Rachel's Story

What happens when a surrogate mother has lasting regrets?
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I became a commercial surrogate because I like being pregnant, and it seemed like a good way to help people.  Money was also a factor. I’m a single parent and it’s not like I’m rolling in dough or anything. Honestly, the first time I was a surrogate I got paid so little that it really was an act of generosity on my part. But I also don’t think there’s really any amount of money that makes it worth it, knowing what I know now. I don’t think there’s any amount of money that justifies risking your life.  Given the harms involved, any amount of compensation is paltry in my opinion. 

I guess I’m only speaking for myself, but I think that being a surrogate mostly fulfilled a certain emotional or psychological need I had. I’ve been single for a very long time, and surrogacy seemed like a way to be really wanted, and liked, and appreciated. For the period of time you are a surrogate, you are very important to those who want the children that you carry for them.  But then, you know, unfortunately, there is a huge let-down afterwards, because you can’t just carry a baby and not have some attachment to it.  When the baby arrives and is gone, and then the parents are gone, and you look at this paltry amount of money you’ve made, then a lot of shame and guilt sinks in and takes the place of any more positive feelings you may have experienced. Because, truthfully, commercial surrogacy is nothing but an exchange of money for children. It just is.

And in the mean time, I hurt my body so badly.  I mean, I wrecked my body.  Completely wrecked it. Like, I had five pregnancies in five years, and it destroyed my body. My bladder will never be the same.  My stomach will never ever be the same.  A lot of energy goes into making a baby.  And, I mean, I just think you use your life energy to make a baby and, of course, if it’s your own, then you’re willing to make that sacrifice. But when the baby isn’t yours?  It’s hard to regain that life energy.  It just is.

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And the psychological toll?  It is also forever. When I tell people I’ve been a surrogate, they’re like, “You’re amazing!” But I know better. I’m always having to say, “No, I’m not.” They often press for more details and I’m pretty upfront that, like, it was selfish motivations that made me be a surrogate—both financial and emotional needs that needed to be fulfilled.  

In my first commercial surrogacy experience, I ended up with some heavy financial costs that I hadn’t bargained for in my contract with the intended parents. Truthfully, I might as well have paid for them to have the child. I also pumped milk for that baby for close to a year, knowing I would never receive a cent for that, but I did it for the baby. And this was for a couple that no longer speaks to me.  

I did it for the baby. It felt like the final attachment that I had with that child.  It was my way of being able to continue nursing that child.  I kind of had a feeling the relationship would go south, but because I did care about that child, I wanted to do what I could, so I did.  

I mean, I worked 12-hour days, and so I would have to get up two hours before my shift and spend an hour of that pumping, and then run out to my car on my lunch break sometimes in the heat of July and pump for 30 minutes. And then as soon as I got home after work, I immediately would be pumping again. I probably spent, in the very thick of it, four or five hours a day pumping, while working full-time.  Because I cared for this child.

I developed feelings for this child throughout my pregnancy. It was extremely difficult and I felt a huge loss. This was not something I expected would happen to me when I entered the surrogacy arrangement. I thought that it would feel different because it wasn’t genetically my child. But it did not feel different.

Truthfully, as my delivery date approached, I thought about absconding with the baby. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that I could be charged with a crime, like kidnapping, and lose my professional license. When the baby arrived, I had to beg to have just five minutes with the baby girl I had just delivered, and the parents were hovering over me the entire time. I was allowed to hold her for only two minutes, to tell you the truth, and then she was whisked away.  And that was it. It was not quality time.

For weeks and months after, I also felt really guilty because my own child definitely noticed that I had been pregnant and I worried about how she felt about it all. She was maybe ten years old at the time, and I felt like she had a loss, too.  It was confusing for her.  I talked to her about it, but it was still confusing for her. I just remember the day that I came from the hospital, she had been with her dad, and I was sitting in the backyard when she walked in through the back gate where I was sitting and she just broke down in tears. She was sobbing.  She tried to explain it all away by saying that she really hadn’t had a good sleep at her dad’s house. I accepted that, but it was like there was all this underlying stuff, like, “I know you were pregnant, but there is no baby.”  This was confusing to her, and I was clearly also having an emotional breakdown.  She was upset. 

