It Took 3 – A Surrogacy Story (By: Anonymous)
After 2 rounds of IVF and genetic testing, we transferred our first embryo in November 2014. And, we were pregnant (yay!), then we saw a heartbeat (amazing!). Then, at our next ultrasound, there a slow heartbeat. Then, no heartbeat – tragically, the pregnancy ended. I remember sitting in the Reproductive Endocrinologist’s (RE’s) office with my husband for our follow-up visit and usually I ask a lot, really a lot of questions. But, the only question I can now remember asking her is “Do you think we’d be better off with a surrogate?” Her response was something like, “Given your medical history and failed transfer with a PGD tested embryo, yes, I would take a surrogate (with a proven history of full term births) over you.” While this was something I really didn’t want to hear, in my heart of hearts, I knew this was going to be the answer. Knowing that I have an autoimmune condition (think milder form of Lupus) and knowing the significant role the autoimmune system plays in pregnancy, something had been nagging at me for years, saying that I might not be able to carry a baby.
Now, knowing that you might not be able to carry a baby and accepting that you might not be able to carry a baby are two entirely different things. So, what did we do as a next step…if you don’t get it right the first time, of course, you try again. And, we just didn’t try again. We went back to step 1, and did more rounds of IVF. By this time, my husband was sick of the shots, the egg retrievals, my bruised arms from all the blood tests (I’m a notoriously difficult stick), him providing sperm samples…the whole thing. He used to walk into the RE’s office and say, “I hate this place” (being somewhat out of character for his easy-going personality). But, I was relentless and wasn’t giving up on my dream!
Why more rounds of IVF, you ask? The first two rounds of IVF gave us 3 genetically tested embryos. So, if we did another transfer to me and it didn’t work (remember, I really didn’t think it would, but wasn’t ready to face up to it), we’d only have one embryo left. At my age, 40, I couldn’t count on one embryo as my only hope to have a child that was genetically ours. As a result, we began the process of “banking” more genetically tested and went through 3 more rounds of IVF. The last round produced no embryos that made it to Day 5 (blastocysts). I recall the RE telling me ‘You’re done,” which I think was her way of telling me that my body was getting tired of all of this and I needed to stop [For the record, I always appreciated her direct bedside manner]. It was disappointing to hear, but given my age at the time, 41, not shocking.
At the same time we were going through the latest rounds of IVF, I was researching and learning all I could about surrogacy. I was fortunate to have a colleague at work who I knew had her daughter via gestational surrogacy. I didn’t know her well, but reached out and asked if she would talk to me. Thankfully, she said yes! And she had so much to share, basically giving me a roadmap for how gestational surrogacy worked – screening questionnaire; how to find surrogates (there are Facebook pages and websites, and you can find great surrogates there, believe it or not, if you are diligent and do your homework); script for posting an ad on the Facebook pages/websites; how to handle insurance; which attorney to use and what the contracts generally look like; psychological testing, etc.). If there were any gaps in the information she shared, I filled them in by exploring the websites, joining the Facebook pages (and watching the conversations), researching on the internet, learning the terminology (IP – intended parent, IM – intended mother, GS – gestational surrogate (IM or donor egg and husband or donor sperm), TS – traditional surrogate (surrogate egg and husband or donor sperm) and so much more)
On one of the Facebook pages, I reached out to the page administrator, who I learned by watching the conversation, had been a gestational surrogate several times. I messaged her and asked if she would be willing to meet with me so I could talk to her about surrogacy. Thankfully, she said yes! I met her and her husband for lunch on a Saturday. She was so open and matter of fact at the same time (I’ve found that to be a surrogate super power – a rare combination of positive traits). I learned a lot from her, but mostly I learned that surrogates were real – I met one!
After that, I met another gestational surrogate from Florida on a website that lists surrogates. I screened her and she was willing to work with us. I wasn’t ready, but it was nice to know that we had an option. And, we talked throughout all of the latest rounds of IVF. She was so well versed in IVF, as she had been a surrogate previously, that she was a great resource. It was good to have her to talk to as the embryos were retrieved, grew and ultimately genetically tested.
