'I Have Been a Surrogate 3 Times, This Is What It's Like'

I'm married with five children from a blended family with my current husband, and I've been a gestational surrogate three times. My journey to surrogacy was a very long one, and really began back in 1998.

That year, I was a kidney donor for my cousin. After the surgery, I visited him in California where he was living at the time. Sadly, he passed away six weeks after the transplant from a bacterial infection unrelated to the surgery. But prior to his passing, I saw the difference the kidney made for him. The feeling of having been able to do that for him was indescribable.

While visiting California, I happened to see an advert seeking egg donors, and I kept it in the back of my mind. Towards the end of 1999, I reached out to the agency in California that had placed the ad. I assumed they were going to tell me I couldn't donate because I live in Atlanta, Georgia. But they actually told me I would be a great donor candidate as I already had three children and proven fertility. However, they mentioned it would be difficult to match me because Black people didn't have infertility issues, which was far from the truth. But this was 1999.

There is a big misunderstanding around people of color, infertility and having children. The media has amplified a stereotype that Black women are extremely fertile. Yet studies show that Black women are statistically more likely to struggle with fertility. I think there is a lack of understanding and knowledge when it comes to people of color and infertility.

About 10 months later, I received a call from the agency saying there was a family interested. I donated my eggs for that family, but it was not the greatest experience. It felt very detached and clinical, so I just assumed I would never do it again.

Then, a couple of years later, I came across a website where people were looking for egg donors and surrogates. I posted information stating that I was interested in being an egg donor again, with no expectations that I would get a call. I was inundated with responses from families looking for donors of color.

I was able to then choose who I donated eggs to, and successfully completed a total of six egg donor journeys, twice for the same family. I still have relationships with a couple of the families I donated to, and I've met a couple of my egg donor babies. My children also know I've been an egg donor as it's never been something I've hidden from them.

Understandably, I kept receiving emails from people looking for donors of color. But by 2005 I had decided to end my egg donor journey; I was pregnant with my fourth child and completing a Master's degree alongside a full time job. I started working for a surrogacy agency, and while developing a donor program for them, learned about surrogacy.

I was fascinated and felt it was something I could do. Unfortunately, my husband was not initially on board. He had many preconceptions of what surrogacy was. He thought that I would need to use my eggs, and at one point he thought I had to sleep with the husband of a couple I was carrying a child for. And of course, he was concerned for my health and emotional well-being. All legitimate concerns, but there's a lot of misunderstanding about surrogacy.

When a woman carries and uses her own eggs, it's called traditional surrogacy. I was a gestational surrogate. The embryos were created outside of the body by another family and then transferred into my uterus.

As a Christian, I feel we as humans are put on this earth to serve each other in some capacity. I feel my calling is to help others. It is what brings me joy and peace.

When he finally understood what it was about for me, my husband agreed. My mom is older and more traditional, so I also had to educate her about surrogacy, as well as having the conversation with my children. But I was able to explain that we were helping another family and that this baby would not be part of our family.

My first experience as a gestational surrogate was for a local couple—the intended mother has breast cancer and couldn't carry. The couple quickly did a round of IVF and I was able to carry twin girls for them who are now eleven. I thought I would only be a surrogate once, but my second family was introduced to me by a mutual friend and I ended up carrying a boy for them who is now eight. My third family was a same sex couple, and I carried a girl for them who is now five. I still have a close relationship with the families.

Pregnancy, surrogate, Black women, surrogacy

Surrogacy is unique. You go into it knowing that it's not going to be your child. What I actually found is that I had a closer connection to the parents than the baby. Although I loved and still love the children, when I gave birth to them the loss I felt was for the relationship with the parents.

All three sets of intended parents were very involved with the pregnancies. They attended the doctor's appointments and were present for the delivery. We communicated on a weekly basis and they visited me in my home for dinner.

With the twins, the mom was able to cut the cord for the first twin. I was delivering both babies vaginally, but the second twin flipped and the doctors weren't able to find her heartbeat. So I ended up having an emergency cesarean section (C-section), something I hadn't had before. I think my body may have gone into shock as I then experienced Bell's Palsy—a portion of my face was paralyzed for a number of weeks. But of course, complications can happen with any pregnancy. I ended up having C-sections for my next two journeys and each time, the parents were present.

Currently there isn't any legislation for surrogacy in Georgia. But there are no legal issues in being a surrogate or working with a surrogate. It is required to have legal contracts drafted by an attorney with each party having separate legal counsel. The contract defines expectations and responsibilities for the journey. I also received compensation, but that was not the motivating factor for me.

During the surrogacy journey, the parents tend to hold their breath. When they hear that first cry from their baby, the tears come at the same time. I vividly remember each birth. Each of the parents said beautiful things to me, but I remember on my third journey, one of the fathers kissed me on the forehead and said: "I will love you until the day I die." There are things in life you experience where words are not sufficient to explain your feelings. Surrogacy is one of them.

I didn't feel sadness after the births, I felt a sense of relief. I had held the dual responsibility of carrying the child, and carrying the intended parents' hopes and dreams. I didn't want to let anyone down. With each delivery I felt I had accomplished what I had set out to do, and was able to hand the children back to their parents.

Unfortunately, after my third journey, I was unable to stop bleeding and ended up having an emergency hysterectomy. I can say that I have no regrets, I've had a total of seven pregnancies. But process of having a hysterectomy was sudden, and I mourned the loss of my uterus. It might sound crazy, but I had genuine respect for my uterus and the ability it had given me to bear my own children and to help others. Now, five years later, it was the best thing I could have done.

I think a lot of people have a perception that surrogacy is exploiting women, and I feel that is the furthest thing from from the truth. I think that perception is a disservice to the women who choose to become surrogates in a legal and ethical way. These women are selfless and willing to help someone else.

That selflessness, alongside the joy and love the intended parents experience at the end of the journey is just beautiful. I do appreciate some believe in focusing on how there are a lot of children who need to be adopted. But the journey to adoption can also be very difficult.

Surrogacy is not for everyone. Even if you think surrogacy is for you, sometimes it still may not be. When you decide to become a surrogate you must be willing to take on the responsibility of bearing a child and shouldering someone else's dreams and heartache. And if you have a spouse or partner and a family, it can't just be that it's just you—it has to be everyone's journey. But if you decide to do it, it can be one of the most amazing, exciting, scary and nerve wracking experiences you can have.

There are some who say that surrogacy is bad. But I believe that if those people really considered the beauty of it, they might think differently. I choose to look at surrogacy as a selfless, amazing, beautiful gift that you can give to somebody else.

Eloise Drane is the founder of Family Inceptions, a surrogacy and egg donation agency, Surrogacy Roadmap, a course for intended parents completing independent surrogacy and host of Fertility Café Podcast. Her passion and unparalleled empathy blossomed from her own experience as a six time egg donor and a surrogate three times. Eloise has been a member of RESOLVE: The National Fertility Association and has volunteered for their Federal Advocacy Day.

All views expressed in this piece are the writer's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.