I met Maggie 10 years ago, at Mother’s Group when our first born, June Babies were less than 1 year old. I am so honoured to have Maggie share her rewarding and unique experience of being a surrogate mum.
Maggie, tell us about yourself..
I’m married with two young daughters. My husband is a teacher and I’m a doctor. I have a strong interest in maternal and child health and after training as a GP I’m now working in obstetrics and gynaecology to learn more skills so that I can provide maternity care in rural and remote areas.
What made you want to become a surrogate ?
From as early as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a mother one day. I felt lucky that that dream came true for me – I met a wonderful man, we were able to have kids and we loved becoming parents together. Unfortunately not everyone gets to be this lucky. I have witnessed firsthand (through patients, friends and family) the heartache that some people go through in the hope of having children. It seems to me that fertility is pretty much a random lottery, no matter how much someone might want to be a parent, or how amazing they’d be as a mum or dad.
“I wished that I could be more than a shoulder to cry on for those in my life struggling with infertility and after having children of my own, I knew that if one day the opportunity arose to help someone in a more tangible way, that I would try.”
When a friend told me that after years of unsuccessful IVF, a surrogate was her best hope at having a child, I knew that I wanted to help, and I offered to be a surrogate for her and her husband. They created an embryo together through IVF, and then the embryo was transferred to me. We were lucky that our first and only attempt was successful. I still remember staring at those two lines on the pregnancy test in amazement and my heart pounding when I thought about what the future held in store.
What were your other pregnancies like ?
I was fortunate to have pretty straightforward pregnancies, other than the usual annoyances like morning sickness, fatigue, back pain, reflux, varicose veins… hmm now that I list all those things together it sounds horrible ! But no, in all honesty I mostly enjoyed being pregnant and I don’t think I would have felt able to offer surrogacy if I’d had horrendous pregnancies. More importantly, I didn’t have any serious medical complications and I think that was an important factor because no pregnancy is without risks, so if I’d had life threatening complications in the past, I think it would have been reckless to volunteer as a surrogate.
What was your surrogacy pregnancy like compared to your other 2 pregnancies ?
Physically, it was very similar. Morning sickness kicked in at the same time as in my own pregnancies, and yes… there was a moment when I thought – oh gosh what am I doing ??!! I first felt little kicks at around the same time, I didn’t feel particularly bigger or smaller than with my own babies. I craved salt and vinegar chips which I found funny because with my own babies I’d craved fruit like apples & strawberries. I tried extra hard to be healthy, exercise regularly, get lots of rest etc, more so even than in my own pregnancies, because I knew it was someone else’s precious bundle I was carrying and I felt the responsibility of that. I really wanted to give this baby the perfect pregnancy, or as close to it as I could.
Emotionally, it was very different. When you’re pregnant with your own child I think you spend a lot of time visualising what life will be like with this little person, thinking of names, imagining their personality. While I felt strongly protective and caring towards my “surrobub” (as surrogate babies are known in surrogacy circles) I instinctively held part of myself back emotionally. I think it’s a natural self-preservation tactic because you know this won’t be your child to keep and to raise, you need to be able to let him or her go when then time comes.
We made the mutual decision that I wouldn’t breastfeed after surrobub was born, as that was what we were all most comfortable with. I felt strongly that once she was reunited with her parents, they deserved independence and privacy as a family. To give her the benefits of early breastfeeding, I expressed and froze colostrum from 36 weeks, and took this with us to hospital. This was enough to feed her for the first couple of days until she started formula feeds.
It felt weird being pregnant and not preparing baby things, planning the baby’s room, and packing a hospital bag just for me. On the other hand I had the excitement of watching my surrobub’s parents preparing their home for a baby for the first time, and this filled me with so much joy.
Was your family and friends supportive during your surrogacy?
My family and friends were amazing during my surrogacy. My parents were worried about me, which I could understand – they were anxious that medically something might go wrong or that emotionally I would struggle. Even so they put on brave faces and were supportive of me. My friends and work colleagues were all really positive about it as well. I got asked a LOT of questions but I didn’t mind, most were friendly and curious rather than intrusive and by the end I had a pretty smooth surrogacy “spiel” in response. Surrobub’s parents and family were also fantastic – they welcomed me into their family and were very supportive of my physical and emotional needs through the pregnancy.
The biggest credit of all goes to my husband who was there for me through the good bits and the hard bits. He took up the slack at home, he looked after the kids when I was too tired, he listened to me whinge about all my various pregnancy ailments and he never once said, “hey – you signed up for this, so stop complaining!”. He truly was a rock of support and for that I will be forever grateful.
Did you have any fears during the surrogacy process ?
