Sitting in front of her computer a few years back, Liz found herself, almost inexplicably, googling “surrogacy.” A mother of two at the time, she had no desire to bring home her own newborns, but she had an “emotional push to do something for someone that they could not do for themselves.”
After a bit of research and a year and a half later, Liz and her husband, Adam, decided the time was right. Months later Liz was a pregnant surrogate mother – of twins.
I chatted with her the other day about becoming surrogate mother, her pregnancy, having twins and what everyone wants to know – what it was like to hand the babies over to the parents.
Here is a bit of what she had to say:
There are two kinds of surrogate mothers.
I was a gestational carrier.
What does that mean?
It is simply – the oven. There is no genetic tie between the mother and the baby or babies. It is the parents’ genetic material or donor material in one way or another depending on the needs of the family.
They had frozen embryos. It was their genetic material. There was no donor involved. I was just the carrier.
Would you have done it if they wanted to use your genetic material?
I don’t think so. Most agencies won’t allow it. My assumption is it is because of the legal implications. People do that a lot more for family members. In my opinion, agencies should not let them do it. There is the Baby M story and how that impacted surrogacy. That whole thing was a surrogate that had the surrogate mother’s genetic material and the dad’s sperm. She carried the baby, and then she did not want to give the baby up. Understandably so, it was her genetic material. Personally, I could not do that. Even for someone I know.
Legally could you have said, “I am going to keep them.”
In Colorado, no. The agency I work with only works in states that has laws that support surrogacy.
There was one story where a woman on the East Coast was a surrogate, not with her genetic material. They found that the baby was going to have significant life threatening issues and would most likely not live beyond the birth, and the parents decided they want to terminate the pregnancy, but the surrogate wouldn’t do it.
When talking about terminating the pregnancy, there is actually additional financial compensation involved. In the article, they presented it as the parents tried to buy her off, tried to offer her more money. The parents said they would provide her with additional money, I think $5000 dollars, and then she said something like, “How about $10,000?” And then she backed out of that, and moved to a state, I think Michigan, where the laws are not as surrogacy friendly.
Then baby was born, of course, very sick. At the time of the article, the baby was still alive but had significant medical issues that needed significant medical resources, and she ended up putting the baby up for adoption. She found a family to adopt someone else’s baby. I couldn’t even believe that could possibly happen.
How long was it between deciding you wanted to do this and having the babies?
It was about a year and a few months. That was lightning speed in the world of surrogacy. For most women it is more like two years before they deliver babies, and for some women it is even longer. Different women have had different experiences.
We were so lucky because everything was textbook. Every doctor’s appointment was good and every appointment was uneventful – which is really how you want it to be.
In picking a couple to be matched with, did you have criteria?
You go through a whole application process and an interview. The agency works through a lot with you. It is essentially a counseling session to make sure you know what you are committing yourself to, and that you are comfortable with it. They ask questions about your views on carrying multiples and on reducing if you have multiples if the family does not want multiples.
They have come up with every worst case scenario that can happen in a pregnancy, and they ask you to weigh in on these. They do the same thing with the parents.
They send the parents surrogate profiles. The parents knew everything about me before we met. The parents decide who they want to meet with. If they do want to meet, the agency sets up a meeting, and then you go through all of those same questions in the room with the parents and the counselor. This helps you find out if you have significant differences philosophically or religiously.
They describe the first meeting as somewhere between a first date and a job interview. In one hour you go from where did you grow up and what do you do for a living to deep, deep philosophical issues such as “If you were pregnant with triplets, and we wanted to reduce by one how would you feel about that?” or “What if the baby was going to be disfigured?” or “What if the baby had a life threatening condition where they will not survive outside of the womb?” You go through all of that in an hour, and then you are both sent home and told to call them tomorrow to tell them if you want to do it.
You only get one hour to talk to the couple you are going to be matched with? Is that sufficient?
Yes, you only get one hour. It is a little crazy.
