Friday, June 14, 2024

My Surrogate Journey

I was pregnant.

And it wasn't mine.

It's been two years since I was a surrogate and I haven't had the chance to share my story fully. I thought about writing a book about it, and maybe someday I will, but I wanted to start with sharing a little summary. Its purpose?

To inspire others to get out of their comfort zones.
To summarize my experience so I don't forget.
To help those who want to have a child, but can't on their own.

How it started

When I was pregnant with my last baby over 5 years ago, I knew our family was going to be complete. I mean, six kids was plenty, right? But somewhere in the back of my mind, I kept getting this impression that it wouldn’t be my last pregnancy. Of course, I put the thoughts aside because it sounded a little crazy. Then, after my Olive was born, baby #6 (we didn't like odd numbers anyway - see video), the thought kept coming back to me. It wasn’t until over a year later when I was attending a conference, I heard a talk by Russell M. Nelson. He mentioned how he chose his pathway of becoming a doctor, stating that he chose to be a doctor because he couldn’t choose to be a mother. I’d heard him say it before, but it was the first time that I felt it with my whole heart. The spirit had been preparing me for over a year to hear this message and to tell me that part of my journey included helping someone else become a mother.

I remembered meeting a woman a year previously who had been a surrogate mother. She had the embryo of two parents implanted into her uterus and she was the vessel for that baby to get to her intended parents. It all started to come together. We already had six beautiful, healthy kids. I had pregnancies that weren't too difficult. Could I do it too?

My First Family

After another year of research, medical appointments, legal contracts, etc, I finally got approved to be a surrogate and was eventually matched with a beautiful family in China. The first embryo transfer didn’t work out. Since they decided the embryos weren’t viable, the family was on their way to the airport from China for another egg retrieval when COVID happened. All travel was stopped. I was fine waiting, but as the weeks grew to months and we didn’t know when travel would be allowed, we decided to not continue the process. I was heartbroken for them, but still comforted because I knew this journey wasn’t over.

Another Chance to Help

Months later, I meant to post to a surrogate message board on social media that I was searching for a family, and accidentally made a post to my personal account. Which would have been fine, but I hadn’t really told anyone I was doing this besides my husband. I deleted the post and tried to post it again to the just the surrogate page, but it happened again. I decided at that point that it must be providence. 

Within a few hours, I had several people contact me. By that night, I had a neighbor and two author friends contact me that they really wanted me to be their surrogate. We chatted with each family and ultimately chose one that lived in our neighborhood. That story could be a whole book by itself, but to make this shorter, we did a transfer and I got pregnant! I was so excited for them. Then, the most amazing thing happened, after years of infertility, the mom of that family got pregnant at the same time as me! Again, I was so excited that they were going to get two babies (one in me and one inside her). Unfortunately, a few weeks later, I had a miscarriage. My first one ever. It was not easy, but I still had this overwhelming feeling like all would be well and that this was how it was supposed to happen. That sweet family was still getting a baby, but just not the way either of us planned (P.S. They now have a beautiful, healthy baby boy!).

The End?

At this point, I think my husband was pretty sure I was crazy because I told him that I still felt like this journey wasn’t over. And I kept getting an impression that I needed to contact one of the first families that had responded to my social media post. I knew the mom because we'd met at a writing conference and we’d already met their whole family the previous summer. It just felt like I should reach out. So I did. And they were ecstatic because they hadn’t found a surrogate yet. In fact, they had been hoping all along that I would reach out.

Long Story, Short

Eight months later, we did the embryo transfer. I found out soon after that I was pregnant again. I was really nervous those first few months. The intended parents were an awesome support system. They attended each doctor appointment and showed so much love for their baby. As soon as we heard that cute little heartbeat at 9 weeks, I felt so much peace and love for that baby, her family, and for God for putting me on this journey. 

We didn't tell anyone until after the 20 week appointment.
This announcement got more attention than when I had my own kids!



A Different Kind of Pregnancy

That escalated quickly! 25 Weeks Pregnant.


