Erin is a joy to know and someone who is in the dictionary next to the word “warrior”. Her story is honest and vulnerable and I am so thankful for what she does for the infertility community. I am so thankful for her willingness to share her story as today’s What It’s Like feature and am proud to call her my friend. Here’s what it’s like to have a surrogate.
When my husband and I got married in October 2012, I never could have been prepared nor envisioned all we would go through over the next almost six years of marriage.
Having wanting to start a family right away, we did what most “normal” spouses do. I did my research, started tracking my cycles, my basal body temperature, and testing ovulation. I downloaded every fertility app you could think of to track the best days to have sex.
After a year of never seeing those two lines we so prayed for, I saw my OB & I was diagnosed with PCOS. At this time, it was also discovered that my left Fallopian tube needed to be removed. It was removed via laparoscopy surgery in 2013. After a recovering from surgery, we began Clomid to induce ovulation. With no luck after three months, we made the decision to go to a fertility clinic.
From June 2014 through October 2017 my husband and I would go on to try three IUI’s and nine IVF embryo transfers (with fifteen embryos). Over four years, we would spend our days at the clinic in the morning for monitoring and pumping myself full of hormone injections by night. Five egg retrievals in total. We would get pregnant six times, only to lose all of them.
Around our fourth loss, I began thinking of other alternatives to fulfilling our lifelong dream of becoming parents. How much more could my body handle? How much more heartbreak could we endure? How many more embryos would we have to “waste” to get our miracle baby?
Around the same time, one of my best friends had so generously offered to be our surrogate, if we ever wanted to take that route. While I knew deep down, ultimately, it would most likely be where we would end up, I just wasn’t quite ready to give up on my body just yet. After all, isn’t that the most beautiful thing about a woman’s body? That we can carry our own children and create life?
For our fifth and sixth transfer, we made the decision to consult a reproductive immunologist, Dr. Kwak Kim. Desperately searching for answers as to why my body was rejecting our babies. Through extensive testing, she discovered I had MTHFR and high NK cells. Essentially, my body thought the fetus was foreign and wanted to get rid of it. Crazy, right?! For those next several months, we made quite a few different trips to several different clinics weekly. It got hard juggling all of it with our work schedules and life, but we always made it work. My husband and I were the living definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But, we knew it would all be worth it.
We tried a few different protocols (steroids, blood thinners, intralipids, etc) with Dr. Kwak Kim and just when we got pregnant and thought things were looking up, they would come crashing down on us in all too familiar fashion. We went on to have our fifth and sixth final loss in June 2017.
We were emotionally and physically exhausted. We had literally continued to do back-to-back cycles for almost four solid years. After every loss we went through, I would somehow find the courage, strength, and hope to get back up again. I always had that glimmer of hope from within me, but not this time. It was time to take our journey to three on a different path.
I often get asked how we found our surrogate and while I wish I could say I had the courage to ask her, it was her that approached us. Can you imagine just how hard and scary that must have been for her? Offering to your best friend, the gift of life, but not wanting to hurt my feelings by taking away the joy of pregnancy? It did help that she knew we had been toying with the idea, so the next steps on our journey were fairly easy and painless. I should also note that Rachel lives in our hometown in Wisconsin and we are living in Illinois, so there would be a lot of traveling, but all worth it of course.
In August 2017, we would begin the surrogacy process. And boy, there was (and probably still is) so much that I did not know. It wouldn’t be as simple as just putting our embryos into our surrogate. There would be health history, medical checks and tests, psychological exams, lawyers, court dates, etc. Woah. For starters, our fertility clinic would only work with us if we went through a surrogacy agency, per FDA requirements, and they recommended us to Pink & Blue Surrogacy out of Waterloo, WI. I am super grateful that we are using an agency – it has made this journey so much easier!!!! Jesse, the founder and owner, has worked with us since day one and we couldn’t have gotten more lucky.
My husband & I had no embryos left so we went through our fifth (and hopefully final) egg retrieval in October 2017. The cool part, is that I get to share with our future child(ren) that they were conceived a day before our five year wedding anniversary! On our fifth egg retrieval, seven embryos made it to day 5 or 6 and were biopsied for genetic testing. Of those, we were blessed with four coming back PGS “normal” and two of those were mosaic.
Prior to our retrieval, our surrogate Rachel, had to see her OB for a physical exam and all of her medical history was sent to our surrogacy agency. Our surrogacy agency then sends all of her paperwork to our fertility clinic where they “cleared” Rachel to be our surrogate! I was never worried that Rachel wouldn’t be cleared. She has three children of her own, all healthy pregnancies with zero complications! One hurdle done!
After we knew we had embryos, the legal portion could start. Our surrogacy agency contacted a legal team and set us up with our prospective lawyers/attorneys. Each of our lawyers spoke to us and went over what we wanted/didn’t want out of the agreement, which took about a two hour phone call for both parties. After that agreement was drawn up, and we both had very little changes to make, we both signed and we would be cleared to prep Rachel and her body for our transfer! Yay!
Legally, I can’t talk much about what is in the contract, but it’s truly a lot of general items such as no alcohol/drugs for the surrogate (duh, lol), stipends for some things for the surrogate, the intended parents (us) cover all legal/medical fees – which is all very typical. Quite honestly, the legal portion was extremely painless and went pretty quick.
