This surrogacy journey, my second, only took 11 months from start to finish. I have never heard of a surrogacy journey going so quickly. For such a short journey, this is a long post. Hang in there with me! I’ll start from the very beginning.
I applied to be a gestational surrogate through our sister company Colorado Surrogacy because Montana Surrogacy hadn’t been started yet. I was denied because my last pregnancy ended in a pre-term, albeit healthy, birth at 34 weeks. The baby boy I had was apparently ready because the pediatrician said she would have thought he was full term if nobody had told her he was early. I thought I’d never be able to be a surrogate again and let it go…for a while. In the meantime, Montana Surrogacy opened, and I started working for them as an intake coordinator. Hearing surrogacy stories on a daily basis through my job gave me the surrogacy itch again.
Early in May 2018, I messaged our friends in Idaho who were struggling to have a second child. My husband and I used to live with the intended father (IF) in 2006, and we had only met the intended mother (IM) once in person before the journey. They had been on my mind, and I felt compelled to offer to carry a child for them. I told them my history and honestly admitted was not the best candidate since I had had a pre-term birth, but if they wanted to take the risk, then I’d be happy to be their surrogate.
The IM filled me in on all of the hardships and tragedy that their family had gone through over the past 5 years. We FaceTimed on Mother’s Day and decided we were going to do this. The IM and I worked hard to quickly get all of our paperwork in to their fertility clinic for review. Once that was approved, I made a quick trip to The Idaho Center for Reproductive Medicine for my medical workup. My husband and I passed our psychological appointment and got our contract drawn up with the lawyer. This was an altruistic surrogacy journey, meaning that I did not ask for compensation, only reimbursement for costs associated with the surrogacy. We got the contract in to the fertility clinic just in time for an embryo transfer date that we had hoped for. I wanted a summer transfer so I could be pregnant over the winter and give birth before our family’s summer fun begins. This could all fall apart if the transfer failed—they only had one embryo left so they would have to go through the process of making more before another transfer.
I started the medications to prepare my body to accept the embryo. I was on daily progesterone suppositories and daily estrogen shots. I started those meds about 3 weeks prior to the embryo transfer. Because I have a benign tumor on my pituitary gland, I was also taking medication to lower my prolactin levels. I experienced a lot of side effects from the medications; weight gain, acne, headaches, fatigue, mood swings, hot flashes and more.
My family drove to Boise on August 9th, and on August 10th the embryo was transferred into my uterus. The embryo transfer is pain free. The hardest part of that is you have to have a full bladder which is uncomfortable. I had a blood draw on day 5 and day 13 post embryo transfer to check my HCG levels. If they went up, that meant I was pregnant. I got the call that I was definitely pregnant while we were on vacation in New York state. I continued to take the estrogen and progesterone for the entire first trimester. I spent most of the first trimester nibbling food and laying down, very nauseous and exhausted. Once I went off of those medications I had about 8 weeks of feeling ok—not great but ok.
When I was about 6 weeks pregnant, I got a text from the IM that the IF was in the hospital with pneumonia and an x-ray showed a lump on his liver. A few days later, I got the call that the lump was a cancerous tumor. He was diagnosed with a bile duct cancer, which was extremely rare for his age. The next few months of the IP’s lives would be consumed with cancer treatments, starting with a major surgery to remove the softball size tumor. In November he started chemo treatments and would still be getting treatments well past the baby’s due date. This meant no visits to Bozeman for them to participate in person at the midwife appointments or ultrasound.
At week 20, I went back on progesterone suppositories to lower my chance of going into pre-term labor again. So, here came the side effects for another 17 weeks. During this time I got 3 colds and influenza A. I’m not sugar coating anything; this was an extremely hard winter filled with sickness and depression. The weather in Bozeman was the most extreme winter I have ever spent in Montana. Between the illnesses, extreme cold weather and the pregnancy prohibiting us from doing our usual winter activities, we missed out on a lot during this journey. Surrogacy is a huge sacrifice, not only for the surrogate but for her partner and children.
The last 2 months were nerve racking. Every Braxton Hicks gave me anxiety. I thought my water was going to break unexpectedly again and we’d end up at the hospital with pre-term labor. I needed to make it to April 4th in order to give birth out of the hospital at The Bozeman Birth Center. After my one experience with a hospital birth, I was really scared to go back. I birthed my first child at The Bozeman Birth Center and my second at home. These experiences were night and day as compared to the hospital. At the Birth Center I felt safe and listened to. The Birth Center’s outcome statistics are impressive, and I knew they would put our safety first and wouldn’t rush the process with unnecessary interventions.
