My name is Jessica, and I’m a Client Relations Manager with Family Source Consultants. I’m the proud mother of a one-year-old who was born with the help of an FSC gestational surrogate. Now I want to help others the way that FSC was able to help me.

My husband and I struggled for about six years to conceive, with years of infertility investigations and IVF.  During IVF, I responded well to the medicine, and we ended up with 5 amazing-looking blastocysts, but all of our transfers failed. The way that I try to describe it was as if I was throwing darts up against a steel board; there was nothing we could do to make them take. Our diagnosis was “unexplained infertility with repetitive implantation failure”, which is just a fancy way of saying that the doctors didn’t know why it wasn’t working. That was the most frustrating part and took a huge emotional and mental toll.

We were fortunate that the first cycle we did was funded by the NHS (National Health Service) in Scotland, where we were living. If you meet the eligibility criteria, you can get a certain number of cycles on the NHS, which is amazing, but you can also have a long waiting period before starting. All-in-all our round of IVF was a 2.5 year process, from getting on the waitlist to the last embryo transfer. It was so emotionally draining that we had to take a step back and decide for our own mental health what would be the best way forward for us to continue building our family. Even though some doctors said we should continue trying, the emotional aspect was too much of a burden. It was weighing too heavily on us in our everyday lives to continue trying without any changes – and unfortunately, there weren’t any changes that the doctors could recommend. So we decided to pursue a surrogacy journey.

Who first mentioned surrogacy to you?

I think it was my mom, actually! I live in England, but I’m originally from the US. I think surrogacy in America doesn’t have the stigma that can sometimes be attached to it in the UK. Many celebrities have had children through the surrogacy process. So it’s a little bit more commonly discussed and perhaps on the radar a bit more as an alternative way to build your family.

Of course, we considered other options. Do we continue with IVF? Do we adopt? Or do we pursue surrogacy? That conversation started once we had gone through all five embryos and were deciding which path to take next.

Do you remember how you felt when you realized that you would then have to change your path?

In some ways, it was a relief actually, because I was feeling quite hopeless at that time.

We had been dealing with our infertility journey, the constant visits to the hospital, the stress, medications, planning for the next transfer, and so on for years at that point.  Our infertility clinic was one floor up from the maternity ward at the local hospital. I had weekly or even daily appointments and would have to constantly walk by pregnant women about to give birth (occasionally standing outside the door smoking!), which really didn’t help my emotional state.

The feeling of hopelessness escalated, especially when we got to our last transfer. The doctors didn’t advise us to do anything differently since, according to their statistics, we should have been pregnant, it should have worked, something should have happened. In their words, it was a “numbers game,” which maybe was meant to be encouraging but wasn’t. By that point, I never expected a transfer to work.

When we started considering surrogacy, it finally felt like there was something we could do to change the outcome. The feelings of helplessness and hopelessness began to lift… once we realized that there was a different path we could pursue, it actually felt quite powerful.

a surrogacy story: jessica’s journey to motherhood

How did you find FSC?

Once we decided to investigate surrogacy, we immediately hopped online and started Googling. We came up with a list of agencies that we wanted to speak to, and Family Source Consultants was one of them.

I’m originally from suburban Chicago. We were visiting my family for the holidays, and I had arranged for my husband and me to speak with another agency. There was a snowstorm, and the person who was supposed to meet with us — this was going to be the first person outside of my family that I was going to speak to about surrogacy, the first professional, the first agency — canceled instead of asking one of their colleagues to do it, which was incredibly frustrating as we were only in Chicago for another 2 days! I remember scrambling around trying to find another agency on my list as we really wanted to speak with someone in person. FSC got back to me straight away and said, “Absolutely! We can make time to see you tomorrow.”

We went in and spoke with Staci Swiderski, FSC’s Founder and CEO. She had a son through surrogacy 14 years ago. After her own experience with an agency, she decided that there was a better way to do it and founded FSC. We went and met her on a snowy, frigid weekday in Chicago. But we left the meeting elated because it felt like there was a positive path forward.

We obviously spoke with a number of agencies before making our final decision. It’s a process, very much like trying to find the right IVF clinic for yourself. You should do your due diligence. You want to get referrals and recommendations. But from the start, we had such a great experience with FSC and the staff there. One of the most attractive elements was that so many of the staff members have been Intended Parents, surrogates, donors, involved personally somehow. I felt extraordinarily comfortable knowing that not only would it be an incredibly professional agency to do this journey with, but that the people there would understand the emotional aspects of this path that we were taking.

Did you have any fears?

The biggest fear was that it wouldn’t work. It was a relief to be able to do something different, to take back a bit of control, but there was also an underlying fear that maybe we’re just not meant to be parents. Maybe there’s something intrinsically wrong. There can be really deep-seated, I think almost primal, emotions that come with an infertility journey. Personally, my fear was that we could go through all of this, and it still wouldn’t work. And I still wouldn’t have that child that I had been wanting for so many years.

a surrogacy story: jessica’s journey to motherhood

How did you get through that? Did you seek counseling or support?

Infertility can be such a struggle for couples because it is such an emotive thing. It can take over your entire life. When we first did our round of IVF, the NHS-funded cycle, they had a psychologist at the hospital that we could see, so we did book an appointment. Unfortunately, this particular therapist basically spent the entire time saying, well, it might not work. It might not work. Have you thought about the fact that it might not work? We were just starting out, and she was only giving us the negative side. She wasn’t giving us any coping strategies. So that was really difficult, actually. I think that put us off, unfortunately, speaking to a professional for most of our journey. For most people, a therapist would be invaluable. We just happen to have a really poor experience the first time we tried it.

