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The Childless Parent

When someone confides in me that they are having trouble conceiving, my first response is a deep and heart-wrenching sigh. But I keep it internal. They don’t want my pity; it’s been tough enough already. They have trusted me with a secret, and a cross they’ve had to bear for some time now. They are looking for support and advice, not more wallowing in sorrow. Whether they are straight, gay, married, or single, the common bond is that they can’t have children of their own. In their heart, or hearts, they are already parents. So achieving that status on a physical level is the most important life goal to them. A parent doesn’t give up on a child, even if the child isn’t born yet.
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By the time they get up the courage to talk to me, most have been trying to become parents for quite a while. They have or are looking into IVF because conceiving a child naturally hasn’t worked. They have already talked to friends and family for viable options for egg donation or even surrogacy but for personal, emotional or medical reasons they have all been zero ‘d out. Stopping isn’t an option for them. It’s time for them to make a decision on what to do next. Now they’re starting to consider a surrogate agency as an option. They timidly approach me because they know I have some experience in this area and are looking for straightforward answers.
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I initially feel overwhelming guilt when I speak to these couples. I feel so guilty because it’s been so easy for me. I’m so sorry I can’t make it happen for every single one of them. I have these thoughts but I know better than to voice them aloud. I know they’ve already seen me, their family and other friends through envious eyes. They have already asked “Why?” over and over again. What they need now is a plan of action. “What’s next? How do I move forward?”  It’s not an “I’m sorry for your loss” kind of situation it’s a beacon of hope that is needed. They’re looking for that light at the end of the dark tunnel they have been traveling alone.

So what do I tell them? Well it’s different for each case. Some women are freezing their eggs. Some are going to keep trying and trying through IVF, and some are going back to the old fashioned way and trying not to “try”. For those who are done with these options, or can’t even attempt them I suggest surrogacy. I answer any and all questions for them as best I can and I refer them to Surrogate Alternatives for more in-depth answers. They are the professionals and can help give them the hope they need to continue. I personally went through this agency because I researched and found them the most compatible to my needs: friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. And that is what I tell my friends. I know it’s easier talking to a friend then to some agency they’ve never had contact with, but I can only tell them so much and I really do not want to get my facts wrong in such important matters.
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Having you’re own baby is not a want; it is a need. I want to say that I understand fully and comprehend their struggle, because I don’t. I do see where I can come help though. I haven’t felt all of their pain, but I’ve been there to help alleviate some of it. I want to thank the people who have trusted me with these stories and encourage all because it does and can happen for them. Never lose hope in that. I’ve seen first-hand the end result for some and am waiting patiently for others.
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Walking in their shoes; A Mother and a Surrogates journey

Imagine if you will, being a woman. A woman who has worked hard and has found a partner. A woman who now wants a child, a complete family. Now imagine trying to conceive this child and nothing happens; going to the doctor and being told you can’t conceive. Then, taking all your hard earned money and trying every other possible alternative to create a baby–hormones, egg retrieval, IVF–again and again with no results. Or even worse getting pregnant (!!!!!) and then miscarrying. Do you think you have an idea of what that could feel like? Now imagine the physical, economical and emotional toll this will take on you.

I can only imagine and sympathize with these women. Unfortunately, I know too many. I’ve had long personal discussions with a few and it breaks my heart. These talks are one of the main reasons surrogate mothers exist today. So, after all this pain and toil, some of these women look towards surrogacy. The reason they choose an agency is for protection. This most precious treasure they have been so long in seeking becomes closer to their grasp and they want to do everything in their power to obtain it.

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When a man and woman intend to become parents and look through the files of fully screened surrogates (and, sometimes, egg donors) they are looking for a means to an end, an end to the emptiness they have been feeling, an end to their toils and tribulations. They choose carefully and hope that the surrogate will help them complete their maternal desires.

Once everyone has spoken and agreed to this journey, the contracts are signed; and the medications for the surrogate begin. The egg retrieval is done and at this stage the Intended Mother (IM) becomes even more anxious. It’s happening all over again, but with renewed and different hope! If, and when, the surrogate is confirmed pregnant with a heartbeat ultrasound then the IM is inundated with emotions: “It happened, we’re pregnant! Oh God, we could loose it (again)?!?!” Her maternal instinct takes over and yet she feels out of control because it’s not her body. She may become increasingly concerned with the surrogate’s diet, what medications she is taking, if she is following the doctors orders, and just about every waking aspect of her life—anything from the surrogate getting her hair dyed and nails done to if she is exercising enough or too much. All of this may cause the surrogate to undergo additional stress, which is the exact opposite of what is wanted.