Our legal was completed on December 8th, 2017 and we scheduled transfer for January 12th, 2018. We were all equally excited and couldn’t wait for transfer to get here! Rachel would begin her meds (and injections) right after legal was done and she would make several trips down to us and our fertility clinic for monitoring appointments. She came down for her baseline appointment, lining check, and then transfer.
Rachel & her husband came down the evening before transfer because we needed to be at the clinic early the next day. I was a ball of nerves. I’d stepped foot into this clinic, probably more times than I can count, but transfer day was different. I went in with more hope than I had ever had. We transferred two PGS embryos into Rachel. Later we would find out it was a boy and girl embryo! Here are some pictures from that magical day, thanks to our photographer Jessica Weinstock.
Rachel’s blood beta pregnancy test was on January 21st – we already knew she was pregnant from her taking home pregnancy tests, but now it was confirmed. Our clinic had her do a repeat beta two or three more times and then we waited for ultrasound. On February 7th, we had our first ultrasound and it was confirmed that one embryo had implanted and Rachel was indeed carrying our rainbow baby! We got to see the flicker of the heartbeat, just beating away. It’s a moment I will never forget.
We had agreed with our legal team that within 90 days of a confirmed heartbeat we would provide life insurance for Rachel and also have an estate plan drawn up for her family – which we were more than happy to do. There’s so much more that goes into surrogacy that I never expected!
We were released from my fertility clinic at our 9 week 3 day appointment and have now been seeing Rachel’s midwifes at her clinic. She will also give birth at the hospital that she has delivered all her children at as well.
At twenty weeks, we will be contacted by our surrogacy agency and we will begin the process of going to court for a “parentage” agreement with our legal team. I don’t know too much about this yet, I just know that we will all have to go to court and it should take about thirty minutes in the court room. Once that is complete, I’m 99% sure everything will be taken care of and we just wait for our daughter to arrive this September!
In all, our surrogacy journey will have cost us $30K+, but we have been extremely blessed and lucky to enough to host a lot of fundraisers that have really help offset the cost. You can’t put a cost on happiness and I know when our daughter is here, nothing else will matter and our hearts will be exploding with love.
Throughout our surrogacy journey, I have to be honest and share that at times it has been hard for me to cope with not being the one to carry our child. While I know, without a doubt, this is the path we needed to take to reach our dream of becoming parents, it still stings a bit that I am not the one carrying her. What Rachel is doing for us, is the greatest gift anyone could give us and is extremely priceless, we are forever grateful for her. We text every day and she always keeps us in the loop too, which is wonderful.
I have a difficult time going into baby sections and/or baby stores because when I tell people we are due in September they immediately take a glance at my stomach and notice no bump. I feel like I don’t belong most of the time. People have told me to be thankful that I am not carrying our child because someone in their family had a rough pregnancy. I have been told during our surrogate’s first trimester that whenever she got sick from the baby, I should force myself to be sick too. Sometimes, people just need to bite their tongue. It can be very discouraging going through this process, and please don’t for one second ever think I wouldn’t give ANYTHING to have carried our child.
I will never discredit the strength it takes to carry a child, let alone carry a child for someone else. Rachel has shown us so much love, strength, grace and she’s a true warrior. Not once has she complained about the morning sickness (or all day sickness), the injections she took, or the meds she had to take. Her strength has helped me keep calm. She’s giving us our miracle.
I continue to hear how we have “beat” infertility and I’m here to say, no we didn’t. Infertility took a lot from me. Years of pain, loss, time at clinics, etc – but I’m still not the one carrying my child. So no, we did NOT beat infertility, we simply went around it. But, I will tell you that our daughter was worth it. Worth all the pain, all the years, and worth every single penny.
There were days I didn’t think I could keep pushing, but it took those days to show myself the unbelievable strength I had to continue our journey. This journey isn’t always easy, it will test you in every way possible and you will feel every emotion known to man, but I promise you, you have the strength within you to keep pushing. All of us are warriors.
Thank you to Chelsea, for inviting me to share what our journey with surrogacy is like and for helping to raise awareness and bring attention to all our different journeys. I truly appreciate it!
Erin Boelhower is 33 years old and resides in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and two dogs. They are currently expecting a daughter, Scottie, later this year. You can follow along Erin’s journey on Instagram @journeytothree_ivf, on her blog, or on Facebook.
PPS – If you’re ever looking for a devotional on living life while in a waiting season, check out the devotional I co-authored called ‘In the Wait’!
PPPS – Check out the other contributions from this series, including What It’s Like: to experience multiple IVF cycles, raise a child with special needs, use an egg donor, be a DIY-er and home style blogger , be a NICU nurse, Live fully in singleness while still hoping for marriage, suffer with endometriosis. experience depression, start a company, have a micro preemie, lose a parent, be childless not by choice, have a spouse with a chronic illness, fund raise for fertility treatments, have a traumatic birthing experience, take a natural route with infertility, be on a reality show, go through the adoption process, have male factor infertility,be a stay at home mom, be an entertainer, be given a Down syndrome diagnosis for your child and experience multiple miscarriages. Stay tuned for many other amazing topics to come every Tuesday and Friday here!