By Rebecca Bresnick Holmes – I decided to offer myself as a surrogate after my best friend and her husband spent years trying to get pregnant and could not. My husband and I had two children of our own and were not planning to have any more. We had discussed this extensively before making the offer to my friend. She and her husband live in another state and we went to visit them, along with other family, when our kids were about two and five.
My friend had a long history of gynecological issues and she and her husband had already spent years trying to conceive. While we were visiting them and after our husbands had gone to bed for the night, we stayed up talking about the difficulties she was having with getting pregnant and her feelings about that. We talked about adoption and I asked if she had ever thought about using a surrogate. She hadn’t, she said, and that she wouldn’t know how to go about that. I told her that I was talking about myself as the surrogate and that my husband and I were offering for me to be her surrogate. She was surprised, of course, and very touched. I think we both cried. She said that she’d talk with her husband about it.
I had enjoyed my own pregnancies and was very excited about the idea of carrying her child for her. To me, it was all the joys of pregnancy, without the responsibility of having another child! When we returned to California, and although I don’t recall the details, my friend eventually told us that yes, they wanted to do this.
At about 8 weeks, I think, we found out that I was indeed pregnant. It was a relief, and exciting, and I cried when I got the news. I cried when I told my friend.
I told my family and some friends that I was going to be a surrogate for my friend. My parents, although supportive, were not thrilled about the idea. I think at that time, I was about 36. Finally, about a year and a half after our initial offer, my friend told me that she had decided to go ahead and use my uterus to have a child. I specifically remember that she said that she was being given a gift and that she’d be foolish and regretful to not take it.
So we began the process for real this time… I was 39 at that time. Again, I told my parents, who had by then gotten used to the idea that the surrogacy may or may not occur, that it was going forward. Once again, I think they were not very happy about it, but were supportive of our decision. They were concerned, as any parent would be, about my health and other implications.
My husband and I underwent physical exams and an evaluation by a psychotherapist. It wasn’t difficult and I wasn’t nervous. I had a pretty good sense that we were well-intended to do this. We had support on our end and we were doing this with long-time friends.
We did have to talk about how we’d make decisions if something were to go wrong, and that was difficult. We talked with the counselor about what if something happened to me and I was on life support – would we want my life to be continued until the babies were born? We had to discuss all of that between ourselves and then with our friends. Thankfully, because we shared the same beliefs, values, and ethics, we were of the same mind about it. We also had to talk about what if something were wrong with the baby – who would determine what to do and when?
We were lucky enough to find a counselor who specialized in surrogacy and was also an attorney. She was able to help us with our contract, detailing all the provisions and “what ifs” of our situation. My husband and I didn’t want to be paid for my surrogacy, but we didn’t want to be out-of-pocket either, so we included provisions for extra child care for our own children, house-cleaning help, extra life insurance coverage for me, and mileage costs to and from the fertility clinic, which was about an hour away.
It’s a long and complicated process.
Among other things, my friend and I had to have synchronized menstrual cycles, so I was put on birth control pills. I had to have an injection of a drug called Lupron, which stops the ovaries from dropping eggs (we didn’t want my eggs involved of course!).
My husband and I went to a class to learn how to give injections, as he had to give me twice daily injections of progesterone and twice a week injections of estrogen. I started the injections about one month before the planned embryo transfer date to prepare my body to accept the embryo. Because there were several good embryos and they were doing well, the doctor was able to transfer them at five days old instead of three, which increases the odds of them being successful.
I remember the day of the transfer, when the doctor asked me whether I wanted one or two embryos transferred. All four of us were in her office: my friend and her husband and my husband and I. Although I had not committed to another surrogacy if this one didn’t work, I knew that our chances of one embryo staying and being successful were greater if we transferred two. I had read the statistics provided by the clinic and understood that the chance of both embryos sticking was small, so we chose to transfer them both. We were all four in the room when the doctor transferred the embryos and it was very interesting to watch – we could actually see them on the ultrasound monitor in the tube going in.
The day of the embryo transfer was also the last day of first grade for my older son. My parents had come to my house to stay with him and my younger son. We had talked with our boys about what we were doing and I explained that I would be growing a baby in my belly for our friends whose belly didn’t work properly. I compared the process to growing a plant – that the doctors were going to put a tiny seed in me and that it would grow into a baby, which once fully grown, would go home with its parents – our friends.
When I came home, I had to lay down for a couple of days, per procedure. When my parents brought my kids home, my younger son examined me lying on the couch, and asked me, “How come your belly isn’t big?” Clearly, he missed the part about the baby being put in while a tiny seed. But, he did get the concept! He thought I’d be coming home with a baby in my belly. We went over it again.
That was the easy part.
I returned frequently to the fertility clinic for testing and to see whether I was in fact pregnant. At about 8 weeks, I think, we found out that I was indeed pregnant. It was a relief, and exciting, and I cried when I got the news. I cried when I told my friend. At about twelve weeks, I went back for an ultrasound, alone, and that’s when we found out that I was carrying twins. Both embryos stuck. I think my friend was on the phone with me when the doctor was doing the ultrasound and we were probably shocked, excited, and scared. I called my mother (who was, by this point, pretty excited about the whole thing) as I left the clinic and told her the news. She screamed in excitement so loudly that I had to hold the phone away from my ear.