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It can become very tense very quickly. There is an emotional switch that can, and does very often occur, with an IM and her surrogate. The IM needs to know that the surrogate is doing everything possible to achieve a healthy pregnancy. She wouldn’t be a surrogate if she weren’t. The surrogate then needs to know that these emotions are not personally aimed at her, it’s just the IM’s fears and apprehensions manifesting due to her own perceived “helplessness” in these matters.

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As the pregnancy continues and they enter the second trimester healthily, things tend to lighten up. The emotional roller coaster on both sides seems to even out a bit. The IM starts to feel more secure that the baby is doing well and begins to trust he or she is eventually going to arrive. The surrogate earns the IM’s trust and the women may even become quite close during this part of journey. They may share intimate details with each other, promising to stay friends and keep in touch once the baby is born. This calm may go on until delivery. And, if they are among the lucky ones, it stays that way. The happy healthy baby is born (!!!) and the no longer IM, but now mother, is over the moon, delighted and grateful. She lets the surrogate hold the child after the delivery. They remain in contact via pictures and emails and life is good. 🙂

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However, that is a best-case scenario. Once that baby is born, the “Momma Bear Switch” can turn to the extreme level. The IM becomes so frightened, so scared that someone will try to take her child, she suddenly sees the surrogate as a threat. No matter how irrational or unfounded this feeling may be it is real to her and can be completely over-powering. The IM cannot believe that something she has wanted so dearly, and that is so extremely precious to her, would not be coveted by the woman who carried it for her for nine months. This feeling is understandable for the IM, but completely unfounded for the surrogate. The IM will not let the surrogate see the child, let alone hold it. All contact is severed and the surrogate may never hear from the family again. It’s the harsh truth, but it happens. It is completely within the Intended Parents’ (IP’s) rights to do so. The surrogate may just never know the child she helped bring into this world.

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For the surrogate, this can be devastating, especially, because it can happen without any warning. Things seem fine until they are in the labor and delivery room.  Suddenly, she has had the baby, but there is no baby. The IP’s will not speak to her. She feels alone and abandoned. There is a reason that in a surrogacy contract it states that the surrogate will, if desired, be allowed one hour alone with the baby in the hospital. This is for closure sake. The surrogate had this baby inside her body; she wants to see what she helped to create. A surrogate doesn’t want to keep the child. She entered into the agreement knowing and trusting this. When a surrogate delivers a baby, there is a physical need to know about the child. Much like an artist or a craftsperson that has created something, the surrogate wants to see her work and know that it was successful.  It is a completely different connection than with her own children, but it is still valuable to the ending of a journey. It makes it all feel complete.

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Sometimes in these situations the IP’s may come around and send an email with pictures. Some have a change of heart later, once that fear has subsided and they are comfortably settled at home with the child. The IP’s may start sending updates to the surrogate in the years to come. But sometimes they don’t and that’s OK too. As long as the surrogate is aware of this possibility as she enters the agreement. The surrogate can be comfortable in the knowledge that what she did was an amazing act of love and is valued even if unspoken. What the surrogate needs for this to work is to know that this separation has nothing to do with her. What she did was a beautiful and fulfilling act. Even if she is not involved in the rest, she has helped to create a loving family. The families are grateful, too, in their own way. Some IP’s have been through such a long and harsh road they are unwilling to take any chances once they’ve obtained that wonderful gift of life. It has made them complete and they don’t want any more obstacles. A clean break was felt best. It all just needs to be communicated.

Understanding on both sides helps. The agency will help provide this from beginning to end, but it really does come down to the individuals involved. Prior knowledge is key. For the Intended Mother, she should remember she’s chosen (albeit reluctantly) to have another woman carry her baby.  Conversely, surrogates should be understanding of the IM’s experiences and tribulations. Knowing and being prepared for any possible outcome is best; that means it may hurt, but it can hurt less.

Hurry Up and Wait… from matching to contracts to cycling

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What many people don’t realize is that with surrogacy, there are many steps to take before you can even start trying to become pregnant.

A woman who wishes to become a surrogate fills out a super long, in-depth application; gets checked out physically and mentally; and has her background checked to make sure she isn’t really the missing Anastasia. Then she waits to hear back from the agency for the green light.

