Last week I had the opportunity to speak at a Fertility Rally group support meeting. Fertility Rally is a wonderful support group/ membership community for anyone who struggles with infertility or chooses to build their family in a non-traditional way.
After sharing my story and talking about Recurrent Pregnancy Loss Association one of the attendees asked me how I knew it was time for me to move on from trying to conceive. I answered honestly – that after my sixth miscarriage it was immediately and abundantly clear that I was neither capable of, nor interested in trying again. My husband and I were experiencing treatment fatigue well before our final IVF transfer. We were exhausted and had been for a long time. Before even starting IVF, we began considering other options. So, for us, it was less a question of whether to move on, but howto move forward. We chose surrogacy; but that didn’t mean we were happy about it.
I’ve been hesitant to write much about my surrogacy experience because I’m still in it. However, the conversation last week made me realize that my mixed feelings about surrogacy are worth sharing.
Let me be clear up front: I adore my gestational carrier. She has positive energy, a warm heart, and an openness that makes her impossible not to like. Honestly, she reminds me of my sister. We have developed a lovely relationship and I am looking forward to going through the birthing process with her. But it took me some time to get this emotional place, and I also still wish I were able to carry my child.
Surrogacy is a long process, and in the beginning, it feels a bit like online dating… if you were forced to choose online dating because you’d tried everything else and couldn’t find a partner. My husband and I answered a bunch of questions about our values and preferences and then put together a profile that could be shared with potential gestational carriers.
It was damn near impossible for me to write that profile – I finally had to have my mom compose a first draft in order to get started. It felt like I was being asked to justify why we deserved to be parents, when biology and the universe had determined otherwise. And I was angry. I didn’t want to sell our story to someone who I would be paying to have our child.
But, as with so many things, it’s clear now that my anger and disinterest were not really about the profile. The profile was emblematic of the process, and I wasn’t excited about the process. After our profile was selected, there were dozens of other steps – a face-to-face match meeting, the contracting process, our gestational carrier’s medical examination, and of course, the embryo transfer.
I was committed to surrogacy, but it felt like a committed resignation. Recurrent pregnancy loss gave me a supreme lack of confidence. So even when things went well for our gestational carrier, I didn’t trust it. I kept waiting for the bad news. When friends, doctors, or family would ask “aren’t you excited” I’d nod, but I wasn’t. It was as if my heart refused to get invested.
My therapist encouraged me to join a support group to talk to other intended parents, so in an atypical demonstration of bravery from my introverted self, I attended a virtual social through our surrogacy agency. I told the group I was feeling disconnected from the pregnancy and that I was struggling to open up to our gestational carrier. And then something amazing happened – I learned that I am totally normal!! Some parents shared that they never felt invested in surrogacy until they were in the hospital holding their baby. Others said their excitement grew in the second trimester as the baby developed. Some felt involved and connected from the start, but not the majority.
I’ve been listening to a bunch of life coaching podcasts recently and one discussed the difference between confidence and courage. The coach explained that when we’re doing something new, we need courage, not confidence. Confidence about our ability to do the new thing grows as we experience success. If we wait to be confident before starting something, we’ll never start.
Oddly, this made sense to me in the context of surrogacy (or really any stage of my infertility journey). If I’d waited to be confident or excited, I’d never have moved forward. A forward step in my journey meant my prior step hadn’t worked, and any hope that I’d built up was lost. Taking a next step was only achieved through courage. I had to choose to move forward; I didn’t have to confident it would work.
For me, anticipation and excitement around surrogacy has grown steadily through the second trimester – helped along by the fact that Covid restrictions have lessened, and my husband and I have been able to attend key appointments with our gestational carrier. The more milestones we hit, the more confident I am that we’ll be parents.
There is still a part of me (sometimes a large part) that wishes I were pregnant. But now there’s also a part that’s grateful I’m not experiencing heartburn, or constipation, or migrates; or that when I’m nervous about parenthood, I can have a glass of wine. There’s a part of me that thinks it’s kind of cool that I will get to see my baby being born when most mothers don’t.
So, to that Rally support group member, or to anyone who is sitting in ambiguity or on the cusp of a big decision, I think when you’re ready to move forward, you’ll know. Don’t wait to be “sure,” don’t wait to be “excited” or “happy,” just move when you’re ready. All it takes is courage; the other stuff will follow in time.