduced in the law was intended to help protect both parents and surrogates.
“Turns out it isn’t trafficking, and it isn’t some nefarious plot, it’s actually just about regular people who have fertility issues wanting to create a family,” Pedersen said.
‘I think that helped pull me through’
Tammen said she remembers feeling “almost suicidal” when she learned she would not be able to have more children. The family had wanted at least three or four kids.
“Knowing that there was a way I could do it, I think that helped pull me through,” Tammen said.
But the process wasn’t easy. The Tammens paid for the surrogacy agency, medical procedures, lawyer’s fees and flights to and from California. All in all, it cost the family about $80,000.
“I’m really a big proponent of fairness and for us it was like she was babysitting for us,” Tammen said. “You can’t ask somebody to babysit for you for free and do a bunch of stuff, I mean we would never feel comfortable with that.”
In states where compensation is legal, first-time surrogates will probably receive between $35,000 and $40,000, according to Sharon LaMothe, a surrogacy consultant in Seattle.
Third-party agencies can help match prospective parents with surrogates, LaMothe said, and often include a more rigorous screening process, including criminal background checks.
“It’s really families helping families, and parents like the idea really of compensating someone else to help them achieve this dream because they know there’s no way they can express their gratitude,” LaMothe said.
Tammen said she hopes the new law will help other families who are considering surrogacy have an easier path than she did.
“It can be done in a great way. For Washington, putting in these criteria in the law, we’re trying to protect everybody,” she said.
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