My Surrogacy Journey Taught Me the Power of Community
Jamie Kern Lima opens up about her road to surrogacy and the birth of her first child in an excerpt from her book Believe IT.
My husband Paulo and I spent close to a decade trying to get pregnant. Between fertility procedures, countless needles and hormone injections, and more negative drugstore pregnancy tests than I can count, I had spent so much of the last decade in tears, feeling like I was failing and like my body was letting me down.
Both Paulo and I did test after test, working with doctors to try to uncover the problem, and their consensus was that the issue was the shape of my uterus. Its heartlike shape meant I had a higher risk of miscarriage. It was possible that I could carry a healthy baby to full term, but risky. We kept trying, and I kept either failing to get pregnant or miscarrying. All of this was happening in private, in parallel to the explosive growth of my company IT Cosmetics and the demands of our nonstop work schedule.
After we sold the business, I was about to turn 40 and I knew we wanted to really prioritize growing our family, however that ended up happening. We started seriously looking into both adoption and surrogacy and decided to go full speed ahead with both.
At the time, I felt like surrogacy was the scariest option. I'd heard crazy stories on the news and in movies of a surrogate running away with the baby or coming after the parents for custody. The thought that someone else would be literally carrying our child in her body was overwhelming. But I decided to be open to all options and to keep faith in the journey we were on. We began talking to an adoption facilitator, and at the same time we agreed to work with a separate surrogacy agency.
Finding the Right Surrogate
The surrogacy agency was moving at a much quicker pace than the adoption agency. After all the legal paperwork was completed, we were ready to be set up on a "match call." This is a video call led by the agency to introduce intended parents to a potential surrogate.
If you're not familiar with this process, there are so many layers to it that I never could have imagined. What I mean by this is that you have to actually talk through all the hard stuff ahead of time. Including life-and-death decisions that you might not have to think about if you got pregnant the old-fashioned way. The agency presented a number of questions for us to discuss.
There were heart-wrenching questions like: If your embryo splits into twins or triplets, and doctors determine that you have to do a reduction (terminate one of the embryos to have any chance at all for the others to live), what would you do? Questions like: What if the surrogate gets pregnant and the pregnancy becomes a threat to the surrogate's life—would you be okay terminating the pregnancy? And here's the really hard thing: you have to hope you align morally with the surrogate, because, for instance, even though it's not her baby, your surrogate might be so strongly against pregnancy termination that she would rather risk losing her own life than terminate a life-threatening pregnancy.
These questions are not about what's right or wrong; they're about making sure you are able to articulate what's right for you and where you stand on all of these extremely difficult topics, and then making sure you are paired with a surrogate who shares the same beliefs. So, this moral alignment of all of these situations that you hope and pray never happen has to be discussed up front. It's so overwhelming to have to think about what you would actually do in those types of situations, let alone decide and then verbally commit to what you would do in them. I completely understand why it's so important, it's just also so hard.
Once Paulo and I had those difficult conversations with the surrogacy agency, the next big hurdle turned out to be my own fear of the whole process. I was potentially about to partner with someone I couldn't un-partner with. Someone who might carry my baby. That would mean handing over all of the trust of my heart to someone I didn't even know.
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Our Surrogate Match Call
The screen was ringing. It was time.
"Hello," we said with huge smiles. On the screen was the most kindhearted woman and her husband. Her eyes were bright and warm, and she just seemed so genuinely good. She and her husband already had five kids of their own, and she shared that for her entire life, she felt called to do something like this for another family that was having a tough time getting pregnant. She also said she loved being pregnant. The facilitator took us through all of the difficult questions, and we all seemed to be aligned. I had an overwhelming sense of peace that grew stronger than any of my fears.
After the call, we were given the weekend to decide if we felt like it was a match ... or if we wanted to continue to interview other potential matches. The potential surrogate and her family had the same choice. Paulo and I felt such peace, and we both knew right away. Minutes after the call ended, we called the agency and said we felt that she would be a great match and that we wanted to move forward if she felt the same way.
Minutes after that, she called the agency to say that she too wanted to be matched with us! When we heard that, tears streamed down both my and Paulo's faces. We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into, and there was still a part of us that was totally scared, but we were going to do it anyway.
Starting Our Surrogacy Journey
We started the official surrogacy journey, and of course we all shared our real names. We went through the embryo transfer process, where we were all together in the doctor's office as they transferred embryos made of my eggs and Paulo's sperm through a tiny tube and into her uterus. Together, Paulo, our surrogate, and I all held hands, prayed, and cried. We met her kids and her husband, because they were all part of this journey too.
