Ep 135: Moving Past the Stigma of Surrogacy with Kindness with Yessenia Latorre
Fertility Forward Episode 135:
Even as more and more children are conceived using assisted reproductive technology, there is still a negative stigma that tends to surround surrogacy. Joining us to discuss this unconventional path to parenthood and dispel some commonly held misconceptions about it is Yessenia Latorre, a surrogacy educator at SurrogateFirst and a mother of two who raises awareness about her personal surrogacy journey on TikTok, where she has nearly 230,000 followers. Yessenia was inspired to help other families achieve their dreams of parenthood after her own devastating experience of pregnancy loss. In today’s episode, she shares some practical advice for both surrogates and intended parents and highlights the importance of following your intuition when choosing an agency. We also discuss the emotional impact of surrogacy, the power of community, and more. Be sure to tune in for this gentle and thoughtful discussion about surrogacy with Mama Yessenia!
Rena: Hi everyone. We are Rena and Dara and welcome to Fertility Forward. We are part of the wellness team at RMA of New York, a fertility clinic affiliated with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Our Fertility Forward Podcast brings together advice from medical professionals, mental health specialists, wellness experts, and patients because knowledge is power and you are your own best advocate.
So I'm so excited to welcome to Fertility Forward today, Yessenia Latorre. She is a surrogacy educator at SurrogateFirst, a surrogacy agency. She also educates people about surrogacy on social media. She documented her own surrogacy journey on TikTok and now has nearly 230,000 followers. A mom of two, she was inspired to help a family achieve their dream of parenthood after her own devastating experience with pregnancy loss. I'm so excited to have you on today and I could already tell via email you have the best energy and you just feel so passionate about what you do. So I'm so excited to hear about you and your journey. Journey and how you got into this.
Yessenia: Right. Thank you so much for having me. I am so excited to be here as well. Well, I have, like, a really long background story, but I would love to shorten it up for you guys today. Well, I became a young mom. I had my first son when I was around 20 years old and, I don't know, I always wanted to be a mom ever since I was at a very young age. I was actually raised in a single parent household. I was only raised with having my father and I feel like that really played into me wanting to be a mother one day a lot. I always wanted to be a mother. So I did have my first son when I was 20 years old. After that I did experience pregnancy loss around the time my first son was one years old and I never expected that that would happen to me. I know I hear a lot about, I heard at the time about people having miscarriages, but I just never thought it would happen to me. It was kind of a really hard time in my life. It was very devastating, depressing. It was very isolating going through my loss and I'm really happy that I was able to change it, kind of like a full circle moment, into helping other people have their families of their dreams.
Rena: Wow. So another, you know, sort of pain into purpose story like we hear so often on this podcast, which is so beautiful.
Yessenia: Yeah. So I definitely, that's what I, exactly what I say is like I took my pain and then I turned it into something good. You know, it was really hard at the time, like experiencing my pregnancy loss, dealing with medical providers that weren't giving me answers. And I feel very lucky that I was able to have a second child like my, both my children, I feel so blessed to be a mother. I feel so blessed to be able to help other families now, but it's mostly like I just really wanted to help others because I know how the pain feels.
Rena: Wow. So you took your pain from the loss to help others who maybe they had their own losses and, and so then realized they couldn't carry. It sounds like you just also love being a mom and so to help other people achieve that dream.
Yessenia: Yes, exactly. Yeah, because when I went through my miscarriage, I, I never felt so alone. And then I felt so blessed to be, become pregnant with my second son around three months after my loss. And I just never thought, like when I went through my miscarriage, I just felt like that was it. I don't know if I'm gonna be able to be a mom again. I don't know if I have any issues with my own body myself. So going through that, it made me realize about how common miscarriage is, how common infertility is, and I really do enjoy pregnancy. I feel like I don't really have that much morning sickness and I felt like I could do this for somebody else. I could do this. I have, I'm very responsible and I have the strength to be able to do this for other families. And I started sharing my journey online. I never expected for it to blow up how it has, my initial thoughts of starting to share my story was I would like to help others if they're interested in going through this process because I didn't know a lot about it going into it and there was a lot to learn. There's a lot of education and I really just wanted to help others that might consider this as a family-building option as intended parents or people wanting to become surrogates as well.