I then had to work on my husband. Although he would later tell me that he thought we should go with a surrogate after the first miscarriage, I felt that I had some convincing to do. My colleague at work told me about a gestational surrogate who actually owned a surrogacy agency. So, I made an appointment for us to meet with her. We needed to consider the agency route for matching with a surrogate as well (versus the independent route I was exploring by looking for a surrogate on my own). Before we met with this agency owner/surrogate, my husband had asked about surrogates “What type of person would do something like that,” as if he could not imagine why someone would do this. But once you meet a surrogate, you know why. They truly are special, almost perfectly suited to bless parents with their precious children. #surrogateshavesuperpowers After meeting his match in this agency owner/gestational surrogate (he asked tough questions and questions he thought would trip her up, and she gave answers back to him just the way he asked the questions of her – it was a fascinating, and somewhat amusing exchange), my husband realized this too. I think it was at this point that he realized real, well intended women, gracious, strong women are surrogates, and he hopped on board with surrogacy.
I also started talking to people I knew and with whom I was comfortable (doctors, nurses, dentist, my cleaning lady, etc. asking them if they knew of anyone who would want to be a gestational surrogate). One of my medical professional friends referred me to an experienced, local gestational surrogate she knew, but when I texted her, she never responded. Additionally, I posted a few generic ads on the Facebook pages/websites, and met a few other gestational surrogates that I tucked away in my phone for future reference.
Before we moved on to gestational surrogacy, our last 3 rounds of IVF ultimately resulted in 2 more genetically tested embryos. Now we had 4. Not quite the numbers we wanted to really increase our chances of having a baby, but more than we previously had. So, we were grateful.
With these new embryos safely tucked away in the freezer under the care of an amazing embryologist (who, based on my experience with him at the last transfer, treated each one of them like they were his own children), we (well, maybe just me – remember I could not quite give up my dream of carrying my own baby) decided to move forward with another transfer to me.
Since this is a surrogacy story, you probably can figure out how this transfer went. Again, in November 2015, we transferred and got pregnant. This time, the embryo seemed to want to hang on even longer, but it couldn’t or my body wouldn’t let it. Either way, it ended up in miscarriage.
Now, I had a tough decision to make (as another RE I know told me she used to ask her patients, “Do you want to carry a baby or do you want a baby?”). What she was asking was so true, but so hard. We went back to our RE’s office for our follow-up and asked her about options. She told us that if we wanted to move forward that we should do so with a gestational surrogate. Not what I wanted to hear, but that was my/our reality. So, we decided to move full steam ahead with gestational surrogacy.
Good thing I had done all this research! Because we were short on time, we decided to interview another agency. They were fine, but I could not imagine paying someone to do what I could do myself! So, I started aggressively posting on the Facebook pages and websites. I watched the pages and websites nightly for new gestational surrogates to pop up who I could contact. What I realized is that the competition for gestational surrogates is fierce. And, you have to “kiss a lot of frogs, to find your prince[ss].” This took a ton of time – I can’t tell you how many surrogates I screened! There are so many IMs/IPs/Intended Fathers (Ifs) out there and not enough gestational surrogates (at least it seemed that way to me). So, I had to stop posting generic posts and get very specific about my criteria (local (preferred), insurance, experienced, no more than 3 vaginal births), and tell OUR story. It seemed the surrogates were more responsive when the IPs had a compelling story – if they were going to help you, they wanted to know WHO they were helping and HOW. Being a relatively private person, this was a difficult hurdle for me to jump, but it had to be done, if we were going to locate a qualified gestational surrogate. I met two other experienced gestational surrogates, one from Virginia and one from Georgia. I asked my RE to screen both of their records. I wasn’t sure I wanted to work with a surrogate from Virginia (the laws don’t allow for the IPs names to go seamlessly and directly on the birth certificate after birth), but I needed to keep my options open.
Almost immediately after the miscarriage, I also contacted the surrogates who I had previously been in touch with, including the local, experienced gestational surrogate referred by my medical professional friend. This time, I texted her, with our complete story and asked her if she would at all be willing to help us to please contact me. I remember feeling a little sad and desperate. Almost immediately, she responded and my mood changed to happy and optimistic!!
We agreed to talk live later that week. At some point I texted her and said, “Hope it’s okay with you, we’re African-American.” She said, “That’s okay with me, if it’s okay with you, that I’m gay and married to a woman.” I almost fell out of my chair laughing – what a witty response! When we talked I went through my screening questionnaire and she met all criteria. She, and her wife (who kept interjecting into our conversation in a funny and caring way). I was super excited, I found someone who might work with us, and she was local, experienced and had insurance! And, a plus that she was married to a woman: 1) she was in a happy and healthy relationship and 2) there would be no worries about a male’s DNA getting in the way (so to speak) after our embryo was transferred.
