For weeks leading up to the due date of my friends’ baby, whom I was carrying as a surrogate, my 3 and 6-year-old daughters would ask every day, “Is the baby coming out today?” or “Is the baby here yet?” as if they might miss it. We had been prepping them for what would happen if I went into labor spontaneously as well as for how things would go if I made it to my induction date.
While my 6-year-old, Fiona, was concerned with logistics—“Can I come to the office with you when you deliver the baby?”—my 3-year old, Lana, had been confirming each time it came up that the baby would, in fact, be coming out of my “bagina.” She seemed to think this was an elaborate ruse that would surely be exposed as a prank eventually. Both girls were excited for the baby to arrive, if a little unclear on the details of how it would happen.
Meanwhile, I had been so excited that I was about to start counting the minutes until my induction appointment at the hospital—that is, until we got the call that the appointment was canceled.
A Scheduling Setback
It happened a few minutes after leaving the celebratory lunch with the parents-to-be—my best friend Hue and her husband Court—following what we’d thought would be our last doctor’s appointment. A nurse called to tell me the hospital was canceling all scheduled inductions for the following week due to Labor and Delivery (L&D) being overwhelmed. I was crushed.
Ask anyone who’s experienced the 39th week of pregnancy, and you’ll know that every day counts. So when they called me that Friday and canceled my Tuesday induction, I was distraught. The next week I was on pins and needles waiting for any signs of labor while also hoping for a rescheduled induction. It was two days after New Year’s Day, and I’d gotten an appointment notification saying they’d rescheduled my induction… for the following Saturday. My due date. A sympathetic nurse consoled me with an appointment to see my doctor the day I should have been induced. I figured that would be better than nothing.
Hue and I met in the waiting room like always, commiserating about our lack of control over how this was going to play out. And then, after two high blood pressure readings in the exam room, we got an unexpected silver lining: The doctor was sending me to the hospital for an induction after all, citing the high blood pressure as an indication for inducing delivery. It turns out when you’ve never had high blood pressure, getting it at 39 weeks pregnant points to gestational hypertension. None of this really registered with me, as all I could think was, “YES! I’m getting induced!”
Hue and I met in the waiting room like always, commiserating about our lack of control over how this was going to play out. And then, after two high blood pressure readings in the exam room, we got an unexpected silver lining.
From there it was mass hysteria. No, actually, Hue and Court were very composed. They’d brought their hospital bags with them to the appointment and were packed and ready to go. I, on the other hand, had felt very prepared the previous day, but was now scrambling to wash my hair (I can’t go to the hospital with day-five hair!), gather my toiletries, and pack up the banana bread I’d just made with my 3-year-old. My husband, Scott, would take the girls to his parents’ as we’d discussed, and I would ride with Hue and Court to the hospital. Fiona gave me a huge hug, saying very seriously, “I wish you good luck, Mom.” My heart swelled and I told her I loved her, ready to usher everyone to the car.
Except 3-year-old Lana wasn’t ready.
She seemed to sense the gravity of the situation, and she just wanted to be close to me. When I tried to hand her off to Scott, she clung to me and cried, “No, I want you. I don’t want to go to Grandma’s; I want you.” Pregnancy hormones, nerves, and any number of other factors made it difficult for me to keep it together as I tried to get her excited to go, but she just wanted me to hold her. So for one last time, I perched her on top of my belly as she wrapped her arms around my neck. I kissed her cheeks with tears in my eyes as she smushed her face to mine. “It’s time for the baby to come! And when he’s here, you can come visit us in the hospital, I promise.” She was not convinced.
In a moment of inspiration, Hue thought to give her the gift she’d brought “from the baby,” a stuffed dinosaur that immediately snapped her out of her sadness. I asked Scott to capture one picture of us, and they were off to Grandma’s with her new favorite stuffy. It was go time.
The Hospital Experience
It was around 4 p.m. when we got in the car to head to the hospital. Almost as an afterthought, we realized I should probably eat something before going in, given they don’t typically let you eat during an induction. So we did what any sane, responsible, and health-conscious adult would do on her way to deliver a baby—we stopped for McDonald’s. I will tell you, even in hindsight I stand by this as the best decision I made that day. That two-cheeseburger meal fueled me through the next 14 hours of labor.
