My wife and I went through years of pain and struggle to bring our children into the world. More than a dozen rounds of IVF produced a beautiful daughter in 2012, but as we got into 2016 we realized that IVF was no longer a viable option for us. We decided to hire a surrogate in Ukraine to help us give our daughter a sibling. After a few failed attempts, we made it through a successful pregnancy and welcomed twin boys in September of 2017.
Many of you understand the pain and hardships that people endure as they pursue alternative forms of childbirth. No one wants to go down this road but those that do, in many ways, face largely uncharted waters. And if we struggled to comprehend what steps we had to take, our loved ones really had trouble making sense of it. They just knew that we were in pain and they wished that the situation was different.
Our families and friends, who had supported us in the best ways they knew how during our infertility battles, were as overjoyed as we were when our sons were born. They said: “Now you can raise your family like anyone else,” and I thought they were right. We were wrong. My wife and I have dealt with challenges related to the “after” of surrogacy birth that we never foresaw.
Our Struggles Were Over
We thought we were done. We had our kids and that was all we ever wanted. There would be no more hormone shots. No more grinding in as much money as possible every month to pay for all of the alternative approaches to childbirth. No more wondering whether it would ever happen. No more watching my wife handle all of it so heroically, even though every loss of a pregnancy was so crushing. No more trying to explain all of this to people.
My wife and I had started to discuss how to handle a situation in which the surrogate might want some sort of contact with us. We didn’t want to seem cold, as she did bring our boys into the world, but we did want to move on. Was that right? Was that OK? We thought it was.After our boys were born, it seemed we could compartmentalize all of what had happened during our infertility battle into the “Things in the Past” psychological “box.” We had a five-year-old girl and twin newborns, so we didn’t have much time to think about anything else anyway.
But even more than a year after we got home from Ukraine with our sons, we still had to handle an uncomfortable surrogacy issue.
When the twins were 13 months old, I suddenly received a series of emails from our surrogate in Ukraine. I am writing a book about the whole experience of having our sons in Kiev, and I have a related website. I’m promoting it as I would any of the clients I’ve worked with as an online marketing consultant, but even after 15 years, I somehow failed to remember the reach of the Internet.
Our surrogate had found my website and wrote to us.
She lives in a small town, far outside of Kiev, which was where we had our sons. We had met her in person only one time, which was the day before our sons were born. She spoke no English, and we spoke no Ukrainian. The whole of our in-person communication was a nod or two and a smile. As much as we appreciate what she did for us, this is what we wanted. We didn’t want ongoing involvement. Our contract didn’t specifically forbid contact, but it did make clear that after the birth, our dealings were over.
She emailed me twice. I didn’t respond to either because I wasn’t sure what the right thing to do was. I made the excuse to myself that the messages were in Ukrainian, but I could have translated them enough to understand what she was saying. I just didn’t want to deal with it.
She was persistent. Her third message in about a week was general but in English: “I wish you the best and hope that your boys are strong, healthy, and growing.” I decided to respond. I sent her a note back thanking her for what she had done, wishing her the best in the future, but making it clear that I hoped that would be the end of it.
It wasn’t. I got another message the next day, asking me to contact her if we wanted to have more children. We do not. I was relieved that this was all she wanted, as my wife and I had started to discuss how to handle a situation in which the surrogate might want some sort of contact with us. We didn’t want to seem cold, as she did bring our boys into the world, but we did want to move on. Was that right? Was that OK? We thought it was.
When we’re asked about where they were born, we tell the questioners the (abridged) story. It saves confusion and paints the accurate picture that we’re proud of what we did.We’ve had other potential issues arise as well. We’ve had people ask us if our boys were born in our local hospital, which is the same place we had our daughter. It’s a common question, particularly from those whose children were born locally, but how do you answer that? What’s right? What’s wrong? We decided to answer it truthfully. Simply saying “no” only invites more questions, and then you look like you’re avoiding answering.
We deal with it head-on when it comes up. When we’re asked about where they were born, we tell the questioners the (abridged) story. It saves confusion and paints the accurate picture that we’re proud of what we did. It has made me sad when I’ve encountered others who have gone through ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) and expressed relief when we’ve told them about our boys. Several of them then “confess” that their children were born in a nontraditional way. Before we had shared our story, they hadn’t wanted to say anything.
I also get angry when I hear from people who have encountered negative reactions to successful childbirth with ART, and I empathize with them. We’ve been on the receiving end, too, but we think that what we did to get our boys is nothing to be ashamed of. Once again, we’re not sure if that’s right or wrong, but that’s just how we feel. We don’t broadcast the nature of their births in our everyday conversations with people, but we don’t avoid the questions when they arise.
Someday, we’re going to tell our boys about how they got here. Our thinking right now is that we’re going to tell them that we needed some help from someone else’s tummy so that they could be taken care of safely until they were born. Like many other things, I think that’s the right way to handle it, but I can’t say it with certainty until I actually experience the situation. Like all other aspects of this, we’ll deal with this issue directly and without any embarrassment or shame.
Taking One Step at a Time
The truth is that there is no playbook for surrogacy birth, especially when you don’t have a reputable and trusted agency mediating the situation. It’s becoming more common, but it’s still too rare for it to be thought of as just another way to have children. That means that we have and will continue to encounter potentially uncomfortable situations that parents who had their children the old-fashioned way will not. That’s OK with us.
We were willing to go through just about anything to have our children, as are others who are courageously battling infertility. We had adopted the mindset of “let’s just get through this next step and decide on a course from there.” We didn’t realize that the “after” period of ART requires that we need to maintain that mindset.
We’ll continue to make it up as we go along, doing what we think is right without actually knowing if we are. It’s worth it, because we’ll continue to be ever-thankful that our children are here.
Jay Nault is the proud husband of Tiffany and proud father to Téa, Jamie, and Mickey. He is a writer and owns an online consulting agency. He’s working on a book called Flip Flops in Kiev about his and his wife’s surrogacy experience. Read his blog at flipflopsinkiev.com.
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