Years after Julie finished having kids of her own, she discovered the concept of gestational surrogacy. This is the story of why she became a surrogate, what her experience has been like, and how the process works - from an insider's perspective.
In this article:
In the fall of 2019, Julie came across an article that urged readers to "Do more than just exist," a message that resonated with her so deeply that it changed the course of her life forever.
As someone who always wanted to find ways to make a difference in the world, but often felt overwhelmed and unsure of where to start, Julie began to brainstorm a list of her personal gifts and how they might help others. "My whole life has revolved around kids and families, so that’s where I started first," she says.
Why I Became a Surrogate
Around the same time, a photographer friend of Julie's posted a beautiful birth photography session featuring some intended parents and their surrogate.
As she pored over the images, she began to think. "I had contemplated surrogacy over the years, often knowing that I would do it for someone close to me in a heartbeat," Julie recalls, "but never thinking much about it beyond my immediate circle."
"All the sudden, it was like lightening struck me and I knew I had to do this," she continues. "I had an overwhelming calling to carry for a gay couple and help create the family they had always wanted." Julie instantly fell in love with the concept of helping people become parents. "It felt like my purpose fell into my lap," she says.
Note: A gestational surrogate (also referred to as a surrogate, gestational carrier, or GC) is someone who carries a baby for someone who can't grow their family on their own. An embryo is transferred in the surrogate's uterus, and the baby has no genetic link to the surrogate.
This differs from "traditional" surrogacy, where the surrogate was both the egg donor and the one who carried the pregnancy. Traditional surrogacy is now rarely practiced, and gestational surrogacy is the norm. In this article, we'll be using the terms gestational carrier and surrogate interchangeably, but always in reference to gestational surrogacy.
The Journey to Becoming a Surrogate
After realizing she wanted to move forward with becoming a gestational carrier (GC), Julie researched various agencies and landed on East Coast-based agency Circle Surrogacy. "I applied to become a surrogate within the week!" she says. Choosing a reputable, well-established surrogacy agency is key to having a smooth experience.
The next step? Getting an initial medical review and full psychological evaluation.
Initial Review & Psychological Assessment
The team at Circle Surrogacy performed an initial medical records review, and then proceeded with the psychological clearance process, which was fairly quick and simple, according to Julie.
"My social worker conducted a Zoom call with me for about two hours, then spoke for an hour with my support person," she shares. "After that, I took a psychological test online and was cleared for matching."
She says she was very excited, hopeful, and a little naive as she entered the process, but quickly learned as much as she could and took things one step at a time.
Surrogate Medical Assessment
The next step on Julie's journey was achieving medical clearance.
This began with a trip to Norwalk, Connecticut in March 2020 to meet with Dr. Mark Leondires at Illume Fertility. During that visit, Julie had a full medical assessment that included blood work, a urine test, a blood pressure and weight check, and a saline sonogram.
"The whole process was a bit longer [than normal] for me, as I had a uterine polyp I had get removed prior to being cleared and start thyroid medication," Julie says. "But I always felt appreciated and cared for during the process with Illume, and felt the attitude was 'when' not 'if' I would become a surrogate."
After having the polyp removed and getting her thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) back up to optimal levels, Julie was officially cleared to start matching with intended parents (IPs).
The Surrogacy Matching Process
Julie's matching process was a little lengthier and more complicated than it usually is for other surrogates. Each gestational carrier (GC) has complete control over who they choose to match with. "I had several profiles shown to me that I denied, and a few ones I approved that ended up falling through," she says.
Right at the moment Julie was starting to feel discouraged, her future intended fathers' profile popped up. "They were PERFECT," Julie remembers. "I loved everything about them, and luckily they felt the same way."
After getting to know each other over Zoom, Julie was officially matched with the hopeful couple. "It was just meant to be," says Julie. The next step was establishing a surrogacy contract with the intended fathers and ensuring both Julie and the future dads' rights would be protected.
