It’s probably safe to say that every individual’s Google search history shows a deeply personal snapshot of their life and circumstances at that exact moment. Well, in August 2021, my Google history was especially unique. “How to become a surrogate,” “Gestational carrier for a friend,” and “Altruistic surrogacy” were my top searches. And yet, I still didn’t feel like I had a grasp on what I wanted to know.
How could I be sure I was emotionally capable of surrogacy? Was there a checklist somewhere that I could consult? Doesn’t want any more babies? Check. Is emotionally stable most of the time except maybe when her 5-year-old ignores her requests for the hundredth time? Check. Really didn’t mind pregnancy, would be willing to do it again if it meant not having a newborn keeping me awake all night long afterward? Check. I think?
I had taken the initial step of offering to be a surrogate for my friend, Hue. We’d had many thoughtful conversations in the initial stage of the process, but now that we’d agreed to move forward, I found that I actually had no idea where to begin. Luckily, it turned out that I didn’t need to have all of the answers because I actually had to go through all kinds of checkpoints before I would even be allowed to carry her baby. Here, I’m going to share more about the process and hopefully help others who might be considering a surrogacy journey.
The Steps to Altruistic Surrogacy
While we were pursuing an “Altruistic Surrogacy” (meaning I wouldn’t be getting paid), we still kept the process quite formal in order to protect all involved parties. Hue and her husband Court had already engaged a Surrogacy Attorney as well as a therapist who specialized in surrogacy. Once I had my medical evaluations confirming that my body was, in fact, still in the proper shape to carry out a pregnancy, the next steps began.
An Individual Session with a Therapist
First, my husband and I scheduled a required 4-hour session with a therapist who specialized in surrogacy. I was told there would be an extensive psych evaluation as well as a couples session to determine the health of our relationship and, I assume, Scott’s willingness to go along with his wife’s pregnancy where she would be carrying someone else’s child. The session was intense, and the evaluation was somewhat arduous. I remember filling out the 365-question scantron form and thinking, “Is there any way I could fail this so spectacularly that they would NOT allow me to continue?”
I tried to imagine what sorts of answers would send a red flag to the therapist. But it turned out, rather than judging me or expressing skepticism about my offer, our therapist was a completely calming and supportive presence with whom I could be totally honest about my feelings and thought processes. She had an established relationship with Hue and was genuinely interested in the success of our arrangement. She was also quick to remind me that I had every right to feel any number of feelings while working through the mental gymnastics it took to get to this place, and she validated some of the feelings I had that had made me feel petty or silly. It felt like she was my advocate, as well as Hue’s, and that she easily identified the strengths of our relationship that would set us up for a successful surrogacy-intended mother experience. I felt totally supported and totally strengthened by her, and I left our session with a renewed sense that I was doing the right thing.
A Therapist Session with All Parties
From there, we had a session that included both couples and the therapist. Did I ever think I would be on a Zoom call with another couple and a therapist that included an ongoing joke about my “beautiful uterus?” No, I did not, but that is just one of the things that came out of our session.
We considered, wondered, and laughed about a whole slew of things that we hadn’t thought to discuss before that point, like who would be in the delivery room (if only one person was allowed it would be Scott, if more, Hue would join too), what would happen if we experienced a failed transfer or a miscarriage (we would try three times for the three embryos they have), would I be pumping breastmilk for the baby after the deliver (no, I would prefer to recover without that additional responsibility). After everything was discussed, the conversation wound up bringing the four of us even closer together and more closely aligned on our expectations.
The Legal (My Least-Favorite) Part of Surrogacy
In all the time that we have been engaged in this process, I can honestly say the only negative part of the experience on my side was the legal aspect. In any surrogacy agreement, a contract must be drawn up to protect all involved parties. Even though we weren’t discussing compensation, certain financial details needed to be addressed, such as health insurance, medical leave, life insurance, coverage in case I was put on bed rest and unable to do my job, and coverage in case my reproductive organs were damaged or lost in the process of surrogacy.
The list went on and on with things I hadn’t thought about, and frankly, didn’t want to think about. Scott and I had to retain our own lawyer as well, and every time we spoke with her, I felt like she was trying to get me to ask for something I didn’t need because she didn’t believe that our friendship would reliably prevent any of the possible issues to come about with such a complicated situation. A constant refrain from her was “I know you’re friends, but…,” and I was totally put off by the experience.
Before we’d started the legal process, I remember the nurse at the fertility clinic saying legal could take up to a year. Hue and I had laughed, thinking she was totally insane. Then, three contract drafts later, I started to understand her estimate. Every wording change meant another draft and another round of approvals from each side. We were lucky that our contract discussions only took two months, but I could see how they would go on longer for more complicated situations. The bright side was that, after all the back and forth, the four of us had a strong understanding of the legal requirements for all parties involved.
