Last spring, in 2019, I began looking into possibly becoming a surrogate to supplement my meager income. I definitely needed the money. I had moved to Arizona and I was there for five years, to get away from my small town home back in Pennsylvania, to make money. But I was still flying back home to Pennsylvania three and four times a year to see my daughter, who is ten, and I was still sending money for her to save for her college, you know, for when she gets older.
It wasn’t easy. I have periods of time where like, I think I have a small, like mental or emotional condition. I was adopted when I was younger. I had a lot of childhood trauma and I had a lot of kids when I was very young. I had a son young when I was seventeen years old. I got kicked out of high school a month before graduation for missing too many days – working, being a mom. I got my GED a few weeks after that. I did dental assistance school in Arizona and I graduated in 2016. And then I got my license to serve court papers in Arizona.
I had a baby as a result of a rape. Some of my kids were adopted. I’ve been through some stuff. Sometimes I would get so depressed that I wouldn’t be able to work for three months, but since I knew that about myself, I would overcompensate and I would work, you know, two jobs and as many hours as I could possibly work because I knew, at some point, in a couple of months, I was gonna have to live on that money because I couldn’t work again.
I heard you could make $34,000 as a surrogate. I did the math--40 hours a week, four weeks per month. That equated to about $21 an hour. Where I’m from, a caregiver gets $8.75 an hour, so that seemed like a great deal. And I’m thinking, when I’m pregnant I can still work. So I mean, I wanted to buy a small house so I could be stable. You can get, you know, a small place for like, $20,000 or $30,000 in Pennsylvania.
But when I started approaching surrogacy agencies, I didn’t like them very much. They were quite awful, insisting on bizarre requirements. One agency told me that the couple they were helping wanted to find a surrogate who was 5”10.” But I’m 5’4.” Another agency insisted on a certain BMI, and told me, “If you lose, like ten pounds, you could be a surrogate with us.’
And then, we would get into talks about terminating a surrogacy pregnancy, and you know, I was asked, “Would you allow the parents to terminate over … a Down’s Syndrome baby” I said, “Well, I understand it’s their baby but it’s also my body. And, so no, for Down’s Syndrome, no, I wouldn’t terminate.” And the surrogacy agent got really mad, and she said, “Well, I’m so sick of all these TV programs making like Down’s Syndrome people are all fine and can have a normal life.” And I’m just thinking, “What is wrong with you?!” Another agency told me, “Well, if you don’t agree to let the parents make those decisions, you’re not going to find a match with any parents.”
And so I just, kind of, hated it. So I went online to Surrogate Mothers Online and I placed an ad, and I talked to a lot of different couples. Some were very … strange … and some were very nice. And then eventually I picked the person that I’m working with now, just a single man in his fifties, living on the East coast. I picked him because, like, he didn’t seem too controlling over the process. A lot of the couples I talked to were, like, “You can’t paint your nails. You have to drink so much water every hour….” Just ridiculous things, and I’m like, “I can’t agree to do that.” But he just seemed really like, laid back. He has a very good profession now and he really helps people. And, he’s single, so it’s just him, he doesn’t have a partner, so that seemed like less complication too.
I will call him “the dad.” He and I entered into a surrogacy agreement in June of 2019, in Arizona, where I was living at the time. And we went to a fertility clinic near me there, as he thought it’d be convenient for me, which was nice. So we went in and we said, ‘Hey we don’t have an agency but what are your requirements?’ So we went through some psychological evaluations, medical testing. He sent his sperm to the clinic, picked an egg donor, and then we signed the legal contract. We used an Arizona lawyer, because at that time, my job was serving court papers as a process server, and I had a friend who did family law, and I said, “Hey, we know what we want in our contract, we just need all the legal terms, and a lawyer to help us.” And he said “Well, I’ve never done a surrogacy contract, but I’ll do it for you.” So he typed up our contract and we notarized it. At the time, the dad also insisted that I sign a non-disclosure agreement, to last for ten years, which is why I won’t use his name in my story.
Here’s a recap of my contract. OK, so base pay is $34,000 in equal monthly payments, so basically $3,400 a month, starting at heartbeat confirmation. Then there is an injectable medication start fee when I would start the Lupron and those shots, of $500. The embryo transfer fee is $750. And then there’s some things—invasive procedures/loss of reproductive organs; so $500 for a D and C. If I have to have a C-section it, would be an additional $2,500. If it’s a high-risk pregnancy or multiple children born, I get $100 more per week during the last three months--that’s like to pay someone to come help clean the house, or take care of chores for me. For maternity clothes, I also get $500, payable by the third month of pregnancy. The following are $3,000, but they must be accompanied by a letter from the physician saying it was a direct result of the pregnancy, which would be: loss of reproductive organs within 30 days of delivery; loss of ovaries, loss of uterus, or hysterectomy. Physician-ordered bed rest would be $75 a day, with a maximum amount capped at $2,500, payment for up to five counseling sessions after birth, if needed; and all medical payments, including high-risk OB/GYN and delivery, but the contract specified that this is all going through my insurance--but because I can’t afford health insurance—we’re talking about state government health insurance.