The night before April 4th, I had contractions strong enough to wake me multiple times throughout the night. I woke up with a stomach ache and the contractions continued. I had a midwife appointment scheduled for that morning. I went to the appointment and the IM FaceTimed in. I was dilated to 6cm and 80% effaced. After the appointment the intended parents decided they would feel more comfortable driving to Bozeman. Over the next several hours the contractions got stronger and closer together. By 6pm they were 2 minutes apart and I had to breathe through them, so we went to the Birth Center. My entire birth team arrived: two midwives, doula, birth photographer, friend to video the birth, sister for support and help with the kids and finally the intended parents. Everyone eventually went to bed, but I spent all night up with increasingly irregular contractions. I spent a lot of time shaking on the toilet and trying to rest with no luck. By morning, I was dilated to 8cm, but nearly exhausted. Then everything stalled. The attending midwife thought it would be good for me to go home and try to sleep there. I was only 36.5 weeks along, my water was intact, and my vital signs and the baby’s heart rate were good, so taking measures to get the baby out posed more risk than going home to wait for things to happen on their own. However, I wanted this baby out now! After going through all of that work, on top of the hard pregnancy, I felt so defeated getting into the car to go home with a baby still in me. I felt like I let everyone down including myself. Only later would I realize and accept that my (and the parents’) expectations needed to be reset now that we had made it past the “no hospital birth deadline”. The most likely theory so far is that going off of progesterone 2 days prior to April 4th could have caused labor to begin —a drop in progesterone can do that.
We all thought labor would start back up again once I got some sleep at home. Each day that went by I got more and more impatient. The IPs were getting medical advice from an OB friend back home who didn’t know my history, and the advice was the opposite of my midwives’ suggestions. Things were getting tense. I had strong contractions for several hours everyday for a few days after leaving the Birth Center. The pelvic pressure was intense and hard to deal with for so long. I had another midwife appointment on April 9th. That was the first day that I felt some relief. The pelvic pressure lessened and contractions weren’t as intense. The IPs were getting anxious to get back home so we discussed sweeping my membranes and settled on doing that on April 13th. The IPs ended up driving back home before that, so I decided to cancel the membrane sweep and wait it out.
My midwives and husband had to calm me down multiple times during those 13 days between labor starting and the actual birth. I spent a lot of time crying and not sleeping well—not a good combo when preparing for another labor. I wanted to crawl out of my skin, escape my body. I felt trapped and unable to satisfy everyone’s needs including my own. I was not doing well. There were times when I begged to just go to a hospital, knock me out and and cut out the baby. I couldn’t handle the pressure of the intended parents wanting him out and not having any control over that. Those who know me well knew that I wasn’t in my right mind and would never want an elective c-section or induction. The baby and I were not showing any signs of distress so there was no medical reason to rush. Thankfully, my support system successfully talked me out of those options.
My husband Mark was so chill the entire time and kept repeating, “The baby will come when he is ready.” I would angrily tell him that he wasn’t the one who went through 24 hours of intense contractions and still had a baby in him so that’s easy for him to say. I’ll never forget when he said, “You are Superwoman when you give birth, I want to see you be Superwoman at the Birth Center.” He was a saint throughout this entire process. He even called my midwives one evening and had them meet us at the Birth Center to have an intervention, which was exactly what I needed. I would learn only later how my husband felt like he was totally at his wit’s end. He had never seen my confidence so low with respect to birth, and he felt like he was expected to fix everything for me—from the stalled labor to the tense relations with the IPs—even though everything was pretty much out of his control. In reality, this should not have been a crisis situation, but the stress levels indicated otherwise. He knew that if I had 100% support from everyone that I would be just fine but that was also out of his control.
My bosses and co-workers were constantly offering help and support during this time. Friends were checking in on me, people who I had only met once were sending me messages on Facebook offering support and telling me their stories of stalled labor. I couldn’t believe all of the support I was getting. Thank you to everyone who reached out.
Finally, I woke up on April 17th with a stomach ache which wasn’t unusual during the past 13 days post “fake birth” as my daughter had been calling it. I had the itch to get errands done, so I went to Costco around 10am for a very large shopping trip. While I was there I ate an entire Costco-sized pizza slice. Anyone who shops at Costco knows it’s a lot of walking and lifting, both at the store and then at home when you have to unload it all. After that was done, I started vacuuming my house. I went to the bathroom and noticed my mucus plug was coming out, but I didn’t get my hopes up because that can happen weeks before birth. The contractions were like the ones I had been having for hours a day since April 4th. I called my husband Mark at 11:44 am to let him know I started bleeding and had contractions but not to get his hopes up because I was starting to believe I would be in labor forever. I told Mark I would call him again if things picked up. I kept vacuuming. At 12:09 pm, I called Mark again and said I was going to pick him up because I didn’t feel like I should be alone. The plan was for him to work from home while we waited it out to see if this was for real. I picked him up and on the drive back home I started to moan through the contractions. I wanted to finish vacuuming, but he wanted to go to the birth center! I told him to swing by the school to get the kids first. At 12:27 pm we picked up the kids. My son, Gordon (age 8), squealed with excitement through the school halls when Mark went in to get him. I called the Bozeman Birth Center to let them know we were coming and that I thought it was for real this time. I was scared to get everyone excited for another “fake birth” so I was being super cautious about alerting anyone. At 12:52 pm we called the postpartum doula to get her there for baby care until the IPs arrived from Boise. Mark and I thought it would be hours before he was out if he were even coming that day, so we kept hesitating to call anyone. We got the birth photographer Mikaela Marie DiBerardinis, my friend Sumana Georganne to video the birth and the postpartum doula Kelli Stanley just in time for Julius to be born at 1:37 pm!!! It felt like forever, but when I looked back at my phone record it was really fast! It was the most intense labor I have had yet. I think because it was so fast, my body didn’t have time to release the pain relief and calming hormones that naturally release during a drug free birth. It was only an hour from the time I had contractions I had to moan through to the time he was born. My midwife checked me when I was at 7cm, and minutes after that my water broke and a few pushes later, he was born. My daughter, Ella (age 10), was in the room the entire time and said she cried when she saw his head come out. She described it as one of the best experiences of her life. My son, Gordon, chose to sit in the living room away from it all. He later told me he turned his headphones all the way up and could still hear me. They were both very excited to hold the baby and Ella was the first one to feed him.
