If you’ve ever been in the waiting room of a fertility clinic, you know that the anxiety is palpable. It’s not a place of small talk or chatter — it’s a lot of people nervously scrolling their social feeds or scanning their inboxes — and it’s definitely not the place to strike up a conversation. But somehow, in the spring of 2020 while in the waiting room of a fertility clinic in Boston, I did just that with a woman named Kristen. We discovered that we had one unusual thing in common: We were both planning to carry someone else’s baby.
I use the word “unusual” very specifically because it’s not common to be a surrogate. While data on the frequency of surrogacy is hard to come by, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that gestational surrogates gave birth to 18,400 babies between 1999 and 2013, a small fraction of overall births. (More than 3.6 million babies were born in the U.S. in 2020, according to the CDC.) I didn’t know anyone else who had been a surrogate. This was a far different experience from the one my husband, Jeff, and I had with our own two children. But then I met Kristen, who quickly became a great resource for me. What a relief it was to have someone I trusted to call when, for the first time in my life, I had to read through a 45-page legal document before signing with my intended parents. After chatting with Kristen and getting her advice, I ended up spending two hours in a Facebook group attempting to learn the ins and outs of surrogacy contracts. And even after all that recon, I still didn’t feel like I had the full picture of what I was agreeing to do. In the end, I just put my faith in my feeling that what I was doing was right, which isn’t exactly how you want to go about a life-changing experience. Don’t get me wrong: I had a wonderful surrogacy journey, and I worked with incredible intended parents — but the lack of available information about surrogacy made the process so hard to navigate.
Even before the initial call that led to my surrogacy match, the road was long and complex. Every illegible scribble my doctors wrote down for each of my own children’s births had to be collected and reviewed, along with the rest of my medical records. It took months and months. My partner and I endured a three-hour psychiatric evaluation that included questions like “Why do you want to be a surrogate” and “Have you ever been depressed?” Naturally, they wanted to ensure we were mentally and emotionally cut out for the journey. But it wasn’t their thoroughness that was challenging — it was that I felt completely blind throughout the process. I didn’t ever really have a roadmap of where I was going nor did I really grasp the importance of each step.
At times, I felt overwhelmed and doubtful of my decision. If I’m struggling with this, what will the rest of the journey hold? My agency offered a once-a-month support group, but most of us were at different stages of our surrogacy journey, and we each only had about five minutes to share about our experience — not exactly comforting.
In July 2020, I finally got the all-clear from the doctors to proceed. The ongoing pandemic meant a flight to Boston was out of the question, so my mom and I packed up the car and hit the road, traveling from my home in North Carolina to the fertility clinic. The next day, I found myself on a hospital table, feet in stirrups as the technician wheeled in the embryo. The doctors used a microscope to pull up a picture of the embryo and I thought: It’s nice to meet you, little sac of cells. With any luck, we’ll make a baby out of you. And that’s what we did. We were one of the lucky 50% of surrogates whose transfers are successful on the first try.
Explaining surrogacy to my kids — ages 2 and 3 at the time — was the easy part. (I used a cake analogy to explain it was as if our neighbors had all the ingredients for a cake but their oven was broken, so they came over to use our oven.) The tough part, however, was clarifying it for everyone else. I often found myself explaining that no, my body would not reject the embryo because it was not my DNA. Or, no, I didn’t “love” being pregnant, but instead felt pregnancy’s momentary discomfort was worth it to give someone the gift of parenthood. More than anything I found myself constantly emphasizing that I wasn’t worried or nervous about “giving up” the baby because the baby wasn’t mine in the first place.
But despite the hiccups along the way, it was all worth it. On the morning of our scheduled cesarean section, the parents met Jeff and me in the lobby of the hospital. All four of us went up to labor and delivery and got checked in. I reminded the nurse I was not “Mom” and that all questions about the baby should be directed to the parents. The intended parents waited outside of the operating room during the procedure. Then it was time for them to meet their baby. Despite the fog of anesthesia (and blurriness from not having my glasses), witnessing them see their son for the very first time changed me as a person. I of course knew that I was the one who had just had a baby, but all my energy was focused on them. It was then that I knew the connection I experienced was never with the baby — it was always with the two of them.
The grueling application process, the painful needles and the ridiculous comments all disappeared from my memory to make space for the image of my intended parents holding their baby boy. I’m not sure what my future as a surrogate looks like, but I am so fortunate to have discovered support along the way. It was essential. Because one life change often leads to another, it inspired me to start working with a surrogacy matching platform. My aim is to offer our surrogates a true support system: a group of women to turn to when they have questions both big and small.
What a dream it is to be the “Kristen” for the women within our growing community.