Later on, when I had a few things in the surrogacy contract that I wanted to change, I called a different lawyer in Arizona who I found online and who said he did surrogacy law, and I said, “Hey, I want to change some things in my contract.” And he said, ‘Where was the contract made?’ I said, in Arizona. And he said, ‘Have fun with your wallpaper!’ He said you can’t make surrogacy contracts in Arizona. It’s not legal. And I said, “Well, I have one.” He said I would have to have him make a new contract in the dad’s home state, and that nobody will enforce the contract that we have. And I’m like, “Well, that’s horrible.” I wasn’t yet pregnant at this point, but I was already on all the drugs, the hormones, to get pregnant.
So, I talked to the dad and I said, “Hey, I found out our contract isn’t necessarily legal. What I’m told is that we should make the same contract with a lawyer in your home state, and then everything’s fine. But the dad didn’t really wanna spend the money, didn’t really wanna do it … He … basically said he trusts me, and that I should trust him, and … so I … OK, I guess … I mean, I’m thinking he has more to lose in this process. This is, you know, his child.
The dad has been current with payments, when I send reminders by email. When it came to receiving the money promised for maternity clothes, though, he said, “Well, just get whatever you need and I’ll just reimburse you. Just send me receipts.” And I’m like, “That’s not what the contract says," but I didn’t fight, because it’s too much of a risk, because at any point he could be like, “You know what, our contract’s not legal, I’m not paying you.” And I could be like, ‘What am I gonna do, sue him?’ That’s not really possible. (The dad then did send half of my maternity clothes allowance to me, and promised me the other half closer to my delivery date.)
The dad wanted twins. He wanted a boy and a girl. So after he paid the clinic, the egg donor that he picked from the clinic went through her cycle. When we talked to the doctor, he said he usually only likes to transfer one embryo, because he said his goal is to produce a healthy baby. But, you know, the dad was in there with him and he told the doctor, “Look. You are gonna transfer two embryos, or I’m gonna take my money up the street to the next clinic, and they’re gonna give me what I want. So the choice is yours. We’ll walk out of here." So, reluctantly, the doctor agreed to transfer two embryos to me. I’m like, "Okay. Cool.” So, the doctor agreed. We had to sign a paper that we understood there’s higher risk of, you know, a 4% chance that I would end up with triplets.
But, you know, I’d already had five healthy pregnancies. And, I thought, “Oh, this is gonna be like a normal pregnancy." I never got sick. I felt great. So I agreed to the transfer. By this time, I had moved back to the east coast, in Pennsylvania, where I am now, so I could be closer to my daughter and my family,and because I didn’t really want to be pregnant out in Arizona by myself. I started taking my fertility meds about the end of September. So I was on very high doses. I had shots in my belly at first. I had high estrogen. I had progesterone. I had to have my sister-in-law give me shots in my butt that were like 18-gauge needles.
The dad flew me back to the clinic in Arizona in late October, for the embryo transfer. The doctor transferred two embryos, a boy and a girl. The dad did not come, or accompany me. I had one of my friends come. I stayed in a hotel in Arizona for three days and then came back home to Pennsylvania. But only one of the babies ended up surviving.
I continued using all of the hormones that were prescribed, but then, something went wrong. I end up having extreme pain, right in my right kidney area. My brother, who I lived with, said “Oh man, you must have a kidney stone, you better drink some cranberry juice and water, you’re gonna be fine.” So for twelve hours I stayed home and drank cranberry juice. But it didn’t help. So finally, twelve hours later, I went to the emergency room at the hospital. They did blood work. And then they came and told me in the emergency room that I had a blood clot somewhere, but they didn’t want to do a CAT scan or anything to locate it, because I was pregnant, and that would jeopardize the health of the baby.The doctor tells me, “We don’t know the effects of all this on the baby, so we don’t want to do it. But you have to make up your mind.”
So I called my brother and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want to hurt someone’s baby,” but at the same time if I have a blood clot, I could … it could be serious. I’m like, “What do I do??” and about ten minutes after I hung up with my brother, I started feeling stabbing pain in my chest, and I told the nurse, like three times, like, “Listen, my chest is just … something is stabbing me.” But she did nothing. So finally I ran out to where the doctor was and I’m like, “You have to fix it right now.” And I’m like freaking out. So the doctor does the CAT scan, and before I even get back to my room from the CAT scan, the doctor says “You have huge blood clots in both of your lungs. We’re gonna admit you.” And they start giving me blood thinners.
