April 10, 2012 at 8:00 AM ET
Over the years Meredith Olafson has given birth to 15 babies – but only four of them are hers. She’s carried two sets of triplets, one set of twins and three singles for people who can’t have their own. She’s what you might call the mother of all gestational surrogates.
Olafson, who lives in Fargo, N.D., was so happy with her own kids, she says she couldn’t bear to watch others be deprived of the experience. So, over the years, when couples have approached her with a request to carry their babies, Olafson just couldn’t find it in her heart to say no.
“When you see those parents’ faces when they see that ultrasound for the first time and they see that heart beat beating – or they get to hear that heartbeat – that’s priceless right there,” Olafson, 47, told TODAY.
And those happy faces constitute most of Olafson’s payment for lending her womb for nine months. Though some gestational surrogates make as much as $250,000 for one pregnancy, Olafson says she earns just a tiny fraction of that.
What makes it all possible is the ease of Olafson’s pregnancies. She’s never had morning sickness. She hardly gains any extra weight. And she’s usually able to work right up till the day she delivers.
And then there are those enviably short deliveries.
“My longest was my oldest daughter,” Olafson said. “She took me an hour and 15 minutes to deliver. My second daughter took me 30 minutes and the last two took me 20 minutes.”
Olafson contributes only her womb to the pregnancies, not any DNA. The future parents supply the embryo, or embryos.
“Those parents are the actual mother and father and so the mindset for you at that time is you know you’re handing them their child,” Olafson said. “It has nothing to do with you whatsoever. It does make it a lot easier.”
One of the couples to benefit from Olafson's talent for growing babies is the Wegges.
Dan and Jody wanted a second child, but had been told that it would be dangerous for Jody to try to carry another baby after the harrowing birth of their first. They heard about Olafson by word of mouth in 1998, and once again she signed on to help a family in need.
Olafson agreed to have their embryos implanted in her uterus – and delivered in a big way. The Wegges have triplets that are now 12 years old.
“I love her,” Jody Wegge said. “I just … there’s not words to express how I feel about her.”
Olafson was working on her 6th pregnancy for another family when TODAY caught up with her. She said this baby for a couple from South Dakota would be her last. “I am officially retiring the uterus,” she said.
Her last, as it turns out, is a healthy baby girl born on March 29.