I did visit the parents and the baby a few times early on, actually, and I brought my daughter with me. And so, I mean, I felt like that helped her a little bit.  But, you know, there was also definitely, I could just feel, this energy on the side of the parents, which was, “ We’ve got to shut this relationship down.” I knew it was going to happen.  I knew that.  And so, I mean, I had to talk to my daughter about that then, like we probably won’t being seeing the baby anymore, and she knew it too.  The very last time we were allowed to visit, the mother was just horrible to me. Her husband actually even wrote me an email apologizing and said that her behavior was abhorrent.  But she is his wife and when your wife gives you an ultimatum, you have only one choice: “So what do you want to do, like, be friends with the surrogate or stay married to me?”  Like there’s an obvious choice.  And that choice was made.  

Of course, when I was first contracting with these parents, it had all been very different. They were very friendly, and said things like, “Oh, we’re big believers in good energy, and we want to be friends for the rest of our lives.” Interestingly, even though both had claimed early on that they weren’t at all religious, the reason the mother eventually gave me for cutting off the relationship was that they were Catholic, and that if her family found out that IVF had been used to create their daughter, they would disown both of them.  Which is totally untrue.  It was just something for her to use, you know.  

The whole relationship changed. I mean, she used me.  She absolutely used me.  I watched her do what she needed to do to fulfill her need and then I watched her grow more and more jealous and then turn mean.  Malicious. Jealousy is real for the woman who is becomes a mother without actually having biologically experienced the pregnancy. Jealousy toward the surrogate and others, because of missing the same initial bond. You come to it later, but it’s not the same. And her being aware of that, and envying that, and also feeling inadequate in some profound sense. She said as much. Those were feelings that I saw in her. And I was concerned about her ability to be a good parent.

I mean, they’re educated, well-off people.  In that respect, I didn’t feel like there was going to be neglect or abuse or anything. But there definitely was not a natural bond.  You know, I mean, like your body prepares you to care for a child during a pregnancy.  You start losing sleep, and by the time the baby comes, you’re used to it, because your body has been preparing you for that.  But for her, it came as a sudden shock, and she was not well.  She really struggled. I mean, she had all sorts of people hired to help her with the baby. And then she just, you know, did things that I know I would never do with my infant.  Like, she took a vacation trip to Mexico for a week when the baby was just three-weeks old. Like, I personally, I mean, I felt guilty leaving a nine-week old infant to go back to work. For me, it was kind of mind blowing, but the bond just wasn’t there for her. It was heartbreaking.  It felt like somebody had died. I have been through the death of a child, a child of my own, and I can tell you that it felt just  like a child had died.  Absolutely.

So I am still grieving. And when I feel like she’s not being the mother that I would have been, I feel both shame and  guilt—that I had potentially damaged the child.  Yes. That baby was wondering what happened to the sounds and smells that were me…that were her first contact with the world.

So it is hard. The mother was determined never to tell her daughter that she had been carried and delivered by someone else.  But I think the child is going to know that something is off.  And probably will wonder what that is for the rest of her life. And may never know.  I don’t know.

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Why did I turn to surrogacy? I can’t, I can’t tie it to a specific loss, but I’ve had quite a few in my life. My mom and I didn’t have a fantastic relationship growing up and I think that, like, a desire to continually experience motherhood resulted from that.  Also not having a partner, and so I wasn’t able to have and take care of any more babies myself. 

I was taken advantage of, and used. I think all surrogate mothers are being used.  I have asked to share my story anonymously, and so I know it’s a bit hypocritical, but I wish more women would be honest about their experiences. I feel like a lot of surrogate mothers experience this, but because of the social pressure from the world of surrogacy that paints it all as this beautiful, wonderful thing, people are really hesitant to speak up, including myself.  I have friends in the surrogacy community that I don’t want to offend. But I definitely feel used.  I feel like I sold myself short.  Honestly, like I’ve thought about it, and I’d rather work a hundred hours of overtime a month than subject myself to that again. It’s just not worth it, you know.

