When you hear the word “surrogate” what do you think? Usually she’s a barefoot, pregnant woman, uneducated, living in a trailer somewhere who was hired by a wealthy family to carry their baby to term then be forgotten forever. Here's the money, thanks for your service, bye.
Wrong. And with Kim Kardashian making news recently for finding and hiring a surrogate to carry her third baby with Kanye West, one surrogate wanted to set the record straight that not all “belly moms” are desperate and in need of money.
A former high school teacher of World Literature in North Philadelphia, Becky and her husband Matt struggled for years to conceive. She finally had her son Charlie in January 2013, with the help of IVF. She is now hoping to try another round to bring him home a sibling. But in the meantime, she did something to help out another mom struggling to conceive, because she knew how painful the process was.
“My journey started at journey started at 21 with my first miscarriage, I had my son had at almost 30. My own eggs are just a mess,” Becky says. “So at 32, I wanted to pay it forward.”
Even though her own eggs were not viable, didn’t mean her body couldn’t carry another woman’s embryo.
“I decided I wanted to move forward with surrogacy and my husband was adopted, so he was very supportive of all the different ways families are made,” Becky says. “I thought for a good three months, I kind of mentioned it and he was like ‘yeah let's do it.’”
To debunk some of the myths about surrogates, Becky is college educated (she graduated from Smith College) and her husband is a tech consultant who owns his own business. Together, the two make a good living.
“Even poor people can’t do it [surrogacy] for the money, it’s a pretty low paying job,” she explains.
Her next step was navigating the different agencies that match surrogates with intended parents.
“I had an intuition which ones were in it for the money,” Becky says, choosing Art Parenting, who “take very good care of both parties throughout the process.”
Art Parenting is a boutique agency run by attorney Meryl Rosenberg, which deals in all legal aspects of surrogacy, egg donation, and embryo donation. Meryl is hands on with all her matches, and walks them through every step of the process.
Becky says they take the time to make sure the matches are good and that people that would able to form relationships, because you're in their lives for at least a year, maybe longer. It turns out Becky and the biological mom she carried for became super tight.
“For us, we formed a close bond, she's about 20 months old now and we get the kids together,” Becky says.
As for any weirdness about Becky carrying her friend’s baby, she explains it like this:
“The way I frame it to people is that she was never mine. I looked at it like ‘I’m a foster parent.’ Kids go to foster care when the parents can’t fulfill some sort of need the child needs. At the surrogacy level the need is to be grown. Their belly's don’t work is all. Their body can’t hold the pregnancy. A surrogate is a short term foster parent.”
At the start of the process, Becky worried she wouldn’t be accepted as a surrogate because of her own infertility issues, but after some testing, she was approved and then matched with the mom.
“In the beginning she was very kind off closed off, very protected, and for me it was easier for me to understand because she knew I had gone through infertility. I could understand where she was coming from,” Becky says, adding, “then we formed a bond pretty quickly. Once we got past the very scary part [three months] it was easy for her to get excited. She is a very respectful person, I would have to grab her arm and put it on my stomach. She would let me make the decisions, she didn't want to interfere, and I would tell her, ‘it’s OK, just say it.”
The two spoke every day throughout the pregnancy and the biological mom and her husband went to nearly every ultrasound with Becky.
“I was matched with a couple from my clinic, same doctors, we only live 45 minutes apart,” Becky says. “We would meet at the doctors then go grab lunch.”
After a while, the women grew so attached, after the birth Becky felt a hole for her new friend, and not the baby.
“Briefly after I gave birth, I missed her then because we didn't have as much time as friends to spend time together,” she says. “I never felt a bond with the baby…I don't tend to be a highly emotional person, and I was a perfect surrogate because of that…I think they try to screen out people who are highly emotional.”
The birth of the couple’s daughter was easy for Becky, she says with her own son she had a 30-hour labor and she was exhausted.
“With surrogacy, it was very quick, two hours from broken water to birth,” Becky laughs.
The biological couple were in the room, “freaking out” while she was perfectly calm.
“That was amazing. I was able to get her out in a couple of pushes, and I was able to watch them [the couple] because I didn't have to worry about the baby,” Becky explains. “I was laugh crying. They were hysterical, it was heartwarming and really funny.”
Before the birth the biological mom was insistent Becky hold the baby first, but that’s not what she wanted.
“I told her ‘this is your baby, the only difference is it's coming out through my vagina.’ It's yours the second it hits the floor,’” she laughs.
Becky was able to sacrifice her body to make a then-stranger a mother because she said she knows the struggles of trying to have a baby firsthand—and she’ll never forget.
I just think that pregnancy is not when you become a mother, parenthood is,” she says. “That bond forms over the first few months.”
The girl’s biological mom has never gone through a period of not wanting to see Becky, to her relief, and she says they are forever bonded. The only awkwardness they had was when Becky had to tell her to stop buying presents and lunch because she was so grateful to her for carrying.
“That's something you have to deal with early on,” she explains. “She would say ‘you did so much’ and I would tell her ‘no, that's a separate thing.’”
Becky attributes much of the success of the relationship and the baby to the agency, one that really cares about the intended parents and the surrogates.
“There are agencies who take as much money as they can and let anyone be a surrogate,” she says. “I love to talk to people about this, education to me is key and the only way to get people to understand this is for people to talk about it and the stigma to drop.”
In the end, Becky says, her reasons were for herself, too.
“For me, because I finally got my miracle rainbow baby my brain immediately went back to all those women I made friends with…so many of them still don't have their baby and many never will,” she says. “And when I began to consider, I thought I wanted to give at least one person the feeling that I had right then watching my son, holding him, knowing that all those years weren't in vain.”
“But if you aren't doing this for yourself—to add something to who you become as a person—don't do it.”
Her friend’s daughter just turned 5 in January.
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