So they take me upstairs and I was admitted for four days and it was kind of horrible because no one wanted to treat me. They were so worried about the baby, and I’m like, “OK but you realize if I die, there is no baby.” I had one of the PAs come in and she’s like “Do you even want this baby?,” because I was refusing to take any more of the hormones, because I had a high-risk doctor from Ohio come in and tell me that my blood clots were the result of the hormones. She said, ‘”This is a direct result of…”--and I have it in my medical records—“of the high levels of hormones, and if you take more hormones you will probably have maternal death.” And she said it very seriously. She put it in my medical record. And so I said, “I’m not taking the estrogen patches. No, not taking anything.” I don’t know if the dad called the IVF doctor, or if the hospital did, or what. But the dad called me on my cell phone, begging me to take a lower dose of estrogen and telling me the baby will for sure die if I don’t. But I told him, “If I die, there’s no baby, and you still have more eggs on the shelf." I was just like, so mad. Nobody was treating me properly because I’m pregnant, and like this is horrible.
So when I come home, I feel like a 90-year-old lady. I went from working two jobs to not being able to work at all. (I was working in mental health, giving medications, basically a caregiver, but instead of elderly, mental health clients with bipolar, schizophrenia, you know, those kinds of things. And then on my off days I would work at Burger King.) When I came home, you know, I would have to sit down, just taking a shower.I would get winded just getting up from my bed to go to the bathroom, which is like five steps. My heart rate would jump to 150, and I’d be short of breath. I’m worried, “Am I going to die?” I never saw this coming. I’m sure there’s a paper we signed somewhere that there’s a risk of blood clots or something but, like, the magnitude of what could happen was not really discussed.
Before I agreed to be a surrogate, I Googled to find out about surrogate horror stories, and the only thing I could find is where the moms want to keep the babies after they’ve given birth to them, or they run to another state or something like that. But I never saw any health risks anywhere. Like, even if you Google now and try to find it, it’s really hard. Even trying to join surrogate Facebook support groups, as soon as you mention something bad happened, they shut you up or kick you out. I was told by people in the Facebook group, “You didn’t do enough of your research. Do you think they make you get life insurance on you in a surrogacy contract just for fun??’ And then I say, “You’re telling me, you have three children and you’re willing to risk them not having a mom, for someone else. Are you kidding me??” Oh yeah, I got the boot from so many groups just even trying to get some support.
So anyway, after I came home I was feeling really weak. I got really depressed. I would cry sometimes just thinking like, “Am I gonna die from this?” It was just horrible. And then, a week or so later, I started getting really bad pain in my shoulder and my back. Just really horrible pain that I couldn’t stand anymore. So I went back to the emergency room, and I was like “Guys, something is wrong.” It turned out that this time, they said that I had a lung infarct and part of my lung had collapsed and that there was some fluid in it. A nurse comes in and she wants me to sign a paper, agreeing to let them life-flight me to Pittsburgh. It’s like a four-and-half-hour drive from where I live, but they want to life-flight me to Pittsburgh. I just start crying. I’m like, I’ve never been in a helicopter. I just have anxiety. But I’ll sign the paper if that’s what I have to do. But then, the weather was so bad that the helicopter couldn’t come. So they called a med transport and they put me in the back of an ambulance for a five-hour ride to Pittsburgh.
I was there for a week. They told me when I got there on Friday that Monday they were gonna put a drain tube to drain out part of the stuff in my lungs. They’d make a little hole in my chest. And upped my Lovenox to 100 because my anti-Xa levels came back that it wasn’t a therapeutic dose. So I go to have that procedure done, but then the doctor says that he thinks the amount of fluid was too small. He said something about the procedure would risk my whole lung collapsing, and it wasn’t worth it, so he ended up not doing the procedure. I was setn back home around Thanksgiving.
I’m now a little over fourteen weeks into my pregnancy. The baby’s still fine, even though I haven’t touched a hormone since the fertility doctor, you know, told the dad, you know, his baby would die and it would be my fault. The dad calls to check on me. He’s been good about payments, although he thinks $500 is a lot for maternity clothes.
