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Stephanie Heisler

Stephanie, a mom of three, shares her story becoming a surrogate to a friend going through infertility, and the feelings she never saw coming

@heislerpartyof5

"Never in my life could I have imagined the emotional roller coaster being a surrogate would be. The hoops one has to jump through to birth someone else’s baby are mind-blowing! Between the fertility treatments, surrogacy therapist meetings, and legal contracts, you think you’re finished- but you’ve only just begun."


Her Story

    Have you ever done something and then said to yourself, “Wow, that was crazy!” I know I have, four times to be exact. Each time I gave birth, I blew my own mind at this miracle that grew inside my belly. After nine months of pregnancy, (which felt like an eternity) this tiny person would join our family and perfectly fit like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. There’s a feeling of accomplishment when you complete a large jigsaw puzzle, like those awesome 1000 piece ones. You work so hard to build this picture and then piece by piece it finally comes together. So…this is where the craziest of all my stories begins. I thought I had all the pieces to my puzzle, the things that made my heart full and my life purposeful. That was until low and behold that tiny 1000th piece (that somehow fell in between the couch cushions) resurfaces so we can complete this incredible puzzle. As I mentioned earlier, reflecting on the craziness and magic of the birth experience- except for the interesting part of my story is that I only have three of my own kids and the fourth one belongs to people very special to me. You see, I was a surrogate. Something I never thought I would be, but it was truly the missing piece to my life puzzle.

 

    After working with children the majority of my life, decades as a preschool and religious school teacher, I naturally knew that being a mom was in my future. Once I found my life partner, (my nemesis from junior high – but that’s a whole other story), I married him and a few short years later I was pregnant with our first son Jacob. So easy right? Well.. it was for us. When you finally make a plan to get pregnant it’s all of a sudden the hardest thing ever. The task seems almost impossible-like trying to thread a needle while sitting in the back of a speeding pick-up truck on a bumpy road. In those moments – when the idea that you might not have the baby your family has always wanted crosses your mind you get struck down by tons of emotions. Fear, sadness, hope, anger. You name the emotion, you feel it -because you feel like your body, your partner, and your doctor has failed you. But then… a good amount of people who have experienced this go on to get pregnant and birth miracles. Then there are the others, who unfortunately are forced to stay in that emotional zone of pain, discomfort, worry, and wonder because now they have to figure out how to complete that picture they’ve envisioned. Their picture is missing pieces. Whether it’s fertility treatments, adoption, or surrogacy, there are discussions to be had and hard decisions to be made. All of which will ultimately create the new picture this couple had in mind. As I said before, I was one of the lucky ones-I wanted to get pregnant, and then I did. I thought about the others and my heart ached for them, but then my life went on as I went on to birth two more boys completing my family.

 

  While in the throes of raising three young boys, someone special in my life was hit with the pain of infertility. I saw this pain and felt it deeper than I ever expected. All I wanted for them was to have what I have, the family I always dreamed of, and all the craziness that comes with it. So I blurted out a phrase that would change my life a short year after saying it, “If you need me I can do it. I can carry a baby for you! I did it three times already so my body knows what to do!” I was met with a “We appreciate it, and hope we don’t need to ask that of you”. But the pain was still there for them, and I wanted to fix it somehow. A year later, after more tough conversations and decisions- I offered again and they accepted! Let’s do this! I felt like wonder woman – ready to conquer the world and ready to have a baby for someone else? Sure!

 

    Never in my life could I have imagined the emotional roller coaster being a surrogate would be. The hoops one has to jump through to birth someone else’s baby are mind-blowing! Between the fertility treatments, surrogacy therapist meetings, and legal contracts, you think you’re finished- but you’ve only just begun. So many moving parts in this process that truly gives one a new perspective of the luxury of getting pregnant

“the old-fashioned way”. I have to say that when I uttered the phrase, “I’ll have your baby” I actually envisioned birthing the baby and handing it to them with all of us crying happy tears. That vision alone kept me focused and able to enjoy the ups and downs of a pregnancy later in life. Along the way we had many happy moments that helped evaporate the pain from their past experiences. Each week closer brought more hope and excitement. From the first ultrasound at six weeks when the couple got to hear their baby’s heartbeat for the very first time via FaceTime, to telling my 7 and 9-year-old sons that Mommy is helping another family have a baby. Then telling my own parents that I’m going to be a surrogate - whoa what a trip!

 

    The questions I would get from friends and the conversations I would have with strangers truly restored my faith in humanity. I used to say “everyone treats pregnant women like unicorns because everyone wants to be part of something magical”. That phrase still holds true, but it’s truly next level when you tell someone that you’re a surrogate. I had people grab my hands and share intimate stories of their own fertility struggles or those of their friends. These interactions usually ended with both of us crying and hugging for a long time. Each time the person would say, “It’s just such a gift you’re giving them!”

  My seven-year-old son would ask me daily if the new baby could come home with us just for one day before going home to their family. Then he told his whole second grade class on the first day of school that he had a great summer and my mom is a surrogate! Lots of cool, hilarious conversations with his teacher and classmates after that one for sure.

 

    Feeling every kick, seeing the baby grow and develop at each ultrasound was truly a surreal, life-changing experience. Having gone through this three times before, I thought it would feel distant or weird since it wasn’t my baby. But having the intended parents by my side at every appointment made it all feel special in a different way. My boys enjoyed looking at a baby app that I had on my phone which told us which size fruit or vegetable was equivalent to the size of the baby that week. They would ask me, “Which fruit is the baby today Mommy?” Seeing my own kids excited made me recognize the gravity of what I was doing. This pregnancy was my most challenging one, solely because it was for someone else. The anxiety came in waves, as I didn’t want to mess up the gift I was giving them.

