After my husband and I jointly decided to pursue my journey as a surrogate, our kids were the first family members to tell. They are good at not sharing things that we are not ready to share as a family, so I trusted them with this “secret” from the first stages of planning. Early on, they did not have many follow-up questions. Kevin and I concluded that we must have done a pretty good job explaining how surrogacy works. As implantation drew near, however, a very interesting question popped up.
Close to the big day, I decided to check in with my 13-year old son about the upcoming surrogacy journey. “Do you have any questions about surrogacy? Are you feeling comfortable about me doing this?”
I admit I did not understand the significance of his first question at the moment he asked it.
“So, dad is totally okay with this?” he asked.
“Of course.” I replied. That was an easy one, I thought to myself.
“So, are you going to have sex with Jonathan?” he asked.
I was taken aback, quickly realizing that I had neglected to give the kids a thorough explanation of In vitro fertilization (IVF). It seems, I forgot the crucial detail that Jonathan had made embryos through a fertility clinic with an egg donor. As far as our kids knew, having sex was the only way to create a baby. And as far as I knew, for the prior month, our kids had assumed that would be the only way for me to carry Jonathan’s baby!
“No, buddy, I am not having sex with Jonathan.” I replied, mildly amused by this point. I decided to immediately call all of the kids down to watch some YouTube videos about the IVF process and have a more in-depth discussion about what being a “gestational surrogate” means. I explained to all the children that this baby was made in a different way than the heteronormative “birds and the bees” method we had previously discussed. I realized that there were some big holes in the way we discussed how babies are made with our children. For example, families who don’t look like ours are often made in a different way than ours are as well. Some families suffer from infertility and bring babies into their families in yet other ways. We had that conversation, then and there. As always, I was impressed with my children’s natural way of accepting that not all people are exactly the same.
As the process continues and I now possess a proud baby bump, my children are more helpful and caring about my well-being. They know that they have the power to make this process a little more comfortable for me by doing so. I will say, that my daughter was disappointed when I told her that she would not be able to help name the baby. But, all of my children were excited that we will stay in touch with Jonathan, and that the little baby will become part of our chosen family.
Flashback to 2005: I had my first baby at 21 years old. I was a junior in college and had only been married 11 months when our oldest son was born. I love my kids, but in retrospect, the decision to have kids so quickly was not one I truly made for myself. During my formative years, I had internalized the “supposed to” foundation of childbearing that I had picked up from religious teachers and within the walls of Brigham Young University (BYU). At some point between religious philosophy classes, Sunday school lessons on morality, and discussions with my roommates, I came to what I now believe to be a harmful conclusion that was taught in the early days of the Mormon church. This is that birth control is prohibited and an offense to god, a very common teaching in the early days of the Mormon church. This is not a current interpretation held by all, but it was one that I clung to at the time. Kevin knew that I leaned towards these beliefs and we discussed it at length before getting married. The end decision was to begin taking a birth control pill and wait until we were married before deciding when to have children.
When you read my piece about medications you will learn that birth control and I are not compatible. Three months into our marriage, after many crying spells and unexplainable mood changes, I declared that it was the fault of birth control. Already being slightly uncomfortable with taking birth control, I was glad for an excuse to be done with it. I threw it away, and told Kevin we should let God choose when we should have our first child. Being 20 years old, a newlywed, and from a very fertile line of women, I was pregnant within my next cycle. This led me on the typical Mormon woman path of no career after college, more children, and staying at home. All of that was laid out for me by the plan the church had handed me as a young girl, a plan that I had accepted and implemented.
When it came time to talk to my parents and siblings about my surrogacy journey, I knew things were going to be different than talking to my own kids. Discussions with my family about some topics are often tainted by the fact that most members of my family are Mormon, and I am not. Both my husband, Kevin, and I were raised devout Mormon, but in 2014 we chose to leave the Mormon church. That decision changed the way both of our families see us.
I understand that they may never understand my “why” for how I live my life anymore. This is hard, because everyone wants to be understood and accepted by one’s family irrespective of different viewpoints and beliefs. Telling them my decision to become a surrogate was going to be a bit awkward. I knew that when I chose Jonathan, a single man, to go on this journey with, that my journey would make even less sense to most of my family who have a very “traditional” view of what a family should be.
When I told my parents and siblings, they all reacted in ways predictable to their personalities. Some did not seem very comfortable talking about or asking me questions. Some just responded with an “Oh, interesting”, followed by some polite logistical questions. Another sibling went into problem solving mode, asking me pointed questions, referring me to their friends who had done surrogacy, and offering words of wisdom.
As I shared my choice to become a surrogate with my family, I couldn’t help but think, “This is what I’ve trained for my entire life – baby making! You were there! You know that!” Having children is not the only thing that Mormon church leaders teach young women about, but it is the natural conclusion to many of the principles I was taught. Every lesson on modesty pointed to marriage in the Mormon temple, which pointed to family, which pointed to the all-important role of a woman: carrying children. The same can be said for lessons on chastity, obedience, God’s plan for us, and more; all lead to the fact that a woman’s main purpose is to have children.
Getting married at 20-years old and in college didn’t faze either of our parents. Choosing to start our family in our early twenties, while in college, was not out of the norm in our BYU experience. Growing up in a conservative religion, getting married at 20, and having children within the first year of marriage almost guaranteed that I, the woman in the relationship, would never pursue a career path that allowed for significant financial contributions to the family. While these choices were not directly encouraged by either of our parents, their support of the Mormon institution and their continuous urgings for us to follow the Mormon teachings, contributed significantly to our immaturity in how we made life choices. Many of our early life choices were made cavalierly, assuming that if we were setting down a wrong path, promptings from God would stop us. Thus, many life-altering choices were made impulsively without taking into account the long-term ramifications.
My parents-in-laws reaction, was predictably, disinterested. Since leaving the church their approach to conversations with us is surface level, no attempts to understand how Kevin and I see the world. We know our choices are not accepted because the principal choice of ours, to leave the church, taints everything else that we do. We chose to wait to tell them until I was 12 weeks pregnant, figuring that if things did not work out, they would never need to have been part of the process.
For me, the choice to carry a baby as a side hustle ( I know, cringy word, go read my article “How I Chose to Become a Surrogate”), might have been easier than it would be for other women who did not grow up constantly hearing that a woman’s most important role is to create life.
The difference with this pregnancy is that I am doing it for my own reasons and not because it is what I am “supposed” to do. That small distinction is empowering in a way that I never could have imagined when I started this journey. For me, the opportunity to carry Jonathan’s child provides me with a sense of reclaiming pregnancy. I am not carrying a child because it is the “righteous” thing to do, which was the reason I started my own family, but I am now pregnant because I choose to help someone else make a family. Whether or not others understand my reasons for becoming a gestational carrier, I get to be proud of what I am doing. This time, I am using my awesome ability to nurture life to carry a baby for someone who cannot carry it themselves. That is definitely a worthy way to reclaim my womanly superpower.