When someone asks me, “How was it to carry twins?” I’ll respond with, “I didn’t carry my twins; I had a surrogate carry for me.” Sometimes, that answer is received with a polite nod and response; other times, a lot of questions follow. I’d like to share my experiences with pregnancy and motherhood within the lens of an intended mother, and focus on the implications of pregnancy and motherhood when a gestational surrogate is involved. This is based solely on my personal experience, as well as what I discuss at Guided Surrogacy with new clients who are exploring surrogacy as an option.
I cried when I received the Pre Birth Order (PBO) legal document, signed off by a judge, that upon the birth of our twins, my husband and I would be listed as the parents on the birth certificate. This mundane clerical task is something most new parents may take for granted. For me this was the final legal hurdle to jump over prior to my surrogate giving birth, showing that indeed we were legally going to become parents, bestowed with the full legal rights to our children, that someone else was carrying for me.
I remember sitting in the operating room right before my daughter was born. I was weeping, partly because I was scared, not feeling prepared to be a new mom (who is ever prepared to be a new mom), and realizing that everything I had hoped and prayed for was actually happening at that moment. I was worried I wouldn’t naturally connect with my babies, because I hadn’t carried them. I didn’t have the pregnancy hormones surging through my body. I wasn’t going to develop milk for my babies because I wasn’t the one who was pregnant. Motherhood was seconds away from reality and there I was, feeling unprepared. I witnessed my daughter being born, she immediately was brought over to the bassinet in front of my stool where I saw her for the first time. Relief, happiness, and gratitude washed over me. Then a flash of panic occurred, because I realized another baby, my son, was about to be born. Twins! Two babies, instant-family, and a multitude of sleepless nights were on the horizon. What had we done! These were all normal feelings of motherhood, but the difference was that I didn’t have to physically recover and had no post partum hormones to deal with. I even got to walk up with the pediatricians to the nursery right after we took some photos.
How different is a surrogate pregnancy? For the surrogate, her body is going through the motions that most women will go through in a successful pregnancy, not differentiating between whether she’s a surrogate. Her body is growing, changing, surging with hormones and protecting the children within. She will attend ultrasound appointments, go through bloodwork and monitoring of the pregnancy, attend birthing classes, and more! However, in a majority of cases, the children she carries are not genetically related to her.
Post-delivery is when implications and situations that were not discussed or proactively planned for can occur when experiencing third-party reproduction and using a surrogate. After delivery, the surrogate, who has delivered the babies, will not go home with them. The Intended Parent takes their baby home–two babies in my case! Essentially, this is when a fork in the road occurs, which is different from when a new mother has carried her baby and also is the mother/caretaker after the birth.
How are things different as a new mother via surrogacy? As many new mothers can attest, a lot of people ask about the birth story and how everything went–not as much to pry into private matters; rather, out of curiosity and a desire to understand. I think this question is more socially accepted now. As a new mother, who didn’t give birth and wasn’t ever pregnant, it can be a very awkward conversation that you typically want to avoid. Nine years later, I will gladly share my whole story, partly because time is the biggest healer. Directly after the pregnancy, I didn’t feel the same way. Did I have sleepless nights? Yes. Did I walk around like a zombie when I was awake? Yes. Did I change 300 diapers/month? Yes. Was I pregnant with my twins? No. Early on as a new mother, I didn’t want to share about surrogacy because I still felt like my body had failed me as a woman, even while holding my twins and realizing my dreams had come true.
Another unspoken challenge of being an intended parent is attending pediatrician visits. When you have a newborn (especially when multiples are involved), most physicians will ask how the child was born, were there any complications, what was your pregnancy like, did you breastfeed? Here is where it can become complicated in a surrogacy pregnancy. Once the child is born, the intended parents are legally the baby’s parents; however, the surrogate gave birth so technically the babies’ birth is connected to the surrogate and unless the surrogate signs off on an intended parent receiving the medical records, you have no rights to the medical records. Fortunately, my surrogate and I have a wonderful relationship, but to this day, I still don’t know if my children were born feet first, sideways or head first during the C-section. It may not matter that much in the long run, but it is another reminder of how different a surrogacy pregnancy can be.
