Surrogacy: A Labor of Love
Tell us how you got into being a surrogate. What inspired / motivated you to do this?
Well it's a funny story! I used to watch the show "Friends" religiously. One day I was watching it with a friend and it was the episode where Phoebe is a surrogate for her brother. My friend asked me "Would you have my babies someday for me if I couldn't?" And without a second thought I said, "Of course I would!"
That planted the seed for me and it was the first time I had ever heard of surrogacy as a concept. But the thought stayed with me and I did a little research over time and realized I would need to already have at least one child of my own that I was raising first to qualify as a candidate.
After I had my first child I just knew I had to do it. I felt so blessed to have my own beautiful healthy child and I knew there were others out there that couldn't do this on their own. I wanted to thank the universe for what came so easily to me by giving that to someone else.
I researched a few programs but I fell in love with The Surrogacy Program in Studio City founded by director Shelley Smith from the moment I first spoke with them. They treat their surrogates and their families with the utmost respect and love. They had been in business for over 25 years and it was clear to me that they would take great care of me and my family throughout the process. I can't emphasize enough to anyone considering surrogacy how important it is to have an excellent team of professionals to facilitate the journey.
I loved the program so much that I made a career change and joined the company full time in 2012 as a Surrogacy Associate. I knew I couldn't keep having babies forever myself but I could still give back by being a part of the support team for other extraordinary surrogates and loving couples. It was the best decision I could have made. I love what I do!
Tell us about your own family. How have they reacted to your surrogacy journey?
My husband knew it was something I had wanted to do-we had talked about it once when we were still dating just in conversation. When I approached him to seriously consider it he said no at first - but the very next day he said that he knew it was something that meant a lot to me and he would support me in my decision. He thought it was very noble.
When we got the profile from the agency for an intended parent the director of the program felt would be a good match for us we both read it over and it was my husband who first said “This is the person we want to help.”
I trusted his instinct and was so happy to see him connect to this person whom neither of us knew just starting out. But he has a good sense for people and the match was truly perfect for us. My husband is the chef of our household and stay at home dad so without him none of this would be possible.
My parents initially thought it was a wonderful thing I wanted to do, but they hoped we would finish our own family first. Keep in mind I was only 21 years old when I applied to be a surrogate and at that time I was the youngest person to ever go through the program. 21 is the minimum age requirement. But I had been married since I was 19 and I had an 18 month old daughter- I wasn't like most 21 year olds. Once they saw how serious I was about doing this they were completely supportive.
Surrogacy really is a family process.
My mom, Stephanie Langlois, (or my "Momtourage" as I like to call her) is my rock throughout this process. My fabulous sister-in-law, Nicole Langlois, was there for my last IVF transfer for my current surrogacy journey. My sister, Lori Langlois-Ulnick, is a professional MAC make-up artist and she did my makeup for the photo shoot used for this interview. My husband's cousin, Leah Ingersoll of Linger Photography took the awesome photos and we had such a great day together capturing these pictures. It takes a village!
My close friends have come over to help when I have had bed rest for the IVF transfers and when I had to rest during the pregnancies as well. They are my cheerleaders :-) And then there are my husband's friends. I lovingly call them "my brother husbands". They help in so many ways. When I have had to go to the doctor even at odd hours they have come over to watch our kids, they have brought food, they are also a big part of our support system. They are some of the best men on the planet-I count myself lucky to have married into such a great "family".
And most importantly there are my own two sweet kidlets. My daughter was there every step of the way for my first surrogacy. She was only a little thing but she was wise beyond her years. Kids that age don't question the social norms. She thought that what I was doing was just about the coolest thing ever and she likes to tell everyone and show off. Our son is around the same age now that our daughter was for the first surrogacy journey and he is a great little helper. He likes to sing to my belly every night. Both of the kids love the families we help and take a lot of pride in being part of the team.
Of course the agency itself has become an extension of my family. Because I am both a surrogate myself and a surrogacy associate at the program I am surrounded with love and support from my coworkers and the many extraordinary surrogates that are in the program as well. I don’t know where I would be without my friends, family and the fabulous ladies at The Surrogacy Program who are my friends, family and co-workers all rolled into one.