 

My friendships changed. A lot of them grew much stronger, but some couldn’t weather this storm for my own mental health to stay intact. My marriage grew stronger as my husband rode the waves of all the joys of pregnancy once again(especially the hormonal changes). Some days I felt like a celebrity, some friends and acquaintances seemed to see me in a new light. They used the word selfless a lot to describe me when we talked about it. Other friends would be overwhelmed with emotions and then say, “ I have so many questions!” and then there are the friends that made me burst in the tears on the spot by saying things like “it’s an honor to be friends with someone like you.” If you know me, I’m an empath and a crier and if you don’t know me personally- now you know how emotionally tumultuous this journey was for me.

    Any question you could think of, I got it. Why are you doing this? How will you give up the baby? Does it feel weird since it’s not yours? One of my 10-year-old students was shocked by my news and shouted “Gross! You had sex with someone else to have their baby!” Just when I thought that I had heard it all. Then there were the people genuinely concerned about my mental health which I appreciated more than words can express. I assured them that I have a good therapist and support system. I’m also in the unique position as a surrogate because I will see this baby grow and thrive as their family is connected to us personally and now even more so. The crazy part is, that out of respect and privacy to the intended parents, I kept my pregnancy a secret on social media the entire time. To the point that when I finally saw someone in person they were blown away that they didn’t know that I was expecting. Luckily I have three kids that have blocked my growing belly in any and all pictures. Towards the end of the pregnancy, I had sciatica down both my legs and could barely walk or sleep. My oldest son would see me in pain and reassuringly say, “don’t worry mommy- it’ll all be better when the baby is out!”

    To all of our friends, our family is called the Hooligans. Three wild and crazy boys – it fits us. That being said, to everyone’s dismay-the couple had agreed to not find out the gender of their baby. This was yet another topic that led to many interesting comments from everyone. “What if it’s a girl?” “Will you be sad to give it away?” “ It’s got to be a boy because you only have boys!” Again, I had to keep my cool and calmly remind the kind-hearted person asking that this isn’t my baby so I just pray that it is healthy. Boy or girl, it doesn’t matter! I found it fascinating to hear the questions people have the nerve and courage to ask me. All out of curiosity and wonder, but sometimes the lack of tact left me reeling.

  The last few months of my surrogacy felt long but then flew by in a blur. I collected pictures along the journey and created a keepsake book for the intended parents called “your pea, my pod.” This adorable surrogacy journal helped me put into words all my feelings and pregnancy cravings. It even included pictures that my kids drew of me pregnant along with their own sweet messages to the baby, their wishes for this baby as it grows up. I felt like this was an incredible way for us to document this life-changing process.

 

I was due a week after my 40th birthday in late January, but I had an inkling based on my previous pregnancies that this baby was coming early. The main plus of my relationship with the intended parents was our constant communication. We had talked about all options and scenarios so much that at “go time” we all just met at the hospital ready for everything. Due to Covid restrictions, I was only allowed one support person with me at the hospital after I checked in. In our case, it was the intended mother. She and I got to know each other a lot better after two nights in the hospital. The Intended mother and I were a little anxious about the baby coming four weeks early, but we were also so excited that their miracle was closer to arriving. We did laps around the maternity ward, watched game shows, and got to know all the nurses and doctors after multiple shift changes. To make this event even more interesting, my OB was out of town and basically unreachable. Each doctor and nurse was ready to send me home because my labor signs weren’t “strong enough” to keep me in the hospital, especially a month early. However, I didn’t feel comfortable having close contractions,signs of labor, and leaving the hospital with all of this going on. After I chugged some spicy soup, I assured the intended mom that her baby would arrive shortly. Sure enough, the contractions escalated and the doctors agreed to get things moving towards delivery. The intended mother held my hand while I got my epidural shot and called my husband so I could hear his voice before I delivered. It was weird not having my hubby with me but the intended mother was very comforting. She even created a playlist with my favorite music to keep me calm and collected. We managed to schmooze the nurses to allow the intended father into the room for the delivery which made us all feel better. Three pushes later the intended mom got to pull out her baby and the intended dad got to cut the cord. The doctor announced the baby was a girl and we all shrieked with joy. Immediately after that, they got to hold their little miracle and have skin-to-skin bonding time. I cried tears of joy for them as the vision I had pictured when I said, “I’ll have your baby” actually came to fruition. Shortly after the birth, my hubby was able to join me in the delivery room and we FaceTimed our boys so we could let them know that the baby had arrived, and I was okay. Then the unexpected happened. I got to hold the new baby girl for a few magical minutes. I looked at her little eyes and said, “nice to meet you -so you’re the one who’s been making my back hurt!”

    A week after giving birth, I was able to see the intended parents and give them the book that I created for them of our surrogacy journey. It’s crazy that now I’ve returned to my everyday life, picking up and dropping off my three sons at school and extracurricular activities. It’s almost like the whole thing never even happened. I guess that is the cool thing about being a surrogate, you do your job and then don’t have to go home to sleep deprivation, dirty diapers, and spit-up.           On the flip side, the emotional overload of giving birth and not going home with a baby is gnarly. I never expected so many layers to my emotions, but I’ve been giving myself the grace to feel all of them. I was showered with tons of love, flowers, and sushi from my friends and family after returning home. Those closest to me knew how much I missed sushi and beer during this pregnancy and truly delivered emotional support via these items. Friends I haven’t seen since the pandemic started reaching out, sending food, or comforting texts. As I mentioned before, my support system is phenomenal and bigger than I ever imagined. As I move on with my life, and the intended parents with theirs- I know we all feel more complete now that the missing puzzle piece was found, secured in its place, and the beautiful picture was successfully created.

 

Read Stephanie's story and more on her blog, Cheers To Nap Time

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