Guest post by Jen Holt

Jen lives in Utah with her husband and 4 children

(note: with Gestational Surrogacy, the egg of the mother is donated by the intended parents or an egg donor and the resulting baby has no genetic ties to the surrogate. Traditional surrogacy uses the surrogate mother’s egg. However, traditional surrogacy is exceptionally uncommon as a result of advancements in fertility treatment. It is also considered unduly problematic and controversial because of genetic attachment to the surrogate. For gestational surrogacy, IVF is used to retrieve the egg, create an embryo, and also to prepare and transfer to the surrogate’s womb, i.e. both the egg donor and surrogate need to participate in the IVF process in gestational surrogacy, and both women are usually required to be on the same cycle, which means both women take birth control pills in order to prepare for IVF.)

Twelve years ago my aunt was struggling with infertility. It was heartbreaking for me to see her suffer a loss with an ectopic pregnancy then having many failed IVF attempts after that. I offered to donate my eggs or carry for her because I felt so strongly that she was a mother. That was the plan until she ended up getting pregnant on her fifth IVF attempt. She now has healthy quadruplets. Still, I began to dream of helping another family.

I already had a son from a previous relationship when I started to date my husband. I met him at the time my aunt was going through her infertility treatments. On our second date, I mentioned I would be a gestational surrogate one day. We hadnʼt even talked about our future at that point. I sometimes wonder why he asked me out again. But he did. After we married and I had three non-complicated pregnancies, our family felt complete. I no longer had the desire to have another baby of my own but the feeling of “pregnancy hunger” never went away. I knew that my ability to get pregnant and have easy pregnancies was not for me— it was for another family or families. I started to tell everyone I wanted to carry for someone else, but I had a powerful urge to move forward was when my baby girl turned a year old in 2010.

After years of dreaming, I finally picked up the phone to find out where to start. I called a local fertility clinic and said “I want to be a gestational carrier. Where do I start?” The nurse told me I needed to advertise or go to a surrogacy clinic out of state. I remember thinking “Advertise? Where? On a billboard and say something like ‘need a uterus? call me!’”. I was at total loss on how to move forward until she mentioned a local reproductive lawyer. I called him right away. I was so pumped to get started. When I called him he was very helpful to give me my options. I could go through a surrogacy agency out of state and would most likely carry for a family that lived out of state. I could advertise through a classified ad. Thank goodness no billboard sign!

He then mentioned that he had a database of gestational carriers and intended parents looking for carriers that local IVF clinics would refer to him. I liked the idea of having a family in the same state. At the time he didnʼt have Intended Parents (IPs- the term in surro-speak for the couple that can’t carry a pregnancy) looking but sent over a questionnaire for me to fill out, then he would keep it in his database. I started to fill out the papers but kept feeling like they needed to be perfect so I set them aside and before I knew it was six months later.

I called this lawyer back to ask him more questions. He said he remembered talking to me previously, and that he had a family looking. Was I interested in sending my paperwork over? I had those papers done in an hour. Oh! the anxiety hit! What if this family picks me? How long is it going to take? This could be it, Jen.

The next day he emailed me and said the family is interested in talking to me. I was jumping as I tried to tell him calmly, “Yes please give them my information.” Later that night, a number I didnʼt recognize came up on my phone. When I answered, there were two friendly voices of a man and a woman that wanted to be a mom and dad. We decided to meet at the local Cheesecake Factory a few days later. We hit it off and they asked me to carry their child. At the time I would have carried for anyone. I wanted to help someone that bad!

My husband was so amazing and knew how important this was to me. He believed in me and would always say “whatever you want, dear”. He thought the family was nice and supported my decision to move forward. We called them before we left the parking lot of the Cheesecake Factory and told them “I would be honored to carry for them.” We started the process right away. I had to do a medical evaluation to make sure I was in tip-top shape. A psychological evaluation to make sure I was crazy enough to be a carrier. Then came all of the paperwork to make it all legal. Once we got a judge to sign approval, and I passed all my tests it was time to start IVF.

I was so faithful to make sure I did every shot and pill right on time. As we were getting closer to the IP’s egg retrieval and the transfer date, I started to get monitored. I walked in with the Intended Mother (IM) to have an ultrasound and the clinic tells me my uterus lining is too thin (meaning the embryo, if transferred, would have little chance of “sticking” to create a pregnancy). They did my blood work and told me to keep taking the drugs and “weʼll give it a couple more days.” Two days later, my lining was still too thin. They decided to do the “egg retrieval” from the IM, but we would not be able to transfer the embryo to me.

