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We are both expecting even though it looks different - Q&A with Alex from @Wheneverybodymatters

Expecting a baby doesn't have to look the same for everyone. In fact, it almost never looks the exact same way. And because of this I wanted to educate myself and anyone who wanted to learn more about surrogacy. My gorgeous friend Alex from @Wheneverybodymatters allowed me to interview her specifically about her journey with surrogacy. We have grown close in the past few months and seem to have so much in common that it's so amazing to see our infertility journeys side by side. For me, surrogacy was always an option in the back of my mind, but truthfully I didn't know too much about it!

Alex has a son, who she carried after going through IVF, and wanted to expand her family just like so many of us do. She's actually expecting her son via surrogacy in December! I was so curious to find out how she approached this beautiful option of and what all it entailed for her and her family.

With that said, I know everyone's journey is different and like anything else, I know there are so many beautiful stories out there. This is just one of them, and one that I really wanted to share with all of you! Thank you Alex for being so open and for sharing your journey with me. You are helping so many and I love you!

· How did you decide Surrogacy was the right option for you? Did your doctor recommend it?

In the spring of 2019, we had just had another failed cycle, and we had an office chat with our fertility doctor. During this meeting, he said he thought we could try one more time on my body for a healthy pregnancy, but that surrogacy would likely be our best chance. To be honest, we were completely blindsided by this comment because we never really thought we would be having that conversation. He gave us some brochures for agencies, suggested things to think about, and we left with a LOT to think about!

· How did you find your surrogate?

Our doctor told us that the most cost effective, and easiest way to find a surrogate is to ask a family member or friend. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to be in the cards for us. A surrogate has to have had a healthy pregnancy and child themselves, and any family or friends that had children, weren’t done having children. And others hadn’t even started to try, or some were past the age of 40. Many doctors won’t do transfers for people over the age of 40, and ours is one of these clinics. Overall, this led us to consider an agency. To find our agency, we got recommendations from our fertility doctor, as well as from a surrogacy lawyer we’d been put in touch with from a family friend. All roads led us to our best option, and we met with this agency in person to make sure we were happy with them. To find a surrogate, we signed up with the agency, and they matched us with our surrogate. They are very specific about who they allow to be surrogates, and only show us options they believe will mesh with us the best. In the end, they matched us with our surrogate, and both sides (my husband and I, and our surrogate and her husband), agreed that the match was right! The average time to match is about 3-6 months, but it only took the agency 3 weeks to match us with our surrogate, so it felt very meant to be!

· What background checks did you do (if any) to your surrogate?

We didn’t do any background checks on our surrogate ourselves, but the agency is very specific with how they select surrogates, so we trusted that they had done due diligence.

· How long does it take from deciding you want to move forward with a surrogate to actually starting the journey?

The average is about 3 months from the time you decide the match is right, to the time the first cycle starts, but there are a lot of factors. For us, we matched in October, and it took until December to get both medical and legal clearance, which is actually very fast. With the holidays, we waited until January to start a cycle, and our doctor mandated an ERA cycle to make sure the timing was going to be completely right. In January, our surrogate had her ERA cycle, and in February, we had our first transfer. Unfortunately, the first transfer failed – which was absolutely devastating – but we were able to move forward with the second transfer in March, and we were incredibly grateful that it worked!!! So for us, it took 5 months from matching to pregnancy – and we are SO HAPPY!

· Does the surrogate go through your doctor or her own?

For the fertility doctor, ideally the surrogate can go to yours if you have one, but it depends where the intended parents (us) live. For example, since both our surrogate and us live in the same area, she was able to go to our fertility doctor, where our embryos are frozen. If we lived in another state or country, we would have had to ship our embryos here, and our agency would have recommended a fertility doctor, with our permission to go there too. For the OB, the surrogate can go to her own, or take the recommendation of the agency if she doesn’t already have one.

