October 14, 2019

A couple’s surrogacy mitzvah

Orit Harpaz loved being pregnant with her son Theo, now 9. The Sherman Oaks-based photographer got pregnant quickly, had no trouble carrying the child, and delivered at home with her husband, Gal, also a photographer, at her side. At the same time, she watched her best friend struggle through an unsuccessful in vitro fertilization and then research adoption. When the friend raised the idea of pursuing surrogacy, Orit, without hesitation, offered to do it herself. 

“Seeing how painful it was for her and how something that came so easy to me and was such a joy to me, that was what triggered the idea,” Orit said in an interview.

The friend declined. But the idea stuck with Orit, fitting with her desire “to do a mitzvah, to do something really selfless and kind for someone else.” And so, last year Orit gave birth to a healthy boy, Aaron, for another family.

Every marriage has its challenges, its high and low points, agreements and disagreements, but not every marriage is tested by the emotional charge of creating a new life on behalf of someone else. And, to be sure, the surrogacy was a decision the couple made together and was clearly not something that Orit and Gal entered into casually. Already married for 14 years, they were also intimately familiar with the process. One couple they were very close with had had five children via surrogates. It was a completely “rosy” picture, Gal said. Still, when Orit first raised the idea in earnest, he was unsure.

“I was worried about going through a pregnancy for someone else, about complications,” he said over coffee in the couple’s breakfast nook, his wife at his side. “I was worried about what kind of toll it would take on our family, and Theo’s involvement. But once I saw it was something ingrained in her, it didn’t take too much for me to come around.”

“The way we work is,” Orit said, “I’ll have an idea, and he’ll say, let’s do the research. How hard I want to work on something gauges to him how strongly I feel about it.”

“Ultimately, it’s one of those life decisions that, once the seed has been planted, I don’t think it goes away,” Gal added. “You either start to grow together with it or start to grow apart.”

It was a two-year process of connecting with an agency, being matched with a family, meeting with lawyers, contracts and more contracts, and, ultimately, the egg transfer. 

Orit recalls the day she and Gal sat down with Theo. “I remember saying, ‘We’re going to help another couple have a baby because they can’t have a baby.’ ” Naturally, Theo wondered if the baby would be his brother or sister. 

“And it was like, ‘No, it’s not going to be related to you,’ ” Orit said. “We had to have the little ‘how babies are made’ talk. He seemed to really understand it.”

Friends and family generally had one of two reactions, Gal said. “There were people who were, like, ‘That’s the most amazing thing I have ever heard,’ or, ‘You guys are completely nuts.’ ” Several relatives wondered why the couple did not simply have more children of their own. The answer: They were happy as a family of three. 

Orit tried to steer clear of the naysayers. “Whenever there was someone who was negative about what we were doing, Gal was always the knight in shining armor who wanted to protect our decision to do this and educate people,” she said. “That also brought us closer together.”

When Orit and Gal started on this journey, they did not know if they would maintain any sort of relationship with the other family after the delivery. Theo did want to meet the baby at the hospital. They knew that much. But beyond that, they would simply wait and see. 

The delivery itself went smoothly, however, immediately afterward, Orit had to be rushed to an operating room. Her life was in peril, and she needed an immediate blood transfusion. Despite this complication, she said she has no regrets. 

“I feel as long as I have this faith in something larger than my own life and my own world, I’ll be taken care of in the way I need to be,” she said. “That the decisions I make will lead me to a better place, even if things don’t go quite as planned, even if there is trauma or disappointment or something bad happens. Those are always lessons.”

Today, the two families have grown quite close. They go on hikes together, with Aaron bopping along in a baby carrier on his dad’s back, or they meet for lunch, and celebrate each other’s milestones.

“We have a wonderful bond,” Orit said. “We have a child that bonds us. So in a sense I call them my surrogate family.” (Theo calls Aaron his “surrogate bro.”)

“I also feel like they would be there for us if we really needed something,” Orit said, “not just because they feel indebted to me, but because we’ve come to have an amazing relationship.”