Surrogacy & Legal Protections
One of the most important pieces of the surrogacy puzzle is the legal aspect - for both the intended parents and the gestational carrier. Thankfully, because Julie chose to work with a well-established, reputable surrogacy agency like Circle, they made the legal process simple.
The Surrogacy Contract
"I was contacted by my personal attorney and given an initial copy of the carrier agreement [contract] to read over and highlight anything I wanted to change," Julie says. "I had a call with my attorney and we went over every single line of the contract - she explained anything I didn't understand, or had questions about, and offered her advice on possible changes."
After Julie and her attorney were done reviewing their copy, they sent back the redlines to Julie's intended parents and their attorney. "We were all in agreement after one round of negotiations, so we were able to sign and mail in the contracts within about six weeks," she says.
The Egg Donor Agreement
Note: Surrogates are not involved in the following process, as they are separate from the egg donor.
Similar to a carrier agreement, an egg donor agreement is put in place to protect all parties involved in the egg donation arrangement, clarify the intended parents’ and donor’s intentions and legal obligations, and dissolve the donor’s custody over the baby.
This agreement also addresses what type of future contact the IPs and egg donor wish to have, which depends largely on whether it's known donation, semi-known donation, or anonymous donation. Lastly, it includes a clause requiring the egg donor to provide updated medical information if her health history changes.
Surrogacy Journey #1
Julie and her IPs had a successful embryo transfer and she became pregnant with her first "surrobabe" (as she calls him) towards the end of 2020, excitedly sharing the announcement with friends and family. Other sweet terms some surrogates use to refer to the baby they are carrying are "belly buddy" or "womb mate" (which is adorable).
Having had her own children years prior, Julie felt fairly prepared for what was to come. "Pregnancy as a surrogate was wonderful, though it came with all the same struggles as my own pregnancies did (nausea, tiredness, aches and pains)," Julie shares.
Thankfully, Julie's intended parents (IPs) were able to be on FaceTime for all of her ultrasounds and appointments. "That really helped them feel involved and connected," Julie says. "There was (of course) some added stress, knowing I was carrying someone else's child, but I always tried to think positively and be optimistic!"
Hear more about Julie's surrogacy experience by watching her Instagram Live with Circle!
An Unexpectedly Difficult Birth
Julie admits that birth was the hardest part of her surrogacy journey, but feels strongly that it's important to talk about these challenging experiences. "The more prepared surrogates are, the better," she says.
As she neared the end of pregnancy, Julie lined up a birth photographer and eagerly anticipated the baby's delivery. "Every surrogate daydreams about the moment they see their IPs become parents, and I was no different," Julie says. But sometimes things go a little differently than planned.
Unfortunately, after many hours of laboring with very little progress, the baby's umbilical cord prolapsed in the middle of the night and Julie was rushed to the OR to have an emergency C-section. "I went from the labor and delivery room to the baby being out in only six minutes," she remembers. "My IPs were sleeping in another room and missed it all - I was scared and alone."
Postpartum Support for Surrogates
"It took a long time to process the birth experience," admits Julie, "but my IPs were amazing and made sure we got a lot of time together in the hospital which really helped." Despite the unexpected C-section, Julie says her biggest joy came from seeing the baby with his adoring dads and knowing he was healthy. "That's the only thing that truly mattered," Julie says.
After her difficult birth experience, Julie decided to work with Circle Surrogacy to create a special postpartum guide for surrogates. "I want to try to help other GCs prepare for the unknown, and I think it will be very helpful," she says.
Establishing Parental Rights
Another big legal hurdle? Establishing the rights of the intended parents. This part of the process typically comes together closer to the birth.
"My home state is a post-birth state, which means that parentage is established the week after birth in a legal hearing," Julie shares. "We started all the paperwork early on in the pregnancy and had everything ready to go at the hospital and for the hearing afterward."
While Julie admits that handling all the legal documentation can feel scary and overwhelming, she says it is made much easier by having the right team. "The hearing was actually beautiful," she recalls.