Rena: So how old were your two children when you became a surrogate for the first time?
Yessenia: So when I became a surrogate for the first time, they were around five and three years old. I believe, they are still very young. My oldest, he is turning six. He's turning six. So they were very young. They still kind of don't even remember everything. I just show them pictures of the baby and they're just like, oh, okay mom. Like that's cool.
Rena: Aww. So you were able to kind of explain it to them a little bit, like they knew?
Yessenia: Right, right. But I feel like it really helped my children understand because they had the opportunity to meet the family in person on multiple occasions. So I, I would always tell my children like, I'm doing it for them. This is his mom and this is his dad. And I feel like them being able to meet the parents really made it easier for them to understand to be like, oh, okay. She's, Mommy's just helping and that's his mom and dad.
Rena: Well what a beautiful example for your children to see you helping other people. That's amazing.
Yessenia: Thank you so much.
Rena: And so how did you get into this? Like how did you choose an agency? What was the process like? How is it for you sort of being involved with the family?
Yessenia: Right. So when I first found like the surrogacy world, I was watching a lot of YouTube videos because that was kind of where I could get the most information at the time. But then it kind of led me to doing a lot of Google searches, to doing a lot of Facebook groups. There are so many Facebook groups that are so helpful with information, especially for beginners. So I was doing a lot of research on Facebook groups. I did talk to multiple agencies before choosing the one that I felt comfortable with. The main thing was having people that were responsive and professional. So that was something really important to me because I felt like if they were, gave me any unprofessional vibes, I wouldn't wanna put this big thing on them 'cause surrogacy is a really big deal. So I started doing my research, Facebook, Google, talking to multiple agencies, and that's what really led me to choosing an agency first. But when I first viewed the profile of the intended parents that I chose, I just had, like, this instant connection and I kind of felt like these are the people I'm going to do it for. And we got to meet on a Zoom call and everything just kind of flowed from there. We still are in contact to this day and it's so special to receive photos of the baby videos and I am so grateful that the family…they've always truly cared about my feelings and always made me feel respected and important to them.
Rena: So, and I think this is gonna be so great because I think so many people, they feel so daunted by starting a surrogacy journey and what it looks like. So I always thought the intended parents would choose a surrogate, but it sounds like from what you're saying, you chose them?
Yessenia: Yes. So I would say it kind of works both ways. So when we view these profiles, they are really detailed. Like, what kind of jobs that they have, why is the reason they're going the surrogacy route, how many embryos they have ready, what fertility clinic are they using? These profiles are so in detail. They even ask like, what type of relationship are we wanting to have for this journey. So usually, like, the surrogate will see the profile and be like, yeah, I would like to work with them. And then at that time the profile is showed to the intended parents as well to be like, okay, this surrogate is interested in working with you. So it kind of has to be like a yes on both sides to move forward.
Rena: Got it. Which makes so much sense because it's such a relationship between both parties.
Rena: And then were you located in the same state as them? Were you in a different state?
Yessenia: So originally we did live in the same state, but me and my family, we ended up moving one state away. But I was really nervous that that could mess up the process. But we moved for my husband's job, so it was kind of like we had to move. But we were originally in the same state. We were only, like, an hour apart. But when I told the family, like, we're potentially going to be moving, they were perfectly okay with that because I wasn't going to be on the other side of the country or anything like that.
Yessenia: But everything, yeah, I was gonna say everything worked out because I do have a lot of family in Florida, so I was very, it was easy for me to go down and visit everybody. So it really worked out great.
*Rena: Oh, that's good. I mean, I would imagine with that, the only complication would be that states still have varying laws about surrogacy and coverage. So if you had moved to a state that didn't have the same financial coverage, that would've been sticky. But it sounds like that wasn't an issue.
Yessenia: Yeah. Exactly. Because I moved at the beginning of the process, so I didn't have my insurance set up because it really matters 'cause you have to have your lawyer in your state and the parents have to have their lawyer in their state. So mostly for, like, insurance purposes, legal, legal problems as well as if they wanted to work with a surrogate that far away. So there it, it's a lot of variables that go into it.
