Nodal Founder & CEO Brian Levine Sits Down with Interplay

Written by Caroline Shannon

October 11, 2022

Surrogacy stigmas and how Nodal is changing things up.

Chatting about Nodal is a bit of a Green Eggs and Ham situation. (Humor us for a minute.) We’d do it in a coffee shop, for a major publication, on social media—basically, well, anywhere. And most recently, we were thrilled to hear Nodal's Founder, Brian Levine, MD, MS, FACOG, doing exactly that on the Interplay podcast with host Mark Peter Davis. Tune in to discover why Brian started Nodal, discover some of the stigmas surrounding surrogacy, and even learn the overturning of Roe v Wade will impact surrogacy moving forward.

You’ll have to head over to the Interplay site to listen to the full interview, but in the meantime, here are a few of our favorite highlights.

On why we started Nodal

Mark Peter Davis: Why did you start this company? Because I know the surrogate business has been there for a while. Why did it need a new player? 

Dr. Brian Levine: Great question. As a practicing fertility doctor, one of the toughest conversations I have with a patient is to tell them they need to go down the surrogacy pathway.

Typically, I was having a conversation after they'd already had negative embryo transfers, right? They put embryos back inside of themselves, and they haven't worked. Sometimes I’ve had to have this conversation because the biology didn't work—single man, gay male couple, for example. Or maybe as a woman who didn't have a uterus, or she was, she had uterine cancer, or she couldn't be pregnant. Or couldn't stay pregnant. 

But it was almost regardless of the reason we were having the conversation. The conversation always started with, well, we're about to have a terrible one. And the reason is that surrogacy has become price-prohibitive and time-prohibitive. It's actually crazy to think about it this way, but over the last five years, the cost of surrogacy has outpaced any of the average Americans being able to afford it.

On why the old surrogacy model is so expensive

MPD: Now, comparing [surrogacy agency brokers] to a real estate broker, and we can have that debate too, but that's apples and oranges, right? They're getting five, I don't know what it is, maybe 10% of a transaction. You're talking about close to 80%. In the extreme, 80% is going to the broker in a surrogacy market. That's bananas.  

Dr. Brian Levine: It's absolutely nuts. And the truth is, you're right, it is apples to oranges. Your broker who sells you, your house or apartment, [for instance] sells you a room. 

“When you're asking someone to assume some risks by being pregnant for someone else, you might want to let that surrogate feel like they have some voice in the process.”

[Agencies] who are helping you find a surrogate are helping you find a womb. That's the only similarities that we can find. The truth is the cost of the surrogacy brokerage that is out there today is being masked or even masqueraded around customer service. But that customer service is actually ultimately going back to people like me, the doctors who actually take care of patients, are ultimately responsible for approving that surrogate to be the one to receive the embryo, making sure that she's being treated in an equitable manner, making sure that the embryo transfer is done without incident, and making sure that the pregnancy's managed.

So here you are paying this very big premium to have a brokerage firm tell you that they do case management when in reality. But just hooking you and then letting you know that it's a finite resource and the only way to access that resource is through the brokers. 

On how Nodal gives surrogates and IP(s) a choice 

MPD: What part of the surrogacy process does Nodal fit into?

Dr. Brian Levine: The genesis of Nodal was based on my frustration, right? I actually love my job as a fertility doctor. I love taking care of patients. I really enjoy helping people get pregnant and helping people who have had a lot of struggles get. And I actually enjoy surrogacy journeys with people. But the reason I started Nodal is because people were signing up with an agency giving a deposit, and then being told, hurry up and wait.

And when they were being given a match or potential surrogate, they were told to take this or wait. So what we found was that people felt like there was no choice. 

Little things like that add up. And when you're asking someone to assume some risks by being pregnant for someone else, you might want to let that surrogate feel like they have some voice in the process. So what Nodal has done is we've created a platform as equitable. Think of it almost like a dating app in reverse, right? Almost like Bumble. In a way, what we do is we actually present surrogates with profiles of intended parents. They get to see who they want to work with. What that does is put the onus back onto the intended parents, the people who are looking for a surrogate. It lets them put their best foot forward to describe why they're going on this journey.

Want to watch, read or listen to the full interview? Head over to Interplay.

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