· How involved are you in her day to day? (food choices, doctor visits, daily conversations)

We are not very involved, which is very strange to be so hands off for your own child! She is required to go to a nutritionist and a group psychology meeting every month, and under normal circumstances we would go to her doctor’s appointments, but with COVID, we cannot go to anything – including the transfer! I text with her on a regular basis, and we talk about the baby, but also just about our daily lives to get to know each other better as the time goes on. For doctor’s appointments, she is able to either take a video recording or we video chat with her so we can feel like we’re there. I’ve also been meeting her outside of her appointments sometimes just to say hi!

· What is the average cost for a surrogate? Does this include IVF?

The average cost for surrogacy has a huge range, depending on whether you go with an agency and which agency you go with, as well as where you live. For example, in some countries (like Australia and Canada) it’s illegal to compensate a surrogate, so if it’s done, only medical costs can be covered. In places like California, where it’s legal, it’s much more costly. We already had frozen embryos from past cycles, but many people do need to do one or more round of IVF before starting their surrogacy journey to get embryos, which adds significantly to the cost as well. Overall, the costs can be anywhere for $50,000 to over $150,000 depending on the situation!

· What steps did you have to take physically to get her your embryos?

Since she went to our fertility doctor, we didn’t have to do anything. They thawed one embryo and did the transfer, just as they would have with me.

· How many transfers did it take to achieve pregnancy?

For us, it took two transfers of one embryo each. Our doctor will not do more than one embryo. Our agency told us it can take up to three transfers on average, but it was still very upsetting when the first transfer failed. We were grateful our surrogate agreed to try one more cycle with us, and SO grateful for our child on the way!

· Did it matter to you how many times she has carried to term in the past?

Yes! At least for our doctor and agency, surrogates have to have had at least one healthy child in the past, but there’s also a limit on how many times they can be pregnant. For example, many surrogates help multiple families over time, and a doctor will likely not approve them after they’ve had six pregnancies. Our surrogate already has two of her own children, so that gave us peace of mind! Also, this is her first surrogacy journey, and she’s had natural births, all things which the agency considered for us when making the match. Our surrogate said she only wants to do this one time, and we only wanted one more child, so we fit well together. They even told us exactly how far along she was when she had her kids, and the size of her babies, as well as how her pregnancies went.

· Will you keep in touch with her after the baby is born?

When we started this journey with her, we all agreed we will play this by ear. We agreed we will send holiday cards at a minimum, but once the baby is born, we will figure out how much we all want to stay in touch.

· How often do you see her? (I know COVID has made that harder)

COVID has made this SO hard! Part of the reason we matched so well is because we wanted to see each other often and create a friendship, but it’s very hard to see each other right now. We want her to stay healthy for herself and the baby, so we don’t want to expose her to anything extra by seeing us (we’re safe, but just in case). Overall, I’ve met up with her and her kids at a park a couple times, and I’ll meet her outside of her appointments for a quick hello, but overall, we have to just text and see each other in video chats! We were both very disappointed we can’t see each other more, but we’re keeping her and the baby safe and healthy, and that’s what’s most important!

· How open were you/are you about this decision?

We kept our decision to ourselves for a while, only telling our parents. This wasn’t for any shameful reason, but simply because we had no idea how it would go and didn’t want to get our hopes up to soon.

· Were both you and your partner in agreement about moving forward with a surrogate?

We were in complete agreement. When we were first told we had to look into surrogacy, we agreed we wanted to try once more on my body, but we would be prepared to go with an agency if necessary. When we had our second miscarriage after our last cycle on my body, we immediately knew I couldn’t go through that anymore and that we were ready to move on to surrogacy.

· What are some tips/advice you would give someone starting to look into surrogacy?

Surrogacy is a giant journey on its own! Infertility is so so hard, and moving on to surrogacy can be very overwhelming, as it takes so much time, money, energy, and more. I would say that you should do your research, and make sure it’s the right path for you. Everyone is different, and you should only do this if it’s what feels the best for you. I would also recommend contacting people who have been intended parents before (like me!) and try to connect with a support system. Once you enter the surrogacy journey, the focus is on making sure the surrogate and the future child is healthy, so the focus leaves the intended parents. While that makes sense and is good, I felt a little forgotten and I didn’t feel very supported with how difficult this journey was for US. So, a support system is VERY important because you won’t really find that at your agency or doctor for yourself anymore.

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