I get a little panicky when I think about how hard this birth was. I moved into about 5 different positions in 20 minutes before I found one that felt right. I labored on all fours on a bed. The baby’s shoulders got stuck after his head was out, and my midwife told my husband to put my right leg into runners lunge pose and she guided the baby out. I have never had a baby’s head come out and sit there through another contraction, which was not a good feeling. This was also the first labor where at one point I asked them to take me to the hospital because I just couldn’t do it. I kept saying I can’t do this and every single person in the room kept saying, “You are doing this. You can do this.” Pain relief drugs never even crossed my mind during my other three births. Once he was out I kept repeating, “is he ok?” because I didn’t hear crying and everyone kept assuring me that he was ok. Then I heard his first cry!
The cord was loosely wrapped around Julius’s neck, so even though he was born alert he was given supplementary oxygen off and on throughout the day. The midwives knew exactly what to do and he was healthy. It also helped a lot that his lungs had matured 13 more days before he was born. He was “my” biggest baby yet, weighing 7.3 pounds at 19.5 inches long. The postpartum doula took him in the other birthing room so I could birth the placenta and then get cleaned up and spend time with my family and friends. Thanks to my amazing midwives, Jazmin Adams and Kayla Wright, for believing in my body and going above and beyond throughout this journey. Thank you to Kayla for manipulating my body and baby’s body during the birth so we were safe and I didn’t tear! Kayla also knew I was nervous about delivering the placenta after my experience at the hospital where that process was rushed, it was pulled out of me and I hemorrhaged. My midwife this time didn’t rush it and the delivery went smoothly.
The first person I called was my boss Jennifer White. I still needed to deliver the placenta but I had to call her. I don’t even remember what I said but I remember the excitement in her voice when I told her. We had just emailed a couple of hours ago. She was so supportive and understanding this entire journey. I feel really fortunate to be working for and with such a great group of people.
My friend, Sumana, sent out a message to my friends and family to invite them to have champagne and sushi with me to celebrate. I had this plan set up for months, knowing I would need support immediately after birth because after my last surrogacy birth that was a really hard and lonely time for me. I was also in the hospital for that birth and every person (nurse) who walked in my room for the first 24 hours postpartum was a stranger. It felt so cold and impersonal and I knew this was a time when I needed warmth. Seventeen women showed up over the next few hours to celebrate with me. Some left work or arranged childcare for their kids to be there on short notice for me. I got foot rubs, massages, flowers, chocolates and food. I was showered with support and love. I am still in awe of the kindness I was surrounded by. Friends have been messaging and stopping by constantly since his birth. There’s a lot to process after a surrogate birth, or any birth for that matter. It was especially important to surround myself with support because I didn’t get to see the IPs meet their baby. I went home before they made it into town. I think this is a huge part of postpartum processing in surrogacy, and it was hard to miss out on it. We only saw them for a short time the next day before they drove back home.
The first two days after his birth I felt amazing. My husband and I went out to lunch to celebrate 24 hours postpartum. On the 3rd day I started having uterine cramps so bad that I turned white as a ghost and my entire body shook for about 30 minutes. I had an episode like this for 4 days in a row. I got a uterine ultrasound just to make sure no placenta fragments were left behind. The ultrasound didn’t show any placenta, just some blood clots. I think the pain was from my body trying to pass those clots and, of course, shrink my uterus. I was warned that the uterine cramps get worse with each birth but I never imagined them to be this bad. It was similar to going through active labor for 30 minutes each day. By day 7 postpartum, the cramps stopped and I started feeling good again. I have been pumping about 50-75 ounces of breastmilk a day, less than after my last surrogacy birth so far. I am trying not to wake in the middle of the night to pump but I get so uncomfortable that I get up at least once. After the last journey I was waking every couple of hours to pump and it wasn’t good for me mentally so this time I’m trying to get more sleep.
Like I have said SO many time before in blog post and Facebook videos, support and flexibility are key during a surrogacy journey. Nothing ever goes as planned during a journey. In the end we have a healthy baby and a healthy surrogate surrounded by love and support.