Athena's Story - Being A Surrogate
As I sit here and reflect on what my life was like over 18 months ago, I realize how much I’ve learned. When I first contemplated being a surrogate, I thought I knew what it was going to be like, but you really can’t know until you have already done it. It’s a bit like driving a car for the first time. You see it done and you think you can do it, but until you get behind the wheel yourself and turn the ignition key, you have no idea what you are doing.
Let me start from the beginning and tell you my story.
In February of 2006, I sat down with my husband and asked him what he would think about helping another family have a baby. His eyes got big as he asked me what I was talking about. We sat together that evening and I explained to him that I wanted to be a Gestational Surrogate. My heart aches for those who can’t have children of their own and I wanted to help. My husband and I were lucky that we were able to conceive with no interventions. We brought 3 beautiful children into the world. They are our everything and I can’t imagine life without them. They complete us. My husband understood all of this and he agreed that I would be a great candidate to do this.
The decision was made, now to get started. But, how do you do this? What’s involved? Who do I call? Do I go with an agency, or do I try to do this myself? I quickly realized that I needed to do a lot of research. I decided that the best thing for me was to go through an agency. After searching for over a month, I found Parenting Partners. I did some research and found out that Shirley Zager, the
owner, had used a surrogate to have her own baby. Knowing that she had traveled the road before me, I felt more comfortable.
I printed out an application and mailed it to her. She got back to me within a week and we talked about meeting for lunch. We discussed the possibility of being a surrogate. About a week later, my husband and I met with her. The meeting was a success and I felt even better about picking Shirley to represent me. I knew she was going to find the perfect couple for us to help.
After our meeting, I started getting everything together. First, I needed copies of my children’s medical records. Because I am married to a Marine and we move so often, each of our children was born in a different state. Tracking down each record took a lot of time, phone calls, and trips to fax machines. In between those errands, I arranged an appointment with my OB/GYN. She examined me to make sure I was healthy and able to carry a pregnancy. Later, she faxed that information over to Shirley.
Finally, in May of 2006, all of my records had come in and Shirley had a prospective couple for my husband and I to meet. I couldn’t have been more excited. I hung up with Shirley and ran over to my husband’s work. I was so excited to tell him that we were going to move forward.
It was about 2 weeks later that we met the intended parents. I was so nervous my hands were sweating. I really wanted to make a good impression. Shirley had given me some information on them. I knew they were the type of couple we were looking for. Within a few minutes of our meeting, I realized we were a perfect match. They told us their story, what their lives were like, what they wanted and I knew I would love to help them.
The intended parents and I exchanged phone numbers and we asked Shirley what the next step was. She told us to start with the medical and psychological tests and then meet our lawyer.
A few short weeks after our lunch meeting, my husband and I went downtown
to the fertility clinic for an initial appointment. The fertility doctor explained the process of the transfer. He told us what the intended mother was going to be doing to prepare to have her eggs retrieved. Then he told me what I was going to have to do, including the types of tests that would be done and the medications I needed to take. The list was long!
That day my husband and I both had our blood drawn and we were given folders of information about IVF and surrogacy. We also sat down with a psychologist. We spoke for an hour. We talked about what our families thought about the surrogacy, what our children thought about it and how we were feeling. At the end of the meeting, I was given a long questionnaire to fill out. It actually had some funny questions on it, like: do I brush my hair? Do I hear voices? I completed the test for the psychologist. After getting the green light to proceed, it was time to move forward again.
A few weeks later my husband and I sat down with the lawyer who was going to represent me. During that meeting we discussed the specifics of what we wanted: the number of embryos that would be transferred, selective reduction, plans in the case of bed rest. We talked until I was confident that everything was being handled just the way we wanted it.
Then the waiting game started again. We had to wait for the intended parents’ lawyer to prepare a contract. Then we saw one representing us and went over some changes: names were misspelled, contracts had to be re-written. Lawyers are very busy, so we waited. And waited. Finally in October of 2006 I started to prepare for the process.
Back at the fertility clinic, I had an exam to determine that my uterus was good. Then they gave me my bags of medication. Yes, I said bags, several, and they were about the size you would put a birthday gift in. I was instructed on what medication to take, how to inject myself, and when to take them. This is the tough part. I couldn’t help but shake my head, I felt like a walking pharmacy.
I was given the phone number of my nurse to call should I have any questions. Later, I received an e-mail from her, she gave me a schedule of what medications to take and when. Some are once per day, others three times. Some had to be taken with food, others without. It can be a little overwhelming at first. I found that making a daily schedule for my medication helped me keep it all organized. After a week or so, it wasn’t so overwhelming and even became routine.
The worst for me was the Progesterone In Oil shot, otherwise known as the PIO. It’s a very thick medication that I had to get out of a vial with a very large needle. After preparing the shot, I couldn’t delay the inevitable. It’s not pretty and it hurts. It goes in the upper, outer portions of your rear end. I ended up using an ice pack to numb the area before I gave myself the shot. Sort of like removing a band-aid, this is not the time to be slow and gentle. There’s nothing to do but to aim and jab. Because the medication is so thick, it’s actually hard difficult to inject yourself. I had no choice, since my husband is not a fan of needles, but I found a way that worked for me.
After each injection, I had to massage the area for five minutes. I usually applied a heating pad when I was done. After three weeks of shots, I started to feel like a pin cushion, covered with black and blue bruises and welts the size of golf balls. I mention this because I think it’s only fair to be honest. This is not an easy process, but think of the end result. This is all to give a couple the baby they have been dreaming about for years. It’s all worth it, I promise.