What appealed to you about the couple you decided to match with?
One of the things that stuck out is that they were both involved. She has a medical condition. It was very clear that her husband had been very involved. It stuck out to me because it was an indicator that he wanted to be equally a part of the process. That was important because I knew that Adam wanted to be a part of the process. It would have been difficult to be matched with a couple where the dad was a little less involved.
Adam and I talked a lot about it the night after we met them. Adam was like, “What if they are lacking? What if they are overly involved? What if they are crazy?” In the end what we talked about is, “Maybe they are,” but that doesn’t mean they deserve it any less. If it came down to it we could bite our tongues for 9 months.
Let’s say they were crazy. Could you have emotionally gone through with giving these twins to crazy people?
For one, the support of the agency means that they have had all the same psychological evaluations that we have had. Crazy is kind of a relative term. To me it was more about, “What if they were overly involved? What if they were telling me what to eat? What if they were so hyper-anxious, and they needed to tell us what to do, what to eat, texting us every five minutes?”
Was it agreed upon between you and the parents how you would act while you were pregnant?
The relationship that develops is really up to the parties. In some cases there are parents that are very involved. I have heard stories about requests that I would not have thought of.
What are some of the crazier request you have heard?
Like what kind of house paint the surrogate is allowed to use inside of the contract [time]. It is coming from a place of concern for their unborn children, but I felt very fortunate. A couple of times throughout the pregnancy they brought a gift, or if we hit a milestone they would bring us a Whole Foods Gift Card. I did yoga the whole time throughout the pregnancy, and they never said I should be doing it, or that I should be doing more of something else.
Were there any requests or restrictions they put on you?
No, everything in our contract was very straightforward.
What kinds of things are included in the surrogacy contract?
What they are responsible for covering as far as costs and what my responsibilities were. I was signing to say I would not drink, smoke, do drugs – things that seem pretty self-explanatory. There are also details at certain milestones such as at what point do different legal documents need to be created. At 24 weeks, I had to sign the Birth Order which pretty much says I am the one that is going to be giving birth to these babies, but I am not the one responsible for their care.
Did any conflict come up during the 40 weeks?
Not really. We were so, so fortunate.
How many times did you see the family during the pregnancy?
They were at every appointment and with twins that is a lot of appointments. There was maybe one appointment that they missed.
How much are you paid to be a surrogate mother?
The base compensation, I think, works out to be about $24,000, and then there are different factors. I worked with ConceiveAbilities. On their website they list the compensation structure. There is no room for negotiation on one side or the other. There are different things after the base compensation that you are paid for such as: after the transfer you are paid a stipend; if you have an invasive procedure there is additional compensation. There is a fee structure. Everything has a fee attached to it. Your compensation is a combination of whatever your situation turns out to be.
Were you paid extra for twins?
I believe I was paid $5000 for the twins. If it is your second or third time around you are also paid a little more.
Was money, at all, a motivation in this?
The money determined the “when” but not the “if”. I knew I wanted to do it. Both of us had had the conversation a 1000 times over before deciding to actually do it.
I imagine there must have been a spectrum of a reaction to you being a surrogate mother.
It was a little bit of everything. There were the internal family reactions and the external. I was shocked on the external level at how many people from women of all walks of life, from 25 to 65, who either said, “I always wanted to do that.” or “I know someone who did that.” or “I almost did that for a friend.” People seemed to have a personal connection with surrogacy. That to me was really fascinating.
Did you have any negative reactions?
I think early on, within the family, there were a couple of folks who didn’t quite get it. They didn’t understand how I could do it, or how I could give away something I had carried for so long, to which I would respond, “It is not mine to give away. It is not my genetics.”
In the beginning there was definitely fuzziness around what it would mean, and what kind of toll it would take on my family. Some people in my family struggled with what we were going to do.
You mentioned your husband was initially hesitant about you being a surrogate mother.