Surrogacy isn’t for the faint of heart. Those that have had to go through any form of IVF are rockstars. Even though my hormones and uterus were all “perfect” as the fertility clinic said, to make sure that this embryo had the best chance, I had to start doing injections at least once a day (some days it was twice) about a month before the embryo transfer and for 10 weeks after. I’ve never been a fan of needles, and at first I couldn’t even give myself the injections, but this last round I had to suck it up and I learned to do it to myself.
 



It wasn’t easy, but now I am so grateful for modern medicine. I still can’t believe that I got to carry someone else’s baby because they couldn’t. I was amazed that my body could hold a human that doesn’t have my DNA. I was also grateful for a Heavenly Father that guided me in this path and a wonderful couple that trusted me with their baby’s life. 

6.5 Months Pregnant


At 10 weeks to go: The question I got asked the most about having someone else’s baby was whether I felt different. I’d say physically, it was basically the same. Same nausea, same itchy skin, same pelvic discomfort while running (yes, I still ran but it was super slow and I took walking breaks when I needed to), same feeling of having my insides squished, etc!

Emotionally, it was quite different because I knew she wasn't mine. It was like when you’re watching someone else’s child. Sometimes you watch them better than your own kids. I was more careful with what I took into my body or the things I could do that could cause her harm (like no sledding or skiing this past winter). But, like other people’s kids who you kind of take in to your home, I knew I'd always feel some kind of connection. Not like a mom, but like a really lucky aunt. My girls kissed and hugged my belly like she was a cousin or niece. I was so excited to see her grow up with her adorable family. Because I knew our family was already complete, it just made me excited that I got to help someone get theirs closer to being complete. 

The next several months weren't exactly easy (no pregnancy is easy no matter what it seems like from the outside), but it seemed easier than my other pregnancies and I felt so blessed. 

8 Months Pregnant

“It’s not mine.”

I think that’s the phrase that I said hundreds of times the last few months of pregnancy. I didn’t usually say anything unless someone mentioned something about me having a 7th child to take care of or asked about a nursery or something. But I kind of loved saying it and seeing the reaction because it always took a second for them to process it. Some people knew all about surrogacy because they knew someone who had done it or they’d seen or read a story. But there were the few that couldn’t just leave it at my answer. They had questions: How is it possible? Is it your DNA? How can you give away your baby? Are you sad? Are you relieved? 
 
I reassured them that science (and miracles!) are amazing, that the baby had the DNA from the mom and dad (their egg and sperm), that I wasn't giving away my baby, that I was happy for the family, that I was relieved that she had been safely tucked inside me for nearly 9 months. I was happy I'd been chosen to be the vessel. The beautiful family would get to raise that baby girl into adulthood. And one day she would understand how she got here. And we would have a tiny moment of heavenly connection. But, in the end, the important part was that she made it safely to her mom and dad. Because the truth was, her parents had done all the hard work and would continue to do it. They had the emotional, physical, and financial stress to deal with. They had the fears. The trust they had to have in me was amazing. It was a faith that I don’t think anyone could completely understand.

So the answer I gave to most people and the only truth I know was this:

“She wasn’t mine to begin with.”

So here I am at 38 weeks. I couldn't believe that baby would be there so soon. I remember taking this photo and thinking this might be the last one of me pregnant because I'd never been good at recognizing a real contraction until delivery was imminent. I needed some documentation before that happened. 
38 Weeks Pregnant

I went into labor that week. After one false alarm, where they sent me home from the hospital just like they do in the movies, we decided to have my water broken because the intended parents were already in town (they lived 2 hours away).

The Birth Story

I can't tell my surrogacy story without mentioning my Aunt Jan. My mom has always been my biggest supporter and would have been by my side through each of my pregnancies and births, but because of distance, she lent me her sister to be my surrogate mom for each of my pregnancies. This one was no exception. 