I was crushed. Iʼve never had an issue getting pregnant. “Why am I the one failing this family now?” I asked myself. I felt like maybe they would dump me or that I would never get to carry for someone else again. How can this happen? I was an emotional wreck. The clinic calmly said, “we will try a natural un-medicated cycle and we will freeze the embryos in the meantime.”

A couple of months later my uterus proved to be happier with no medications (a natural IVF cycle). I had a thick uterine lining and was ready for transfer! We transferred two embryos. Four days later, I peed on a stick. There were two lines. I couldnʼt believe it. A miracle was growing inside of me and it wasnʼt my baby! Twelve days later, I had a very strong beta number! That means I was pregnant…. but was it with one…. or two babies. Two weeks later we had our ultrasound and a very cute strong heartbeat. I have to say I was relieved there was one baby. I then felt strongly I could carry and grow this strong little heartbeat.

Being Pregnant with someone elseʼs baby was so different from my carrying my own. Not physically. I still got the stretch marks and the dreaded big butt. But emotionally, I was caught off guard. I felt detached. I would forget I was pregnant. People would ask “how far along are you?” I would stop to think for a moment… then say “oh ya Iʼm 30 weeks pregnant”. I knew this baby knew I loved him, but I felt strongly that he already knew who his mommy was. He knew I was just a vessel to help him grow into who he is supposed to be. I was his temporary babysitter. I felt that he was so grateful for me sacrificing my stretch marks and big butt. I was caring for him, but only for this short time.

When people that knew me or had just met me would ask about my pregnancy it was fun to answer their questions about surrogacy. My husband especially loved the reactions. He loved to respond with, “It’s not mine”. He would have the most straight face until I would say, “It’s not mine, either.”  Then the questions came. “Wow, How can you do that?” “Is it going to be hard to give up the baby?” “How much do surrogates get paid? (!)” Iʼve even been asked, “Did you sleep with the dad?” The questions donʼt really bother me. I know if Iʼd just met a gestational surrogate and I had not before, that Iʼd be curious too.

But to answer all those questions:

No. It is not hard at all to give the baby to their family. The baby is not mine. I had prepared myself for giving the baby back to the real parents long before I decided to be a surrogate. When you see your IPs happiness, handing them their baby it is the most rewarding sacrifice of all.

When others ask about being paid I want to answer with “how much do you get paid (at your job)?” I did this for love, not for money. I know surrogacy is not for everyone, and in the minds of others, they need to see how someone could do this. But the money part differs from person to person, agency to agency. This is the one thing I struggle with. Before I started this journey I wanted to carry for free but as I saw the time put into it and time away from my family and the strain on my husband and my body I realized I am being gifted for pain, suffering, and sacrifice and it was the least the family could do to help my family for giving them such a huge gift.

Last but not least, no I did not sleep with the father. These babies are not biologically mine. I am a gestational carrier or gestational surrogate. A gestational carrier/surrogate eggs will come from the mommy or a donor. In the state that I live in, Traditional Surrogacy is illegal.

From the most part, I have had amazing reactions from all my family, family, neighbors, church friends, and leaders. Everyone has been extremely supportive, helpful and have been my rock through this whole journey. People who donʼt know me treat me as if Iʼm some big Hollywood star and are always impressed. Although I love to see others reactions and sweet comments, I am not a star. I am lucky and honored to have been given this opportunity in my life.

I do feel that it is one of my callings in life and that my uterus has been given a gift of health to bring these special spirits here. I love my calling in life and will forever cherish the ability I have been given to help others. I know we all have gifts to share with others and this is mine.

I delivered a baby boy in April of 2012 to my first IPs.  I am currently 22 weeks pregnant with my second journey for a different family. I am so excited to witness a miracle coming in April or May 2014!

Staci Swiderski, CEO and owner of Family Source Consultants has been involved in the field of reproductive medicine since 2002. Staci has vigorously grown the comprehensive egg donation and gestational surrogacy agency to become a worldwide leader in the third-party reproduction field. Staci is a former intended parent herself. She and her husband welcomed their son via gestational surrogacy in 2005. Additionally, Staci had the experience of assisting an infertile couple (AKA Recipient Parents) build their family through her efforts as an egg donor, with her donation resulting in the births of their son and daughter.