Next, we decided to meet at a local restaurant for dinner. We had to reschedule a couple of times due to schedules. But, we finally met sometime in early 2016. After that dinner, we decided to officially match and work toward a Fall/Winter 2016 transfer date. That’s when the real work began…
We had to collect our gestational surrogate’s medical records and have them reviewed by my RE so he could clear her to work with us. Yes, our RE was now a he. By this time, we’d been at our practice so long, almost 5 years, that my original, and favorite, RE had retired – in fact, our last transfer was one of the last ones she did in her career, that I believe spanned over 35 years.
Once our gestational surrogate was cleared by our RE, we had to schedule an extraordinarily long appointment for her and her spouse to meet with him, and with us. Due to the RE’s schedule, it took what felt like an eternity to get the appointment. On the day of the appointment, due to her work schedule, our gestational surrogate’s wife was unable to attend. I prayed that we didn’t need to reschedule the appointment. Thankfully, we didn’t have to and all went smoothly.
All of us, gestational surrogate, her spouse and me and my husband, had to go through medical screenings and psychological screenings. Due to our gestational surrogate’s wife’s work schedule it was challenging to schedule the appointments with the psychologist. We had to reschedule them a few times, but we finally ended up getting them scheduled. By the time, we finished all this screening, it was Spring. Then, at one point, we ended up re-screening with the psychologist just to be sure everyone was in a good place to move forward, so that took more time.
We also had to ensure that we had appropriate insurance coverage (medical, life, disability) in place. And that took some time as well.
While we were doing all of this, we also were working with our attorney to draft the contract – at least completing the questionnaire the attorney would need to fill out the contract. We had agreed on all the terms, so this was a relatively easy process. In July, we had the attorney start drafting the contract and, by September, we had a signed contract.
Finally, everything was in place for us to transfer! We transferred in late-November – the gestational surrogate, her wife and I were in the transfer room. Everything went smoothly. Then…we waited (the story of IVF). I was in Greece for work when the results came in (the only doctor’s appointment through the entire pregnancy was this blood test appointment). The nurse called and, I am listening and almost in tears preparing myself for bad news, she said, “Guess what…your girl is RE-A-LLY pregnant.” I was so excited I could hardly contain myself, but I needed to since I was on the streets of Greece having excused myself from a work dinner to take the call. I immediately called my husband and told him. We were both thrilled. But, having been to this rodeo before, we knew this was just the beginning…
Next, more blood tests. Every few days our gestational surrogate would go back to the RE to be sure her “beta” was rising. It was!
Then, one day, early in the pregnancy, I got a call from our gestational surrogate. I remember exactly where I was. She said she was experiencing some bleeding (NOT a good sign). I told her to not worry, to take care of herself and she was our first priority, and to get to a hospital. When I said that she started crying and saying she was so sorry. I told her it was not her fault and we would meet her at the hospital. She told me that she was in Alabama with her wife and daughter visiting family. I told her we would meet her there. Once she told me where she was in Alabama, I realized we could not get there quickly (and wondered, in my mind, if that distance was outside of the range allowed in our contract, but I’d figure that out later). Our gestational surrogate and her wife went to the emergency room and I went home (to worry and pray, and worry and pray….). Our gestational surrogate’s wife would call from time to time to give us updates. Finally, she called back and said she had some news “We have a heartbeat” and the baby was measuring exactly where she (YES, SHE, but we knew that already – now you all know it) was supposed to be. We were even hearing the heartbeat earlier than you would expect to hear it.
We went back to the RE for our regularly scheduled appointment. We get there and our gestational surrogate tells the RE she’s had more bleeding. I asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” She says, “Well you would have sat up and worried all night and there was nothing to do because I was coming here today.” She was right and I appreciated her for it. What a thoughtful decision she made. Turns out she had a small hematoma which are common in IVF (why doesn’t anyone tell you these things). We had a few more incidents of bleeding, but then it stopped when the hematoma went away.
Finally, we were released from the RE’s office and to our gestational surrogate’s regular OB (who we jointly chose – my neighbor and great friend who is an OB). This was bittersweet. We knew we had to go, but we had been with the RE’s practice for 5 years. They were almost like family. My husband asked the RE why we had to go, and why couldn’t we just stay under their care for the entire pregnancy, stating “I like to stick with the girl I brought to the dance.” Again, very out of character for him, but it made sense to me too. The RE’s insurance did not cover our staying longer, so we had to go.
Our first visit to the OB. My husband put his foot up against the door when our OB was coming in. Then, he let her in and she saw my husband. Boy, was she surprised and so happy to see us. She knew about our struggles to stay pregnant, our journeys with IVF and search for a gestational surrogate. She told our gestational surrogate what a special person she was to help us (and we agreed 110%).
