Jennifer Maas, Esq. had been practicing law in New York State for almost twenty years when she shifted her focus to family formation law. Spurred by her own journey as an intended parent, she now represents those who need medical and/or legal help to build their own families.
During our conversation, Jennifer shared her infertility journey,the path that led to her Asherman’s Syndrome diagnosis and the birth of her daughter through surrogacy.
She speaks about the many special moments in her career, provides helpful advice to intended parents working on their surrogacy contract, and offers a few words of wisdom for those currently navigating infertility and the emotional rollercoaster that accompanies it.
Read on for Jennifer’s story and practical advice.
Though it wasn’t always the journey you had planned, you had your beautiful daughter through surrogacy. Can you share a bit about what unexpectedly led to this path for you?
Like many people I thought that having a child “naturally” would be no problem. Unfortunately that was not the case. I had a miscarriage early on, followed shortly thereafter by a second miscarriage. That’s when we reached out to our longtime family friend and RE, Dr. Avner Hershlag, for help. I went through a round of IVF retrieval. But when it was time for transfer, we ran into additional roadblocks because my uterine lining wouldn’t thicken and I ended up having 4 or 5 cancelled transfers. I then had a hysteroscopy and was diagnosed with Asherman’s Syndrome. We tried for another retrieval in the hopes that perhaps my lining would thicken in that process, but it still didn’t so we turned to surrogacy.
Throughout this time, my sister who was a labor and delivery nurse saw what was happening and knew before I did that surrogacy was likely going to be the path we needed to take. To my surprise, she approached me and offered to act as our gestational surrogate. A few months later, after the medical clearances, psych clearances and legal agreements were all completed, she underwent a transfer and 9 months later our daughter was born.
After a nearly 20 year legal career, inspired by your personal journey you transitioned into family formation law. I imagine this new focus is incredibly fulfilling!
Who do you serve and do you have any favorite stories of intended parents you’ve helped over the last few years?
Having gone through surrogacy myself, I realized there was this whole other area of the law and this need out there that I hadn’t previously considered. And my journey just happened to coincide with the legislature in NY working towards passing a law to make compensated gestational surrogacy legal in NY, codify a strong donor statute and give a streamlined process to establishing parentage for non-gestational parents of children born using assisted reproduction—though the law didn’t actually go into effect until 2021.
Once I got back my nights of sleep from having an infant at home, I was finally able to settle down and focus on developing a law practice that would serve people like me, and others who could benefit in NY from the new law. While my surrogacy cases have primarily included married different-gender couples, a big part of my practice has been on helping LGBT couples using egg and sperm donation and looking to secure their equal parental rights.
I think generally my favorite part is being able to talk to my clients about the legal process, but also being able to take the lawyer hat off and being able to relate on a personal level. I appreciate it when my clients feel so comfortable that they come to me and talk about the emotional struggle of the roller coaster of surrogacy for instance, and I can say “I get it, I’ve been there.” I think it’s been a comfort to them. And then of course I usually connect them with the right professionals in the mental health field that have experience with infertility to help them on the journey. But the fact that they feel they can open up to me and ask me for help and guidance means a lot to me.
What are the top few considerations intended parents should think about in advance of working on their surrogacy agreement, to make sure their preferences and expectations are included in the contract?
Having the right match and doing the early work on the front end is crucial to a successful journey. It’s important that everyone has the tough talks right up front about things like preferences for selective reduction, termination, and now vaccines, as well as a whole host of things—before getting too far into the process. And most importantly everyone needs to really be honest with themselves and each other about what they think and feel. It’s far better to be honest and open and find out it’s not a good match in the beginning, than half way through the process when you’ve already spent a lot of time and money or if there is already a pregnancy underway. So parents should think not just about how compensation is going to be paid out or what medical appointments and testing will be had during the pregnancy, but also the things that will outlive even the pregnancy—like future contact and privacy preferences.
What is next for your family – are you considering having more children?
We never know how the future will play out. We love being a little family of three with my husband, 4 year old daughter and myself. But ever since the laws changed in NY to make compensated surrogacy with a NY surrogate an option, we have been thinking of trying to match with a surrogate to add to our family—perhaps in NY, perhaps not. My daughter asks me all the time for a sibling and it’s a little heartbreaking. We always initially imagined being a family of 4, so right now we are playing the waiting game of seeing whether we can make a match with a surrogate who can help us add to our family. So we will see….
What piece of advice or words of wisdom would you share with new intended parents or fertility patients just beginning their own family building journey?
I would say the best piece of advice I could give is to do something that sounds easy but is actually exceptionally hard to do in the moment… breathe and be patient. I know very, very well the feeling of wanting a baby yesterday and thinking about “if only that miscarriage hadn’t happened I would have a 6 year old by now.”
People who deal with infertility especially feel the pressure of time slipping away so it’s really easy to just always feel frustrated and impatient. But that really does you no good and doesn’t move the process along any quicker. You kind of just have to accept the fact that this is a marathon. It’s a process. And you have to be patient and let the process play out. Because I promise that when it’s over and you are down the road a bit and have your little one running around, the wait and the frustration it took to get there will all be a distant memory.
We want to thank Jennifer so much for sharing her story and for supporting so many intended parents as they navigate a complex process. Surrogacy is often time-consuming and challenging and we know how important it is to have trusted professionals accompanying you along the way – having someone who has personally been through the process is an added plus, and we appreciate all that Jennifer is doing in this space! If you are an intended parent, you can learn more about Jennifer Mass and how she can assist you on your journey, here.