I am the owner and creator behind Whimsicals Paperie, a company all about connection, intentionality, joy, and beauty in the everyday little things -- and I found surrogacy to be much the same. As a business owner I want to not only share about the company, but also share personal stories that share those values. We could all use a bit more beauty, joy and connection in our lives, and I hope this story brings some of that to yours. If you haven't yet read Part 1, you can do that here.
Beginning a surrogacy journey can feel complex and overwhelming for both surrogates and intended parents (IPs). Thankfully there are people all along the way whose job it is to make these steps easy to understand. A few of the many required steps for our situation included testing and obtaining medical clearance from a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE) for me, psychological clearances for myself, my husband and for Carrie, a contract in place using specialized reproductive attorneys, and obtaining donated embryos.
Once we had taken all the necessary medical and legal steps required, we were ready to begin the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF). As mentioned in Part 1, Carrie's desire was to add to her family with the help of embryo donation (you can read more about embryo donation here.) As I thought about surrogacy, the medications and hormones - most specifically the injections - was what I felt most nervous about. I've always been fearful of needles and knew that in order to be a surrogate, I would need daily injections for months. It was both my husband, Drew, and my daughter, Selah, that gave me strength to continue to pursue surrogacy in the face of those injections. Drew told me early on that he would be happy to give me the injections if I couldn't. He didn't tell me until after the med cycle that he would've hated giving me shots, but had told me he would be happy to do it so that I wouldn't be as nervous. Selah has endured more shots, procedures and surgeries in her life so far than most people experience in a lifetime. The med cycle became another surprisingly beautiful part of the process for me personally because my daughter, and her courage in the face of medical complexities, gave me the strength to pursue something that required facing a lifelong fear in order to achieve. I overcame my fear of needles by doing many of the injections myself, which was deeply empowering. Selah also loved helping. She learned the whole process of drawing up the medications to cleaning my skin and giving the injections. It was healing for her to be on the other side of the needle.
My daughter giving me one of my IVF injections.
Recipients of IVF follow a strict cycle involving medications in the form of pills, patches and injections - most taking place at home. There is also frequent blood and lab work as well as regular ultrasounds and monitoring through a fertility clinic. The fertility clinic that Carrie was established with ended up being just a few minutes from our home, so that made appointments easy and quick. Many surrogates need to drive for hours or even fly to a different state to reach the intended parent's fertility clinic.
My med cycle chart outlining pills, patches, injections and appointments.
Everything needs to be just right in order to transfer an embryo to a uterus and to give the embryo the best chance at implanting and developing. If everything goes smoothly, most med cycles begin about 6 weeks before the embryo transfer and then continue through most of the first trimester of pregnancy. We were fortunate and thankful that the first med cycle and subsequent embryo transfer resulted in implantation and continued into a successful pregnancy.
I was pleasantly surprised that the hormones and med cycle didn't affect me as much as I was anticipating. The hardest part for me was the progesterone injections. Injectable progesterone is suspended in oil, which is thick. Most people develop knots and bruises from progesterone in oil shots, and my family and I would laugh about me limping around the house with my sore hips and booty. It shocked me that the shots themselves almost never hurt (I gave myself every single progesterone injection!), but I did have visible lumps (and a visible limp) for a number of weeks.
One of the reasons that I pursued surrogacy was because I really enjoyed being pregnant with my daughter. I felt good most of the time and just marveled at the whole process. I knew that I didn't want more children, but felt it would be amazing to carry a child for someone who couldn't. The most common question that I was asked during this process was how I would feel handing the baby over to someone else when it was born. Would I get attached while pregnant? What about the bond between me and the baby? Would I be sad when he went home with his mother? How will you give up the baby? The answers to these questions always felt simple to me. I knew from the beginning that this wouldn't be my baby. He was never mine to begin with and I felt so honored to be able to provide a safe place for him to grow until he could be with his family. I wasn't going to have to give up anyone...I was going to be able to give him back. I enjoyed the pregnancy just like I did with my daughter, but it absolutely felt different. I loved this baby, felt protective of him, and looked forward to meeting him--but I never felt or wished he was mine. I just enjoyed the process of giving him a place to be as he formed and grew. It's still wild to me that I grew a human that is in no way related to me genetically. Science, pregnancy and life are all so amazing, intricate and complex.
Belly pics at 20, 26 and 38 weeks of pregnancy.
My pregnancy went smoothly and was complication free. Due to the pandemic, Carrie's work schedule, and her living a few hours away, she would video chat in to important prenatal appointments rather than attend in person, and I would regularly send her update photos and ultrasound pictures. Because I work from home and this process happened during the restrictions of pandemic life, it was easy to stay healthy and even keep the pregnancy a secret for quite some time. Carrie is a private person, and even more than that, she wants her new baby son to be able to grow up to tell his own story rather than it be known before he has a chance to decide what he wants to tell. I knew going into this process that I wanted my circle to be small to start off with. Because the process was so complex, long, and personal, I chose to wait to tell almost anyone until I was 12 weeks pregnant, and I waited until 20 weeks to share with a wider circle of people. As I went on it became more and more fun to share - I think in part because my experience with surrogacy, Carrie, and this pregnancy was so wonderful. I enjoyed sharing the ins and outs of surrogacy with people, answering questions, and giving the perspective of my experience. Some of my favorite interactions were those when I was out with my husband. When it was beyond obvious that I was pregnant, people would congratulate us, and I loved sharing that it wasn't our baby. My husband, Drew, would also jump in and talk about how proud he was of me and how great it was. Without fail people's faces lit up with joy, surprise and often even with tears. Those moments felt like shared humanity and connection in a season of so much grief and where we all were staying physically distant and missing the normal routines of life.
One of my other favorite things of this process was sharing the experience with my family. My husband and daughter were both completely supportive and excited to come along on the journey. Drew spoiled me with late night snacks when I was hungry, jumping up and helped me out of bed when I had to get up and pee 4+ times a night, and took over many of the household duties that were previously mine so that I could continue working, and then resting, when I needed it. Selah loved watching me do my injections as well as doing many herself. She always said she couldn't wait until I was so big that I waddled and found it hilarious when I was big enough that I grunted and groaned every time I had to stand up. She helped me put on my shoes when I had trouble reaching my feet. A huge part of what made this experience so special was the support of Drew and Selah. It was an amazing time of excitement and brought some variety and newness to our lives while we were all at home with each other everyday in pandemic lockdown.
Left - A 12:30 a.m. surprise platter of food from Drew during a particularly ravenous stage of pregnancy
Right - Selah drawing a mural on my belly
There are still quite a few misconceptions around surrogacy and why people on both sides (surrogates and intended parents) pursue it. I wanted and continue to want to share insight into those misconceptions. I am surrounded by friends who have dealt with fertility issues and pregnancy losses, and the grief that comes stems from those experiences. Being a surrogate felt like one small thing I could do in this world that would make a difference for a person in that situation - to help bring hope and life to someone wanting to add to their family who wasn't able to in the traditional way. If I could, I would do it over and over again.
Next time - birth, delivery and after. Read Part 3 here.
Thank you for joining me. If you have questions about the process or story, please let me know and leave a comment. I'm so happy to talk about this experience and in writing I am trying to answer a lot of questions that people have asked me at different points along the way. If you are wondering something, someone else probably is too! Let me know and I'll do my best to address it either in the comments or in the upcoming blogs.