Hello friends. Here’s the second part of our new series by writer Kelly Weiss Rogondino, who is generously sharing her personal journey with us. Read on for a powerful and candid look at the effects of cancer and the challenges and rewards of surrogacy.
October 2007 was the first time since my hysterectomy, that I didn’t feel devastated and hopeless when I thought about starting a family. I never tried to rationalize my situation by convincing myself I would be “just as happy” without children. I recognized the loss of my fertility at 33 years old for what it was: disastrous. I think I am stronger for it today, because I allowed myself to go through the emotional journey rather than bury it, and learned to not apologize for what I was feeling. I went through all of the usual emotions when I was diagnosed with cancer, and again after my hysterectomy: shock, disbelief, denial, sadness, anger, isolation, resentment, devastation, depression, jealousy (of other women/moms), and repeat. Was I happy for friends and family when they announced they were pregnant? Of course I was, but I was also sad because I knew that I would never be able to make the same announcement.
Words cannot adequately express how thankful we are to Lisa for giving us the gift that she did; carrying our child. But do I still wish that I had been able to carry my baby myself and that I could just get pregnant and have another child? Yes. So many women have told me that I’m lucky that I didn’t have to go through pregnancy and delivery but I think that is just something people said to me because they don’t know what else to say. People joked that I was able to drink alcohol right up until my daughter’s birth (and my husband had fun telling people at parties that we were “pregnant” and waiting for the looks on their faces when they saw my flat belly with a cocktail in hand) but I would have much preferred to take a nine month break from alcohol, have a big belly, have my daughter’s foot planted in my ribs (which she did to Lisa) and not have to repeatedly explain to the hospital staff during Lisa’s labor and after delivery, that I was the baby’s Mom and not a visitor!
I married my husband in 2008, so we did not know each other when I had my hysterectomy. But, my husband knew that marrying me meant that he potentially would not have children, or possibly not genetic children. My husband has an adopted brother and I was adopted by my father, so adoption was definitely on the table for us, but we ultimately decided to focus our efforts and finances on surrogacy.
Four months prior to our wedding, we were looking into our options between surrogacy and adoption. I was told by my ob/gyn that we had to “get going” if we wanted to try and have a genetic child. I would be 40 (and so would my eggs) in February 2009, which is when we decided we were probably going to start trying to begin our family. Although I still had my ovaries (not taken with the hysterectomy), I could not get pregnant without a uterus. The prospect of using a surrogate to carry a baby for me just didn’t seem plausible or realistic based on what I knew, which admittedly wasn’t much. I thought that celebrities and wealthy people used surrogates, not ordinary people like me. My husband and I are both educated and generally well informed, but we just didn’t know where to start with this. It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are; it’s a lot to wrap your head around. Do we contact an attorney or agency first, or do we contact a fertility doctor? If we find a surrogate, an attorney and a fertility doctor, how are we going to pay for everything? My medical insurance didn’t cover surrogate pregnancies or any of the fertility drugs and treatments. If we figure out a way to pay for it, how do we know that my eggs are healthy? And what if we have healthy eggs and a viable embryo, but the process doesn’t work? It all seemed too overwhelming and that was before we had accurate information. We went to a consultation with a fertility doctor and left the appointment upset and discouraged to say the least; the doctor had painted such a bleak, but from his perspective, realistic picture of what we would be facing medically, financially and emotionally to use a surrogate, and of course there is no guarantee that it will result in a baby. Once we actually knew what we were facing, it was even worse! Is there a how-to manual for this? Surrogacy for Dummies? Maybe we should adopt. We decided to table our research until after the wedding because it was too overwhelming and too big a decision to make at that time.
In January 2009, we met with an adoption attorney to discuss domestic adoption, and it initially seemed like a reasonable and less costly alternative to surrogacy, however the lawyer also painted a realistic picture for us of the domestic adoption process, and there were many issues that could arise: the birth mom changing her mind (the biggest issue for us), or not being truthful on her paperwork about her or her family’s medical history or drug use, etc. After we left that meeting, we decided that we needed to reconsider surrogacy and at least try to have a genetic child first.
I reached out to someone I’d met briefly a few years prior, at my niece’s birthday party, whom I knew had used a gestational surrogate to have a baby. “S,” who didn’t know me and had no obligation whatsoever to take the time she did with me (and to whom I am eternally grateful), told me “there is an easy way and a hard way to do this.” She had found her surrogate independently (without using an agency) and suggested that I could do the same, however, knowing what I know now, I can see why using an agency, rather than finding a surrogate independently, can be the better choice for some people. Finding a surrogate is just the beginning of the process. The time, emotion and work that go into a successful surrogate pregnancy are immeasurable and I wish I’d had the guidance and structure that a good agency can provide. Notwithstanding that, “S” took me under her wing and decided that she would help me find a surrogate. She was on a mission! About a week later, “S” called me and said that she had reached out to her surrogate, who was unavailable to me as she was being a surrogate for someone else at the time, but she had a friend named Lisa who had never been a surrogate before, and had expressed interest in surrogacy. We scheduled a lunch date for the following week (January 19, 2009). “S” felt that it would be easier if she were there to help guide the conversation and it was the best suggestion she could have made because as I was driving to the restaurant, all I could think was “what am I going to say to her? “Hi, nice to meet you. Do you want to carry my baby?” I mean, what do you say to someone in this situation? I felt like I was going to throw up or pass out. I was so nervous!
I felt so uncomfortable at the lunch but S and her surrogate (she came to the lunch as well as support for Lisa) took control of the conversation and led the topics of discussion, which made it less awkward for me and Lisa. Lisa and I exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers at the restaurant after lunch, and said that we would talk again soon, one on one, and get to know each other. I went home and told my husband that I liked Lisa and that I hoped she liked me and that we were going to talk again and see where it led. Lisa and I talked for a while later that night. By the end of the conversation, she and I knew we were going to do this and we verbally agreed to take the next steps. I told my husband that I wanted to move forward and he said: “If you like her and trust her, then I trust your instincts and let’s go for it.” That was it. There was no taking the time to wrap our heads around what we were about to do (though I think my husband wanted to hit the brakes and slow me down). I was afraid to lose our window and why should we wait? I and my eggs were not getting any younger and Lisa was ready to go. We subsequently agreed on the fee (which took into account the fact that on top of Lisa’s fee, my husband and I would be incurring all of Lisa’s medical costs because she didn’t have insurance, including fertility treatments and clinic visits, pre-natal doctor visits and hospital costs for delivery. Add to that a “catastrophic” insurance policy to cover any pregnancy related emergencies, a life insurance policy, and attorneys’ fees). We would have to do some creative financial maneuvering, practically max out the credit card, borrow money from our families, but we were doing this. Ready, set, go!
Part Three coming soon, so be sure to check back regularly. Please feel free to share your own experiences below, as both Kelly and the MNU community would love to hear about your journey.