With a flag hanging outside her house, a crate of Girl Scout cookies in her living room and a dog named for Disney sensation Miley Cyrus at her feet, Laurie Thompson is about as American as it gets.
The same cannot be said for the 14-week-old twins in her gently protruding belly.
"There's such pride in knowing that I did this for somebody," Thompson says of her experience as a surrogate, which has also included a pregnancy for a married couple from Serbia.
"This is something that is probably hard for most people to do — with the emotional connection and everything — and I was able to do it."
She laughs: "And do it again, obviously."
Thompson, who lives in McHenry, five miles from another woman who recently carried a child for a European couple, represents a new twist in global fertility tourism.
In the last five years, would-be parents from as far as Istanbul and Uruguay have turned to healthy young mothers from Illinois to carry their children.
The babies are born U.S. citizens, surrogacy agency officials say, but that's not a primary motivation for the parents, who typically come from European and Latin American countries where surrogacy is illegal or unavailable. The parents have exhausted other options and are willing to pay about $50,000 to $100,000 — part of which goes to the surrogate — to have biological children.
No one tracks how many of the estimated 1,400 babies via surrogacy in the U.S. each year are carried for international parents, but one of the larger U.S. agencies, the Center for Surrogate Parenting in Encino, Calif., estimates that about half of its 104 births in 2010 were for international parents.
In Illinois, which has had one of the most surrogacy-friendly laws in the nation, at least two dozen international babies were born to surrogates in 2010, according to a Tribune survey of major agencies. The only other states that explicitly allow contracts for paid surrogacy are Arkansas, California and Massachusetts.
"We're getting inquires from international parents constantly. Because of the referral process, it's skyrocketed," said Zara Griswold, director of Family Source Consultants in Hinsdale. "We recently got an inquiry from somebody in China."
Casual and confident in jeans and a navy blue hoodie, Thompson, 34, was in good spirits on a recent weekday morning, despite a to-do list that included moving from Wonder Lake to nearby McHenry, caring for three young daughters, working part time as a bus driver and finding a new obstetrician.
She said her journey into surrogacy began 17 years ago when a close friend confided she might not be able to carry a baby.
Thompson's response was immediate: "I would totally do that for you."
Her friend's fertility problem resolved, and Thompson got married and had three children of her own, Avery, 8, Kyrra, 6, and Lacey, 5. When the youngest was born in 2006, Thompson and her husband, Damion, 39, a U.S. Army Reserve unit administrator in Arlington Heights, knew that their family was complete. Her urge to carry a baby for someone else, however, was still there.
She had easy pregnancies with her three daughters, and gestational surrogacy, in which the surrogate's genetic material isn't used, seemed like a good emotional fit.
"I was told that I could be an egg donor, but I can't do that," she said. "I drive a school bus, and if a local couple got an egg and I saw this kid walking on my bus that looked like me, it would be really hard."
In late 2008, Thompson told her husband she was interested in surrogacy.
Born in the USA
Pregnant with twins, Laurie Thompson is one of a growing number of Illinois surrogates who are carrying babies for couples from Europe and Latin America
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