Rena: Yeah. And I, I think some people, they want to be able to have that presence at appointments and be able to go in person and see everything. Some people though, and, and I would say actually the majority of people that I know that have used the surrogates are, are not located in the same state and so they don't go to all the appointments. Sometimes they're able to FaceTime in, but not even always. So I think it's sort of someone's level of comfort.
Yessenia: Yeah. I feel like if I was in the intended parents’ shoes, I would definitely prefer to have a surrogate and my state if that was possible. But I understand there's a high need for surrogates out there and sometimes you just have to go with what you're, what is available. So I totally understand.
Rena: Yeah. And how was it sort of throughout the process? It sounds like you were in contact frequently. Was that something that was sort of dictated by your agency, the number of, like, contact hours you had to have or that just naturally flowed between you and the intended parents?
Yessenia: So it really just naturally flowed for us. After we did our medical screening, and I think that's when our relationship really took off because they're like, okay, she's approved. We're moving on to the next step. We're able to do this. And because I know some intended parents, they might have some walls and barriers because it is a process that you, you'd never know what's going to happen. You never know if you're surrogate gonna be approved, if something's gonna come up. There's so many things in the process. But for us, it naturally flowed. We would text, we would call, and I feel like we really connected after I got that first positive pregnancy test. They're like, wow, like this, this is really happening. I can't believe it took on the first transfer. The family was always so grateful. They were always so respectful of me. And I think that's one of the best things that I value about my intended parents. That they always cared about how I was feeling, how I was doing. And they always wanted to be there for me, but they, it was never overwhelming. And the agency, they help, like, facilitate the relationship at the beginning, but then it's kind of like, go on and go on and, but if there's ever any issues, the agency will always be there to help in those cases. But I didn't have that experience.
Rena: And how were you, you know, sort of able to separate that you were growing this baby, growing this life, but it, you were not gonna be taking it home at the end. Was that hard for you emotionally?
Yessenia: For me it was never hard emotionally. And I tell everybody that I am an empath. I am extremely emotional and I'm a Gemini and I have a lot of feelings. But it was never hard for me to be, like, oh, I want to keep the baby or anything like that. Like that thought has never crossed my mind. I always tell people, just think about your intended parents. Think about how they're going to be with their baby, how you're so excited for that moment. And I always had it in my head that I'm doing it for this family. So that really helped the emotions. But I, it's just like I never felt the same connection with my child. I always had love and care for this baby and I wanted him to be as healthy as possible for his family, but it was always for them.
Rena: Ah, so you were really sort of able to separate the whole time.
Rena: Do you think that you would do it again?
Yessenia: I think I would do it again. I just think now that I know so much about the surrogacy world, it kind of scares me at times just because I've seen, like, really great relationships and then really bad relationships. But there are so many variables to go into it. And I think as long as you're choosing like great intended parents to work with, where your personalities match up, you guys are expecting the same things from one another, then it makes it easier, it makes it flow great. So, but if I were to do it again, I would definitely take my time in picking intended parents just because they’re, that is the biggest thing. If you, whatever you want for your journey, make sure your intended parents’ values line up with yours.
Rena: And what about for listeners who are feeling overwhelmed? Like, like they have no idea where to, where to start in terms of finding an agency. What are some things that people should look for that would indicate that this is a, a good agency that you would recommend?
Yessenia: Yes. So there is something called SEEDS and it's like a database for surrogates and, and so surrogacy agencies, there's this organization called SEEDS and I feel like we're trying to, like, have standards and it's ethics of surrogacy. So I would definitely go with an agency that is affiliated with SEEDS.
Rena: Okay. Is that S-E-E-D-S, SEEDS?
Yessenia: S-E-E-D-S. Yes.
Rena: Okay. Okay. So an, an agency that's affiliated with SEEDS. Okay.
