A surrogacy journey: Niskayuna mom to one birthed three

Portia Zwicker poses with a photo from when she was a 
gestational surrogate for a couple in Buffalo.

Portia Zwicker poses with a photo from when she was a gestational surrogate for a couple in Buffalo.

NISKAYUNA — When Portia Zwicker looks at the child she birthed in 2019, she pauses.

“I try to detect any certain feeling that’s different and there isn’t any,” Zwicker said. “There’s nothing and that’s great”

It’s not her child.

Zwicker in 2016 offered to be a gestational surrogate for her cousin who struggled with infertility. The process — a lengthy, transaction-free legal tightrope to walk at the time — involved transferring a donated embryo in the Niskayuna resident’s uterus.

Surrogacy isn’t federally regulated. New York lifted its nearly 30-year ban on commercial gestational surrogacy back in 2020, a move that allowed surrogates to get paid and parents greater legal defense against a carrier choosing to keep the baby. Candidates are typically psychologically evaluated pre-procedure.

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“[Surrogacy] was extremely rare because nobody had anyone they could trust that much,” Zwicker said.

The now-42-year-old woman was happily pregnant with her first and only child months before offering to be a surrogate for her cousin. Zwicker told her husband at the time that she would love to become a surrogate in order to experience pregnancy again and help her cousin. Some cisgender women enjoy pregnancy, Zwicker noted.

Zwicker’s cousin had already signed on with an adoption agency by the time of the offer. Having a child in any capacity was considered, per agency guidelines, a means of finalizing client obligations, and therefore “she would have paid them to do nothing,” Zwicker said.

This postponed surrogacy until after the couple settled with an adopted girl roughly two years later.

Zwicker didn’t regret helping out family. However, given the hours and expenses involved, she vowed to never carry another child again for free.

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For $40,000, she did it again a few years later. Zwicker, a graduate of Niskayuna High School and Union College, works as a software technical writer. She now works remotely, but pre-COVID-19 had to maneuver working in an office setting with only a few days of paid time off.

“So yes, money is a motivating factor and that was not a bad thing,” Zwicker said. “It shouldn’t be your only motivating factor and it certainly wasn’t.”

Zwicker signed on board with a surrogacy agency after commercial surrogacy was legalized. Seeking to provide services for a gay couple, she was eventually set up with RJ and Mike Dlugosz of Buffalo.

Zwicker’s daughter, old enough to ask questions by the second round, didn’t prod much at the sight of Zwicker’s rotund mid-section. The mother explained most of the concepts behind surrogacy and why the Dlugosz couple couldn’t have children.

“Her only concern is that she knew that this involves going to the hospital and can equate that with someone being sick,” Zwicker said. “And I tried to explain that sometimes you go to hospital for good things like having a baby.”

On July 26 of this year, it happened. Ava Dlugosz was among the first babies in the state born under the new surrogacy law, according to the New York Surrogacy Center.

The Dlugosz family still plans Capital Region visits. Zwicker expects the relationship to wane over time. For her, that’s OK.

“They’re very much in the thick of it and they’re very busy with a newborn,” Zwicker said.

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Zwicker has since retired from pregnancy altogether. While the maximum procedural age limit is 45, women are advised to wait 18 months between c-sections (both of her surrogacies resulted in c-sections). Listening to the aches felt during her last pregnancy, Zwicker doesn’t want to risk another go.

Of course, Zwicker still carries from time to time — but it’s not a baby. It’s a photo album of her and the Dlugosz trio.

Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-374-3047 or [email protected]

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