He was concerned about how invasive it would be in terms of physically and in our life. We were basically bringing other people in our life in a very personal way, and we didn’t know what that would look like. I think he was hesitant about what the impact it would have on our relationship, on me physically, about what the kids would get out of it, or how they would understand it.
How does it feel when you have to give up the babies?
Pretty good. [Laughing] Once we knew it was twins, I knew I would be good. All the emotions and the state of mind I was in when the babies were born and transferring them to the parents, all of that turned out exactly how I would have anticipated. You never know until the day comes, but I always felt I would fine.
I did not have any interest in bringing newborns home – not one and certainly not two. I did not have any sense of ownership over them.
In fact, at one point during the pregnancy something happened where I was bleeding a lot. I thought I lost one or both of the babies. The reaction I had to that was much more procedural than it was emotional. If I was pregnant with my own babies – and I thought I lost one – I would have lost it.
The babies were fine. But I said to Adam that experience was, for me, the realization that I did not have that strong emotional parental attachment to them.
You don’t have a mother-child bond with them?
There is a definitely a family bond, but I don’t think of it as a mother–child bond. I took very good care of them when I was pregnant. I kept them safe.
Will you see them in the future?
We text all the time. We saw them every couple of weeks before we left Denver. Since we have been gone they have gone to visit my parents. They have said since the very first meeting that they want us to be a part of the babies’ lives. They wanted them to understand this process.
There were never feelings of loss when you delivered and the twins were given to the parents?
No. It was harder when six months later we decided we were going to come here [to Puerto Rico]. We had built a relationship around being close to them. I knew we would still be able to stay in touch. We text once or twice a week if not more. We Skyped on their birthday. We are definitely still in touch.
They really look forward to us coming back and being able to hang out in person. I am very careful to limit the conversations about, “Here is what I did as a mom.” I am very conscious of not doing that with her. I don’t want to feel like I am crossing any boundaries.
What will the twins call you?
I don’t know. We haven’t really talked about. I think probably Liz. They are family but without any particular name. My sons think about them as part of the family.
What if suddenly they started raising the twins in a way you really disagreed with? Do you have the space to say something? Would you?
I don’t think so. I think it is part of the whole mentality of ownership. I don’t have any place telling them how to raise their kids anymore than I do telling my neighbor. If it is something I would say to a friend, maybe it is something I would say to them. They stepped back and trusted me through the whole pregnancy process, and I don’t think it would be fair not to give them the same respect.
Would you do it again?
That is the question of the hour. I don’t know. I have said that if they ever came back to me and said they wanted another kid I would consider it. But I am pretty sure that is never going to happen. One of the things I can reflect so positively on is how well my body worked with their genetic material.
Do you get maternity leave?
It depends on the employer, mine was very generous. It was a six week leave. They let me transition back in slowly. It was a new frontier for them on the HR front.
Who is being a surrogate mother not for?
It is definitely not for someone who has not had their own kids. Emotionally you need to be able to let go before you even start and physically you need to know you can do it. I think it is not for anyone who can’t be laid back about the process. It is not for anyone who is really Type A who needs to know everything that will happen every step of the way.
Anything else you would like to add?
I think that one of the questions that came up a lot early on is concern over what it will do to our kids. There were a couple of times where people questioned whether or not I was doing something that would have a lasting negative impact on my kids.
We as adults have had enough experiences to process what we think is a “normal” way to have children, but for my kids, this is part of them developing their worldview of how we come together as families.
They never really questioned it. It became part of what they know about how families come together. They love and adore the babies. They have never asked to bring them home. I am sure they are very happy they did not come home. [Laughing] They know they are part of the family, and I think they will always see them like that. They had nicknames for them learn early on, and I think it is a really important lesson for kids to learn that families come together in many different ways, and this is just another one of them.
To read Liz’s wonderful blog about her experience as a surrogate mother and her ongoing experiences since visit: http://lizkhenry.com/
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