SHARING HER STORY — from both sides of the experience: Unique perspectives from a gestational surrogate who had struggled with infertility.
Q. Becky, will you tell us a little bit about your background?
A. Sure. I grew up in Montgomery County, north of Philadelphia, and had a typical “family-oriented, kid-oriented” suburban childhood with my mom and sister — summer camp, teaching tennis, a part-time job at McDonald’s, work in day-care. I went on to get a degree in Early Childhood Education from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Obviously, I have always loved kids.
Q. So you had a teaching career?
A. Yes, for a while. After completing my student teaching with elementary children in a high-needs urban school, which I have to admit I found very emotionally draining, I decided to accept a job teaching middle- and high-school students back in North Philadelphia — mostly English as a Second Language and World Literature.
Q. Did you like it?
A. Very much. Work at a public charter school I found really freeing since I was allowed to write my own teaching curriculum. So I taught for almost four years. Eventually, my husband and I decided to move out to the outer suburbs of Montgomery County. The long commute during my final year of teaching was difficult.
Q. Then what?
A. Well, a family friend who ran his own company came down with early-onset Alzheimer’s, so I stepped in to serve as the financial controller and help out. It was only supposed to be for six weeks, but I ended up doing it for two and a half years. My parents are both financial types, CPAs, so I guess that kind of work is in my blood!
Q. Tell us about your unique experience as a surrogate.
A. I think what makes my story different from most women who serve as gestational surrogates is that I, myself, have a history of infertility; so as a result, I have a pretty intimate understanding of what Intended Parents (IPs) go through, since I went through it myself, to some extent. I don’t know of any other gestational surrogates who have had a personal experience with the challenges of infertility.
Q. What, specifically, was your experience?
A. Well, I had an accidental pregnancy during my senior year in college, which ended in a miscarriage. In retrospect, perhaps that might have been an indication to me that I had some issues with carrying a child to term, I don’t know. Later that year I began dating my now husband, and we knew even before marrying that we wanted to have children together. He was aware of my prior miscarriage, but we started trying, hoping that it would just happen. We wanted kids very badly, and both before and after our marriage it simply wasn’t happening.
Q. Where did you turn?
A. After about 4 years of trying, unsuccessfully, we decided to go through IUI (Intrauterine Insemination, a fertility treatment that involves placing sperm inside a woman’s uterus to facilitate fertilization by increasing the number of sperm that reaches the fallopian tubes). We did that procedure several times, and it simply wasn’t working. It was emotional in and of itself, but my husband and I also weren’t particularly happy with the reproductive-medicine center we were using, so it wasn’t a great experience. We switched to Reproductive Medicine Associates (RMA) of Philadelphia, with whom we were very pleased — but the IUI still didn’t work for us. It was very defeating and depressing.
Q. What was your next option?
A. Eventually, we decided to try IVF which involves harvesting eggs, then combining eggs and sperm outside the body in a laboratory and, once an embryo forms, placing eggs in the uterus. We did it regretfully, because frankly it’s a pretty expensive procedure, and we could really only afford to do it once. This was even with substantial assistance from my mother and some from his parents as well. But for us, it worked. Our son Charlie is four years old now!
Q. So how did you get from dealing with your own infertility to deciding to serve as a gestational surrogate yourself? What was the impetus?
A. Like many couples, my husband and I found infertility to be an incredibly stressful, emotional thing to have to go through. When the IUI wasn’t working for us, and if the IVF hadn’t worked, I had been thinking about whether surrogacy would be an option for us. I had all the usual thoughts and questions about it: you know, what would it be like to watch someone else carry my child, could I handle that emotionally, etc.
After I successfully gave birth to my son, I couldn’t get out of my mind how many couples there are out there trying to build a family who simply aren’t as lucky as we were. It was almost like I wanted to “pay it forward” and help out another couple, I was so grateful at for being able to have my own child.
I wanted to share these feelings with my husband, but I didn’t know how he would react to the notion of my serving as a surrogate. When I mentioned it to him, sort of in passing, he thought about it for maybe five seconds and said let’s do it! My husband himself is adopted, so he has very specific feelings around the meaning of family, and its importance. But he was all in, and we started working with Meryl Rosenberg and ARTparenting.
Q. What brought you to ARTparenting?
A. I had spoken with a couple of other assisted reproductive technology advisers and providers, and frankly, I was kind of turned off by them. They were very focused on the compensation aspect. It seemed to be more about money than about the fact that serving as a surrogate is above all a way to help another family. I see it as a kind of calling.
But when I came across ARTparenting, everything was very different. ARTparenting kind of screams “boutique,” “caring,” “sensitivity.” My husband and I talked to Meryl, filled out the questionnaire, communicated our preferences — and it was an incredibly respectful, positive process. The one thing I was sure about was that I was sincere in my desire to help another couple build their family, and ARTparenting was a very good fit for me.