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If she’s cleared, she’s put in a database with other women in the same situation and waits to be chosen by an Intended Parent (IP). It’s up to the agency to find and match suitable surrogates with IPs. You want to be on this journey with someone you get along or “click” with. This is very important and sometimes it’s an instantaneous click and sometimes it’s not. Even if a woman has been a surrogate before she still has to go through this process each time she re-applies.

Once this stage of the process is complete–and it can take months to get matched–she steps into the legal process. A legal contract for both parties to review is provided by the IP’s lawyer and reviewed with the surrogate by her lawyer. Luckily, SAI works with specially trained fertility-law specialists who know what they are doing and have been doing it for decades. However, the law is the law. There are mountains of paperwork which are a necessary evil (and a good sleeping aid) to get through.

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After everything is all legal eagle–which can take a month or more–it’s time to either match up cycles with the egg donor or IP (if using fresh embryos) or straight on to the poking and prodding (if the IPs have frozen embryos). Either way, this is part of the journey usually takes another month and is full of fun things like vaginal ultrasounds, peeing in a cup, different hormonal injections and daily medication. When using a gestational surrogate, the body must be “tricked” into thinking it’s pregnant so it won’t reject a foreign embryo. Hooray for science! But again… it’s the wait is about another month or so.

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In my personal experience, these three steps can take anywhere from 3-6 months’ time to achieve pregnancy, if it works on the 1st go round. Patience is a virtue and the rewards are well worth it in the end. So as Dori from Finding Nemo would say: “Just keep swimming”…….You’ll get there.

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We’re Not In It For The Money… which is why an agency is so important to me.

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When people find out that I’m a surrogate, the very first thing they usually ask me is “How much do you get paid?” I felt their question was insulting, but I’ve come to realize that it’s just plain curiosity and they’re not judging me. I now tell them “I don’t.”, which is true. We surrogates do not get paid to have someone else’s baby. It’s not a buying and selling market, like if you wanted a new pet. This is a person’s child, a human being that they themselves could not physically carry.

As surrogates, we are helping them receive what they have been yearning for. We do what we do for the emotional fulfillment and to give something back because we are capable. We do get compensated for pain and suffering (which let me tell you…and I will in another blog post sometime down the road…there is plenty of), however, that compensation equals to about the same as working a part time job. That compensation allows us to do what we do, making it financially possible to be pregnant for another, while having our own family as well. We’ve gone through having the joy of our own children and the money allows us to do the same for someone else. The compensation can help put surrogates in a better financial position as well.  We can go back to school; put a down payment on a home; it can help a stay-at-home mom set realistic goals and feel useful. People seem to have this idea in their heads that if you carry someone else’s child you get all your debts paid off, free plastic surgery, a platinum card, AND a new car! Not to mention getting showered with gifts from your intended parents who must be millionaires themselves (not!).

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The truth: it’s expensive to conceive a child if you can’t do it the ol’ fashioned way. Most people who come to the decision that they need a surrogate are already financially strapped. They have probably gone through tens of thousands of dollars already via fertility treatments, etc. Just because someone wants their own baby using modern technology doesn’t mean they are wealthy. This is why Surrogate Alternatives is so helpful. They know all of this. They deal with the finances. They help everyone understand what is needed and what expenses to expect and why some things are necessary and some are not.

Please remember, it’s more than just the intended parents and the surrogate involved. There are many factors to consider: the different types of insurance needed, fertility clinics, lab work, travel, doctors, hospitals, lawyers, and the red tape that is the law. From personal experience, you should not do this on your own. On both sides of the playing-field, it can be financially and emotionally challenging. Having experienced professionals that know the ropes and have gone through every possible scenario is invaluable. Someone in your corner to fight for you and make sure things come out all right can be the difference between life and death for some (thankfully very rarely). And when it all works out beautifully, oh how amazing that is!

I want to bring you all hope, not discourage you. Yes, the money is an issue but remember the rewards: the surrogate who can be proud of herself and her children, who are proud of her because she gave something special to someone in need, while improving her (and her families) life. The new parents who finally get to bring a beautiful baby (or two) home with them and be together for the very first time as a real family. It is that boost up a tall wall. The reality of surrogacy is that it may be an unconventional situation, but those same feelings of happiness are still there once you have climbed over that wall. We are not in the business of selling babies, we are an alternative route to parenthood, walked together creating families.

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