I suppose they shouldn’t have come as a shock. I first visited the gynecologist as a teen, and the doctor who first noticed my reproductive abnormalities told me I “might” experience some challenges when I was ready to get pregnant. But as a teenager who was years away from caring about such things – dreading them in fact – I paid little attention.
Even as an adult who didn’t marry until my mid 30s, I remained blissfully oblivious to the meaning of that early diagnosis. It wasn’t until a year of trying to conceive and three failed rounds of IVF that it started to sink in. Every round led to more tests and additional findings…a blocked fallopian tube, fibroids, prematurely aging ovaries. And finally, those words.
I left the fertility clinic, called my husband and cried.
I realized that pregnancy – something that I’d always taken for granted – probably wasn’t in the cards for me. I was devastated. But as my head cleared, I tried to focus on the latter part of the conversation I’d had with the doctor. The part where he said, “You may want to consider surrogacy.”
After a long chat with my husband, we decided to investigate further. Throughout the IVF process, they’d managed to retrieve a number of eggs, which were fertilized, turned into embryos and frozen. In that sense, we had a head start on the process. The next step was finding someone to be our “oven.”
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Our fertility doctor referred us to a well regarded attorney who built her practice around reproductive law and matching surrogates with intended parents. One thing became immediately clear: it was a complex and expensive process. This was not some furtive, back room exchange….this was a rigorous procedure involving interviews, background checks, social workers, medical screenings, insurance and a lengthy legal contract. But if we were willing to push past the fear – of the process, and of the unfortunate stigma that still accompanies surrogacy – it would give us a chance to have a baby that was genetically ours. So we pressed on.
We were lucky to be matched almost immediately with a woman from Idaho that was responsible, sensitive and exceptionally kind. We met our surrogate in person for the first time about a half hour prior to the embryo transfer. We met her for the second time when we flew to her hometown for an ultrasound appointment. In between there were countless phone calls and emails. And then, one night we got the call we’d been waiting for.
We got on a flight as fast as we could but missed the birth of our daughter by about 45 minutes. My heart was beating fast when they wheeled our daughter into the hospital room. Flustered and overwhelmed, I looked at our surrogate and said, “Can I hold her?” Without missing a beat, she said, “Of course, she’s your baby.” 48 hours later, we boarded a plane and took our baby home.
That wasn’t the end.
The funny thing about surrogacy is that every state has different laws governing the process. When a child is born in the state of New Jersey, for example, genetics determine the birth parents regardless of who carries the baby. But the state of Idaho, where our baby was born, recognizes the mother as the person carrying the baby. So while my husband was recognized as our daughter’s rightful father, in order for me to be legally recognized as the mother I would have to “adopt” my own daughter.
First, our surrogate had to terminate her parental rights. Upon receiving that paperwork, I proceeded with a step-parent adoption. While relatively painless, it felt strange to have to adopt this little person that I’d cared for nonstop since birth. Finally, two days before our daughter’s first birthday, I was legally recognized as her mother. I felt relief knowing that no one could ever take her away from me. But I didn’t need a piece of paper to tell me that I was her mom. Like my own mother said when I was considering going through this whole process in the first place, “When that baby arrives, it’s not going to matter how you became a mom.”
She was right.