We transferred two embryos at the same time. Paulo and I had hoped for twins, and our surrogate had always wanted to carry twins as well. Once the embryos are transferred, you wait about 10 days to see if any of them took, and if in fact you have a positive pregnancy test. Our surrogate was so anxious to know that she bought a drugstore test a few days before the official appointment to do the test, and it was positive! She texted me the picture of the positive pregnancy test. And while I didn't want to get my hopes up too quickly, since it wasn't the official appointment, I couldn't help it. I was freaking out, and Paulo and I cried, and I immediately started writing out a list of potential names for twins!
A few weeks into the pregnancy, at one of the ultrasounds, we saw only one gestational sac on the monitor. The nurse checked again and again, looking for the second. The doctor came in and did the same. There was only one baby.
I instantly comforted our surrogate, who was really sad. I knew that one of the embryos not making it likely meant that that embryo wasn't viable and wouldn't have made it no matter what. But I realized she felt this great responsibility for her own body to deliver and that she was both sad for the loss and also disappointed, as if she had failed in some way. I tried to reassure her the best I could. And while I was sad too, I felt this overwhelming gratitude to have such an amazing human being as a partner with us on this journey. I felt like it was a miracle that another person could be so selfless as to feel it was her calling to carry a baby for someone else.
Our Baby’s Birth
As the months went on, our baby was growing and growing, and we learned we were going to have a baby girl. And then one July afternoon, three weeks before her due date, she decided she was going to show up early!
We flew to our surrogate's hometown, filled with abundant anticipation. We all checked into the hospital together, and Paulo and I got to be in the room with her the whole time during labor and delivery. Our surrogate felt strongly that right when she delivered, she wanted the baby to be placed onto me so I could do skin-to-skin with her in the first moments she spent in this world.
Labor continued, and our surrogate told me and the doctors that with one of her children, she knew she was about to deliver but because she wasn't fully dilated the doctors didn't believe her, and the baby came out fast. She warned us and the doctors of this and said to make sure to trust her when she said the baby was coming.
As the hours passed, the nurses frequently came into the room to check how dilated her cervix was. They would say things like, "You're at a six still, you have a ways to go," but our surrogate started to feel like she was getting close. She pushed the button for the nurses to come and said, "I'm close now, check again," and they did. They reassured her that she wasn't fully dilated yet and left the room. Then I heard words come out of our surrogate's mouth that I had never heard her say before. All of a sudden she yelled, "Get the f(*&^%$ doctor! The baby is coming!" and her husband went running out into the hall to yell for a doctor. She was right; they should have listened to her.
My heart was racing. There were still no doctors or nurses in our room, and I glanced down and saw that my daughter's head was all the way out. I rushed over, not having any idea what the heck I was doing, but I was ready to catch her. I reached to cradle her head just as a group of nurses (still no doctor) swarmed in front of me and pulled the baby all the way out.
Our baby girl was born. She had broken her collarbone on the way out, but she was healthy and beautiful. The doctor rushed in shortly after, Paulo cut the umbilical cord, and I sobbed uncontrollably. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever experienced in my life. Our beautiful baby girl. Born in a community of love from the womb of a human being volunteering her own body to give life to another family.
We named our daughter Wonder. With the way our journey had led us to the miracle of finally welcoming a baby into this world, the name Wonder felt so fitting. She let out her first cries and they placed her onto my chest, inside my robe, skin to skin. I couldn't believe God had blessed us with such a miracle. We were parents. I was a mommy.
I'd never fully understood or embraced the power of community. Until that day. Another woman, and her family, went on a journey with me and mine, and gave us a gift that we couldn't give ourselves. She did something for us that despite all of my might, I couldn't do on my own. I needed her. And because she truly felt that her calling was to do this for someone else, she needed me too.
Our surrogate, and my daughter, changed my heart, and my life that day.
My daughter, Wonder, is a healthy and happy and blessed little girl, who is silly and strong and loves dancing with her Elmo doll. Paulo does all the Sesame Street dances, and even though he can't keep a beat, he fully commits and makes me and Wonder laugh, although we're laughing for different reasons. Our surrogate and her family have become our dear friends. None of the things I was worried about ever happened. And instead, my life was infused with a love and joy I couldn't have imagined.
Excerpted from Believe IT by Jamie Kern Lima. Copyright © 2021 by Jamie Kern Lima. Excerpted with permission by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.