The first time I thought about being a surrogate mother was in 1999.
I'd just given birth to my fourth — and last — child at 27, and I was reading a touching magazine article about a woman who'd carried her sister's baby.
I'll admit I was hormonal, basking in the glow of my own motherhood — but I couldn't stop thinking about families who were desperate to experience what my husband, Craig*, and I had.
Filled with compassion for those people, I wanted to help.
Baby Steps: Getting my husband on board
I soon became obsessed with the idea, and unbeknownst to Craig, started reading message boards and scouring support groups for more information.
That's how I first learned there was a financial component to surrogacy. Up until then, I'd assumed people volunteered to carry a baby for someone out of the goodness of their hearts. So this gave me an idea: Perhaps playing up the monetary benefits to Craig would make him more likely to agree.
Although we had minimal debt and owned a small home at the time, we also had a house full of kids and little savings.
I approached Craig with articles describing successful surrogacy stories, telling him what an opportunity we had to help other families, now that ours was complete. Plus, based on my research, we could expect at least $15,000 as compensation.
His response? A flat-out "no."
But I persisted. About a month later, I showed him an article about a couple that was living like misers to afford surrogacy. Reading what the husband wrote about his paternal desires spoke to Craig — and he gave me the green light.
So I started researching the different arrangements surrogates can enter into with families. Some people do it independently — although that seemed scary, as it's basically your word, their word, and a handshake.
You can also work through an agency or attorney for a more formal agreement, so everyone's terms are stipulated, and surrogates are protected against parents changing their minds.
Eventually, I came across an attorney who ran a small agency in Maryland. She was friendly, knowledgeable and very responsive. She also had good reviews on surrogacy message boards, which sealed the deal for me.
I filled out a ton of paperwork with lots of personal information — everything from my financial status and child-birthing history to how many embryos I was willing to implant at once. Craig and I decided that two — meaning I'd give birth to twins if they both "took" — would be the max.
Once we turned in the information, the waiting game began.
Embarking on a rigorous but rewarding process
Just a few weeks later, our attorney called with a match, and I flew from our home in Tennessee to Maryland to meet the young couple. The woman had been born with an abnormal uterus, making it impossible for her to conceive.
It's hard to describe what that first meeting was like. It was awkward because we were strangers — yet the discussion was incredibly personal. The woman was so happy to meet me that she was on the verge of tears.
I was nervous, but I focused on conveying that I was a trustworthy person. I talked a lot about my family, my kids, and my pregnancies. And I explained why I wanted to be a surrogate, so they would understand my compassion.
I had a good feeling after the meeting, and discussed it with Craig back home. We were ready to commit.
The couple was, too, so the next step was to draw up a contract. We stipulated a $20,000 fee, as well as other "extras" the couple would cover, such as $600 for maternity clothes and $200 a month for incidentals like gas, tolls, parking, and food if I had to travel for certain tests or procedures. They also agreed to pay for my mom to fly in to help with my kids.
In addition to that, we outlined that I would be paid more for any invasive medical tests, plus $3,000 if I carried multiples and $2,500 if I needed a C-section. Craig would also be partially compensated for any lost wages if he had to take time off during and after the birth.
After everything was signed, I began a months-long process of tests, taking pills, going in for ultrasounds every other day, and administering extremely painful shots — using the biggest needle I'd ever seen.
The IVF schedule is strict: If the doctors say you need a certain shot at 4 a.m., and an ultrasound exactly 12 hours later, you don't have a choice.
After six months we were ready to implant two embryos. We were all incredibly excited and hopeful. But I didn't get pregnant on that first cycle — or the second one. I felt horrible, like I was failing the couple.
So we readied ourselves for a final cycle, opting to implant three embryos. It was more than we'd agreed upon earlier, but the doctor assured me the chances of becoming pregnant with triplets was incredibly unlikely.
Well, I beat the odds — because that's exactly what happened.
Calling the biological parents with the good news was something I'll never forget. The mom was at a loss for words — and Craig and I were elated.
Unfortunately, the excitement quickly subsided. The pregnancy was pretty rocky. One of the fetuses didn't make it past 12 weeks, and I constantly worried about the other two. I also contracted a lot, and had to go on bed rest around the end of the second trimester.
The birth didn't go as planned, either. The couple wanted to be there, but at 36 weeks my doctor told me at a regular appointment to check into the hospital immediately to give birth. The babies were very small — under 5 pounds each — and needed to be monitored for a while, but, fortunately, they were otherwise healthy.
The process was anything but smooth sailing, but once the couple met their babies, it was amazing to know I was part of making another family complete. It was the feeling I'd imagined — and I knew I'd want to do it again someday.
Surrogacy take two — With even happier results
A couple of years later, at 30, I was ready to be a surrogate again.
Just like the first time, money wasn't my number-one motivation, but I did remember how much we'd been able to accomplish with that cash. We'd paid off our minivan, canceled out bills, and put a chunk in savings.
I had kept in touch with our attorney, and by the time I was ready, she already had a match in mind — and I liked them the instant we met. They already had a son, but the mother had to have her uterus removed after his birth.
Our contract was similar to the first, but this time I asked for $27,000 as my surrogate fee, plus $1,000 for maternity clothes instead of $600.
From the start, the process felt different. I didn't have to undergo nearly as many tests because we knew my body would respond to the fertility drugs. And, best of all, I became pregnant on the first try.
But we did experience a few unfortunate similarities: I became pregnant with twins but lost one around eight weeks. And, again, the birth didn't go as planned.
I had to have a C-section, and the parents weren't able to get there in time to see their baby being born. But the mom — with whom I'd built an amazing connection during the pregnancy — did call to say I could breast-feed, and asked if the baby could stay with me instead of going to the nursery. It felt great to know she still wanted me to be a part of their story after the delivery.
When she got to the hospital, she stayed in the room with me, and we had a great time laughing and talking. It all felt very special — a nice ending to a journey we'd embarked on six years prior.
Why it was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life
Surrogacy is an emotional roller coaster: For every extreme high, there's an equally extreme low.
The experience was tough at times for our family. For one, Craig and I had to explain to our kids that, even though I was pregnant, these weren't our babies.
Fortunately, they understood and took it in stride. In fact, sometimes people would remark on my pregnancy, and the kids would say, "It's not our baby!" That got us some funny stares.
But the biggest stressor was how I felt. I was often exhausted, so I wasn't always on my best mom game. We ate out a lot because I couldn't stand to smell food cooking, and I wasn't supposed to lift anything over 10 pounds — a tall order with a toddler.
To make it up to my family, one of the first things we did after my second surrogacy was go to Disney World. I wanted to reward the kids for being so great. And in between my two surrogacies, we used a portion of the cash to put a down payment on a new home.
Ultimately, the way we used the money — about $60,000, in total — reassured me that my family really did benefit from my choices.
That said, I imagine anyone who wants to be a surrogate primarily for the money would be left feeling rather empty. Given how long it can take to work, I could have made more money working at McDonald's!
People sometimes ask, "How can you just give the baby up at the end?"
But the truth is, while I care about the kids, it's not in a maternal way. My attachment is more to the parents and the experience we all shared.
That's what made every painful shot, failed IVF attempt, and wave of nausea worth it.
*Names have been changed.