We parked at the hospital and waited for Scott to arrive. As he walked over to the car, I joked, “Are you ready for our staycation?” As parents of two kids, our nights away from them are few and far between. Even knowing I was about to deliver a baby, on some level I was looking at this as a little rest from our kids after two full weeks of winter break.
Deciding Who Would Be in the Delivery Room
We checked into the hospital and were directed to our L&D room. Many of you may be wondering how we decided what the delivery room experience would look like. Here’s what we’d discussed during our many, many conversations about this experience:
- If COVID restrictions only allowed one person in the room, it would be my support person, my husband Scott.
- If two people were allowed, it would be Scott and Hue.
- If there were no restrictions, all three of them would be in the room: Scott, Hue, and Court. Luckily for us, there were no restrictions at the time of delivery, so all four of us were together in the delivery room. Did this present some awkward moments and privacy challenges? Sure. But when you carry another person’s baby, you sort of accept the loss of privacy as an occupational hazard.
This may sound negative, but I don’t mean it to at all. This was Hue and Court’s baby, and therefore it was largely their birth experience. I know that may be hard for some to understand, but for me it was pretty straightforward. Would I really want to exclude either parent from their child’s birth experience for the sake of my modesty or desire for privacy? No. After delivering two babies, I was very aware that any sense of modesty immediately went out the window when multiple nurses and doctors you’d never met were helping with delivery. And so we moved forward, planning for everyone to be in the delivery room.
All four of us were together in the delivery room. Did this present some awkward moments and privacy challenges? Sure. But when you carry another person’s baby, you sort of accept the loss of privacy as an occupational hazard.
We settled into our room in L&D and kept remarking that we couldn’t believe we were finally here. After 18 months, this is what the finish line looked like! We were all buzzing with excitement. That’s the bassinet where the baby will go! This is the scale where they’ll weigh him! THIS BABY IS COMING! We sat and chatted about all the things. Reflecting on the time since this whole journey started, recounting the ups and downs, laughing over all the crazy things we’d experienced, and looking forward to the ways our families would be linked in the future.
Eventually, we gathered around the only table in the room and played euchre while I perched on an exercise ball. The nurses came in and out, inquiring about who exactly everyone was and reacting to our surrogacy story with warmth and excitement. I can honestly say it was the most fun delivery room experience I can imagine. We were all soaring on adrenaline and anticipation. I couldn’t stop thinking, is this how I envisioned it? How will I look back on these hours? And I genuinely look back on them so fondly. I feel so much love and joy in my heart thinking about how the hours in the delivery room together just added another level to our bond.
Taking a Moment to Process With My Husband
During that night at the hospital, Hue and Court were great at being intuitive and respectful and easily left the room when the nurses came in to check me and do any procedural things. Eventually it was midnight, and we realized we should probably try to rest before the real action began. Hue and Court left for the waiting room, and Scott and I were left alone for the first time to process the situation. Scott brought his chair over next to my bed and held my hand.
We talked about when I should get my epidural, how things were going, how exciting all of this was. And we talked about how things would be after the delivery. We had talked at length about how excited we were to get to that post-delivery euphoria, not only to see Hue and Court finally hold their baby, but also to connect with each other again just as we were. Just the two of us.
It’s fascinating to think about the ways carrying another family’s baby can impact a marriage. I would never change anything that happened, but I’ll be honest: When we talked about everything at the end of the pregnancy, we felt so much excitement for the end, for the after. For being just our family of four again. For nights without my crazy reflux causing me to sleep sitting up, for dates with a shared bottle of wine, for thinking forward to our own plans. It had been 18 months since we’d committed to this journey, and while it hadn’t felt restrictive most of the time, we both realized we’d been feeling it subconsciously for the last month or two.
Looking Back at the Final Trimester
Many people experience difficult first trimesters of pregnancy: nausea, morning sickness, bloating, discomfort, etc. While I am extremely lucky to avoid all that, I’m in the camp that tends to experience the brunt of symptoms at the end of pregnancy. I’d had extreme reflux for the past few months as well as pregnancy insomnia that even Unisom, a pregnancy-safe sleep aid, couldn’t cure.
It was also the holidays and my family lives in Michigan, a state that’s notoriously unfriendly to surrogates. In our legal contract, we’d agreed that I wouldn’t be allowed to go to my home state for the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, given the risk that if I went into early labor and had to deliver in Michigan, it would present a whole slew of issues for Hue and Court as far as getting proof of parentage.
