In our new Realtalk series, we're sharing personal stories about fertility and family planning. We hope they offer support and inspire honest conversation about an incredibly tough topic.
I am a faith-based person, and I believe that God puts us on this earth to serve one another in some capacity. I enjoy helping others with what I can: I've given a kidney to a cousin, and I became an egg donor in 1999.
And so when, in 2006, I started learning more about surrogacy, I felt a similar calling. It seemed like an important way to help a family in need. And as a mother of four myself, I understood the parents' deep desire for a child.
But when I first discussed becoming a surrogate with my husband, his initial response was no. In fact, it took me about a year and a half to get him to agree. That’s because at first he simply didn’t understand the different types of surrogacy.
There are two ways a woman can become a surrogate. The first is a traditional surrogate (TS). A TS uses her own eggs and carries the baby, so the baby is genetically related to her. The second option is a gestational surrogate (GS). A GS doesn't use any of her own genetic material, so there’s no biological relationship between the baby and the surrogate. She’s solely the carrier.
Personally, I felt traditional surrogacy wasn't for me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to carry around a child genetically related to me that I wouldn't be keeping.
So after I explained the option of gestational surrogacy, my husband agreed. And in 2008, at the age of 33, I started my first surrogacy journey.
I’ve now completed three successful surrogacy journeys. And each one started with a similar grueling process: extensive medical screening consisting of general medical health, ultrasound scans, reproductive health screening, and STD tests for both my husband and me. We also had to complete a psychological evaluation, including a personality assessment and a consultation with a psychologist.
Once I was cleared medically and psychologically, we then moved on to the legal agreements, which are completed by a reproductive attorney.
The specifics vary from state to state, but these contracts generally go into extreme detail about what the parents and the surrogate can and can’t do during pregnancy (for example, some surrogates have travel restrictions or are required to abstain from sex during certain time periods, including about three weeks after the egg transfer), the rights and responsibilities regarding the child, and of course, the compensation. Compensation varies widely, but a surrogate can expect to receive up to $50,000, depending on the situation. The future parents cover all the expenses, every medical appointment, medication and attorney fees, as well as the surrogate’s compensation.
One thing I think it’s important to note is that money was never the driving factor for me. Unfortunately, there are people who feel that anyone who chooses to be a surrogate is desperate for money. I can’t speak for everyone, but that was never the case for me. I’m a highly educated woman with an MBA. I felt that this was the right decision for me.
Overall, that screening and legal process took about three months per child.
Three Different Families, Three Different Blessings
When I first started researching families to work with, I knew I wanted to work with a couple in the Atlanta area, where I live. But there was no local surrogacy agency at the time. So I decided to find the parents on my own and landed upon a classified ads website that listed parents seeking surrogates.
I also decided from the beginning that I wanted to help a family who didn’t have any children already. But besides this, each of the families I ended up working with were unique in their own way.
The first couple was a heterosexual couple and the intended mother was a cancer survivor. My second couple was also a heterosexual couple, but the intended mother had life-threatening medical issues that prevented her from carrying a baby. My last couple was a same-sex couple.
For the first couple, we had to try three different times due to embryo quality. The third cycle resulted in the successful delivery of twin girls. For my second couple we also had to attempt three cycles, with the last attempt resulting in a healthy boy. My final couple, in 2014, was successful on the first try with a healthy baby girl.
I have four children of my own, three boys and one girl. But I learned that, for me, the surrogacy pregnancies felt much different. I knew that even though I was nurturing these babies, they weren't really mine.
When each of the babies I delivered was born, I truly didn't feel a loss. Instead, I was elated that I had been able to do this for these families. The joy I felt was indescribable.
All the parents were present for the births. They were able to see their babies being born, and the dads cut the cords. All three experiences were true blessings that will live with me forever.
What I Wish More People Knew About Surrogacy
In 2008, I decided to form my own third-party reproduction agency, which later evolved into Family Inceptions International in 2013. As I mentioned, there had been no surrogacy agencies in the state of Georgia when I started. But I knew there were many people in the area, like me, who wanted to work with a local agency.
I also wanted to provide an experience that was as physically, psychologically, and financially stress-free as possible. And because I have served as both an egg donor and a surrogate, I knew I could share my firsthand knowledge with surrogates, egg donors, and intended parents. I’m truly proud of the work I've done.
But that doesn't mean I think surrogacy is the right choice for everyone. I think it’s important to stress that if you’re considering becoming a surrogate, you can’t rush your decision. You have to be 100 percent comfortable with your choice: You’ll be carrying and delivering a baby — but you will have no say in any decision pertaining to that child.
You must be emotionally OK with the eventual separation. This is not your child. Personally, I suffered no emotional setbacks or postpartum depression. But this isn't the case for everyone.
It’s also vital to remember that surrogacy is a family affair — everybody is involved directly or indirectly. If you have children, you’ll need to talk to them and explain that mommy is going to have a baby but that the baby won't be coming home. During my second surrogacy, my youngest son told complete strangers, "Mommy is having someone else's baby, because their mom's belly is broken and my mom's isn't!"
And of course, your partner has to be on board with this decision. After all, he’ll be required to do testing, psychological evaluations, and sign legal contracts as well. Not to mention, he'll be helping you throughout the pregnancy.
Surrogacy isn't perfect. There are also potential struggles that you should be prepared for. For example, I had to take my first set of intended parents to court because they failed to pay some medical bills. I also ended up with Bell’s palsy after that first pregnancy. On the other hand, my second and third surrogacy journeys were joyous. In fact, I'm still very close to the parents. I speak to them often, and even get to see the babies from time to time.
You can't always predict what will happen. But I wouldn't trade the amazing feeling of surrogacy for anything.
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