For many, the conversation to use a surrogate, otherwise known as a Gestational Carrier (GC), begins after medical problems arise, multiple failed fertility treatments, or losses. For some, it’s to become first-time parents, for others, like us, it’s to add a sibling to the family. The decision to use a Gestational Carrier wasn't easy for me and came with a lot of emotional ups and downs that I was not prepared for.
Six years ago, I used IVF to get pregnant with my daughter and, at 32 weeks, started showing signs of preeclampsia. After being on bedrest and hospitalized twice, my condition worsened. My kidneys started to fail, and I became at risk of stroke. I gave birth to my daughter via emergency c-section. She then spent two weeks in the NICU, and I remained extremely sick and had medical issues for about six months after her birth.
The experience was traumatic, to say the least. In fact, my doctor told me I could have died, and when we started discussing getting pregnant again, he suggested I used a surrogate. Pregnancy, he said, was too big of a risk. I was shocked.
Two other maternal fetal medicine doctors confirmed our physician’s prognosis, and I felt confused, broken, and unsure of what to do. Not only could I not get pregnant naturally, but I also couldn’t carry a healthy pregnancy. I felt like a failure.
For my husband and close family, the decision to use a surrogate was a no-brainer. After all, we had remaining frozen embryos, and we could afford it. But I needed time to process my traumatic birth. So I spent a year in therapy, challenging my expectations and grieving the fact that I may never get pregnant again.
As I was processing my emotions, I felt very isolated. I had supportive friends and family, but I felt like most of them didn’t fully understand my situation, and many of them showered me with comments that, though coming from a good place, were very unhelpful, like not needing to go through all the uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms or to lose the baby weight. I felt robbed of what I thought to be a “normal” birth experience, of the chance to feel these strong kicks inside of me again, and of the opportunity to breastfeed.
I felt guilty, too: my introduction to motherhood was challenging, but I did get my miracle child. Yet, I was split between feeling grateful to even have the option to use a surrogate and being sad that I had to use one. What would it be like to have another woman carry my baby? Would I feel connected to my baby? What would my relationship with the surrogate be like? I was worried I wouldn’t be able to emotionally handle this complex process, so I considered risking my life to get pregnant again.
But with time and the help of my therapist, I eventually came to a place of acceptance. And instead of being hard on myself, I started to be compassionate with myself. I knew now: we were going to use a surrogate to bring our second child into the world. I deserved this opportunity.
I started getting excited and felt ready to navigate the unchartered waters of surrogacy. And so we met with an agency that our fertility clinic recommended. I did not know what the process would be like or how I would feel about it, but I felt hopeful. I knew in my heart we would get through any challenges that arose.
In retrospect, I always knew that using a surrogate was the right choice -- it just took me a while to get there. And once I was able to change the headline of my story from "My Body Failed Me" to "My Experience Has Made Me Strong," I realized how strong I actually was. After all, I survived birth that my doctor said could have killed me; I sought out the help I needed to process and recover from my trauma and to guide me through subsequent decisions; and I was able to challenge my own dysfunctional thoughts to make the right choice for my family, which is what matters most, isn't it?
Lindsay Dougherty is a Licensed professional Counselor who has been working in the mental health field since 2002. She began to specialize and train in postpartum mood disorders and mental health relating to infertility after my own personal struggle. A member of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), Postpartum Support International (PSI) and Resolve: The National Infertility Association, Lindsay started The Courageous Conversations Center of Denver to give women and families the opportunity to break their silence and begin the dialogue around these issues.