“But in my opinion a mother isn’t born when a child is born. A mother and father are born when the dream of a child is conceived.” Lindsey Henke
There I was, strapped to a table in the operating room waiting to meet two beautiful babies that were growing in my belly. I was nervous and anxious, not knowing what to expect. I had given birth five times before, but this experience was so very new to me.
I needed a C-section, they said. It’s not how we expected the babies to arrive, but it was a joyful moment nonetheless. My husband held my right hand and the mother of the babies held my left one. She stood there with anticipation and tear-filled eyes, waiting to meet the babies I had carried for her. A woman who started out as a complete stranger, but who now was a cherished friend. It was to her eyes that I looked and reminded myself why I had endured this long and exhausting 17-month journey that was sadly coming to an end.
Why I Decided to Become a Surrogate
Surrogacy. That longing took form while I was pregnant with my 5th baby while watching some of our dear friends struggle with infertility. I watched her. Prayed for her. Stood with her and longed alongside her. And I began praying about what it would look like for me to help her carry a child. But then a miracle happened. She got pregnant with a little boy and we rejoiced with them. And shortly after her little boy was born, we moved to California for ministry and it was there that my surrogacy journey began.
We were six months in when the longing to be a surrogate resurfaced. We were in a new city and I didn’t particularly know anyone who was struggling with infertility, but I knew without a doubt that I was being called to start the journey. After a bit of research, I found an agency, decided to give them a call, and went on a two-hour intake meeting where they explained the entire process. I left the office with a sense of peace and I knew in my heart it was the right time and place. The journey was a long one. I went through a psychological evaluation, physical screening, health screening, and ultimately got cleared. Then more meetings and finally the waiting to be matched began.
I was growing weary, wondering if I’d ever get matched when we finally received a call. It was a call to let us know that a couple from China had completely fallen in love with me and my family and wanted to meet in person. They flew in the following week. We had lunch together and conversed for three hours. After our short time together, there was a resounding “yes” from me.
It Was a Long, Challenging Process, But So Worth It
We started the process right away. I met with doctors who helped my body prepare for IVF. I went to weekly appointments and gave myself the necessary shots and medications to get my body ready. The transfer went seamlessly. Two weeks later, we received the blood results where they confirmed twins. It was a pregnancy unlike any of the other five I had with my own children—filled with nausea, aches, and pains; lots of doctor appointments; a ton of testing; physical hardship; three hospitalizations; bed rest; exhaustion that often left me in tears. The inability to do things for myself and the need to rely on family to help with everything. A pregnancy that demanded my husband to stay home during the final months to help keep our family afloat.
One of my fondest memories as we neared the end of the pregnancy was a trip to a museum in Los Angeles. I was 30 weeks pregnant and feeling disheartened. My sister insisted on us taking a 1.5 hour trip to get away and sight-see as best I could. (My sister is like that. Always the helper and a blessing in immeasurable ways. We could not have done this without her.) So there I was, being wheeled around in a wheelchair in a museum by my husband, observing and watching my sister, niece, and my kids enjoy themselves while feeling so appreciative of my family and the help I had to get me through a hard season. Because the truth is, we did it together.
And Then, the Babies Arrived
At 34 weeks and to our shock, I went into labor. Thankfully, and what I believe was perfectly orchestrated by God, the parents arrived from China two days prior allowing them to be present for the birth. We spent hours talking and chatting while everything was getting prepared. The nurse was even kind enough to allow both the mother and my husband to be with me in the operating room, something that I learned is very rare in C-sections. We took videos and lots of pictures. We were able to visit the babies the following day in the NICU. The parents came to visit me several times and even brought gifts for each of my five kids to show their appreciation and love.
During their two-month stay in San Diego, we were able to visit them in the house they were staying at a couple of times, and the grandparents even surprised us with a Chinese feast they cooked themselves to show their gratitude for what we did. We feasted. We laughed. We enjoyed watching their joy over their new babies.
But once their two months were up and they headed back to China as a family of four, the enormity of what I did hit me like a ton of bricks and I grieved the end of the journey in a way I never expected to.
It Was a Bittersweet Ending
People often wondered how I would feel after the delivery of the babies. They often asked how I was feeling emotionally. They often wondered if I was forming any sort of attachment to the babies. My answer was always no. Because the reality is, I never allowed myself to. My constant communication with the parents was a reminder of why I was enduring that in the first place. It kept me focused; their longing kept me going.
I had spent so much effort on building a friendship that when the journey ended and they flew back to China, it hit me hard and by complete surprise. Looking back, I think in some way I did have postpartum depression—something I had never experienced with my own children. The journey consumed 17 months of my life. It was a sacrifice both my family and I made, and in some way, I think I allowed part of that to become my identity. Once it was over, I had to come to grips with the fact that I was no longer needed and my part in that story was done. But I healed. God met me in such a beautiful place and reminded me of who I am and who I will always be.
So, Would I Do It Again?
The twins are now 20 months old. They are cherished and so loved and it makes me so happy to see. We still communicate. We take time to check in and see how each of our families are doing. We send videos and pictures and we’re even hoping to visit them some day. Although it was a difficult journey, it’s one I am so proud to have been a part of. It made me more in awe of a God who loves and paid the ultimate sacrifice for his children. It allowed my kiddos to see that doing what we’re called to do can sometimes be hard and difficult. It reminded me that my dependency should never be on myself. And it reminded me that there is so much joy and growing that takes place in doing hard things.
Would I do this surrogacy journey again if I were called to? Absolutely. Would I carry twins again? Probably not. (Haha!) But I’ve grown since then, and I wouldn’t be afraid to share about the journey the way I was the first time around. I would be more open. I would allow people to see the hardship and allow people to walk alongside me more than I did. Community, I’ve learned, is indispensable and what helps us get through difficulties in life.
Almost two years later and I can still remember the hardship of the journey. But mostly there are fond memories that have seared themselves in my heart. The most beautiful memory I have is one in the operating room while the mother held my hand. While she stood there trembling with anticipation. While I stared into her eyes. It’s her voice I still hear in my head: “Thank you, Jessica. Thank you. Thank you!
For more on becoming a strong woman, check out this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: The Qualities That Make a Woman Strong – 122