So for the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Still, we made the most of it. My family came to visit for Thanksgiving, and we celebrated Christmas Day with our cozy family of four, with Hue, Court, and both sets of our parents joining us for dinner. It was another instance where I realized that I’d gained family in Hue and Court through this experience, and I was grateful to share the holidays with them even though I couldn’t be in Michigan.
During the final month, we also had some unexpected family events that added to the existing stress of being pregnant. I found for the first time that being pregnant felt like a burden, because it kept me from being able to do what I might normally do during a family emergency. Even with all the planning and forethought, there was no way to predict or plan for every possible occurrence, and we were therefore caught off guard in the last weeks of the pregnancy.
All of this to say, surrogacy comes with a lot of risks and potential outcomes, many of which can be thought through and safely planned for. For those things that couldn’t be predicted, we were lucky to have a supportive and understanding family and an open and honest relationship with Hue and Court, who understood and empathized with the situation. They were thoughtful and compassionate and did everything they could to help when we needed them. We got through that last month together and were so ready when it came time to deliver the baby. We were all excited to finally meet him, and I was ready to get back to myself and whatever “normal” would look like going forward.
From 12-4 a.m., labor progressed pretty much as I expected. This was my third overnight delivery, and I was just hoping the baby would be there by morning. I got my epidural and hoped to sleep for a few hours, but I soon realized the epidural had only taken effect on my right side. I was having pretty intense contractions that were nearly back-to-back. I could barely catch my breath enough to tell the nurse what was happening. The anesthetist checked the epidural and upped the dosage, saying I should be feeling relief within 30 minutes.
Around 25 minutes later, my nurse came in to check me. Just as the epidural was kicking in again, making me completely numb from the waist down, she alerted me that I’d progressed quickly and was fully dilated. It was go time!
Scott texted Hue and Court and told them to come back to the room. Suddenly, after hours of slow progress, everything was happening so fast—and yet, there was only one nurse in the room. Hue and Court arrived and I waved them in. “It’s really happening!” We were all sort of wide-eyed and unsure what to do with the energy we were feeling. The nurse looked between us all and said, “Okay, fam! Who’s holding a leg?”
The funny thing about this is that when we were talking about the potential awkwardness of having two additional people in the room during delivery, we would jokingly say, “It’s not like they’re going to be holding a leg!” but here we were, with only one nurse in the delivery room and the necessity for an additional person to do just that. Hue asked if I was okay with her doing it and I nodded, already anticipating the ways delivery was not going to go according to plan. So with Hue on my left and Scott on my right, the nurse prepared me for what was coming. “I can’t feel ANYTHING,” I exclaimed as I realized I wasn’t even remotely feeling the contractions that had so recently wracked my body. Clearly they had overcompensated when they fixed my epidural. The nurse reassured me and explained that she would tell me when to push and count down each contraction for me.
I pushed twice during that first contraction, then the doctor came in and the nurse briefed her on what was going on. “You’re going to need to catch him!” the nurse said as they oriented themselves. With the nurse talking me through the next contraction and Scott, Hue and Court all cheering me on, I pushed two more times. At this point, the doctor noted she could see the baby’s head, and the words I didn’t know I would dread with all of my being were uttered from her mouth: “Hue, do you want to touch his head?”
I have to be honest, I think this is the closest to an out-of-body experience I’ve ever had. Throughout this entire delivery room experience, and really throughout much of the surrogacy as a whole, I’d been experiencing two predominant and contradictory feelings at once: One was a sense of maturity and understanding that there was no point in being embarrassed or modest during such a beautiful life event, and the other was true, deep, horrifying embarrassment.
I’d been experiencing two predominant and contradictory feelings at once: One was a sense of maturity and understanding that there was no point in being embarrassed or modest during such a beautiful life event, and the other was true, deep, horrifying embarrassment.
I’d accepted the ways in which this delivery was going to expose me, quite literally, to two people who’d never seen anything resembling this situation, two people who’d never so much as seen me in a bikini. But I had no way to prepare for the way this exposure would play out in real life and how I would feel during and after the fact. So while I was able to appreciate the beauty of Hue and Court witnessing the birth of their baby, I was also, on some level, totally horrified when the doctor suggested Hue touch the baby’s head as he was crowning. I wasn’t able to completely ignore my immature (and probably natural) feelings of embarrassment. However, all that was pushed to the outskirts of my consciousness in order to appreciate the once-in-a-lifetime nature of this situation.
