December 17, 2020
This is supposed to be a retelling of birth, but it is also a story of surrogacy. For me there wouldn’t have been one without the other. When I was struggling with what to say, Bri suggested “just something from the heart,” and that seemed to make finding the words much easier. So, this is my version of our story and the special moments that I hold close.
On Dec 17th I delivered the most beautiful baby boy. 7lbs 3oz of perfection. This was my 6th pregnancy. 3 of my own and 3 for couples who couldn’t carry their own. This particular family was two dads I had met in 2019. I could do a Ted Talk on how amazing these men are and why I feel so incredibly fortunate to have met them. For now though, I'll just say they are the type of genuinely good people you want to help and who deserve to have every dream come true. Their road to baby was long and not without setbacks, but I like to think the universe had a plan all along and this is how it was always meant to be.
At 36 years of age and working towards a 6th delivery the list of theoretical risks gets longer and longer. By some miracle I managed to remain complication free and had my best pregnancy to date. In addition to this I was lucky to not be impacted by COVID like so many others forced to attend all their appointments alone and celebrate milestones without friends or family. Due to distance the dads wouldn't have come even if it was allowed. We didn't start to feel real pandemic stress until it was time for international travel and the concerns surrounding making it into Canada before our Christmas due date. Prices were going up and flights were being cancelled. Thankfully in the end they were able to get here 5 weeks early and finish their quarantine with lots of time to spare. After the hospitals started implementing visitor restrictions, I reached out to JPCH about our situation. Despite what seemed like ever changing rules, they assured me both dads could be present. I would also be allowed my own support person. This was going to be Bri, my "labour support friend with a camera".
With a history of two wildly precipitous deliveries I had been advised by my Doctor's to not risk the drive from Prince Albert to Saskatoon in labour. No one wants a car baby and I was VBACing off an unplanned c-section in 2019. On December 12th I moved into the little house in Saskatoon where the dads were staying and I was there to wait until baby came. Leading up to this I did have some doubt, wondering if it was too much to ask these guys to be responsible for me in the unpredictable last weeks of pregnancy. It didn’t take long to see what a great decision it ended up being. They got a glimpse into a part of pregnancy that most parents via surrogacy wouldn't get. I think it was important. The time we had together waiting for baby; doing nothing but walking, watching reality TV and playing cards, it meant so much to have that.
On Dec 16th I woke up to blood and what I thought was a small rupture. I said to the dads... "I think you might be having a baby today!" I was a little premature on my forecast. No rupture, just a lot of show from dilation. After many hours in assessment and a very aggressive stretch and sweep we were sent home. A wander through Bed Bath and Beyond brought on decently regular contractions that lasted through the afternoon. I felt unsettled and nervous, worrying over "but when do I go in?" Too soon and I'd feel dumb. Too late and there's our car baby. Things did fizzle out that evening, probably because I was stressed and couldn't relax. One of the dads told me days later he knew it would be that night and ended up not sleeping. Maybe they felt unsettled too.
Around 2 am I woke up and noticed I was cramping again. By 3 am they were real enough that I started timing them. By 4am I texted Bri, asking her what I should do. Of course she told me to go in, but I was pretty deep in denial and still fixated on not wanting to make anyone sit around and wait. Almost an hour and two phone calls later she convinced me to wake them up. I wish I could relive that moment- a whirlwind of anxious excitement. I think I even said..” It’s ok! You have time to brush your teeth!”
Everything escalated on the short drive to hospital. So much so that I asked for a wheelchair upon arrival. Under normal circumstances I am the last person in this world who would be agreeable to wheelchair transport, but I truly thought I'd start feeling pushy in the elevator if I stayed upright. Unfortunately there was more resistance than expected when we got to the ward. Night staff didn't agree with the plan set in place for us by management. I temporarily lost my "labour support friend" until day shift came on and were more flexible. Thank God Bri decided to wait around!
Laying in assessment waiting for them to decide to admit me was absolute hell. This was completely different from the quick, unmedicated births I was used to. Baby was OP and back labour is no joke. It was difficult for my mind/body to find strength when it became clear that this was going to be more intense than I anticipated. The internal birthing experience can very easily turn to fear, panic and eventually loss of control. I coped and found control in complete focus on a fixed point and slow, very deep breathing. My mind tried to race and formulate exit plans. Redirecting to visualize the baby moving down with each breath kept me from feeling like I was spiraling.
