Motherly Collective

By the time I became pregnant with my third—and current—surrogate pregnancy for another family, you could say I had surrogacy experience under my (maternity support) belt. I knew the difference between an independent and an agency journey and that they each come with a list of pros and cons. I knew what I might expect from a relationship with intended parents—some still send me birthday cards, while others are more business-like. And, I knew what I needed to have a successful pregnancy.

And perhaps most important, I know why I chose surrogacy in the first place: To help the people who can’t have the babies they so desperately want (Editor’s note: Gestational surrogacy is a process in which a woman carries and delivers a child for another family. A surrogate may become pregnant via their own egg while a gestational carrier may become pregnant with a donor egg via embryo transfer. The terms “surrogate” and “gestational carrier” are sometimes used interchangeably, however, and Ashley prefers to use the term “surrogate” when describing her experience, even though she is not genetically related to the embryo.)

It was a friend who first introduced me to surrogacy in 2012. We were both pregnant—I was pregnant with my second child, and she was due just a few days before me. But it wasn’t until further into our pregnancies that she told me she was carrying a baby for someone else. I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s awesome!” and just shelving it for future thought. We had a chance to experience our pregnancies side by side, and I had the advantage of learning why she was doing it, what the family she was working with was like, and what was—or wasn’t—working for her surrogacy experience. I knew then that if I could help a family that way, I would love to do it. 

At the time, a surrogate pregnancy was a “someday” for me. My husband Kris and I weren’t quite done building our own family, so we decided to wait a bit before pursuing surrogacy. But after our third child arrived in August 2014, I knew our family was complete. So, I began earnestly considering surrogacy. 

Still, I gave my young family—I had three little ones under the age of four—time to find our groove. It wasn’t until April 2017 that Kris and I began to pursue an agency journey.

Becoming a surrogate: My surrogacy experience

Our matching process was what I had deemed a “unicorn” of an experience. By October of that same year, I had a successful embryo transfer for twin girls for a gay couple who lived in Spain. We connected via FaceTime and WhatsApp, so I could keep them in the loop with what was going on with the pregnancy, and we often had the assistance of a translator due to our language barrier. By the time we met in person, I was 14 weeks along, and I remember being so nervous. I joked with Kris that it was the weirdest first date ever, one where I didn’t know my date, but I was already pregnant with their baby.

The moment we saw each other, it was all hugs, kisses, and tears of joy. They had a chance to meet our kids and, since it was just before Christmas, even helped us decorate our tree. Surrogacy with them was an extraordinary experience, especially since they thought they would never be parents. They told us that in Spain, it is near-impossible for a same-sex couple to adopt a baby, and illegal for them to choose parenthood through surrogacy. Surrogacy was life-changing for them. It’s an extraordinary feeling to know you are the reason for two more little souls in the world. 

My second surrogacy pregnancy in 2020 was the most challenging pregnancy I’ve ever experienced. In addition to a few medical complications like spotting, I worked with intended parents who came to surrogacy as a last resort. After having a stillborn baby late in their own pregnancy, they arrived at the experience heartbroken. So, it brought with it a unique pressure. You think, “Please, no, everything has to be perfect. They’ve already waited for this baby for so long.” It’s a lot to carry the weight of someone else’s worry, and I wanted to give them what they couldn’t give themselves.

Lucky for us, I had the chance to do that when I was 36 weeks pregnant and met them in person for the first time. It wasn’t until that moment they realized, oh, my gosh, this is happening. And I got to tell them yes, you’re taking a baby home.

Fast forward two years and I am now 26 weeks along with my third surrogacy pregnancy. While no pregnancy is predictable (whether it’s your own or someone else’s), I know what to ask for from surrogacy. In fact, I advocate for the very things that led me to my role as a program coordinator at a surrogacy matching platform called Nodal, where our goal is to modernize surrogacy through transparency, empowerment and equity. Nodal actually allows surrogates to make the first move on the matching platform, and saves intended parents waiting time and money in the surrogacy process.

As I tell new surrogates, asking for help with legal resources and equitable pay is OK. Or I remind them that the stigmas attached to surrogacy are bogus. (No, you won’t bond with the baby—it’s not your baby. And, yes, fourth-trimester care is a must. Seriously, postpartum incontinence doesn’t have to be a given, no matter how many people tell you it’s all a part of having kids.)

When I have these frank conversations, it’s almost as if I’m giving the surrogate permission to ask for what she needs, and I let her know she shouldn’t feel guilty for advocating for herself. I think women, in general, are asked by society to please people and not make waves. This is especially true of surrogates because we are the helpers and fixers. It’s a valuable trait, but sometimes, it can cause us to make ourselves smaller to create an easier experience for others. A want to help someone is valid, but so is asking for the things you want. You can do both.

The dual nature of this role especially comes to life for me when I’m in labor and delivery. I arrive having already listed the needs I have to ensure the best delivery experience for me. But I am also looking to the family I am there to help. I want to hear the baby cry—they’re healthy!—and then my next thought is the intended parent(s). Where’s mom? How is dad? I want to see their faces. I want them to be OK. 

Because their familial happiness is why I found surrogacy in the first place. I want to know: How can I help create this journey not only for you, but with you? In fact, it’s not unlike the work I do to empower surrogates. No matter the road, we do it together.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.