To sum things up-I feel very loved and spoiled :-)
What are the best parts about being a surrogate?
Surrogacy has so many great moments along the way! There is that moment when you first get to meet the intended parents you are choosing to help and you know don't know exactly what lies ahead but you know you're just so excited to get started. Then there is the transfer day when you send all your positive thoughts out into the universe for the embryo(s) to stick. The first big exciting milestone is the positive pregnancy test-but it really feels real when you and the parents see the heartbeat on ultrasound for the first time.
The later ultrasounds, for example when you find out gender, are so special. As a surrogate of course you are thrilled to be pregnant and so happy for your couple for their impending arrival but to see their faces and reactions to seeing their baby on ultrasound is very powerful. You feel like a super hero that has flown to their rescue to save the day.
It was magical when the parents I have carried for were able to feel their baby kick by putting their hand on my belly. But the best moment hands down is the birth. It is seeing the intended parents hold their baby for the first time, it is the honor of being the first person to witness the moment they become parents, and the joy of knowing you made it possible.
That moment is one you will play over and over again in your head for as long as you live. It will lift you up on your most challenging days. There truly is no word big enough to describe it but that moment where the parents' dreams come to fruition is pure love.
I should also share the special unique moment I got to witness-the marriage of the intended parents! I was a surrogate for a single woman who met the man of her dreams when we were just starting the process. He was a big part of the journey and they both flew out for major appointments.
A month before the birth he proposed to her and I got to witness them becoming parents together. They flew me out for their beautiful beach wedding ten months later. My favorite memory is still their first slow dance together holding their baby between them.
What is the biggest challenge of being a surrogate?
As a surrogate over time I think I have faced nearly every challenge there is! The first thing any surrogate over comes is a fear of shots - but the IVF medications are all worth it when you get that positive pregnancy test. I actually do all my own shots but many surrogates have a spouse or friend help. It doesn't even phase me anymore.
There is always the possibility of having to do more than one transfer to get pregnant or for the pregnancy to not work out. I have encountered those challenges myself. It does make you realize that there is more to this than just science. As a surrogate you do everything you can. You make healthy choices, you follow your medication instructions, you do everything in your power to give the transfer and the pregnancy the best chance of success but sometimes it doesn't work out. That is probably the hardest challenge. But the bumps along the way have just made me stronger and more determined. It has made me look at my own two sweet babies and see them as the miracles that they are.
Some of the most extraordinary surrogate moms I know are the ones who have had longer and more challenging journeys. You will find that surrogates are not complainers-they press on and they are positive thinkers even in tough situations. They are strong women and they carry more than just babies. They carry their couples' worries, hopes and dreams.
I'm guessing that most people who have thought about surrogacy for themselves or observed others that have done it wonder ... Is it hard to hand the baby over to their parents at the birth? Can you tell us more about this?
I knew you would ask! :-) This is something everyone wonders about. As a first time surrogate I wondered myself how it would feel. I have learned that a surrogate pregnancy is SO different from your own pregnancy. It is different from the moment the journey starts.
You start off knowing that the baby you are carrying is not yours biologically or in any other sense. You do things differently than you would in your own pregnancy. For example - as soon as the baby can hear I talk to my surrogate babies but it's different from how I talk to my own babies.
I tell them about their parents, and their homes, and the wonderful lives they have ahead of them. In your own pregnancy you dream of holding your baby but in a surrogacy you dream of seeing the parents hold their baby the first time.
With surrogacy the intended parents are the first people to hold their baby so there usually isn't a moment when you "hand over a baby". I remember feeling even less of a connection with the baby I delivered than I expected to feel.
When I did get to hold the surrogate baby I delivered, I remember thinking, "Gosh he is so cute but I can't believe this is the baby I carried!" It was like holding a friend's cute baby. I did not feel like his mom-because I knew I wasn't. And funny enough the baby seemed to know that, too. When I handed him back to his mom he didn't cry. He didn't look for me. He was completely fixated on his mom. I can't explain it scientifically but he knew who his mom was and they bonded instantly.
