This piece was originally published on Gaddy Daddy. Republished here with permission.
This is the fourth installment in a series on surrogacy and a new definition of extended family. Read the first installment by Jacob Drill, Bragging Rights, on the journey he and his husband undertook to have their son, Max, through traditional surrogacy. Read the the second installment, Molecular Parenting, by Stewart Wallace, on how Max is both dads’ biological son. Read the third installment, My Quest to Become a Mother Through Surrogacy, by Laurie Mikuta, on how she has gotten to experience both the journey and the destination of parenting thanks to her surrogate.
I got a text the other day from a girlfriend of mine whose daughter has been a bit under the weather—turns out it’s strep throat. I can completely sympathize. It’s no fun to take care of a sick child, and you feel so bad for them. My younger son has a nasty cold right now that is making his nose run and he has a bad cough. We’re in this together, girlfriend!
I got another text from a friend of mine whose son just had his 6-month check-up. He is 21 pounds, 14 ounces, and over 27 inches long at only 6 months! His dad was so proud. Apparently, despite what these impressive numbers might indicate, this actually qualifies as “thinning out.” I can relate to this, too. My older son was getting a little rounder in the middle for a while (and eating me out of house and home), and then all of a sudden recently has shot up about 3 inches. I keep telling him not to grow so fast.
There’s nothing unusual about those two paragraphs, is there? It probably sounds like a day in the life of every parent. The strange thing about it is that I have given birth to all of those children—the two boys that I am raising; my friend’s daughter, Georgia; and the little boy, Jacob and Stewart’s son, Max. What’s more, I am related to all of them because I am a traditional surrogate, but I only consider myself to be the mother to my own two boys, Dean and Drew.
I am an incredibly fortunate surrogate. There are many kinds of surrogate/intended parent (IP) relationships. Many surrogates, both gestational and traditional, do not have any ongoing relationship with their IPs. Some of them become “Christmas card” friends, where they get a card and maybe a photo each year. As long as the relationships work, however they work, I think it’s fantastic. I knew when I decided to become a traditional surrogate (in which my own eggs were used, and I became pregnant through artificial insemination), that it was important to me that I had an ongoing relationship with the families I created. (Gestational surrogates are not related in any way to their surrogate children.) I didn’t know exactly what that would entail, but I don’t think you should keep secrets from children, so I didn’t want to be completely unfamiliar. I have been outstandingly lucky in that, by helping to create these two families, I have gained extended family. Through the process of becoming pregnant and being pregnant, I have become great friends with these families and I cherish that—not so I can stay close to their children, but just because I love the families for who they are.
Jacob asked me to write about what it’s like from this end, after everything is over. I’m sure he thought it would be interesting and informative, but I’m willing to bet that he’s super curious what I’ll say, too. The truth is, being a surrogate changes absolutely everything about who you are. It changes your family, and it obviously changes the families you create, but it changes your relationships with other people, too.
I decided to become a surrogate because I thought I could; I thought I would be good at it; and I thought it would be fun and amazing. It took me about four years after I decided I wanted to be a surrogate to talk my husband, Bill, into it. He thought it was an awfully big risk to take for someone else. However, those who know me know I can be a bit tenacious when I want something. (That works in your favor if I’m working with you on something, like getting pregnant, but makes me VERY hard to live with otherwise.) After we had our second son Drew, we knew we were done with our family. Both pregnancies had been easy (for pregnancy), and Bill caved gave me his support.
I met both of my surrogate families through an online community. Getting pregnant with Georgia, and the pregnancy itself, was quite easy. The strange thing for me was how nervous and cautious Laurie was about the pregnancy. My relationship with her was my first brush with infertility. Every time I had gotten pregnant, nine months later, there was a baby. That hadn’t been true for Laurie, so we had a few hiccups when I couldn’t figure out why she was nervous. When Georgia was born, it felt like an enormous victory. Everyone was so happy, and healthy. The same was true with my second surrogate pregnancy with Max. Despite a few hurdles, and a brief time on bed rest (which sounds like a fantastic, doctor-required vacation in bed, but really just isn’t), the pregnancy was easy. Jacob and Stewart were wonderful intended parents, or IPs (except for the one time that Stewart said my girth was impressive…ouch).
