There’s no way to know what the path to parenthood has in store for you. Sometimes you have to hold on to hope.
When you dream about becoming a mom, you never dream about someone else carrying your child. At least, I didn’t.
In my mind and heart, an important aspect of motherhood is nurturing your baby from the moment it’s conceived, and feeling your body change as you welcome new life.
My daughter, Carolina, arrived via a surrogate, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I’m also grateful that I’m one of the rare mothers who has a child born via a surrogate who was also able to experience carrying a baby (nearly) to term.
And it was. We tried for nearly a year on our own before seeing a fertility doctor.
We were told we should start by trying Clomid-assisted IUI (intrauterine insemination) and so we did. If you told me then that this would be the “easy” part of my journey, I wouldn’t have believed you.
I was getting up before the sun rose to be first in line at the doctor’s office for morning monitoring, so I could still get to work on time. I remember sitting in the waiting room with dozens of other women and hopeful couples, all staring into their phones or at the TV while a million thoughts and doubts and concerns raced through our collective minds.
Not once did I turn to the woman next to me and say, “How are you doing?”
What was I thinking? I wasn’t. Without caffeine, I was a shell of myself those mornings, and I was emotionally exhausted and mentally consumed by my own personal journey.
I remember worrying about possibly missing the call from my nurse that would come at random times in the afternoon. If I missed the call, it was impossible to call them back and reach them. It would always go to voicemail.
The doctor was completely unreachable as well. We had waited 4 months to get in to see him, so maybe I should have known he would be too busy to engage with me.
I accepted these things as part of the stress and pain I had to go through to get pregnant. I was at a big-name hospital fertility clinic in New York City. They were supposed to be “the best” so I accepted it and did my best to work around it.
We got pregnant on our third IUI and, to this day, that positive pregnancy test was one of the very best feelings I’ve ever had.
My husband and I naively started talking about whether our baby was a boy or a girl and where we’d fit the crib in our tiny NYC apartment. I watched my belly grow and was amazed by hearing the heartbeat and seeing the ultrasounds.
I felt so connected to this little human growing inside me.
Little did I know, at 31 weeks my pregnancy would end suddenly and tragically.
A few hours after learning our son had died, I learned that my uterus could never carry a child again. I was devastated.
I would have given up all hope right then and there had I not known two women close to me — both cancer survivors — who started their families via surrogacy. I called them both from my hospital bed and listened intently as they explained what it would take for us to start again.
My desire to become a mom and have a child was so strong we didn’t even consider not moving forward. We took every dollar we had saved and signed on with Circle Surrogacy to begin our surrogacy journey.
We lived in NYC, and at that time, surrogacy was illegal in NYC (the CPSA Act passed this year and in February 2021 surrogacy will be legalized!) but at that time, we had to go to Greenwich, Connecticut to create our embryos.
That wound up being a blessing in disguise.
Even though I had to commute to go through IVF in Greenwich, it felt a lot less stressful than my IUIs in NYC. The doctor took time to really listen to me and explain the process and our chances of success. The nurse gave me her cell phone number and offered to FaceTime me if I needed help with my shots at night.
It was such a supportive and encouraging environment. I felt like I was in good hands. I believed we would succeed. It took 3 rounds of IVF for us to create one genetically “normal” embryo.
In the meantime, our agency matched us up with an amazing surrogate, Katherine, who was an incredible mom with two children of her own, who deeply wanted to help us welcome a baby into our lives.
We were fortunate that the embryo transfer worked on the first try. The pregnancy was progressing perfectly.
We joined all of Katherine’s doctor’s appointments via FaceTime. We flew to Kentucky to meet her extended family and join her and her husband for our 20-week ultrasound. She was amazing, and she was taking such great care of our baby.
Everything was going perfectly — but I was still holding my breath.
Then, the unthinkable happened. We got a call that an irregular heartbeat was detected during Katherine’s 27-week check up. We rushed to the airport and got to the hospital as soon as we could only to discover that our daughter, Avellina, had a growth in her heart that was restricting blood flow to the rest of her body.
We spent the next 2 weeks doing anything and everything we could think of to save her.
We were on the phone with doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — could we do an intrauterine surgery? What about a heart transplant after she was born? None of the options were feasible.
Ultimately, our daughter was born via emergency C-section and died less than 2 hours later due to this incurable heart condition.
I share these stories with you not to crush your hope.
I share them with you because at that moment, it felt like my chance of becoming a mother to a baby that was genetically mine (something I deeply desired) was close to zero.
I felt hopeless. I couldn’t understand why we had to go through these things: first the rupture, then the heart condition. Each time the doctor’s told us the chances of what happened were “one in a million.”
Yet here we were.
My husband and I decided the life we had — which by the way, was a great one — was going to have to be enough. I had a loving husband, a very supportive family, and a wonderful stepdaughter.
We had used all of our savings. And I was 40. We were nearly out of time to try IVF again.
We lived with this decision for only a couple of months before I learned that the company I was working at offered an IVF benefit that would completely cover one or two rounds of IVF.
It felt like a sign. We had to try again! We did. This time, after only one round, we had a viable embryo.
I went back to the fertility clinic that was so good to us. The doctor had been in touch with me and checked up on me regularly. They were more than happy to work something out with us economically.
I went back to the surrogacy agency, same thing. They dropped so many of their fees for us to try again. We had so much support, we had to figure out how to do it. We did.
Let this be a lesson to you. If you’re struggling with the economics of your family-building journey, ask around. You’d be surprised that doctors and agencies are sometimes willing to work with you.
There are groups online, like Warriors on Facebook, where you can ask the community for advice on everything from insurance coverage and costs to which doctors have the best bedside manner.
For our second surrogacy journey, we were matched with a surrogate from Utah. Marissa. Marissa also got pregnant during our first transfer. She was so patient and understanding with my extreme anxiety.
Once again, we joined every appointment via FaceTime. We visited Marissa and met her husband and children and extended family in Utah for the 20-week ultrasound. And this time, we flew back to Utah at 39 weeks for the birth of our daughter, Carolina.
Carolina arrived a day before her due date, and we were immediately in love.
A surrogate birth is complicated and it was a couple of hours after her arrival that my husband and I were finally alone with her in a hospital room. We were looking down at Carolina when he said to me, “I’m so glad we didn’t give up,” and at that moment, I thought he could read my mind. I was thinking the exact same thing.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated Carolina’s 2nd birthday. As the months progress and as she grows and changes, not a day goes by when I don’t think about how lucky we are to have her here.
I think going through the struggles that we did really makes me appreciate her and what we have, even during a terrible temper tantrum!
This is the story of how we built our family. Your story will be different, but it may take you down a road you didn’t expect to have to travel.
If you’re someone who aches to conceive, someone who miscarried or lost a child to stillbirth, someone who had to make the heartbreaking decision to terminate for medical reasons, someone going through fertility treatments, or saving up enough to go through fertility treatments, or someone in any other state of wanting a baby: I see you. I was you. I know how hard it can be.
You are not alone — although it can feel very lonely.
I can’t promise you that your story will have a happy ending, but I want you to believe that it will and hold on to hope.
Lia De Feo is the founder of Fly Bravely, a consultancy dedicated to destigmatizing infertility, raising awareness of infant loss, and helping people navigate infertility, loss, and surrogacy.