Yessenia: Yes. And just through research, I definitely think word of mouth and talking to people that have been through the experience before is really important. Just doing your research. I would say take your time, talk to multiple agencies. Like, see what they have to offer because every agency is not cut the same. Some might be more, like, business oriented and some might be more personal. And I think it's important to go with agencies that are really gonna care about who you are as a person and not wanna put any risk to you that they genuinely care about their surrogates and what they're doing and they don't see it as just a business opportunity.
Rena: And it sounds like it's almost like dating a little and if you meet someone and your gut says, like, this is not a match, then that's okay. You can walk away and you can keep looking that you don't need to just go with sort of the first opportunity. It's so important. This is a long-term relationship and, and so it's okay to kind of keep looking around.
Yessenia: Yes, a hundred percent. I have heard some people compare it to that as well, like online dating and, but I definitely think go with your intuition. If it doesn't feel right, then it probably is not right. Because I talked to a few agencies and I just had like complete bad vibes. I was just like, why are they texting me? Why are they calling me? Like, on some, trying to be too friendly? Kinda? I would say. Like, trying to be like too out there. But then it's like, there definitely has to be a business aspect to things as well. Like keep it professional.
Rena: Sure. I think that's the business side is what can feel really uncomfortable for people. And I know, you know, so many of my clients feel that often with fertility clinics, like we want to feel like, okay, this is family-building. Everyone's kind of in this for some altruistic way, right? Because we're making babies. But at the end of the day, all this stuff, it is a business. And I think it's kind of hard to reconcile when the business side comes into this. It can feel really uncomfortable. But what I say to people is, you know, you have to try and separate it and remember too, like you're the client, you know, and it's client relations and you know, you deserve to be treated as such.
Yessenia: Yes, a hundred percent. I definitely feel like, like at the end of the day, like surrogates are bringing business to these agencies, so they need to be treated with the utmost respect. And they're doing something that sometimes can take more than two years. Every situation is different. It's a lot of your time, it's a lot, it's a lot of emotions. It's your body going through an entire pregnancy. So it's definitely important that they respect you and value you as a person.
Rena: Yeah, absolutely. A hundred percent. And so what other sort of recommendations would you tell both anyone who's interested in being a surrogate and then also intended parents?
Yessenia: So I would say for surrogates it's important to take your time and match with intended parents. Think about all, everything that you would like for your journey, like things that are deal-breakers for you and things that you can be more lenient with. I would say definitely take your time, choose a reputable agency, find everything that's right for you, take your time in doing your research is the most important. And for intended parents, I would say find an agency that is reputable, that has pre-screened surrogates, that has drug testing done because they're putting a lot of their money on the line. And it's important that you're going with an agency that does these pre screenings of these surrogates, so you're not wasting your money. And I think having trust in your surrogate is extremely important. I believe there needs to be trust on both sides for everything to move smoothly. And I know it's, it's very hard and surrogates have a lot of respect for intended parents just because we know this is like a last resort option for these families. And we know that it comes with a lot of sadness in behind because all the fertility medications, they, they've been trying for a long time to have a baby on their own most of the time. So I definitely think it's important to have trust for your surrogate and match with somebody that you trust and try to have a relationship that you would like to have.
Rena: Beautifully said. Beautifully said. Thank you. And then I guess before we wrap, tell me about your TikTok presence.
Yessenia: Yes, yes. So I started sharing my journey and like I said, I never expected for it to blow up. I just thought it was fun. I just thought I would make some educational videos, like, let me just share what I'm doing because it could help somebody. I just was hoping to help at least one person by sharing my story, but it really blew up into something that I never expected. I have, like, around 230,000 followers and so many women and intended parents reach out to me. And I'm so happy that I'm here to help them on their journeys. Even though I feel like even though I can't be everybody's surrogate, of course I can't. I feel like I am helping in a bigger way and giving them resources to find a surrogate or find an agency or find more information about it. And I feel like I am truly impacting people's lives. And I never expected to just from silly TikTok. Because when I started TikTok, I was just like, okay. It was during Covid. You know, I was just like, okay, I'm just gonna make somebody else. It's, it's fun or whatever. But sharing my story truly has changed my life. I have met some of the most beautiful people and I'm really happy to be an advocate for this community.