Do you see that gorgeous woman in the flower shirt? That’s my Aunt Jan. When I started this surrogacy journey years ago, she already knew something was up before I even mentioned it. She’s intuitive and caring and she literally saved me during this labor. She’s a doula by trade so she knows what she’s doing, but since my mom couldn’t be there, she was also the emotional support I needed too.

She wasn’t in tip-top health (COVID side effects), but when I texted her Friday morning that I was at the hospital, she automatically said she’d come. When she arrived at the hospital, I’d already started having contractions and they were strong enough that I was having a hard time breathing through them. Jan made me relax and keep it together. I’d planned on an epidural because I’d previously had a few c-sections and the doctors had recommended it. The anesthesiologist was called and he got the needle in, but said it would take 15 minutes for the medicine to kick in. The minute he said that, I had a contraction and felt the baby crowning. I knew it was too late.

I wasn’t sure I could make it through (which I told Jan), but she knew just what to say and even though my hands were going numb (I think I was hyperventilating from the knowledge that I was going to have to do this old school and hadn’t prepared my mind for it) and I felt like my body was tearing apart, I was able to lay down. The nurses checked me, were shocked that baby was ready to come out because the last time they checked me I was only 4.5 cm. Jan held my hand and got me to relax for 1 minute by getting me to my happy ocean place. She ordered everyone around and even offered to deliver the baby if the doctor didn’t hurry! As soon as the doctor walked in, I vaguely remember them asking if I remembered how to push. I laughed/cried (because, hello, contraction!) and said no. The nurse tried to tell me to hold my breath for 10 seconds, but I’d already pushed the head out and when she told me to do it again, I looked at Jan and I think we both agreed the nurse was crazy because 10 seconds was too long and that baby was out in 2!



The minute their baby was out, the pain was gone. Like instantly. Nothing. And the epidural still hadn’t kicked in. It was like Heavenly Father was telling me, “You’ve done a hard thing. I placed you on the journey 4 years ago and you’ve sacrificed your time, gone through three rounds of fertility treatments, had a miscarriage, nearly bled out, had to do iron infusions, still pressed forward, got pregnant again, had the discomforts of pregnancy for nearly 9 months, and then you just had an intense birth. You get a break. You deserve to enjoy these few minutes with the intended parents.” And I did. I got to watch as the beautiful mom cried (and I did too), seeing that healthy girl placed on my lap. I got to watch as the mom cut the cord and I told the nurse to hand that baby to her mom first. We all got to enjoy the moment of that baby seeing her parents for the first time and being held in their very deserving arms. It was magical.
And, of course, as you can see from these pictures, Aunt Jan held onto me the whole time. You don’t know you need someone like that until you're holding on for dear life and you realize you do. I felt my mom there with me (they both have these sweet tiny hands) and I felt the strength of women before me that have gone through labor and done hard things. I couldn’t have done it without her.

This is the post I wrote right after the birth:

She’s here!

Words can’t describe the whirlwind of this past day, but I’m going to try.

They broke my water around noon on Friday and I went into labor within about 45 minutes on my own. 

We thought we had enough time for an epidural, but I should have known this girl wanted to meet her parents sooner than we expected. Because just as the anesthesiologist finished with his needle and said it would be 10-15 minutes for the medicine to kick in, I had an intense contraction and I knew the baby would be here before then. I laid back, they checked me, immediately called the doctor, and the baby was out a minute after he got there. I’ve never had a completely natural birth so I guess #7 was the time to do it! Baby Jade was born at 1:58 pm weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces and 20 inches long.
The awesome parents were able to be there the whole day and experience the birth with us. It wasn’t strange. It was just amazing. My whole life I’ve delighted in seeing JOY in people, but this one has to be the most precious. It was beautiful to see their faces light up when their new baby girl came into the world. She is perfect in every way possible!

I’m so grateful for this experience. I’ve gained a richer appreciation for human life, love of parents, and sacrifice. I’ll never forget the feeling of pure joy we all experienced as we heard that baby for the first time. It was like a beautiful song I’ll replay over and over as she grows up!