Then I went home, and there was the hormone crash.
Post pregnancy hormones can turn you into a crying, raving psycho make life a little difficult. That’s true whether or not you keep the baby. For those people around a surrogate who has just relinquished the baby, it seems as if she is so sad to have the baby gone, like we have regrets or are sorry we did it. Well, it is sad. For nine months you spend literally every single minute of your life with this person, and you get to know them, and you get used to having them around. Pregnancy hormones get a woman ready to be a mother to a child, and then there isn’t a baby to care for. Surrogates don’t love these babies less because they aren’t going to be ours. If anything, they often are more careful, because this baby’s parents have entrusted their care to you for the duration of the pregnancy. That’s a big responsibility! It’s important to understand, though, that the sadness isn’t because the baby is gone. That was the whole point, and it feels great when it happens. The sadness is that the journey is over, and it was everything to you for a long time. It does get better: Once you recover a little, the hormones settle down, and your body returns to normal, it really is back to your regularly scheduled life again.
So how do Bill, Dean, and Drew (my own family) feel about all of this? They are such an important part of what happens. My husband and boys pick up a lot of slack when I am pregnant. With Max, I was on bed rest for a bit, and that really required a shift in our family dynamic. Despite his initial reluctance, Bill is one of the biggest supporters of surrogacy at this point. He also considers everyone in our extended group to be family. My boys don’t really think anything of it. Having a mom who is a surrogate is their “normal.” They are young, and they haven’t ever known any different. They do realize that Georgia and Max are their half-siblings. They loved it after Georgia and Max were born, when they got to meet them and cuddle them. For a while after we had Georgia, they wondered if we would have another child in our family, but Dean later decided that having half-siblings who live somewhere else was best. He gets to travel to see them, gets more family that he loves, has more siblings, but doesn’t have to live with them all the time or share anything with them. He figures it’s win-win. (Sometimes, when my boys are being especially difficult, I’ll joke to Bill that either Georgia or Max is my “favorite child” for pretty much the same reasons. So there.) What it boils down to is that we all love all of them, and we wouldn’t have our lives any other way.
I think the surprising thing was how our own extended family took it. I told my grandmother about the first surrogacy. She seemed very happy and supportive. I found out later that she did not tell any of my relatives that live in the same area. She didn’t think they would understand. My parents know, obviously, and I thought they’d be very supportive, but I don’t think they understand. They have met Georgia, and they have seen pictures of Max, but I think the whole thing makes them uncomfortable. I think they feel like I am giving away grandchildren, but they don’t/won’t ever really talk to me about it. When I told my mom I was going to be a surrogate a second time, one of her first thoughts was that I would “lose the body that I had worked so hard to get back.” Nice priorities, Mom. Surprisingly, one of our biggest supporters has been Bill’s mom, who is in no way related to these children. She’s met them both, and came down to help when I had Max. She loves them, and she thinks it’s awesome.
Friends and colleagues are insanely curious about it, and ask the most invasive questions. Probably most common is “How can you give your baby away? I don’t think I could do that.” So don’t. Nobody asked you to.
Laurie says nobody wants their kids anyway—she says, why would you when you can have one of my designer babies? She even offered to be my “baby pimp” for a cut. Too funny.
(If you are mortally offended by that, it’s just surrogacy humor, and it’s really OK. Deep breaths.)
The reality is, I didn’t give away my babies. I gave them to their parents. If you aren’t a surrogate, or don’t feel like you could be one, then it’s a mentality you’ll never understand. Regardless, it changes people’s perspective on you, usually for the good, and when I get to tell my positive surrogacy stories, I know it’s helping the community as a whole.
I feel so fortunate to have done this, and my life is richer for it. While Laurie and Joel, and Jacob and Stewart, may feel that what I did was generous, it was selfish, and that’s OK, too.