I’ve hidden the fact that I’ve been a surrogate from people that I care about. I think most people look at surrogacy and they see it as baby selling and so, I know that.  Even I feel that way.  But it’s been a matter of like, not wanting to be judged. I don’t think my extended family would appreciate it at all. 

I’ve been a surrogate more than once. After that first one, you know what you’re setting yourself up for and it’s just like, "Ok well, like I’m going to plan on feeling like a complete shit for at least two months, like emotionally." That’s just part of it.

One thing I have going for me is I am able to carry babies to term.  But, you know, I have carried a twin pregnancy and I really lucked out in not having any complications.  But even then it was so fraught with anxiety and fear. That was probably the most anxiety-ridden time in my life. 

Carrying twins is terrifying. It takes a huge toll on your body.  I mean like, I couldn’t crawl out of bed a lot of days, but I had to keep my full-time job, and it was extremely taxing. I was able to carry to the twins to term, but I have a lot of surrogate friends who had to deliver the twins they were carrying at like 24, 28 weeks.  And, you know, the aftermath is scary. One baby is hard enough, but two babies take up every resource your body has and it’s terrifying.  I mean I’m kind of an anxious person to begin with.  Like, pregnancy makes me more anxious.  I really shouldn’t have done any of this at all. Like, there were times that I was concerned that I would die when I was carrying twins. 

I had two embryos implanted with every one of my surrogacy pregnancies. Two every time, and it just so happened only once did I end up carrying twins.  And I lucked out.  I mean that was really a mistake on my part to transfer more than one.  That’s irresponsible. You know, like IVF carries a much higher risk of an embryo-splitting, so you’re already at risks for twins even if you have only one embryo transferred.  So if you put in two embryos, you still might end up with four babies, you know. But even without having twins, surrogacy is scary. I mean, there’s a lot of medication. A lot of hormones. I do have concerns about that. I mean, I’m a medical professional and I’m very aware of the issues that come along with sticking that amount of hormones into your body. Yeah, I have concerns about that. We used Lupron for one cycle, but not the others though, thank goodness.  

I don’t think people realize how difficult a twin pregnancy is, and I think it’s especially selfish of intended parents to ask a surrogate mother to have two embryos implanted in her womb.  Knowing how much that increases the risk.  Emotionally, mentally, physically.  Risk to the children too. Being born at 24 weeks--like, these kids are likely to have some major problems later in life, you know.  

Even if a woman really, really, really needed the money, I’d advise her not to be a surrogate. You can’t carry a baby without developing a bond. Those who would legalize commercial surrogacy-- they’re complicit in the buying and selling of babies. It is a billion dollar industry and they’re, yeah, complicit.

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Why do I wish to remain anonymous? Because I know that I would be condemned by the surrogacy community. The community is just a lot of women who know each other, and, truthfully, they’ve helped me quite a bit with some of the other things that I’ve had to deal with in life.  And I just….I definitely fear condemnation from them. If they know I’m condemning commercial surrogacy, they will feel that I’m betraying them, or implicitly criticizing their choices. They’ll absolutely take it personally.  Like, they would not appreciate this at all. I know that there are others in the community who feel the same as me--afraid to speak out and say, yeah, maybe we should rethink this. Absolutely. 

Most of the surrogates are anti-abortion in this surrogate community. And even though they sign agreements that they will terminate life if the parents require it, these are very pro-life women.  Some of them will refuse to terminate, unless there’s risk of death.  But others will agree to terminate if the parents request it, and they absolve themselves of any responsibility for that, by saying to themselves that they didn’t make the choice--the parents did--even though they legally contracted themselves to do that.  Like, I don’t know how you separate yourself from that. I’m okay with it because I’m pro-choice--that’s how I feel.  

I think the tide is going to turn, because we’re now starting to hear from the first generation of babies born of gestational surrogacy. They are talking about their own emotional damage. They’re coming of age. And those are voices that should also be heard.


Sources for this story


Recorded and transcribed interview conducted with Rachel


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