how i got this baby

The Mom Who Used to Think Using a Gestational Carrier Was Extreme

Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

When Sara and her husband married, she knew he didn’t want children. While she thought she might want to be a mother someday, the idea felt so far off that she figured she didn’t need to think more about it just yet. In her mid-30s, Sara did find herself wanting parenthood; about a year later, her husband started to share her desire. She discusses having multiple procedures on her uterus, IVF’s effect on her worldview, feeling grateful and guilty about having a gestational carrier, and what she wants her son to know about his family.

On considering parenthood. On the one hand, I couldn’t quite put myself in the picture of having children; I thought I had no maternal instincts whatsoever. On the other, whenever I pictured the things I wanted to do in my life, having a child was always one of those things. But I was never sure if it was something that had been ingrained in me, if this was just something I thought I was supposed to want.

It’s probably no coincidence that the desire became more acute when I was about 35 or 36. This is when you hit the advanced maternal age mark, when the gynecologist starts looking at you a little more sternly and saying that if you want to do this, it’s time to get moving. It was around that time that I did start to think, What is it that I’m waiting for? Everyone I talked to who already had kids told me I’d never feel completely ready.

Before we got married, I knew that my husband didn’t want kids. I don’t think I knew how much he didn’t want kids, though — to me, it was still something that was so far off that I figured we’d cross that bridge when we came to it (this is not advice I’d give to anyone!). He felt that we had everything we needed — we had a really lovely life together, we could do what we wanted, when we wanted. Our friends with kids always said they lived vicariously through us, when we went to places like Egypt and Colombia. It was hard for him to understand that I wasn’t unhappy with anything about our life; I just felt that there could be more.

Once I decided I definitely did want kids, the next step for me was convincing him it was a good idea. This obviously wasn’t something I was going to force him to do. I’d say it took about a year for him to get in the same place as me — to feel like we should try.

I had really convinced myself — and part of it was that people had told me it would go this way — that even though we’d waited until I was in my late 30s, I wouldn’t have too much trouble conceiving. And I had seen plenty of friends conceive in their late 30s. I don’t think I was delusional for thinking it would happen for me. I was shocked when we had no luck after six months.

On unexpected avenues. After going to a few reproductive endocrinologist consults, I did find out that I had a good amount of eggs, which was relieving. But I was also told that I had a septum — a wall of tissue — in my uterus; they recommended getting that removed before pursuing fertility treatments. Before I knew it, I was having that procedure — my first time going under. It was a big step, for me, saying that I wanted a baby so much I was willing to have surgery. I wondered if it meant we should consider adoption — or if it even meant that motherhood wasn’t meant for me at all. I really had to think about how much I wanted this, and what I was willing to do.

A very small percentage of people develop scar tissue after having a septum removed. I was in that percentage. Once you have that scar tissue, your fertility problems multiply, because having scar tissue makes it really difficult for an embryo to implant. You have to have another procedure to have the scar tissue removed. But scar tissue can grow back, and then you need another procedure to remove that, which is what happened to me. I ended up going down a road I didn’t think I’d ever be on.

Reproductive endocrinology is a business. IVF is their bread and butter, and they’re really interested in you doing a cycle with them. When you present with an atypical problem, like mine, they’re not quite sure what to do. Because I had so many eggs, especially for my age, they were very excited about me doing a cycle. But I was concerned — ever since I’d had the procedures on my uterus, my cycle had seemed off. That concern seemed to get a brush-off.

Finally, a doctor did another test and said he could see that there was still some scar tissue there. I had another procedure; it grew back again, I had another procedure. And then the doctor told me that he didn’t know whether the lining would ever grow back. I’d had no idea.

So then I decided to try all the holistic stuff: I did acupuncture. I tried eating pineapple core to help blood circulation. I tried elevating my legs to send blood to my uterus (which, in my experience, does make your hair grow really fast). But my lining was just not coming back, no matter how much acupuncture, no matter how much pineapple, how much yoga inversion. Nothing was working.

On issues and acceptance. At that point, I had to accept that I’d have to do IVF with a gestational carrier. If adoption were easier in this country, I would have gone that route. But to avoid the endless waiting lists and uncertainty of adoption, this was what we decided to do. My acupuncturist — who’d concluded there wasn’t much left to be done for me — referred me to a reproductive endocrinologist who I absolutely loved. He was the first person who really listened to everything I had to say and didn’t just try to push me into an IVF cycle.

IVF brought up a lot of issues with my worldview. My Eastern religion involves karma and the belief that everything happens for a reason. I really struggled with thinking that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mom, and maybe that’s why it wasn’t happening for me. And maybe that’s what the world and God and whatever’s out there is trying to tell me, is that this isn’t for me. If that’s the case, will I create something really bad by forcing it? For me, pursuing IVF was a very scary decision — which was strange, because you hear about people doing IVF all the time, and I’d never once thought that any of those people were wrong to do it.