My biggest fear going into surrogacy was actually for the emotional well-being of my own kids. I felt like my husband and I were adults and were going into the process with open eyes, but our daughters were 7 and 4 at the time and I was worried about how they’d handle the concept of me carrying a baby that wasn’t ours to keep, and wouldn’t be their sibling. I worried about whether they’d have trouble talking about it at school and kindergarten. Ironically, the biggest of my fears turned out to be completely unwarranted. My kids embraced the concept of surrogacy so readily and naturally and they were happy and even proud to talk to others about it.
There’s a wonderful book about surrogacy by Sarah Phillips Pellet called “The Kangaroo Pouch” (a kangaroo offers to carry her friend’s joey until it’s old enough to come home) and both my girls shared this with their teachers and classmates – I think this really helped to introduce the concept. When it was time for surrobub to go home with her parents, my children responded like it was the most normal thing in the world. They love to see her but they’ve never questioned why she should be anywhere else than with her own Mum and Dad.
Another anxiety that is there in any surrogacy journey is the fear that something will go wrong with the process. In Australia, commercial surrogacy is illegal – a surrogate needs to have her pregnancy costs met, but cannot be financially rewarded for surrogacy. In the eyes of Australian surrogacy law, the baby legally is the surrogate’s child, until a parentage order is created – a minimum of 28 days after the birth. This leaves all parties in surrogacy in a vulnerable situation – the surrogate could keep the child, but equally the “intended parents” (this is the term for the parents of a surrogate baby) could choose not to accept the child, and legally nothing can prevent this. There needs to be lots of mutual respect, trust and communication throughout the process. Fortunately for us all went as planned, but this isn’t always the case with altruistic surrogacy. To some extent it’s a leap of faith for everyone involved.
How was your birth ?
I can honestly say that the birth was a beautiful experience, and the easiest of my three births. My first daughter was born after a long and exhausting labour ending in forceps delivery due to her posterior presentation. My second daughter was induced (after my waters broke and I didn’t go into labour on my own) and it was so crazily quick and intense that I didn’t know what hit me! As a contrast, my labour with surrobub (also an induction, but a gentler one) was calm and controlled. I can also highly recommend the book “Birth Skills” by Physiotherapist Juju Sundin – I read this during my surrogate pregnancy and I wish it had been published before my first baby was born. It has a fantastic range of drug-free strategies for labour and birth.
My husband was my support person. Baby’s parents were there too, although they stepped out for the last hour or so when things intensified to give us some space, and returned when she was a few minutes old. The moment she was placed on my chest, I felt both tremendous love for my surrobub and also the strong, secure knowledge that she was not my child. I cut her cord myself (my husband is a bit squeamish) and this felt like a symbol of the completion of that phase of our journey together. Passing her into her parents’ arms was a life-changing, unforgettable moment.
I also chose to have an amazing photographer, Lana Bell, present for the birth because I felt that given I wasn’t taking a baby home, having some images to capture the moment might give me something tangible to help me navigate the post-birth experience, it definitely did. Lana’s images are a beautiful keepsake that documents our experience and I’ll treasure them forever.
What type of contact do you have with your special surrogacy baby ?
During the pregnancy, surrobub’s parents asked if my husband and I would be her Godparents and we were honoured to accept. We catch up every month or so, sometimes as families and sometimes just me. I absolutely love seeing her and watching her grow (she has just turned two and is full of gorgeous attitude!), and I love that our families will have this connection forever now. Hopefully one day when she’s old enough to understand, she will feel positive and proud about the special way that she came into the world.
Any advice you would like to give to potential surrogates or parents of surrogates ?
To potential surrogates I would say, good on you for considering that you might one day give someone this special gift! My advice would be, don’t rush things. Make sure you are in a happy and stable place with your own health, with your family and particularly in your own relationship before offering surrogacy. Your partner needs to be completely supportive of your decision because partners truly are the unsung heroes of surrogacy. Surrogacy is a beautiful idea but it’s not worth losing your own relationship over. Also, take time to learn about surrogacy in detail before you commit to the process. There are many medical, legal and counselling hoops to jump through before you even get to the point of embryo transfer and you need to be patient and well-informed.
To potential intended parents I’d say the same – take time to research the surrogacy process. Before talking to potential surrogates, make sure that surrogacy is the right option for you as there are many different potential paths to parenthood, including egg, sperm or embryo donation, commercial surrogacy through an international agency, and adoption locally or overseas. The reality of surrogacy also is that unfortunately it’s an expensive process – even though in Australia, surrogates are not paid, their pregnancy costs need to be met and there are also significant legal and counselling fees so you need to be in a financially stable position.
To anyone considering becoming involved in surrogacy, I wish you the very best and I hope that your experience is a positive one.
It’s genuinely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and every day I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to be a part of it. xx Maggie
Photos by Lana Bell Photography