Q. Your own son must have been very young then.
A. Charlie would have been about 21 months when I started the process with the Intended Parents. Despite my history of infertility, I — like many surrogates — absolutely love being pregnant. I just treated the whole thing very normally and routinely with Charlie, and of course, communicated that this wasn’t a little brother or sister for him I was carrying — this was a baby going to another family. It was completely normal for him. Kids are so amazing that way, if you’re matter-of-fact about things and open in answering any questions they have.
Q. Tell us about the Intended Parents you were matched with.
A. The mom is a lawyer, and her husband is a CPA. From our first meeting, I could tell that the mom and I were very much alike — we’re both “introverted extroverts,” and a little “Type A.” She was initially a little guarded with me, but the more we got to know each other, the more she opened up to me. Throughout the pregnancy, we met for coffee and tea often, had occasional dinners as couples — they lived about 45 minutes from us. We’d go together to RMA in King of Prussia, PA for meetings and checkups during the first half of the pregnancy.
Then around four months, when things seemed pretty safe, I switched to going to a regular ObGyn, and so the Intended Parents weren’t seeing me as much. They called and texted and emailed, but they were always very respectful of my personal space. Whenever I was with her, though, I could almost feel the yearning — and my heart went out to her, remembering how painful it was for me when I was trying to have my first child. I have to say Meryl made a wonderful match between surrogates and Intended Parents in my case.
Q. Were they present for the birth?
A. Oh, absolutely. One of the things that IUI and IVF fertility treatments do (at least in my case) is they cause you to completely get over any self-consciousness you might have! So the Intended Parents were totally present in the delivery room, as they had been for every ultrasound along the way, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
With my son, my labor had been 30 hours from the time my water broke, and I needed to be induced. And with this baby, I also had to be induced, since the contractions weren’t starting after my water broke. But this time, amazingly, after only an hour or two, and just a few quick pushes, a baby girl was born. She was a big baby, over 9 lbs., compared to Charlie who was only 6 lbs. 12 oz. With the epidural, I was feeling great, as I watched them receive their baby into their arms. The delivery physician was saying to me, “I’m going to need to put in three or four stitches,” and I was like, “Whatever!” I was just so happy for them, smiling and focused on their happiness. This is an overused word, but it really was a very surreal experience.
Q. And the timeframe for all of this?
A. Well, I refer to meeting the Intended parents as our “blind date.” We had our blind date in October of 2014, did the embryo transfer in February of 2015, and Keira was born on October 29, 2015.
Q. Were there any problems or hurdles in the pregnancy?
A. Just one. I had a scary moment about nine or ten weeks in. I woke up in the middle of the night with some bleeding. I started to panic. My impulse was to call the Intended Parents and tell them what was going on, but my husband talked me off the ledge, and we called RMA. They suggested we come in first thing in the morning. My husband drove me to the doctor early the next morning and the IPs met us there, and things were fine — it was just a normal episode of occasional bleeding that happens early in some pregnancies.
Q. How is it that you were cleared as a surrogate when you had had a history of infertility?
A. Despite having a history of infertility, my pregnancy with my son Charlie was without complication and quite enjoyable. My fertility issues centered around poor egg and embryo quality. With gestational surrogacy, either donor eggs or the Intended Mother’s eggs are used. Therefore, my history was inconsequential and I met the qualifications.
Q. Do you keep in touch with the Intended Parents now?
A. Yes. We text each other several times a week, we got together last fall and took our kids to a farm to see the harvest here in New Jersey, and we visited the Academy of Natural Sciences together in Philadelphia — mainly because they’ve got nice, wide safe hallways there where their now toddler and my son could run and play! It’s a very nice friendship.
Q. In your view what is the most important thing a woman should consider when thinking about becoming a surrogate?
A. I think it’s being clear about just why you’re doing this. It absolutely cannot be all about the money. Every gestational surrogate I’ve ever talked with first of all loves being pregnant and the experience of giving birth — but they’re almost always in it as a way of doing something good for another human being. It has to be rewarding on some level other than the purely financial, or you shouldn’t be doing it. And I think it says a great deal about Meryl Rosenberg that that’s the kind of women that ARTparenting attracts to act as surrogates.
Q. And what would be your message for Intended Parents?
A. Because of the success I had with IVF, I feel like I was “rescued” from infertility in a way. I do harbor a pretty significant amount of guilt when I think of all of the Intended Parents out there for whom fertility treatments of various kinds haven’t worked. But above all, I would tell Intended Parents entering the surrogacy process to have hope, hard as that is. The process can be a very positive one, and at the center of it is forming a great relationship with the surrogate herself. Even if it doesn’t become a lifetime friendship, it’s a very special thing, that will involve a significant journey together. Connect with her on a human level, and try to find something that you have in common if you can.
I can tell you from personal experience that it’s one of the most rewarding things you can experience. For me, experiencing the challenges of fertility, then giving back by serving as a surrogate myself, brought my journey full circle. It’s something I feel very good about, and I will value the experience for the rest of my life.