Surrogacy (which essentially refers to a woman conceiving, carrying and birthing a baby who will be raised by someone else) is becoming more common, but the truth is, not many of us know much about what really goes into it. The process of becoming a surrogate isn’t short or straightforward — and while no two surrogacy experiences are exactly the same, we wanted to learn more about what generally goes into this setup.
We spoke with a woman who has acted as a gestational surrogate for another couple, and she was willing to share the details of her experience, from what made her want to pursue surrogacy to how she hopes to stay in the baby she carried’s life. No questions were off-limits here: Since this isn’t a topic that gets a ton of attention, we wanted to know about all the ins and outs of surrogacy…from how this surrogate conceived another couple’s child, to how she managed to avoid becoming attached to the baby she carried. Read on for her story.
Monica + Andy: What led you to surrogacy?
Crystal Henry: When I was having my own babies, I was pregnant with twins. I lost that pregnancy at about 12 weeks and after I lost that pregnancy, it took me several months to get pregnant again — which is not a long time in infertility world, but it felt like a very long time for me. I remember when I was trying to get pregnant, I was questioning if my body could carry a pregnancy. Would I ever be a mother? Could I ever have a baby? I ended up getting pregnant with my daughter and we had her. When she was about two and a half, I got pregnant with her sister and we had her. Our family was complete, but I was a little bummed because I really loved being pregnant.
M+A: How did this lead to you become a surrogate?
CH: A friend of mine from high school had had several miscarriages and she reached out to me just as someone to talk to. She had two ectopic pregnancies, and one of them took one of her fallopian tubes Her doctor said ‘look, you won’t conceive naturally.’ I told her ‘I’m dead serious. I loved being pregnant, you’re my friend, I would definitely carry your baby.’ [but she ended up pursuing IVF instead]. At that point, I had really wrapped my head around being a surrogate [so I started working with an agency to find another couple who needed one].
M+A: What was the process of actually getting pregnant like?
CH: The woman [I matched with via the agency] had had cancer. She’d had a hysterectomy but she still had her ovaries — she had three egg retrievals. They got 10 embryos, but only one of the embryos made it. I went through a medicated cycle where I had daily injections and oral estrogen pills. We transferred [the embryo] and the transfer took…I got pregnant and then we miscarried that baby. It was so strange: When I had my personal miscarriage with my twins, I was completely devastated. When I miscarried their baby, it was just a different sadness. I was only sad for them.
M+A: What came next?
CH: They got an egg donor and I went through a natural IVF cycle— they tricked my body into thinking the embryo they put in was my own, pretty much. They only thing I had to do for that was progesterone suppositories — no injections. You go in and they use a syringe and a tube and pretty much suck the baby out of the petri dish and put it right in your uterus.
M+A: Were you nervous you’d get attached to the baby?
CH: I wasn’t. I don’t know if that’s just a surrogate thing. Some people know they can be nurses, some people know they can be teachers. It helped that the baby wasn’t biologically related to me at all. It was someone else’s egg, somebody else’s sperm. I was just growing it. You’re not picking out baby names, you’re not decorating a nursery. Some days I would forget I was even pregnant because I wasn’t planning for a baby. It’s just like a babysitting. It’s extreme babysitting.
M+A: Were the parents worried you’d get attached?
CH: They’re called IPs — intended parents. I never felt like mine worried about it. There was one point where we discussed [what would happen if I delivered before they reached the hospital]. They requested for the baby to go to the nursery if they weren’t there — I think that was because they wanted to have the first moments with her.
M+A: What was your relationship with the IPs like?
CH: It was good. You typically discuss what kind of relationship you want. I wanted a friendship, not a business arrangement. I wanted to keep in touch, I wanted open communication. There are some surrogates who just want a business transaction, and there are some IPs that feel that way too. Most reputable agencies will have you go through counseling and you lay out all those expectations so that nobody’s feelings get hurt. I did tell them I would like to be friends, and I feel like we were. We still keep in touch. The baby I delivered is two-and-a-half and I just got a video of her from her dad. We don’t see each other all that often but we still see each other maybe once or twice a year.
M+A: Do the parents ever plan on telling her about you?
CH: They said they do. It’s a personal thing. I don’t know how I feel about it — I guess if I’m honest, I really hope they tell her. I would love to get to know her and be like ‘hey, my little belly buddy’ and have a distant aunt relationship with her. But I don’t feel like they’re obligated to. I don’t know how I’d be in that situation.
M+A: What advice would you have for other women who would like to be surrogates?
CH: Talk to other surrogates. There are Facebook groups that are great sources of information. Those are great places to start…and find a good agency. My agency was amazing. They walked us through everything, things you wouldn’t even know you needed to do.
M+A: What’s the hardest part of the whole process?
CH: Oh my gosh, the waiting! The pregnancy was the smallest part of the journey. You have to have so much patience when you’re matching, getting contracts done, getting your medications, all of your appointments. Everything that happens before you get pregnant is the longest part. Start to finish it was a two-year process.
M+A: What was the best part?
CH: Delivery. I still get choked up. It was beautiful. The parents asked ‘can we be in the delivery room?’ and I said ‘absolutely. You’re the parents.’ As soon her head was out, the dad delivered her and the baby did her first skin-to-skin with the mom where she lay in bed next to me. It was so beautiful. It was amazing.