Independent Lens: Made in Boise

(Rochester, NY) – A surprising — and booming — industry has emerged in Boise, Idaho. In this idyllic, all-American city, nurses, nail technicians, and stay-at-home mothers are choosing to become paid reproductive surrogates for people from around the world. Made in Boise goes inside the lives of four of them as they build relationships with the intended parents, prepare for the rigors of pregnancy and navigate the mixed feelings of their own families, who struggle to understand their choice to risk the physical and emotional complications of carrying babies for someone else. Directed by Beth Aala, Made in Boise opens the new season of Independent Lens Monday, October 28, 2019 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV.

As the number of surrogate births surge across the country, an epicenter of the movement is Boise, Idaho, with its large population of healthy women of reproductive age and a significant number of Mormon and Catholic communities who value large families. In Boise, it is estimated that one in 15 mothers will carry a baby for a stranger at some point in her life. For gay couples, single men and those who struggle with infertility, this industry — outlawed in many countries around the world — is often the last resort to biological parenthood. Legal in some states and illegal in others, a number of states, including Idaho, have no laws governing surrogacy on their books.

Each of the women in the film — Nicole, Chelsea, Cindy and Sammie — arrives at the decision to become a surrogate for her own reasons. Nicole and her husband have two children and run Idaho’s largest surrogacy agency, which works with the other surrogates in the film. Nicole “loves being pregnant” and is in the midst of her fourth surrogate pregnancy when the film opens. Stay-at-home mom Chelsea has four children of her own and sees surrogacy as a way to process the stillbirth she suffered eight years ago. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse Cindy is one of the many nurses who become surrogates at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center to help the unique families coming through the local hospital. A single mother with two biological and three adopted children, she becomes a surrogate for the first time at age 42. Sammie, a 26-year-old nail technician and single mother, looks forward to the second income she otherwise wouldn’t have. But her friends and family are apprehensive about her choice.

Photo: Shannon (right) holds her baby after surrogate Nicole (left) has given birth.
Credit: Courtesy of Crystal Kulack

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