I don’t remember being moved to my room but I know I asked for an epidural at 8cm. The Anesthetist didn't want to do it, and I don't blame him. 6th delivery and 8cm? That baby should have been minutes away. But I knew he wasn't, he was coming much slower than he should have. My nurse must have known too because she advocated for me.
The entire time I was laying there and doing my best to breathe this baby down, at least one of the dads was with me. The plan from day 1 was for them to be present for the whole labour and delivery. They had asked a few times throughout the pregnancy if I had any concerns, how can they support me etc. I didn’t really know the answer. I’d never had the parents of the other babies in with me while I laboured and even with my own deliveries I was mostly alone. I wasn't sure how it would feel or what I would want. Childbirth, especially with a surrogate pregnancy, is a very unique type of vulnerability. We will never be as physically and emotionally exposed as we are in those moments and in the days that follow. As it turned out, sharing that with baby's dads felt as natural and comfortable as if it had been my closest friends. It was 100% the right decision for us and I'm grateful we had built the type of relationship that allowed for it. They ended up offering support simply by holding space for me, and it was exactly what I needed.
3 hours and 45 minutes after presenting to hospital we heard the unmistakable “POP!" and the entire bottom half of the bed was soaked. They set me up to start pushing as soon as I felt the urge but baby started having some decels with slow recovery. They ended up using the vacuum to turn his head just slightly and he crowned. I didn't plan on trying to catch him myself. When I felt the head was delivered I just instinctively reached down for him and once the shoulders were out, they let me pull him up. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever done. It felt like one last gesture of maternal love and attention before our time together was done. The doctor and nurse both stepped back to give us space. I stimulated baby with the towel, he took his first breaths and came to life with his dads right beside him. It was so beautiful. I remember almost everything about his moment of birth and I am forever grateful Bri was able to capture it exactly as I saw it. Those images will always stir such strong emotions.
Dad cut the cord and for the first time in 4 surrogate babies I was able to be the one to do the pass off. Something small, but symbolic and it was the birth plan detail I cared about the most. There are no words to describe what it was like to see these people who had been through so much finally have their babe in arms. Watching them fall in love with him, being present for something so life changing.
I would have done it all over again in a heartbeat. To the depths of my soul, I know everything leading up to this moment was worth it.
Its surprisingly difficult to separate yourself from a pregnancy that is part of something so much bigger. It's a team effort from day 1, with the focus always being the end goal. Even though I recognize myself as an important part in getting there, the day was really about this family. Laying in my hospital bed that night, the fact that I had given birth was completely lost on me. The only thing that felt real was that my friends next door were finally a family of 3. Now 8 weeks later I can look back and see it not just for their joy and what they achieved, but for what I was able to accomplish for myself. Successfully VBAC'ing an OP baby in such a short time is a huge deal. I did that!
Reflecting on the first few week's post-partum is tough. I don't want to rob the warm fuzzy feelings from everything that came before or all that's left ahead. I wish there were more positive things to say, but that isn't real life. It is hard. There are lots of tears and lots of feelings. The massive fluctuation of hormones during that time makes everything feel so much heavier than it should. Finally now after being a surrogate mom for the 3rd time, I can say "it's ok to not be ok". I've been a part of something really big and special for almost 2 years, but now it's over. Transitioning back into regular life doesn’t happen overnight and I missed the time spent with this new little family so much. I reminded myself every day that grief and joy can co- exist. It doesn't take away from the experience or make it any less meaningful. Knowing I was supported, cared for and appreciated helped me to move forward with peace. Everything will be ok in the end; we just need time. And sure enough in the end everything was just fine.
Surrogacy at its core is about love. You can make it as complicated as you want but it always comes back to something so simple. Love for families, for friends, and for being a part of something real that matters. I don’t know what the future holds, if I’m meant for more babies or not. I will say though, pregnancy and childbirth will always be absolute magic to me. Despite everything about it that hurts. So when someone asks why do this, I guess that’s the answer. Love and magic. It will change your life.