Birth/Rebirth: How I Chose to be a Surrogate

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 IP’s, or an egg donor. Traditional surrogacy uses the surrogate mother’s egg. However, traditional surrogacy is exceptionally uncommon as a result of advancements in fertility treatment, plus, it is considered unduly problematic and controversial because of genetic attachment to the surrogate. For any kind of surrogacy, IVF is used to retrieved 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.

Photo of Jen Holt's belly by Erin Gadd, Pink Daffodil Photography

Photo of Jen Holt’s belly by Erin Gadd, Pink Daffodil Photography

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 having 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 women 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 a 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 making 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 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 was 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 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. 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 you 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 calling 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 gift 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!

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13 Responses

  1. Melody says:

    Jen, this is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings and understanding of “the big picture” of parenting, birth, and human kindness. It’s a gift for anyone who reads this. Good luck with your current pregnancy. And congratulations to the intended parents!

  2. marthamylove says:

    I ask this in all sincerity and without any judgement but, what did you tell your own children?

    Half a lifetime ago I had a close friend who had a lot of difficulty maintaining a pregnancy. I sat through all her excitement and fear at being pregnant and the gut-wrenching sadness of ever miscarriage. My own pregnancies were compromised because I knew every one of them hurt her. …and she couldn’t even say so.

    I really wanted to do a surrogacy for her. I gave it long and hard thought. But, in the end, I didn’t know how to tell my own kids that I was giving away a baby that I birthed. I didn’t know how to make them really positive in the marrow of their bones that we could ever part from them. That the child that they would know would be this from-their-mother-but-not-from-their-family person.

    Sure, they might come to understand it and appreciate the motivation of giving to a friend as adults but what indelible insecurity would they have to get over first?

    I couldn’t do it. You’re a bigger, more confident, more loving person than I am to be able to. I admire that. I wish I’d been up to managing it all. I can’t tell you the joy and relief I had when my friend had her own daughter after numerous in vitros and surgeries!

    • Bridget says:

      Awesome Jen!!! You are a great write.
      To answer the previous poster. I too was a gestational surrogate. I delivered twins 2 years ago. At the time my kids were 6 & 2. I didn’t tell my 2 year old much, she was too young to understand the whole thing. But with my 6yr old…I got a book, its a children’s book written to explain surrogacy to kids. I read it to my son, we talked a little about it. The book is about a kangaroo who’s pouch is broken and she can’t grow her babies in it, so another mama kangaroo offers to put her babies inside her pouch until their big enough to come out. Then she gives them back to their mom. So we read the book, then I told my son, I have this friend and her tummy is broken and it isn’t growing her babies, so we had the Dr help put her babies into my stomach because mine isn’t broken. He seemed to think that was cool. Kids only ask what they can comprehend. He didn’t have a lot of questions. He always knew the babies were not ours to keep.

      • spunky says:

        From the perspective of an IM who’s surrogacy did not result in a baby, I relied heavily upon the scriptures to teach the teens in my Sunday School class. We discussed how Ruth gave Naomi a child, how Mary carried Christ for all humankind, and how women in the early relief society worked together in passionate service, as much as they did compassionate service, as midwives, etc. My focus was on women helping women, and women helping families.

        In truth, my FIL seemed the most confused, not understanding how our surro was not the mother, but the organ and blood donor for gestation only and why I needed to go though IVF when I wasn’t going to be pregnant. The marsupial / kangaroo talk was common and helpful, and a great tool for all ages.

    • Jen says:

      My kids are very aware of my choices and handled it very well. My kids ages range from 12-3 at the time I started my journey. My older kids thought it was cool and I didn’t really know what my 5 and 3 year old understood until we had went to visit the intended parents at their home while I was pregnant. I had asked the my Intended parents if they could see the room that would soon belong to my womb mate. I had asked my 5 year old what he had thought about the room and if the baby in my belly could live in that room (I would call by name and my kids knew his name) his reply was “wow the baby has a bigger room than I have. He is so lucky mom, ya he can live here.” Very excited.
      A few months after his birth. Someone was asking my 3 year old were the baby was that was in my belly and she said “he is with his mommy and daddy and they live on the mountain” .
      I am so proud of my kids and their reactions. When we explained what was going on we never made it as if we’re weird. We’ve also been very honest about what’s going on. I think they feel that it’s normal almost like everyone’s mom is a surrogate. They never seemed to care that he didn’t come home with us but they would ask about him and his family.
      Now with this pregnancy they like to talk to my belly and tell this baby girl about her family.

  3. Marlene says:

    Dear Jen,

    I am a Surrogate mom to one little boy and I am on my 2nd journey. I love how you put it all into words, I couldn’t have done a better job myself. Congratulations on becoming a surrogate and never giving up.

    To answer the poster on How you tell your children~ I am a mother to 5 children, the oldest being 12 and the youngest being 4. The 4yr old didn’t ask much, but became close with the Ip’s. When my school aged ones were asked if they’re getting another brother or sister , I was told they responded with, ” My mom is just growing another families baby, its not related to me ~ but its amazing because she’s growing it for them because they cannot grow their own. But, we get to be a second family and keep in touch.”
    My 12 year old thought it was an amazing thing to do. She said that she hopes one day to help a family in such an amazing way. Her only concern was that she wanted the Ip’s to take a class and be prepared for the baby 🙂 I think it was amazing how much my loved every part of it and how they became supportive and excited for the Ip’s.

  4. April says:

    What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing your call as a surrogate. What a wonderful way to share your gift.

  5. Rachel says:

    What a remarkable gift to share. Thank you for giving us a glimpse.

  6. Caroline says:

    Wonderful, Jen. What a gift you are to these families.

  7. Rachel says:

    And there is a great story about surrogacy in the Salt Lake Tribune today:

  8. EmilyCC says:

    I love this quote, “A psychological evaluation to make sure I was crazy enough to be a carrier.” Hah!

    Thank you for sharing your perspective, Jen, and bless you and surrogates all over the world for giving such a gift.

  1. January 13, 2014

    […] previously posted about why she became a gestational surrogate here. She lives in Utah with her husband and four children and is currently on her second journey as a […]

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