But still, I’m now starting to have concerns about the dad. I didn’t think he had ever had any kids. He’s in his 50s. He’s a single man who works as an addiction counselor. But it turns out, when we’re just talking, he tells me a story about how he was married before and he actually has a kid that had severe disabilities and who he doesn’t get to see. And then he told me that he had been in jail—that when he was divorcing his wife, she ratted on him to the authorities and he was convicted of a felony and ended up in prison. I wasn’t gonna be like, “Ooh, tell me the details.” He told me he used to be addicted to drugs and alcohol really bad, so I assumed that he went to prison for something related to that. (I had known something about his past drug addiction and alcoholism, and in fact connected with him in part because he had beat these things and was trying to help others, but I was less sure about him when I saw his willingness not to tell me about other important things.)
And every now and then, he says really weird things like, “I’m not the kind of guy that can just show up with a kid, because people will wonder.” And I’m thinking, what does that mean? That makes me freak out, like, why aren’t you a guy that can show up with a kid? Like I don’t get it.
I’m now 3 ½ months pregnant, and scared. I want other people to really know the risks of surrogacy. This really isn’t just me. This happens to a lot more people, and when people ask me now, “Oh how much do you get paid?”, I’m like, “How much is your life worth?? You know, because I’m like ‘It’s really that serious.’”
I didn’t think this would happen. I haven’t worked since I had my pulmonary embolisms and I want to go back, even part-time as care-giving or something, but I’m like, “What if I start and what if I get sick and then lose my job?”
And I wonder now, what happens to surrogates like me after birth? Like, after giving birth and the baby is gone, because I’m worried about that for myself. I’m like, OK, I know this isn’t my baby. Logically I know, but the more struggle I've had with this pregnancy, the more protective and the more bonding I’m doing, and I’m trying not to. I’m sorry. I know I’m not supposed to. But how can you not?
And I wonder now, how come these parents aren’t adopting? In the dad’s case, he told me, “Adoption is not an option for me. I have a felony.”
I’m worried about the birth. I’ve never been scared to give birth, other than the natural a little fear. Oh, it will hurt, you know, whatever. But now, like, I could bleed to death. The dad and I agreed that when I’m 35 weeks pregnant, I’m gonna travel five hours away from my whole family to stay in an Airbnb by myself, so I can be near the hospital in Pittsburgh. But now I’m like, “How am I going to get there, like, if I go in labor, I can’t walk.” And like, “I can’t drive if I’m in labor. Like, an Uber isn’t going to pick up someone in labor. They would be like call 911.” So I’m asking the dad, “I know you work from home. Why don’t you just come to Pittsburgh so I’m not there by myself?” But he reminds me that our contract said that I would carry the baby, and he would arrive only when the baby had arrived and was ready for pick-up, and he also says, “Oh, I’m going take a lot of time off after the baby’s born.” And I’m like OK, so I’m gonna to sit in an Airbnb while I’m 35 weeks pregnant until I deliver, five hours away from my family? And I’m terrified.
I just don’t want other women to ever be in this same situation that I have found myself in, and I want other people to understand what it’s like. Like, it’s important, because I feel like I’m going through this whole pregnancy alone. I keep telling the dad, “How can I include you more?” But he’s really just not interested. He really just wants to fly in and then just pick up his kid.
I spent all day at the library yesterday. I notarized a power of attorney in case I die. Who’s going to handle my finances for my daughter? The possibility of death is a real thing. My high-risk OB has offered me termination of my pregnancy twice. But I’m like, I can’t terminate though, I just can’t. I felt the heartbeat.
I went to upstate New York last week and I paid for an ultrasound to do a gender reveal to surprise the dad. I want him to be excited about his baby because that will let him know the baby will be OK. I know he can provide all the money stuff, but I’m worried about the emotional stuff. So I went there. You know, just seeing the baby, it’s like, OK take a picture, can we see her toes kind of. So I now have little pictures of her little cute toes and I’m like, “I can’t live with myself if I terminate this pregnancy.” I said “Even if the baby is terminated, I’m still gonna have blood clots in my lungs. And whether the baby comes out now, or way too early and passes away, or whether I give birth and she’s healthy---I believe it’s the same risk to me. I can bleed to death at either time. So I would rather at least give someone a chance to live through this crap. Even though like every month I fight with the pharmacy to get my Lovenox, it’s $1,500 for my insurance to cover it for a month’s supply. I call them in advance, like a couple of days, like, “Hey, can I come pick up my Lovenox?”. And they say, “Oh yeah, it looks good.’ And then the day I have to pick it up, they’re like, “We need another prior authorization.” So I have to find out which doctor is handling it. Is it the pulmonologist, is it the high-risk OB, is it the hematologist? I’m like, “OK, I have to have this or the blood clot can get bigger.”
I started a Facebook group to see if some surrogates have had some problems like me. I had got kicked out of another surrogate group because I mentioned being sick or whatever, and then I started my own because those women don’t let people talk about anything negative.
I really appreciate you listening. It means a lot.
Telephonic interview conducted with Jane Doe