About 6 months in to the pregnancy, our gestational surrogate started feeling contractions one day. She called our OB and she told her to come in. I met her at the OB’s office. We ended up checking into labor and delivery where our gestational surrogate was hooked to a monitor to see if she was having contractions. It turned out that everything was okay, they might have been Braxton Hicks (preparatory contractions) which she did not have during her last pregnancies, so she didn’t know what they felt like.
We rocked along smoothly in the pregnancy and kept seeing our OB, as well as a perinatologist. Around 36 weeks, the perinatologist, told us that the amniotic fluid was increasing around the baby. Nothing to do but he wanted to keep an eye on it. He told us it could be nothing or it could be that the baby had a blockage in her digestive system (e.g., was not swallowing properly) that was causing the fluid build-up. So, back we went the next week (at 37 weeks), and it wasn’t getting any better. He sent us to our OB’s office for a stress test and office visit.
My husband and I and gestational surrogate get to the OB’s office and our gestational surrogate is hooked up to the monitors for the stress test. At first, our OB wasn’t seeing the fluctuations in the baby’s heart beat she wanted to see. [This must be why they call it a stress test – because it certainly was stressful for me] So, they gave our gestational surrogate a Diet Coke (yes, a Diet Coke) and then the correct results appeared. Our OB then measured our gestational surrogate’s stomach. She was measuring at 40 weeks, when she was only 37 weeks pregnant. Our OB, then turns to me and says, “We’re having this baby today” (with a classic and calm smile). I’m sure I looked at her like she had two heads and said “What??!!?” Our OB said the risk of cord prolapse due to the excess amniotic fluid at this point was too great (meaning, if the gestational surrogate’s water burst while she was not in the hospital, due to the amount, the cord could rush through the birth canal and then the head could come down on the cord – think of bending a water hose so the water does not come through). [Apparently, I completely forgot the surrogate’s wife called me that morning and said she thought our gestational surrogate had been having real contractions last night that were so close together that she tried to get her to go to the hospital].
So, our gestational surrogate and I went to labor and delivery, and my husband went home to finish packing our bags. We checked in to labor and delivery around 2:30 pm on a special day in late-June 2017 and called our surrogate’s wife to come to the hospital. Then, more waiting. The nurses hooked our gestational surrogate up to a bunch of monitors, started an IV and our OB came in and broke our gestational surrogate’s water (stating there still was a risk of cord prolapse but we could quickly get to the ER for an emergency C-section – thankfully, all was okay), then all the medical personnel left our gestational surrogate in the room to labor (and after her water broke, she was in full on labor) with her wife and I there as support [Note: this was very different than the childbirth class we took together a few months earlier].
At some point, my husband left and went to the waiting room because he said, “He could not take the pain” [Although none of us were sure what pain he was in].
A couple of hours later, our gestational surrogate, who had no epidural or pain meds, was in a lot of pain. I told our gestational surrogate that I would go get our OB. I went outside to look for a nurse to find her. I was worried about her, but also about the baby – I didn’t realize that labor is very stressful on a baby as well – you can see their heart rates on a monitor and they drop and come up and drop and come up – sometimes well outside the range that it should be as indicated on the monitor. Instead of a nurse, what did I see, our OB coming down the hall – she was almost floating, had a glow around her, and her hair was blowing in the wind (think Beyoncé). Well, at least that’s the vision I had of her. She was right on time when we needed her.
Our OB quickly assessed the situation and put our gestational surrogate at ease. Shortly after that it was time to push (unfortunately, we thought we had more time, so when my husband called to ask if he could go get a SIM card he forgot to buy for the new camera, we told him yes). Our OB told me that I was going to deliver my own baby months before, but I didn’t believe her. But, she was SERIOUS! I already had my new pink scrubs on, but she asked the nurses to get me in a gown and gloves. Then, the time I had been waiting for my entire life came…our OB said, “When I say pull, you pull.” I looked at her and said, “I’m going to pull her head off!” She said “No you won’t. Pull when I say pull.” When she said pull, I grabbed the baby by the neck and pulled her towards me – she came right out and I held her tight. Hysterically crying and thanking our gestational surrogate and asking if she was okay. She thankfully was just fine.
Then, our OB, said, “I have the baby, take these scissors and cut the cord here.” I said, “You know she’s slippery right?!” She said, “I know. I’ve done this a few times before.”
This has been a journey, full of ups and downs and highs and lows – more downs and lows, than ups and highs. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’ve met so many amazing people, who have renewed my belief that there are selfless, genuine, kind people in the world. I also got the #bestgiftever, our daughter. She was worth it all, and then some! And God taught me a life lesson – I can’t control everything.