What It’s Really Like to Be a Fertility Matchmaker

In our 9–5 series, we ask boss babes what a day in their work lives entails. This week, Leia Swanberg, a fertility matchmaker who pairs hopeful parents with surrogates, gives us a glimpse into her daily grind

Ishani Nath

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Age: 41

Education: I have an early childhood education degree from Camosun College in Victoria, but nothing directly related to what I do now. The fertility industry is evolving so quickly that there aren’t specific programs unless you’re something like a doctor, nurse, psychologist, or embryologist.

So how do people get into this field? Those who run matchmaking services have either been surrogates, clients who have gone through the process, or have worked within this space.

What does a fertility consultant do? At Canadian Fertility Consulting, we help clients who want to become parents (we call them “intended parents”), whether that means participating in an egg donation or in a gestational surrogacy.

What factors do you consider during the matchmaking process? When we take on a surrogate in our program, we need to know what her values are because we don’t want her agreeing to work with a couple just because “they seem so great.” If the surrogate ends up carrying triplets or greater and the intended parents ask to terminate the pregnancy because it’s high risk, would the surrogate agree? If a baby has Down’s Syndrome in utero, would they agree to abort? What type of relationship do they want with the intended parents? We ask the intended parents the same questions. A year is a long time and we don’t want anyone to enter a relationship or legal agreement that they can’t honour, so a lot of our work goes into finding the right fit.

Who comes to you for help? Women approaching 40 who have not found “the one” and want to use their own eggs to have a child, or single intended fathers in a similar situations. We also work with a number of cancer patients, gay couples, the trans community and traditional couples who are infertile.

 You’ve been a surrogate. What lessons do you pass on to the surrogates you work with? People need to be allowed to go through their own journey. Like working with a 41-year-old woman using her own eggs, knowing the chance of success is less than 5 percent, but understanding that she needs to go through that process to either have success or closure.

You’ve also been an egg donor. What motivated you to donate and how has that influenced your work with clients? I decided to be an egg donor after I had kids, which is a bit different. The majority of our egg donors are young women between 21 and 25 who haven’t had children yet. For me, I’d had my children and I was in awe of how amazing my kids were and I couldn’t imagine people not having that gift of family. Having had some great and some not-great donations, such as when I suffered from ovarian hyperstimulation, I’m able to share that with donors and relate to them.

What are some challenges of working in the fertility consulting industry? The obvious risk is the law. I went through a legal case a few years ago, and I was accused of paying surrogates and egg donors [it’s illegal to do so in Canada], and unknowingly receiving a “finders fee” from a lawyer involved in selling babies. The industry thought this case was going to set a precedent for how we could provide reimbursement for surrogates and donors, but none of that happened. The law isn’t current with the evolving technology, so that’s difficult.

How has your business changed over the years? Our business has really grown, in part, because of the case. I don’t want to say it was good for our business because it was a really traumatic time, but it brought to light that surrogacy and egg donation happens in Canada and people don’t need to travel to the U.S. or overseas to access these services. When I started the company, we were doing one, maybe two matches a month between surrogates and intended parents. We now have approximately 260 active clients, and do 25 to 35 egg matches a month.

 What’s the best part of your day? Connecting with our surrogates and hearing that they’re pregnant or in labour. Their positive news translates to positive news for the intended parents so being able to share in that is just amazing.

What’s the worst part of your day? Hearing about losses. On average, 20 percent of IVF results in the loss of a pregnancy. The rate is about 10 percent with surrogacy. Hearing from a surrogate that she’s had a miscarriage or that she’s on the way to the hospital, that’s really tough.

How has your experience and this job shaped your idea of family? I’ve been an egg donor six times. There are 15 kids out there related to my daughters. They aren’t their sisters, but that’s pretty huge! My children know and get it— even though adults don’t necessarily understand. It’s about love, not DNA.

Related:
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