With one more contraction, the baby was out, less than 15 minutes after Hue and Court had rushed into the room. We all immediately burst into tears as they placed him on me to wipe off and cut the umbilical cord. I felt such a rush of emotions: relief, joy, gratitude, excitement, and awe. And then, almost immediately, concern.
When we’d envisioned this moment, we’d thought Hue would be sitting on a chair, ready for the baby to immediately be placed on her. But since she was quite literally holding me up, he was placed on me. My first instinct was to say, “No!” I felt so urgently that they needed to give the baby to Hue that I looked over at her and said, “Hue, go sit! Go sit so they can give him to you!” Court cut the cord, and the nurses swaddled him. Hue went to the couch and Court sat next to her, and finally, finally, the nurse put the baby in her arms.
Few things go how you expect them to in childbirth, but this moment was everything I’d anticipated. Even with all the chaos of the nurses and doctors in the room, I saw only this: My friends had their baby. Two people who’d grown so close to me over the past year, two people who’d waited more than a decade for this moment were holding and admiring their beautiful, perfect baby. And I was there to share that moment with them. It was a million cliches and phrases that don’t quite capture the reality. There was the feeling that my heart would explode, there was pure joy, there was the deepest sense of relief and the highest high of intense adrenaline.
And then, there was barfing.
Wait, what? Yes, I was immediately brought out of my euphoria and back to the reality of what I’d just put my body through when I was hit with a huge wave of nausea and immediately started barfing. The nurse handed me a bag and continued to tend to her other responsibilities. Scott was standing next to Hue and Court, watching and capturing the moments when they weighed and measured the baby, and I… continued to puke into a bag. Eventually Scott realized what was happening and rushed to my side to help. It was a minor moment, but I still laugh when I think of it.
It was a million cliches and phrases that don’t quite capture the reality. There was the feeling that my heart would explode, there was pure joy, there was the deepest sense of relief and the highest high of intense adrenaline.
And then, there was barfing.
Hue and Court were escorted with the baby to their recovery room, and Scott and I were alone again with the nurses. Scott said, “I can’t believe you signed up for this again,” and we both laughed. The reality of the moment just kept hitting me in waves. We had really done it. Together with Hue and Court, we’d brought a baby into this world, a perfect, healthy, and (might I add) insanely adorable baby. For all the time I’d spent envisioning this very moment, I couldn’t have imagined the depth of emotion I would feel. And yet, to my relief, none of it was sadness. For all the complex things I was feeling, I didn’t feel a single ounce of sadness for myself or for the baby who was not mine.
Through the many months I’d been preparing myself, I still wasn’t 100 percent sure where my emotions would land at the moment I was separated from the baby who’d been with me for nine months.
I think it’s one of the things about surrogacy that feels unimaginable to most people, and I didn’t want to assume anything about how I would process it. But all the preparation I’d done, all the times I’d explained to other people that I just never thought of the baby as my own, that I didn’t feel attached because I didn’t allow myself to feel attached, helped me internalize these facts completely.
Because there was nothing surprising about my emotions that day or any day since. I’ve felt complete, uncomplicated happiness for Hue and Court, complete joy that they have their baby after all their heartache and pain and waiting. I’ve felt total contentment and relief for my family that we were able to see this life-changing experience through together, that my girls got to see an example of what true love and selflessness can bring and how it’s expanded our family. I’ve felt true gratitude for my husband and for all the ways he supported me through the struggles and lifted me over the hurdles when they presented themselves. And perhaps most notably, I’ve felt a new appreciation for myself and my body. That I was able to physically complete this surrogacy with a healthy and safe delivery, that I was emotionally strong enough to navigate the complexities of carrying a baby who wasn’t my own, and that I had enough compassion and love in my heart to offer this gift to Hue and Court has given me a much greater understanding of myself and my strength than ever before.
And so for anyone who’s been wondering, I’m able to honestly say it was all worth it. From the anxiety and the “what ifs” to the time spent in doctor’s appointments and lawyer’s consultations and therapy conversations. Every shot I self-administered and every insomnia-induced haze, every moment of doubt and of joy, every out-of-body experience and extra-tight squeeze of Hue’s hand. To look at baby Roman DeLuca, to see his perfect little face and his long fingers, to watch Hue and Court dote and fret over his every squeak, to know this baby will change their lives and their family for the better… it was all worth it.