As a new mom, who didn’t give birth to my children, I also ran into antiquated policies after the birth of my children regarding how much time they would allow for me to take off. There was no policy in the books on intended mothers. Most maternity clauses at jobs allow for 6 or 8 weeks off from work depending on if there was a vaginal or C-section. I had neither. However, I had two tiny NICU babies that my husband and I had to care for. My son was especially challenging, because up until month 2 when he was switched to a special formula for his milk protein allergy, he was vomiting up all of his food 24/7 and was at risk for aspirating in his sleep. He slept nearly exclusively in an elevated bouncer for the first 3 months of his life next to my bed so if he vomited, I could wake up and ensure he wouldn’t choke to death. My work let me know that they would allow 4 weeks off for anyone that adopted a baby. They claimed that the adoption policy applied to me, because I hadn’t carried the babies. Boy, was that the wrong thing to say. I was taken aback that my job would only allow me 4 weeks, because I had not given birth–I felt discriminated against–it wasn’t my fault that I didn’t carry my children, it was an underlying medical condition. I had been through so much and now wanted to spend time with
my children–bond with them, be their mother and enjoy them given the past year of planning, worrying, stressing, ivf hormones, and emotional pain I had gone through to get them here. Only 4 weeks!?
My twins were born at 35 week old, and were NICU babies for the first week. As any new mother should have the choice, I decided I wanted to feed them breastmilk. However, I couldn’t feed them my milk because of my category D prescriptions, which is the reason I needed to use a surrogate in the first place. As a woman, as a new mother, this was another blow to my psyche–my body is made to produce milk when I have a baby, but I didn’t have any to give. Luckily my surrogate was very willing to pump for us and we had discussed this together with my husband and everyone was on board. However, when my twins were born at 35 weeks, my son was not ready to be born. My daughter’s water had broken and so they both arrived in the world. My son had bubbles in his lungs, had a pulse/oxygen level of 50, and was a bluish color. Therefore they both were evacuated hours after birth to a higher level hospital with a NICU. This became a logistical issue that we hadn’t planned for. Our surrogate was recovering from a C-section in Aberdeen, SD. Our babies were being flown nearly 4 hours away to Sioux Falls, SD. When we arrived in Sioux Falls, I remember the lactation nurses coming to me to say that breastmilk is best for NICU babies. I fully agreed, and again felt inept at not being able to provide my babies with what I consider to be “liquid gold”. There was also a legal hurdle, because breastmilk is considered a biohazard and should be tested before given to another human. The mama bear in me came out (perhaps too much) and I laid the hammer down. Prior to the embryo transfer, all four parties (intended parents, surrogate and our surrogate’s husband) had to be tested for every communicable, sexual, and viral disease out there. My surrogate had literally given her body to help my children grow over the last 9 months. She was volunteering to provide her breast milk, which I gladly accepted in place of my own, and now we had to deal with a possible biohazard-body fluid transmission issue. I can’t actually remember what I said or what occurred, but I did get breastmilk for my babies. Eventually, we had a medical courier fly back and forth between both hospitals twice daily to pick up my surrogate’s breast milk and fly it to the NICU. On a more comical note, once we returned home to Chicago, I remember getting a huge box of frozen breast milk delivered from our surrogate every Tuesday morning at 6 AM. One morning the box was leaking and was slapped with an orange biohazard stamp. I remember the delivery employee explaining that they usually don’t ask customers what is being shipped, but because it was a biohazard, they had to ask. I said the box had frozen breast milk in it. A wave of relief swept over the delivery person…followed by embarrassment. We both had a good laugh! I returned inside to feed my newborn twins.