My husband continued to inject me for another three months to make sure that the embryos stuck. They were daily injections and after a point, we experienced our first problem – I developed an allergic reaction to one of the hormones, so I was switched to a different format of the same hormone. It was a huge relief when we could finally stop with the injections and hormones and I could just be on my own without drugs.
I had morning sickness, but rarely vomited. I got big very quickly and until the last trimester, handled the pregnancy pretty well. It wasn’t until that last trimester that I was uncomfortably big, unable to do as much as I used to. For the most part, I was a pretty happy pregnant person.
One of the more difficult things for me was having to deal with monetary issues with my friend. I had underestimated the amount of help I’d need, so I had to talk about that with her and ask her for more money. I was not receiving a monetary fee to be a surrogate, but my husband and I wanted to make sure that we weren’t losing money because of it either. This meant that my friend and her husband had to pay for extra child care, clothing, house-cleaning, additional tuition at our cooperative nursery school for my younger son because I couldn’t work there anymore. I knew that it wasn’t my “fault”, but I still felt awkward and guilty for asking for more money. Adding to that, I knew that they weren’t well off, that she was the main wage-earner of their family, and that they were preparing to have two babies!
That last trimester went pretty slowly. Generally, twins are born at about 35 weeks on average and generally, women give birth earlier with subsequent pregnancies. My own two boys followed that generalization, but both were very late (3 weeks late for the first and 10 days late for the second), and I had both of my children vaginally. With my first, we needed some help to get things going, so I had taken Pitocin to induce labor (which was awful) and eventually I had a walking epidural. With my second son, I didn’t have anything and was able to have a water birth. Also, twins are generally about 6 or 7 pounds and my boys were nearly 10 each. So all in all, I figured I’d be in for a decent delivery date and birth – not too big, not too long. Wrong! (but that part of the story comes a bit later).
As I progressed in the pregnancy, I became more and more incapable of my normal activities. Friends started driving my kids to preschool and school for me, the preschool community got together to make us dinners, and I was generally pretty uncomfortable. I even had to use one of those motorized carts in the supermarket once. It was oddly humiliating. Were my own two kids and a friend not with me, I wouldn’t have done it. I remember going to the supermarket a few times and only being able to get a few things because I couldn’t stand walking or standing around any longer and felt I just had to get out of there and sit down.
I read a lot, which was great of course, but I was tired of being held captive my by incapable body. I felt like I was a spectator in my own life, not a participant. I watched people do for me, clean my house, run my kids around, etc., and while I appreciated it very much (truly), I also didn’t feel like I was participating.
My friend was planning to come to California for the birth of course, and as we neared the 35 week date. She was still working and although she planned to come to California, she was trying to continue working as long as possible. I was very concerned that she wouldn’t be there and really had trouble understanding why she couldn’t make sure she was here by the 35th week. We were able to talk about it and she ended up coming to California about 35-36 weeks into the pregnancy. She stayed with us, got a router, and was able to work remotely from here (which meant she had to get up super early to start working at 5 a.m. California time). We don’t have a big house (3 bedrooms, 2 baths), so she was sharing the bathroom with my two boys, and was trying to live in our playroom. We all did the best we could.
I had fun (most of the time), telling people that they weren’t my babies.
Her husband followed a few weeks later, at about 38 weeks. We thought that the babies would be arriving any day at that point. It was challenging to have two extra adults living with us. There was really no privacy for anyone in our house and we were in very close quarters. Friends were still bringing us dinners and although I felt lonely and disconnected from my own life at times, I was actually rarely alone. I think we all felt the effects of our physical surroundings. For my friend and me it was probably the most comfortable to be this close, as we’ve been good friends since early college and had lived together afterwards. Both of our husbands are more introverted and private. Needless to say, we were all looking forward to the babies’ arrival for many reasons.
Amazingly, I just kept on being pregnant. 38 weeks came and went, and at that point, I had to go to the doctor’s office every other day for a non-stress test. This is where they put two sets of monitors on to check the babies’ heart rates and general status. Although not painful or uncomfortable, this was always taxing, as my friend had to drive me at that point (I couldn’t drive anymore because I couldn’t get the seat back far enough to not squish my belly, and even if I could, I would not have been able to reach the pedals!), and it always took a long time for the nurses to find both babies’ heart beats.
Thirty-nine weeks came and I had to go for the non-stress tests daily. They would check my urine and blood (always fine), blood pressure (also fine), and the twins’ heart rates (also fine).
I had been wearing a support garment that went under my belly, crisscrossed across my chest, and around my back. It helped a lot once my belly got big. I actually had to keep getting larger sizes as I grew. I had a lot of difficulty sleeping and near the end, couldn’t flop myself over from one side to the other. My husband had to help me. I definitely couldn’t tolerate lying on my back – I felt as if I were suffocating. My belly was itchy and I had heart burn for the first time in my life. The Braxton-Hicks contractions were strong and beyond uncomfortable. Those were some of the unpleasant and bothersome things. On the other hand, it was fun to feel two babies moving in side of me. I loved giving my friend reports of what they were doing and when they were moving, and I’d show her the ultrasound pictures after each (frequent) visit.