As a surrogate you bond with the couple - I remember thinking how much I was going to miss them when they went home. They live in another state but they still keep in touch. He is 4 years old now and I love seeing pictures and hearing what he is doing. I am honored that they have kept in touch. We share a very special relationship with the family.
The couple I am carrying for now is also out of state and they have one child through surrogacy and still keep in touch with their first surrogate. I'm in touch with her, too :-)
To share something funny I did the initial screening for their first surrogate at the agency and through my side business (Sugar & Spice Maternity Concierge) I helped them prepare for their first baby. We have one big surrogate family! I am very excited for our spring delivery around the corner.
Please tell us about breastfeeding and surrogacy. Your experience / journey.
When the intended mom first asked if I would pump for her after the birth I said I would be willing to try. Some couples want to receive breast milk from their surrogates when possible for the health benefits for their baby.
I had previously had breast reduction surgery as a teenager and had no success breastfeeding my own first child. But I did a lot of research and figured it was worth a try so I took a very proactive approach. I knew that pumping exclusively would have its challenges. I researched hospital grade pumps, supplements that would safely boost my supply that my doctor recommended, and after delivery I starting pumping as soon as I could. I had to be very diligent to pump frequently.
I was so proud to be able to provide that first tiny little portion of milk to the surrogate baby I delivered! It was such a huge win for me :-) It was a full time job for me at the time! I was very dedicated and even got up during the night to pump. I gave as much milk as I could to the family before they drove back to their home state.
They had opted not to have me ship milk once they returned home. Some couples have their surrogate ship milk for a while if she is able to do so. But at the time I delivered a dear friend of mine was in need of donor breast milk for her sweet baby that was born with a cleft palate.
As a surrogate, I was the ideal milk donor because of course I had been medically screened before becoming pregnant. When she asked for my help I was thrilled! I continued to pump for about 3 months after delivery. I sure could have used a Sarah Wells bag for work then!
I feel like pumping helped me bounce back better physically and emotionally. It also gave me the confidence to pursue exclusively breastfeeding my own second child. With my son I pumped, nursed, and used a supplemental nursing system for 12 months. I had help from a number of amazing donor milk mamas because my own supply wasn't enough for him but I met my goal and made it the whole first year. It's something I am extremely proud of.
I even mastered pumping on one side while I nursed him on the other side and then rotating to boost my supply as much as possible. If there is a supply boosting trick I have surely done it! I have also mastered the art of pumping and driving. Those 12 months were golden for me and worth all of the effort.
I have to also share that I had an amazing breastfeeding/pumping support team. I have to give a special shout out to my own lactation consultant Bridget Winnett and all of the fabulous staff and lactation consultants at The Pump Station & Nurtury.
I will be pumping for at least 3 months for the surrogate baby I am currently carrying and possibly as long as 6 months if I can keep up my supply when I return to work. The parents would like for me to ship milk to them so I plan to do this as long as I can. I have already decided that if the parents opt to not receive milk at some point then I will absolutely be a milk donor again. There are so many babies that need it!
I hope to have a Sarah Wells bag when I return to work after delivery :-) I think I am becoming an unofficial spokes-mama at this point because every baby store I go into I am telling them all about these amazing bags.
I am also super excited that Emily Ironi of The Dairy Fairy gave me a sneak preview of the not yet available limited edition Spring Arden bra. This is not your mother’s nursing bra! In addition to being as pretty as it is comfortable and supportive it allows you to pump hands free and nurse, even at the same time!
Pumping while driving just got a whole lot easier for this surrogate mama! If I had a time machine I would go back in time and use it for that whole first year with my own little nursling. I am telling everyone who will listen about this.
I thank heaven for these amazing Mompreneurs who have designed products that I only dreamed of having in past pregnancies.
I hope other great moms and dads continue to pave the way in baby/maternity products and services for future parents and surrogates to come. I am proud to be a mom, surrogate, surrogacy associate, and maternity concierge serving my family and many others.