This now brings me to the doctor appointments, there are so many of them. This also means you are going to need a babysitter. This person is going to watch your kids quite often and not always at the most convenient times. It can be hard to find someone to watch your 3 kids at 5:00 am for about 3.5 hours. Not only that but they have to do this once a week for a few weeks. This is where good neighbors become good friends.
I started with my medications on October 18th of 2006 and had another doctor appointment on the 25th. They drew my blood and performed and ultrasound of my uterus to check the lining. On November 1st I had to go in again and have the same tests done. Meanwhile the intended mother was taking all of her medications and preparing to have her egg retrieval done.
On November 8, 2006, the parents went to the clinic. There they retrieved and fertilized the mother’s eggs. At the same time, I had to start additional medications to prepare for the transfer three days later. We were told they were going to transfer 3 (so-so) embryos with a 15% chance of a positive pregnancy. We were all nervous but the transfer went smoothly and I was on my way home for a mandatory 72-hour bed rest.
A little more than a week passed before I went early in the morning to have my blood drawn for the pregnancy test. At 1:00 p.m., I got the call that the test was positive! I was so happy I couldn’t wait to call the intended parents to tell them the news. It was a moment in my life that I will never forget. It was just a few days before Thanksgiving and I knew what I was truly thankful for.
A week later I had to go back into the office for more blood work. They needed to check that all of my levels were going up. Then on December 8th I went in again to have more blood drawn and to have the first ultrasound. They found 1 embryo and it had a heartbeat. Everyone had tears in their eyes.
December 15th I went to another doctor appointment. I had another ultrasound done and everything looked perfect. A week later I had my final ultrasound. This was to be my last appointment with the clinic. I was being released to my own OB/GYN after the 1st of the year. The appointment went great and I was even given a picture of what looked like a baby waving!
On December 22nd, the doctor called me and told me that all of my blood work looked great and the ultrasounds were perfect. Finally, after two and a half months of getting daily shots I was done with them!.
So, now I was like every other pregnant woman out there. I went to my OB/GYN and let her know what I had been up to in the last few months. After I spoke with her, she was overjoyed and excited to be a part of this journey with me. She knew why I was doing it and she supported me.
Over the next few months the pregnancy was very normal. I had morning sickness, headaches and moodiness. I can tell you, my husband is a very good man to put up with me. He knew not to question me, as I stood with the refrigerator door open drinking a jar of pickle juice. He even happily stopped at the grocery store several times a week to get my box of Triscuits and Monterey Jack Cheese.
I had and still do have a fantastic relationship with my Intended Parents. We always kept in contact during the pregnancy with phone calls and e-mails. When the mom was free, she came to doctor appointments with me. Afterwards, we often had lunch so we could sit and just talk. This was the type of relationship we both wanted. We became very good friends during the process. There was even a time when my husband, my kids and I went to visit them for the weekend. They opened their home and their hearts to us.
The last few weeks of my pregnancy seemed to go very quickly. Our lawyers had already contacted the courts with the proper paperwork so they knew the baby was the parents.’ At that time, I also contacted the hospital and let them know of the situation. I spoke to the head OB nurse in Labor and Delivery. I informed her that I was a surrogate and talked with her about my Labor Plan. We discussed such things as wristbands, sleeping arrangements for the parents, and what the parents’ wishes were once the baby had arrived. I was the first non-familial surrogacy at this hospital, but they were very supportive. I can’t stress this enough, call the hospital in advance and let them know the situation. Make sure they have all the proper paperwork from the lawyers and find out what their protocols are for surrogacy births. Communication and information are the keys.
On July 25th at 8:00 p.m., I was induced. This was a decision agreed to by my doctor, the parents and me. After over 29 hours of labor it was decided that the baby wasn’t coming out. I had only dilated to a 3, despite hours and hours of painful and steady contractions. It was time for a cesarean section. I was terrified. I had never had a broken bone, much less major surgery before, I really had no idea what to expect.
While I had the c-section the hospital allowed both my husband and the baby’s mom to be in the room, by my head. When they pulled the baby out and said, “It’s a boy,” I began to cry tears of pure joy. I could also hear the mom and my husband crying. It was a very emotional moment for everyone. My husband stroked my hand and told me how proud he was of me. The mom was giddy with excitement! The nurse cleaned and checked the baby. He was perfect from head to toe. The mom came over to me so I could see the baby before he went off to the nursery. He was beautiful and the smile on the mom’s face was unforgettable.
After a few minutes in the postoperative room, I was wheeled off to my recovery room. The hospital had set everything up so the mom could stay in the same room with me. She would keep the baby in the room with us next to her bed. We shared two days together and it seemed that we talked more than we had ever before. We also got closer than before. She ended up feeling like family to me instead of good friends.
During our stay there were a few hiccups with paperwork and uninformed staff, but everything was taken care of in time. When the parents left with their baby, it was bittersweet for me. I was so happy that they were about to start their new lives together but sad knowing I would be watching from a distance. I knew that the daily conversations the mom and I had had would be few and far between because they were going to be so busy with their new baby. Watching them walk down the hall from my hospital room and into their new lives was another moment I will never forget. My heart swelled with emotion, I was so overjoyed for them. I had done what I set out to do and they finally had their family.
Later that day I was discharged from the hospital. I was given medication to help with the pain and sent home. My Mom came to help out with my kids and my husband while I was recovering. Everyone wanted to hear about the experience, and they all wanted to know the same thing: was it worth it? I can honestly say that even at that moment when I was in pain, yes, it was worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Every doctor’s appointment, blood test, medication, headache, morning sickness and contraction I had was worth it. I can sit here at my desk and look at the picture of the family I helped create and tell you without any shadow of doubt, it was worth it.