Photo credit: Tracy Marshall Photography
We’re continuing our surrogacy theme into October with a fantastic insight into what it is really like to be a surrogate mother in the US. Here Ashley, 34, tells us how she came to be a surrogate with the Center for Surrogate Parenting, and the joy it gives her
I live in the charming town of Annapolis, in Maryland, with my husband Derek and our three daughters. The girls are the light of our lives and we are really enjoying watching their personalities blossom. Stella, seven, is shy and the most creative little old soul. She has recently taken up knitting and made a blanket on her first try. The twins, Mila and Auri, are four-years-old. Mila is sensitive and sweet, she loves drawing and doing crafts. Auri is silly and affectionate, she loves to do cartwheels and splits all over the place then snuggle up in your lap. The twins are taking up ballet and art classes, and Stella does art classes. I am always super busy between running them around to all of their classes, and my work as a massage therapist. I own my own practice and travel to my clients homes. The work of making people feel better is very important to me.
Wanting to be a mother
I grew up in a loving home with three sisters, the youngest of which is 16 years younger than me. From early on, I was fascinated with childbirth and aspired to become a NICU nurse. I was able to attend my youngest sisters’ birth; it rocked me to the core when I heard her first cry and I knew that was a moment like no other. In that very moment I decided I wanted to be a mom.
I was told I may have trouble conceiving a baby because I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which causes hormone imbalances and ovulation problems. To my surprise I found out I was pregnant with Stella shortly after Derek and I got married. When she was 16-months-old we started trying again for a second baby. This time wasn’t as easy as the first and we needed to seek professional fertility treatments to help me to ovulate. Our identical twins were such a welcome and exciting addition to our family after months of fertility treatments.
Becoming a surrogate mother
It was around the time we were trying to have the twins that a friend of mine from work became a surrogate through the Center for Surrogate Parenting. I remember thinking how amazing she was for doing this but didn’t think much else about it at the time. The idea of being a surrogate came to me when the twins were about nine-months-old and I heard about some of my friends struggles with infertility. I longed to be pregnant again but was completely overwhelmed with our own children at the time to think about having another of our own. By the time the twins were a year old I knew in my heart I wanted to do this for someone, so I applied with CSP but waited a few months until the babies were finished nursing to take any further steps. My husband was hesitant, as were most of my family members. I don’t think they really understood why I would want to do this, and they were generally concerned about me.
I did look around at a few other agencies but ultimately decided on CSP because I knew that my friend had great experiences with them and they had an office just ten minutes from my home. The process in the beginning is a lot of hurry up and wait. There is a lot of paperwork to be filled out. I submitted all of my medical records, insurance information, did a psychological evaluation, and lots of blood tests. After I was cleared as a healthy candidate to be a surrogate, my husband and I met with CSPs counsellor, Barbara Cohen, to talk to her more about the process of being matched and tell her our preferences.
Matching us with Intended Parents
For us, it was important to be matched with a couple that was laid back and had some common interests. She sent us three matches that evening and we were able to read through their profiles and decide who we wanted to help. That was such a hard decision, because I wanted to help them all. We decided on the first couple on the list because when I read their profile I just started to cry. I was so moved by their story and their apparent love for each other that I just knew they were who I was meant to help. We hit it off right away, and my intended parents, myself and my family all became very close. After being matched we spent lots of time getting to know each other. Even though we were in different countries, we talked a few times a week by phone or Skype.
The first time
Shady Grove Fertility Center was the next piece of the puzzle. I underwent more tests, and after my Intended Mother’s successful egg retrieval resulted in viable embryos, I began my cycling medications. The fertility treatment protocol began with an ultrasound and bloodwork, following that initial ultrasound I started the hormone shots which consisted of an intramuscular oestrogen shot every third day. After about two weeks of these shots I had another appointment at Shady Grove to check my uterine lining and more bloodwork. At this appointment I was instructed to start taking daily progesterone shots. The progesterone shots are gruelling. The needles, which are about two inches long, need to be completely inserted into the glutes and doing this daily can leave you feeling sore and bruised.
Six days after starting the progesterone I was able to have a frozen embryo transfer. The transfer itself is not painful but feels somewhat like a GYN exam. The two-week wait to confirm or deny a pregnancy is probably the most uncomfortable part for surrogates. Two whole weeks of anxiety and praying that you get to be the one that gives your couple good news. For us, it was good news and that first transfer took! This is confirmed by a series of bloodwork every few days and the fertility clinic look for a good rise in hormones. Around ten to 12 weeks the clinic did an ultrasound to confirm the baby looked healthy and released me to my regular OB/GYN. At that point I was able to finally stop my progesterone shots, which was a huge relief. The pregnancy went as well as could be, and a healthy baby was delivered and straight into her parents’ arms.
Keeping in touch
I have been a surrogate twice now. My first surrogate baby is a little girl who is now two-and-a-half and lives internationally, and the second is also a girl who lives internationally and is four-months-old. I keep in touch with both families weekly, and my girls think of my surrogate babies as cousins. My husband and I visited the first for her first birthday and they are planning to visit us this year. It is the most amazing thing to see what you have done come full circle. We got to see how this sacrifice paid off, and seeing these babies be so loved and cherished by their family is a feeling I can’t fully put into words.
Along with getting to experience different cultures, my girls have seen true altruism and are so proud when they talk about my surrogate journeys with others. Although being a surrogate is difficult at times, it is one of the most important things I’ve done in my life and I feel like I have really fulfilled my purpose. I think of being a surrogate again, and it is not something that I’m dismissing quite yet. For now, I get to live vicariously through one of my sisters, who decided after my surrogacies that she would do this for someone. She is due in December and I couldn’t be prouder of her for the gift she’s giving.
I think surrogacy is becoming a more popular and accepted way to create a family or add to a family. There are so many ways that families are made, and each tells their own story. The more we advocate for surrogacy and share our positive stories the more people will begin to understand about it. Often when I meet someone and tell them I am a surrogate their reaction is positive, but they are somewhat confused on the details of how it all works. I have heard a few horror stories about surrogacy, but it’s important for people to know that this is not the norm. Most surrogacy stories are ones of a deep love and understanding between sometimes strangers to create the most beautiful thing – life. Surrogates and those that work in the infertility field lovingly refer to surrogacy as a journey. I believe it truly is a journey, and one that never ends.
Any advice for anyone considering surrogacy?
For future intended parents looking into surrogacy I would say to trust the process. Even though it is hard to put your faith in a stranger, remember that this person is whole heartedly wanting the same thing you are – for you to have a family. For anyone who may feel their heart pulled toward becoming a surrogate, I believe there is a reason you’re being drawn to it. Giving life isn’t something you will ever regret, and you may just make lifelong friends in the process.
To find out more about the Center for Surrogate Parenting, click here