We’ve had a lot of questions in the last several months about life post-surrogacy, so I thought it might be easier to answer a few of the ones that seem to come up the most.
Do you still keep in touch with your gestational carrier, Elle*?
Yes! We are actually in contact most days of the week.
Just one of the many parts of the matching process took into account whether we would want to remain in touch following the birth of a potential child. Elle had specified in her paperwork then that she would be happy to receive the occasional photo but would not make it a stipulation for being matched. As for our preferences, we hoped to continue some kind of a relationship past the surrogacy. I liked the idea of sending photos as our baby grew up and keeping in touch in some way. I hoped that we’d have the kind of relationship where I would feel comfortable contacting her in the future if our potential child ever had any questions or wanted to get to know her better. But, the relationship we have now far exceeds even what I had imagined as a best case scenario.
As I’ve mentioned before, we will always consider Elle & her family as part of our family. Last Summer we asked if they would like to be known as “aunt and uncle” to Ross in honor of the special role they’ve played in his life and ours. We regularly send pictures and video clips of milestones or just cute or funny moments that we think they’d like to see. In April they came to visit us for a few days around the time Ross turned 3 months old, which was so much fun. It was the first time they got to see where we lived since we’d always stayed in a hotel outside the fertility clinic for the testing and transfers. Back then we were about 2 hours away from the branch that dealt with surrogacy cases, so having them to our house before now was unfeasible.
How is she doing?
Elle is doing really well since giving birth. The recovery was relatively easy and she was able to return to work within 2 weeks as planned (though, I’m not sure you could’ve stopped her if you tried; she is very determined when she sets her mind to something!). She chose to pump breastmilk in order to help her body normalize, and within 6 weeks she had lost all of the weight she gained during pregnancy and then some!
Was it difficult for Elle to give up the baby after carrying him for 9 months?
Both Elle and I have been asked this question (or a variation of it), and I want to be clear that Elle did not give up the baby, she gave him back. Early on we joked that gestational surrogacy is really like a form of “extreme babysitting.” Ross has been ours from the moment he came into existence. Over the period of 9 months, Elle cared for him while I could not so that he would have a chance at life. She didn’t start this process because she wanted to have another child or even because she wanted to be pregnant again. She started it because she wanted to help someone else experience the joy of parenthood. That has always been her main goal and it’s what motivated her to push through the tough aspects of surrogacy.
Elle said that when people have asked her this question, she tells them that saying goodbye to our family as a whole was the hardest part, especially because we live 14 hours away.
Does Elle want to do this again sometime?
Early in the pregnancy she was very interested in becoming a gestational carrier again in the near future. However, a few things make this difficult. For one, the long distance was hard on her, just like it was for us. Then, late in the second trimester, Elle came down with Whooping Cough and struggled for a very long time. Although her illness did not affect the baby, being pregnant seriously complicated her healing. She developed severe pain from a potentially fractured rib, possibly due to the coughing, which was exacerbated by the strain her body was under and Ross kicking around. Elle is tough, but the pain was excruciating and significantly affected her daily life. During the times we were with her, it was very hard to watch. She lived with it throughout the rest of the pregnancy, but has thankfully been able to heal since.
Finally, there is always a risk in being matched with someone you don’t know for such an intense experience, whether you are the Intended Parents or the gestational carrier. Both Elle and I have seen other, less compatible matches and we know we are among the lucky ones. Her husband once said that he felt they used up all their “good luck” in being matched with us for their first go around, and we feel the same.
Was it difficult to bond with the baby following the birth since you hadn’t been pregnant with him?
No, it was not difficult at all. Of course, there is no way to know how it will feel once the baby is born, whether you are becoming a mom traditionally or somewhat unconventionally. But, not being able to bond with your baby during the pregnancy adds another layer to normal worries or fears. I did struggle at times to feel as though the baby was really, truly mine during the pregnancy–not because of anything Elle did, but more so because I was trying to be respectful in not crossing boundaries when it came to her body and because it was tough when I compared our situation with those around me. It was also hard to feel like a mom-to-be when I often wasn’t acknowledged as such: I didn’t have the all-important baby bump, which apparently matters a lot to some people. I did regularly write to Ross in a journal throughout the pregnancy as a way to build a bond, but the reality was that he couldn’t really bond with me. If we had been geographically closer to Elle it might have been a little easier, but ultimately it is just one of the many increased difficulties of becoming a mom through surrogacy.
However, the moment he was born, there was no question about it: he was mine, and I never once felt otherwise. It wasn’t even something I ever thought about again. It just was.
What do you plan to tell your son about the surrogacy?
We will tell Ross whatever he wants to know about it. I’d like to eventually print some of my posts so that one day he can read them, if he chooses. I am not ashamed of the way he came into the world; in fact, I think it’s pretty amazing. But, since we are hoping that it’s not something he ever remembers first learning and we want to normalize the surrogacy as much as possible, he may never think much of it. Obviously, pregnancy itself will not have the same kind of significance for him that it has in my life because it’s not something his body is designed to do. So, will his surrogacy story make him feel special? Indifferent? Embarrassed? It’s hard to say what kind of impact it will have on him.
In November 2014, when we were officially matched with Elle, I bought a children’s book called The Very Kind Koala in hopes of reading it to our child someday to help explain the surrogacy:
Sometimes I do wonder if and how Ross will describe the surrogacy to others. I wonder if he will mention it to kids at school before he has the understanding or words to explain it. I wonder if we will ever be questioned by a confused teacher or parent. In seven months it has already come up in surprising ways, so I’m sure we will have some explaining to do as we go.
What was the overall experience of surrogacy like?
Having a child via gestational surrogacy was the craziest, hardest, scariest, bravest, most painful, most wonderful, best thing I’ve ever done in my life. And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
*Name changed for privacy reasons