We did try a few things to make my uterine lining grow back: vaginal Viagra and a drug for breast-cancer patients. After those didn’t work, we had to really consider a gestational carrier. When I started trying to have a baby, if you had told me that I would consider that seriously I’d have said you were crazy. I would have said that women who do that can’t accept that some people aren’t meant to have their own kids; they should adopt instead. It’s such an extreme measure, it’s crazy.

There I was, a few years later, saying sign me up.

On beginning the process. In our first IVF cycle, we had a really good result in terms of the number of embryos we got. But after we did genetic testing, they all came back abnormal. It was a whole new level of devastation. We did another cycle, and got two genetically normal embryos. I remember getting the email from my doctor saying we could start working on getting a gestational carrier. It felt like the biggest relief.

Our clinic referred us to an agency, which looks at your profile and looks at the gestational carrier profiles and tries to make a match. Another thing I hadn’t counted on was the wait time — there’s a huge wait to get a gestational carrier. I’d thought that this was such a crazy thing to do, who else would be doing it? But it turns out, lots of people really want a gestational carrier. We ended up waiting six months. It felt endless.

By that point, I was in my early 40s. It felt like every minute, I was getting decades older. In the end, finding our carrier took about six months.

On finding a gestational carrier. If we’d written down a list of characteristics we’d wanted in a gestational carrier, she would’ve checked every box. What really helped us was that she’d been a carrier for the same family three separate times. That was a huge endorsement to us — that the same family returned to her two more times.

She lives out in the middle of nowhere, in a different state. I thought I knew what a small town was, but I had no idea, until I visited her. She lives on a farm with animals; the turkeys she keeps wander right by her house. She has a wonderful husband. She’s incredibly smart.

On the first attempt. When we finally got to do the first transfer, she called a few days later and told us she’d taken a home test — it was positive. We were so, so excited. A few days later, she went in for the official test, to measure the amount of pregnancy hormones in her blood. She texted us afterward that she didn’t want us to freak out, but that she wasn’t happy with how low the number was. Forty-eight hours later, she did another test, and the numbers had dropped. It was a chemical pregnancy. The embryo just hadn’t grown properly, probably because it was an older egg.

After that test, she called me crying hysterically, devastated. And I just thought, Oh no, I’m dragging another person through this angst now. It was one thing when it was just me and my husband. It meant so much to me that she was so upset, but I also felt so horrible.

She took some time to think, and then when we talked again, I told her that I understood if she didn’t want to try again, but that if she did, I did. We were down to our last embryo. She said, “Let’s do it again.” This time, it worked. Her pregnancy went very well — it was textbook.

On meeting her son. About two weeks before her due date, she texted us saying she’d been having labor pains. We were so excited that we started looking up flights. But what ended up happening was that she was going through prodromal labor, which is basically contractions that never escalate into full-on labor. From then on, she’d have six or seven hours of labor pains without actually going into labor. Every time, we’d say, Is this it? Is this happening?

She went through this for about a week before we went out to see her. When we were in the car driving to her house, she texted that the contractions had just started again but she wasn’t sure if they were the real thing or not. We thought there was no way, that it couldn’t just be that easy. When we got there, she was in so much pain she couldn’t carry on a conversation. Her husband finally convinced her to go to the hospital.

There, the doctor said she was more dilated than last time, that if she had some Pitocin, it would happen. But nothing did. She was there eight or nine hours before they sent her home. Nothing happened over the weekend too.

On Monday, she went in for a scheduled appointment and the doctors decided to do a stress test, just in case. They hooked her up to the monitors just to watch for the next hour. I remember this so vividly: We were talking about The Walking Dead; she and her husband were explaining the plot. I was looking at the monitor, and all of a sudden, the numbers representing the baby’s heart rate started to plummet. The nurse comes running in, explaining that they were getting concerned.

Meanwhile, I’m Googling and learning that this usually means the baby needs to come out soon. I started to worry that they’d send her home again, and that I’d have to throw a fit. But instead, they decided to check her in, and explained that if nothing happened with the Pitocin, they’d have to do a C-section. I felt so bad — she’d had five vaginal births, and now she was facing down the possibility of a C-section. I thought, Between this and the chemical pregnancy, she got so much more than she’d bargained for.

Our son was born a few hours later. And she had a relatively easy recovery, though I still feel guilty about it.

On motherhood and pride. We still keep in touch. She came to our son’s first birthday party. Spending time with her again was incredible, and really just reinforced what a wonderful choice that was for us. I’d love to have her in our lives forever. A lot of people have wondered what we’re going to do, as far as disclosing this process. But I’ve always said that we have nothing to hide. This is how we created our family.

I’m proud of the fact that in the end, I was so much stronger than I thought I could be. What I went through is more than I ever thought I could bear. To me, having a child through a gestational carrier is a victory. I would never hide that, least of all from from my son. I want him to know just how badly we wanted him here.

The Mom Who Thought Using a Gestational Carrier Was Extreme