Rena: Oh, I love that. It gives me chills, you know, like I said at the beginning, you know, Dara and I, my co-host, we're so lucky to interview so many amazing women on here who really have taken, you know, pain into purpose or turned pain into passion. It's how Dara and I both got into the field and just to meet other women like yourself that are doing that just to help other people is so beautiful and just so, I think so important just the, the lesson of just human kindness that it really is there,
Yessenia: Right. Yeah. I always tell people that because I'm just like, just be kind to others because you never know what other people are experiencing, especially in the infertility community. Some things are kind of like hush hush, but we need to be there to support each other as much as we can. And I always tell people, if you're feeling alone, there are communities out there for you where you can feel accepted and feel heard
Rena: A hundred percent. And I think it's so important to just find them and take the, the plunge and, and if you're nervous, just connect. You know, I think it's so easy to isolate when we're feeling alone, but to really connect with others. Community is so important and meeting other people who are going through or have gone through something similar who can really help you to understand is super important.
Rena: And it sounds like you're super accessible too. What's your TikTok name?
Yessenia: So my, my TikTok name is Mama Yessenia. It's spelled M-A-M-A-Y-E-S-S-E-N-I-A. So you guys can follow me on there. I do weekly live sessions where I answer questions and that's whatI really love to do. I really love to connect with people on the level because in the surrogacy community, sometimes people might consider a taboo subject, but I really like to be an open book. And I think that's how I really connect with people is being just completely open and honest. Because if this is something they're considering, they wanna know their perspectives or they might be like, oh, I would love to do this for a family. I met Yessenia and she answered all my questions and now I'm just way more educated on it.
Rena: Oh, how cool. Well, I hope people follow you. I'm sure they'll, that's so amazing that you offer that.
Yessenia: Thank you. It's really fun. It's really fun. I have a lot of fun on there, connecting with people.
Rena: That's so amazing. Anything else that you wanna share before we wrap up?
Yessenia: That's pretty much it. I just would always say like, just be kind to others. You know? You never know what other people are going through in their life. And that's pretty much it.
Rena: I could not agree with you more. I love that.
Yessenia: Thank you.
Rena: So the way we like to wrap up our podcast is by sharing gratitude. So something that you are grateful for.
Yessenia: Yes. Well, I am extremely grateful for my family. I would never have been able to do this without, like, having the support of my husband and my father is like a really big player in my life. I feel like if I wasn't raised by such a great man, I wouldn't be able to help other people how I do. So, like my whole family, I wouldn't be able to do this without them.
Rena: Oh my gosh. And I see you tearing up a little.
Rena: I hope your dad is listening and your family. That is, that's so beautiful. What an amazing gift that, that your, that your father gave you. And it sounds like your family, your and your children are so lucky to have you.
Yessenia: Thank you. I got a lot of men in my life. Huh?
Rena: Yeah. That's so beautiful. And it sounds like they have such a strong woman too.
Yessenia: Yes. You know, I try to be, I try, I try my best, you know, and I just really wanna help others. You know, my father had a huge impact on me wanting to help others and you know, we just try to make him proud.
Rena: Well, what an amazing legacy that he left with you and that you're passing on to your own children who can see their mom being so selfless.
Yessenia: Thank you so much.
Rena: And I guess I'll say my gratitude will, will play off the vein that we've kind of been discussing, which is just the kindness of others. I experienced a lot this weekend. I lost my, my dog and people have just been so nice and caring and the outpouring of love and support has been so touching. So I'm just so grateful for just human kindness.
Rena: It's really so beautiful.
Yessenia: I'm so, I'm so sorry for your loss. You know, I consider Dogs' family as well.
Rena: They are, they're absolutely. So the kindness of others has really been keeping me afloat and then interviewing you and getting your good energy. So what a gift.
Yessenia: Thank you.
Dara: Thank you so much for listening today. And always remember: practice gratitude, give a little love to someone else and yourself, and remember, you are not alone. Find us on Instagram @Fertility_Forward and if you're looking for more support, visit us at www.rmany.com and tune in next week for more Fertility Forward.