Learn more about legal considerations for surrogacy like pre-birth orders, second parent adoption, and other aspects of the process from Circle Surrogacy.
Julie Answers Surrogacy FAQs
What is the relationship between surrogate and intended parent(s) like?
Julie says she feels incredibly lucky to have matched with intended parents that want to work together as a team. "They have always made it clear that we're all in this together," she says. "They have been so supportive, respectful and grateful, which means the world to me."
While not every family and surrogate have a close, ongoing relationship, many do!
Julie has visited her first "surrobabe" four times since his birth. "It's always like being with family when we're together," she says. "We text and share pictures and I know I will always be an important part of their lives."
What support do surrogates receive during their journey?
"I have an amazing nurse and coordinator at Illume Fertility who have always made sure we have information quickly and work hard to make sure we are cared for," Julie says. "As a Type A person, I appreciated the thorough cycle calendars and always knowing what my next steps are - I never had to wait or guess."
At Circle Surrogacy, Julie also has a strong support system: "My matching specialist Sarah was phenomenal, my coordinator Jessi is the best out there, and my social worker Alana always took the time to check in - even on nights, weekends, or holidays!"
In addition to her personal support team at her fertility clinic and surrogacy agency, Julie also found camaraderie and friendship in Circle's private Facebook group for GCs. "It was truly a lifeline for me," she says. "I've gained so much support and knowledge from that group and am grateful they offer that community to us."
Who covers the costs during pregnancy?
In gestational surrogacy arrangements, surrogates can expect that any related costs will be handled by the intended parents. "I never pay out of pocket for anything surrogacy or pregnancy related," shares Julie. "All medical bills, travel, and medications are covered completely."
A New Adventure: Surrogacy Journey #2
After recovering from her first surrogate pregnancy, Julie immediately knew she would gladly do it all again. "I was happy to do a sibling surrogacy journey if asked," she says, "but my intended fathers weren't quite ready for Baby #2 when I was, so they gave me their blessing to go ahead and help another couple."
Julie matched with a new set of intended parents and began to prepare for a second pregnancy in 2022. "The process was much easier the second time around, especially working with the same doctor and clinic," she says. "I felt much more confident and knowledgeable this time."
Julie has been able to see her current intended parents multiple times and meet their amazing families as well. Sadly, their first embryo transfer together ended in an early miscarriage. "I felt this loss as if it had been my own," Julie says.
Processing Grief as a Surrogate
"For many surrogates, this is the first time we're experiencing what it's like to not have a pregnancy end in a baby, which can be difficult," she shares. "This is why we go through such a strict psychological evaluation in the beginning - you really need to be able to process stress and have a strong support network to get you through it."
In addition to the physical and emotional impact miscarriage has on a surrogate, they are also feeling the disappointment and sadness experienced by the IPs. "I won't sugarcoat it - it's awful," Julie admits. "There is nothing worse in this process than seeing the hurt and disappointment in your IPs when a transfer doesn't work."
Julie had a second embryo transfer that also ended in disappointing news - not pregnant. But she's not giving up yet. She believes that one of the most important things one can do throughout this sometimes difficult journey is keep the lines of communication open between gestational carrier and intended parents.
The Highs & Lows of Surrogacy
"The hardest part is knowing that all of someone else's hopes and dreams are dependent on your success," Julie admits. "I'm an empath and really feel everything my IPs do, so through all the highs and lows, you're taking on not only your emotions - but someone else's too."
But the highs far outweigh the lows when it comes to surrogacy, Julie says. "There is absolutely nothing more magical than finding out you're pregnant and sharing that news with your IPs! You get to witness the beginning of a new chapter for them."
The biggest reward is knowing you're making a tangible impact in a family's life, Julie shares. "It feels like you have a purpose and are doing something greater than yourself," she says. "The surrogate community is also amazing - I met lifelong friends through this process."
Sierra Dehmler is the Content Marketing Manager for Gay Parents To Be and its partner clinic, Illume Fertility. She is also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other hopeful parents by providing family-building resources that educate, inspire and encourage.