I’ll have more to share over the coming weeks, but for now I’m just glad that baby Jade is now safely in her parents arms and I’m recovering here at home. Thanks for all the love, prayers, thoughts, gifts, and support.

This is by far my favorite photo of the experience. I love how happy the parents look and the joy on my face at seeing their happiness.


I already had 6 kids when I decided to become a surrogate. My baby was just a baby then. Now, a few years later, I know why the process was delayed several times and things didn’t happen in the order I had planned. Because this wasn’t my journey.

It was theirs.

It was ours.



And look at this group! My family and this surrogate baby’s family. This baby is lucky to have the best parents EVER and my family is lucky to have a tiny (and adorable) connection to them.


Afterward
One thing we wanted to make sure of was that all our kids understood the surrogacy process every step of the way. I explained the medical side of things (egg, sperm, implantation) and helped even our 6-year-old understand that I wouldn't be the mom to the baby. And they got it. I'd still get questions every now and then, but we were pretty open and made sure to answer them all. But even after I had the baby and the kids came to see me and her in the hospital, our 9-year-old whispered in my ear, "So . . . just to be clear, this is not my sister, right?" When I reassured her that she wasn't, she seemed happy and loved holding her new little "cousin." Each family member got to hold this new little baby and appreciate the life that was in me for nearly 9 months. I love seeing these photos and remembering that they learned from the experience too.










This bag is full of breastmilk.



For the 3 months after I had their baby, we did several handoffs to get this “liquid gold” as we sometimes called it, to the sweet baby that needed it. I would pump for 20-25 minutes every 3 or so hours and freeze the milk to give to her parents every week or two. My kids got used to seeing me with a contraption connected to me several hours a day. I had to pump in awkward places like bathroom stalls, changing rooms, and in my car.

It wasn’t easy. But knowing that it could help the baby stay healthy and create immunities for later in life, made it worth it. I spent 6 and a quarter years of the last 19 years feeding babies (that’s 33% for you math geeks like me). As I pumped for the last time and zipped up this final offering for the family, it made me reflect a lot on my time as a surrogate and my decision nearly 6 years ago to begin the process.

It wasn’t easy. But it was worth it. Besides the question of whether I was sad to “give up my baby,” the next question that is asked is usually related to why. Why did I do this in the first place? Why didn’t I just move on when the first two times we tried to make it happen didn’t work out? I don’t have an answer that everyone will understand. I told my story before about feeling guided to be a surrogate. Even when things were falling apart, even when I was bleeding out from a miscarriage and ended up in the hospital, I felt peace. Every fiber of my being (my spirit) told me that it was ok. That the time would come. That this was right. That I needed to press forward. I truly believe that there was a spirit in heaven that needed to be here and she needed to find a way to get here. And her way wasn’t going to be easy or conventional.

Somehow, I got to be the instrument.

This baby's parents have often said to me that there’s this peace about her. Like any baby, she cries and has her moments, but her spirit is peaceful. Even though I believe in a Heavenly Father and I’m a Christian, I don’t understand everything about our premortal existence. But 100% of me believes that I knew that peace before their baby got here because she shared it with me.

If you’re struggling in your faith, my only piece of advice is to hold on. Hold on. Know that you are loved. Live your life to the fullest. There is peace somewhere for you. Be open to it. It will come when you least expect it. We all find ours in different places and in different times. I feel blessed I found mine years ago and it was reaffirmed with the little spirit that found her way into the world in a miraculous manner.

P.S.

I love that I still get to be Aunt Robin and see the cute girl I got to help bring into the world. We text and exchange photos with the parents and whenever one of us is in town, we try to get together. People often ask me about surrogacy and the process. I know it's not easy for everyone and things don't always go as planned, but I can say that it's worth it and I'd highly recommend.

She's 7 weeks old.


We got to babysit for her when she was 3 months old and loved every minute of it!

We celebrated her 1st birthday together.

Aunt Robin & The Godfather on Her 1st Birthday

She's now two years old and such a little cutie!




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