To read the previous posts in this series, click here:
[Part One] What Gestational Surrogacy is Really Like: The Matching Process
[Part Two] What Gestational Surrogacy is Really Like: Surrogacy During IVF
Part Three: Surrogacy in the First Trimester
Before we started our IVF cycle, Elle decided on her own that she wanted us to be the first to know if we were expecting following each of the embryo transfers. She chose not to take any at-home pregnancy tests before the official blood draw and personally asked that she not be contacted with the news until after we were informed. I knew a lot of gestational carriers/surrogates tended to take tests on their own but hadn’t wanted to ask her to wait, so I was touched that she’d already thought through how painful it was for us not to have the option of finding out at home together like a normal couple.
When we finally got the good news, I felt an immediate shift in the relationship we’d built over the six months we’d known Elle. Our lives were now linked together with hers by a baby the size of a tiny poppy seed– and that changed everything. Suddenly we had reached brand-new territory in the surrogacy process and were tasked with continuing to build our relationship while simultaneously navigating through the abnormality of the situation. None of us had been through anything like this before, so we did our best to figure it out as we went along. It was surreal, not just because we hoped to finally be on our way to becoming parents, but also because this moment we’d been waiting for didn’t just involve the two of us and our unborn child. With surrogacy, there is this strange feeling of someone always being in the periphery, and then you realize that it’s actually the other way around– you’re the one standing on the sidelines in the pregnancy of your own child.
The day we got the positive test results, Elle sent me a smiling photo of herself with flushed cheeks, writing, “Your Sweet Pea is giving me hot flashes! :),” and I will never forget the way it felt to receive it. From then on, “Sweet Pea” is how the baby was almost exclusively known until the day he was born, and I still use it every day. I can say now that Elle’s text was indicative of the way she handled everything in the pregnancy: she kept us updated and involved, she was always careful to never complain about the pregnancy symptoms I wanted to be feeling, and she went out of her way to refer to the baby as ours, never once asserting any kind of ownership.
We knew that the first trimester would be difficult– there was such a long way to go and we had way more to lose now. With so much that had gone wrong for us in the past, it was hard to have faith that this would be the time things worked out. Beyond the fear of loss that gripped me every day, it made me anxious that if something did go wrong, I wouldn’t know about it. There would be no warning signs because my body would go on as normal, completely oblivious until I received word secondhand. For months, the sound of every text message or call was enough to make my stomach drop with the fear of hearing from Elle that everything was over.
I wondered what we would do if we did lose the pregnancy. I didn’t want to be stuck 12 hours away while it happened as if it didn’t affect me, as if I wasn’t the mother of the baby. I wanted to be there, to share in the burden and experience, but should we get on a plane even if there was no role for us to play? The only other option was to leave Elle to deal with the physical and emotional pain on her own, and I hated the thought of that. The guilt that any loss of ours would be putting her in such a difficult position weighed heavily on me.
Accepting the extreme lack of control was also excruciating. I’d heard of a gestational carrier who simply grew tired of giving herself progesterone shots (which help sustain an IVF pregnancy until around the end of the first trimester) and chose to stop treatment after a few weeks. The Intended Parents were never informed, and when the pregnancy ended, they lost their child. Although I trusted Elle completely and knew she would never do something so reckless and cruel, I didn’t like being so reliant on someone else and desperately wished I had the ability to take the shots myself.
Seven weeks into the pregnancy we packed up for a trip to Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island, which was originally booked because I felt like I needed to be able to get away from home and what was happening around us if we failed another embryo transfer. Since Kyle was planning to start his master’s degree within a few months, we decided to call the trip a babymoon and enjoy the time together before the stress of a major life change.
A few times throughout our travel it came up that we were parents-to-be, and I reveled in the ability to say “I’m pregnant” without having to clarify that it was via proxy. People were genuinely happy for us and treated me differently than they did when they heard the surrounding story. It was refreshing to feel so normal, and I had a hard time leaving that behind with the end of our trip.
The First Appointment
Once we returned and completed the 8-week ultrasound through Elle’s hospital, our fertility clinic gave the okay to transfer care to a regular OBGYN. The first appointment was low-key compared to everything we’d been through to get there, basically just checking the heartbeat and relaying information. Elle explained the situation to the office ahead of time, and it was agreed that I could be present via speaker phone to ask or answer any questions.
The nurse practitioner who conducted the appointment was very matter-of-fact in her dealings with us, focusing on Elle while I awkwardly paced on the other end of the call. Even though we’d been told there would be no ultrasound, she decided to pull up a quick image of the baby along with the heartbeat; unfortunately, since we weren’t prepared to Skype, I was unable to see it. Instead, I studied a mark on the wall nearby while I listened to the nurse point out the baby’s features to Elle and tried not to think about what was happening– it had been important to me that I not miss any of the ultrasounds. Thankfully Elle was at least able to snap a few quick pictures on her phone to send later.
When the non-invasive prenatal testing was inevitably brought up, I asked for confirmation that it came without any risk to the baby. “Nope, it’s just a blood test for Mom,” the nurse replied, before giving Elle information on when she should plan to have it done. For Mom. I stopped pacing and stood still. It was the first time I heard someone refer to Elle as the mother of my child, but it wouldn’t be the last.
After that, I never sat in on speaker phone for a regular check-up again.
We quickly discovered that it was much more difficult to tell people we were expecting when they didn’t already know our situation. There were quite a few awkward reactions and insensitive remarks, occasionally even looks of pity. But towards the end of the first trimester we experienced one of the most uncomfortable reactions yet while at a social gathering with both friends and strangers. A new father (whom we’d just met) overheard a mutual friend asking about our latest ultrasound when he loudly called across the room, “Oh, you’re pregnant?!” Taken aback, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Everyone in the vicinity had already turned to look at me for the answer, but I was afraid that if I simply said yes, I’d be called out by someone who knew better, or that the truth would somehow come out later, making the situation even more awkward. “Um… well, yeah…. kind of. We’re expecting via surrogacy,” I replied, flustered at being put on the spot while I was still trying to figure out how to best handle this kind of situation. But, instead of acknowledging what I’d said, he acted as if I’d never responded and awkwardly turned around to walk away and find another conversation.
Throughout the entire pregnancy, there was only one truly positive reaction from a stranger. Usually there was never so much as a ‘Congratulations!’ or even a smile; people just didn’t know what to do with it. When we’d started this process, I had no idea how much of a stigma surrogacy still carried, and eventually I avoided mentioning that we were expecting a baby at all to make it easier on everybody.