Preparing for the Embryo Transfer
Once the clinic received our “legal letter” in January, we were ready to start the medical process, and not a moment too soon. All along we had hoped to prepare for a transfer in January, and now we were there, ready to begin.
I started medication the next week, a standard protocol of estrogen pills or Estradiol, which would eventually be followed up with Progesterone shots to prepare for transfer. I remember starting with two pills in the morning and two pills at bedtime. But within the first few days, I was feeling awful. I felt sick, nauseous, and not myself. A helpful tip from a friend suggesting I take all the pills at bedtime to hopefully avoid the symptoms during the day made all the difference.
I was confident going into my “baseline” appointment, and everything looked good to proceed. We had a transfer date of February 6, and I was feeling all sorts of nerves, excitement, and trepidation. Then, I went in for my first lining check. At this appointment, they do an internal sonogram to check the endometrial lining, in order to determine how the uterus has responded to the medication.
Unfortunately, what they saw was a problem. And, after another check a few days later, they told me they believed my body had responded unfavorably to the amount of estrogen I was taking, and that we needed to cancel the transfer and start over again with a different dosage. I was devastated. This date and this timeline had been in my head for months, and now we would be set back at least a month. I was crying when I called Hue to break the news. It felt like a major blow after everything we’d done to prepare for this moment for nearly six months. All of my appointments had indicated I would be a great surrogacy candidate, and yet here we were, with a canceled transfer because my body was not responding properly.
The loss of control, anxiety of the unknown, and passage of time without any forward progress—these were all things Hue had become so used to that this setback was just a blip on the radar.
Hue was a calming and reassuring voice of reason. She assured me that this was a minor setback in the big scheme of things, reminding me that whatever we needed to do to ensure a transfer was safe and successful, we would absolutely do. I realized that Hue—and everyone who goes through the IVF process—experiences these kinds of setbacks constantly. I was actually experiencing just a tiny sample of what Hue had been through in the past. The loss of control, anxiety of the unknown, and passage of time without any forward progress—these were all things Hue had become so used to that this setback was just a blip on the radar. I adjusted my expectations and tried to maintain a more positive attitude as we looked forward.
Our transfer ended up being scheduled for April 21. I was incredibly anxious going into the initial appointments after what had happened previously, but everything was as they hoped leading up to the transfer day. In the afternoon on transfer day, Hue came and picked me up and drove us both to the clinic. Because Covid numbers were down in our area, she would get to be in the room with me during the transfer.
When we walked into the office, it was as if I was walking in with a celebrity. Every employee at the clinic knew and loved Hue. The receptionist’s eyes filled with tears as she checked us in and wished us luck. Countless nurses came to exchange whispered squeals and hugs, leaving us with crossed fingers and positive thoughts.
Those moments gave me insight into what kind of community Hue had established for herself, even in the most trying and difficult situations. She had created a support system, simply by being the bright light she was, despite experiencing some of her darkest moments. And as a result, these people were rallying around her—around us—putting all their hope and faith in the fact that this time, Hue would have her baby. I felt all of the residual love and care surrounding us, and I felt renewed in my knowledge that I was doing something bigger than I’d ever done before. Bigger than myself, and even bigger than our friendship. I was so full of hope at that moment. We had so many people on our side, how could this lead to anything but good things to come?
April 21 is a day I will never forget, and after a surreal, emotional, fascinating, and frankly, scientific, few minutes during the embryo transfer, we were discharged to go home and… just… go about our lives?! I felt so strange after saying goodbye to Hue and sitting down at home, I could barely process what had just happened. For the next few days, I fielded a slew of questions and inquiries from friends about when I would take a test at home, and I just tried to keep my mind occupied to avoid obsessing over every random feeling in my body.
Taking the Pregnancy Test
On day eight after the transfer, Hue and I finally decided we were ready for me to take a test. I had a blood test scheduled in a few days, and we had waited anxiously long enough. I took a test and saw a second line almost immediately. I asked Hue if she was ready for the results and sent her the picture of the test. She Facetimed me and we both cried huge, happy tears. This is another one of those moments I’ll never forget. This was really happening. We were cautious, but we were optimistic. The transfer had worked, and I was pregnant!
The time frame from the first conversation I had with Hue offering to be her surrogate, to the confirmation of pregnancy at the six-week ultrasound was about nine months—a sort of gestational period of its own. I learned more than I could have possibly imagined about the IVF and surrogacy process, and more importantly, I learned so much about the depths of my friendship with Hue. In nine months, she has taught me about patience, acceptance, and the importance of connection. And together, we have learned what unconditional love and support between two friends can create. It can create a bond that will last a lifetime, an impermeable connection between families, a life all its own.
Thank you for following along thus far. I look forward to sharing the rest of our journey, and my experience throughout pregnancy as a surrogate.