What else did you fear about the surrogacy journey that you now realize was okay?

I look back on it with very rose-tinted glasses because we had an amazing journey. Our son is wonderful, and we are so in love with him. We also had a fantastic surrogate. She and I are still close and remain in touch.

When we started, there were a lot of moving parts, so it felt quite overwhelming. There were also a lot of questions constantly running through my mind. Are we doing the right thing? Is this something that we should be pursuing? Is it going to work? Is this too complicated?

For us, another frustrating aspect was a lot of the doctors in the UK said, “You’re still young. There’s no reason why the IVF isn’t working. Why are you guys trying to go to a different route?” It felt like they were invalidating our feelings, invalidating the decision we had made about the best way forward for us and our mental health.  But in the end, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was absolutely the right decision for us.

I also felt a lot of guilt. We still don’t know why the embryos just weren’t implanting — whether or not it was an issue with my uterus. Obviously wasn’t an issue with the embryos because they did implant in our surrogate. So while it’s incredibly old-fashioned and somewhat difficult to admit as a feminist, I had this overwhelming sense of guilt that something was wrong with my body which meant that I couldn’t give my husband kids.

a surrogacy story: jessica’s journey to motherhood

How did you feel when your embryo implanted in your surrogate?

I had had two miscarriages myself, so my feeling was, “Okay, it’s implanted. That’s the first step.” But there were so many other hurdles before I could hold my baby. It was really exciting to get the news, of course. But it was also mixed with fear that something could still go wrong.

I didn’t feel any guilt or envy that I wasn’t carrying the baby – that had come earlier, pre-implantation. For surrogacy, you have to do psychological screenings before any agency or fertility clinic will work with you. It’s a protective measure. We had a session with a psychologist (a more helpful one!) while creating embryos to use with our surrogate. I realized that I had been so focused on the end result that I had almost forgotten that I wasn’t going to be carrying the baby. I once again felt that overwhelming sense of guilt that I couldn’t do this for my husband. It was rough. So for me, those feeling bubbled over pre-implantation.

How did you know that your surrogate was the one for you?

We put our faith in FSC. The way that they match intended parents with surrogates is great! There’s a questionnaire that you fill out about you as a person, you as a couple, what kind of parents you’re going to be, what life you’re going to provide for your child. What you think your spouse is going to be like as a parent. There are a lot of really difficult questions, like what you would do if it turns out that the fetus has some chromosomal abnormalities. Do you want to transfer one or two embryos? You have some really tough but honest conversations with your partner while you’re filling this out. Then FSC matches you with a surrogate based on those important criteria.

It was amazing because they match on those criteria, but they also match on so much more just in terms of personality, the kind of relationship that you want with your surrogate, what sort of communication you want. Before you proceed, you get to see your surrogate’s profile and have a match meeting, which was virtual in our case, and talk to the surrogate and her partner. With our surrogate, we just clicked!

I became incredibly close to my surrogate during the pregnancy because we were very similar. We became good friends, and I felt very involved in the pregnancy, which was really nice being an ocean away. She and all the other surrogates are just some of the most selfless people I think I could ever meet. They do this out of the goodness of their heart, and you have to be such an amazing person to want to give that gift to somebody. They’re incredible!

For the rest of my life, I won’t have enough words to thank her for the gift that she’s given me.

a surrogacy story: jessica’s journey to motherhood

Are you still in touch with your surrogate?

Yes. We haven’t seen her since we left a few days after my son was born. But we do keep in touch. She and her whole family were just so incredible and welcoming. It’s a very important part of my son’s story. It’s something that I want him to be proud of and to celebrate. He has this extra extended family that hopefully, at some point when we can travel again, we’ll be able to see in person.

How long did the journey take?

From signing with FSC as intended parents to our baby being born was just over 2 years. Ours is probably a little bit longer than average. The first candidate that we were matched with ended up not being able to continue, and the first transfer with our surrogate sadly ended with a miscarriage at 6 weeks.

Our first prospective surrogate’s partner was supportive, but during the psych screening, the psychologist felt that he was not as invested in the journey as she wanted him to be. It was a frustrating setback, but it was nobody’s fault. We knew it was a possibility. With hindsight, we’re so glad because support and investment from family are so important for surrogates!

There was no issue like that with our eventual surrogate, who we were paired with only about a week later. She and her whole family were incredibly invested. I still remember the first time we went to visit. Our surrogate was about 15 weeks pregnant with our son. We were saying goodbye, and her husband gave me the biggest bear hug and said, “I am going to take such good care of her for you.” Remembering that makes me tear up even now. They were so supportive. We couldn’t have asked for better people to look after my son until he was ready to be born.

Of course, there were moments where it was frustrating, and things didn’t always go to plan. But now, when I think back on it, the journey was incredibly positive, and I wouldn’t change it for the world – it gave me my son.

If someone has questions, how can they get in touch with you?

FSC has a website with a live chat. Or you can submit a request for information and one of our coordinators will get back to you. One of the great things about FSC is that so many of us have been through the process. You’re going to be talking to somebody who has been in your shoes. Just reach out there. There are people there to help!

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.