I also had fun (most of the time), telling people that they weren’t my babies. I’d often be asked about my pregnancy, clearly I was so large, and when I told people I was having twins, I’d get lots of positive replies. I then had to explain that they weren’t mine. Initially, I thought I’d just let it go, but it felt funny and wrong to let people, even strangers, walk away under the erroneous impression that these babies were mine. So, I almost always felt compelled to clarify the situation. Most people were supportive and amazed. Eventually, I did get tired of talking about it.
I had a friend who used to love rubbing my belly, and since it was now always itchy, it felt good to me. When my friend (the intended mother) was visiting about half-way through the pregnancy, she was with me when the belly-rubbing friend did just that. Later, she confided in me that she felt jealous and protective of my belly and didn’t like that someone was rubbing it. She felt embarrassed and ashamed of her feelings, but I was glad that she was able to share them with me and that we could talk about it.
Finally, we were approaching 40 weeks and it was the day after Valentine’s Day. I told my friend that I just had to get into the water. I had been taking a water aerobics class and it felt great to be in the water, but I hadn’t been able to go for awhile, once I got so big. My friend drove me to the (heated) outdoor pool, and it was heaven to get in. My belly was soft, pain-free, and weight-less, and it felt wonderful. Getting out of the pool, however, was not so great. It was so difficult that I had images of having to call the paramedics to help get me up the stairs and out of the pool. We took it slowly and eventually, I made it out.
Meanwhile, we had been talking with my gynecologist about delivery, her schedule, and how this would happen. We really wanted to have her on call when it was time to have the babies, but in another few days it would be another doctor’s turn – a doctor who was more likely to do a C-section, and we wanted every chance of a natural delivery. Finally, we decided to go to the birthing center the next day and try Pitocin to induce labor so that I could deliver while our doctor was there.
It was a tough decision for me, as I had taken Pitocin with my son before, and it was truly awful. I also was very scared that some other doctor would force me to have a C-section when I didn’t want one. I trusted my doctor and it was very important for me that she be there.
The day after my pool experience we went to the birthing center – my husband, my friend, her husband, and of course, me. My parents were watching my kids. They checked me in early and we were preparing for me to have an IV put in to get the Pitocin. While the nurse was trying to get my IV started (for some reason she had to repeat it over and over – ick), I thought my water broke. I had begun to have some natural contractions already, but it wasn’t labor and not strong enough to do anything. I thought though, that this was a good sign, that maybe my water breaking would kick-start labor and it would happen without the induction.
The nurse peeked under my blanket and said something like “oh, I’m not sure what color that is; I’m going to get the midwife.” I thought to myself that there must be meconium in the water and I was getting scared. The midwife came in with the nurse and they both looked under the blanket. I couldn’t see of course. They left and returned with the doctor. It turned out that it was blood, not my water breaking, and while my doctor did an exam to try to determine what side of the placenta the bleeding was coming from, my friend, her husband, and my husband just watched, looking very concerned. I just wanted to know what was happening. I remember feeling nervous and scared, but not panicky. My husband commented on my blood pressure and I asked what it was. My friend said, “You don’t want to know.” I had no idea, but apparently, it was ridiculously low. She said she’d never seen blood pressure that low (and she works in the medical field).
Finally, the doctor, who was elbow-deep in blood by now, said that she couldn’t determine the source of the blood and that I’d need an emergency C-section right away. She started to explain what would be happening at each step of the way, but, as I’m pretty squeamish about these things, told her that I didn’t want to know – to just do it and don’t tell me about it. In a way, I was relieved. The contractions I had been having were strong enough to scare me, and despite my original thinking that I’d have these small twins au natural, I now thought “what the hell was I thinking??!!” So, I was ok with the C-section after all.
It was amazing how quickly they got me ready. I had to sit up for a spinal and then lay down and I felt nothing below my mid-section. I couldn’t breathe, however, and I recall telling the anesthesiologist that, after which he gave me some oxygen and something to relax. My friend and my husband were both allowed to come into the procedure with me, and I was glad for that. We had arranged for that in the event of a C-section. My husband held my hand and I was just kind of sleepy through the whole thing. I remember the babies coming out – one right after another, and asking repeatedly if they were ok. Thankfully, they were fine. And so was I – eventually.
The babies, a boy and a girl, weighed 8.5 and 7.25 pounds respectively!
Recovery from a C-section after carrying the twins was really hard. I felt as if I’d been hit by a truck. But, the August after I delivered them, and in celebration of my 40th birthday, I completed a women’s mini triathlon. It was a good goal to help me recover.
PS – Postpartum is a whole other story!
Rebecca lives in Northern California and is the owner of The Clayground – a working ceramic studio that accepts private commissions, hosts events, parties, clay classes and workshops.