In March 2020, another woman gave birth to my son in Nevada, 2,226 miles away from my home in Florida.
The journey to reach that day began six years earlier and involved multiple diagnoses of infertility, two rounds of IVF (months of hormone injections plus surgeries to retrieve eggs), two devastating miscarriages, and six failed embryo transfers, all of which ultimately led my husband and me to decide to use a gestational surrogate (our baby, her body).
When our doctor recommended that we move forward with using a surrogate, to say that I was beside myself with sadness would be putting it lightly. In all other areas of my life, I had always been able to will myself to success by studying or trying harder, and I had to come to the realization that it wasn’t going to work this time. Plus, at the time, I didn’t know a single person who had ever been or who had ever used a surrogate. The IVF process had felt isolating enough, and now I was venturing into the unknown. My close friends and family members were in the midst of their own family-building journeys, and I realized that, in addition to all the potential difficulties we might face from using a surrogate, our surrogate was going to be someone we didn’t know. At the time, I couldn’t visualize us ever finding a surrogate that we would have a lifelong relationship with (spoiler alert: I couldn’t have been more wrong!). Truthfully, I was painfully jealous at the thought that my surrogate—an unknown person at the time—would get to experience all of the magical pregnancy moments with our baby, and I would not.
There’s much more I could write about this time in our journey, but ultimately, my husband and I decided that moving forward with surrogacy was the best decision for our family. During that time, I was in a state of deep depression that was affecting every aspect of my life.
Even now, I look at seemingly happy pictures of myself from those years of IVF and losing my babies, and can see the grief all over my face.
I finally came to the realization that the end goal of all of this was to bring home, raise, and love a baby who would grow into a wonderful person. Not being able to carry that baby for nine months wouldn’t change how we were as a family or how I was as a mother.
So, I researched and interviewed multiple surrogacy agencies, which match couples or individuals with potential surrogates. We selected an agency based in California, and it sent me several profiles that had pictures, personal and background information, and written summaries about why these women wanted to be surrogates. Of those profiles, Kayla’s was the only one that jumped out to me. When I saw it, I excitedly called my husband and exclaimed,
“I found her!”
There were photos of her and her beautiful family—her husband and her young son and daughter. Kayla had been a surrogate before, delivering twins—yes, she’s amazing!—and I was comforted by the fact that she knew what she was getting into in terms of all the injections, medications, and doctor’s appointments that she would need. Kayla is also a teacher to elementary-aged students with autism. My mom and sister are both teachers, and I know how much teachers love and care about their students, as if they were their own children; I thought about how perfectly that seemed to align with being a surrogate.
Kayla was also presented with a similar profile that I had created for me and my husband, and I’m so glad she liked us! She and I began to text, and, a few days later, we had a Skype call with her husband and mine. Kayla and her husband seemed so down to earth, and like people we would want to be friends with. After only knowing us for a short time, they were genuinely excited and hopeful for us to become parents. We became officially matched after this, and a months-long process of legal agreements and doctors’ appointments ensued.
Kayla herself went through multiple exams, appointments, and injections in order to prepare her body for an embryo transfer. She ended up doing three separate transfers for us. The first transfer resulted in a chemical pregnancy. The second transfer was successful, but we had a miscarriage about 8½ weeks along—nearly the same pregnancy length I had before I miscarried, in 2016. The hopelessness I felt during these two experiences was nearly overwhelming. It was a dark time of truly feeling like we would never get to be parents. But, finally, the third transfer resulted in the very long-awaited pregnancy and birth of our son.
My experience, as the Intended Mother, during Kayla’s pregnancy, was filled with emotions. As a quick aside, I loathed the term “Intended Mother.” As an attorney, I understood the phraseology was necessary for contracts and to establish parentage, but as the mother of this much-anticipated baby, this term stung. Personally, it made me feel like less of his mother.
Still, I was so blessed to be involved in nearly every aspect of the pregnancy with our son. I wanted, and needed, a fresh start with a new doctor, and I wanted the transfers to be more convenient for Kayla; so, we decided to use a clinic in California. Although we’d talked via Skype and texted frequently before and after being matched, Kayla and I met in person for the first time in November 2018 for the first embryo transfer. We flew out to San Diego for all our transfers and spent the post-transfer bed-rest days binge-watching shows (the Handmaid’s Tale was, perhaps strangely, a huge favorite of ours), eating take-out, and getting to really know each other. I also gave Kayla her injections, which was a very new and nerve-wracking experience because my husband had always given them to me during our years of IVF. Fortunately, I only made her bleed once!
Speaking of our embryo transfers, I cannot sing the praises of Dr. Smotrich and his staff at La Jolla IVF enough. I was included in each transfer and treated with respect and the highest levels of sincere compassion. I was kept informed of Kayla’s medical progress before and after each transfer. Dr. Smotrich and his staff celebrated with us in our times of joy and grieved with us in our losses.
My biggest takeaway from this part of the surrogacy process is to use a doctor and clinic that 1) are familiar with surrogacy, 2) will acknowledge your role as the baby’s parents, and 3) help both the parents and surrogate feel equally valued and informed.
For what would be the third and final transfer under our surrogacy arrangement, my husband Matt and Kayla’s husband Steve joined us at the clinic, so we had as many people there as possible for extra luck. We always waited for “beta day” pregnancy confirmations through bloodwork, and never tested early with at-home tests. So, on August 6, 2019, I was in a deposition in Gainesville when Dr. Smotrich called to let me know that Kayla was “very pregnant!” We celebrated this great news while also cautiously guarding our hearts, after everything we’d been through.
Two weeks later, Matt and I flew to Las Vegas for Kayla’s first ultrasound and were able to see the baby and its heartbeat. I subsequently made weekly trips to Las Vegas for the rest of the first trimester appointments; I would leave on an early evening flight out of Jacksonville, arrive in Las Vegas around midnight, meet Kayla at the fertility clinic for the first early morning appointment, and then be back on an airplane by 9:00 a.m. It was a crazy time, but I didn’t want to miss a single milestone. I was able to be there the first time we could hear the baby’s heartbeat and see the baby’s limbs begin to develop. Before each ultrasound, I was usually overcome with anxiety because of my past failed experiences. I was always just waiting to receive bad news, but Kayla was always so positive, calming, and supportive.
In the late first trimester/early second trimester, Kayla had to be on bedrest due to some bleeding from a subchorionic hematoma (very common with IVF pregnancies). On top of being terrified of losing the baby, I also felt guilty that Kayla was missing out on time with her own children and was sacrificing a lot just so that we could become parents. The guilt was an added layer over the fact that I was using a surrogate and unable to carry a pregnancy myself. This was probably the most difficult part of the pregnancy for me, but, thankfully, the hematoma went away somewhere around 18 or 19 weeks.
When I flew to Las Vegas for Kayla’s 16-week scan, Kayla had, a few days earlier and unbeknownst to me, gotten a private ultrasound. She gifted me with a stuffed elephant with a recording of the baby’s heartbeat inside. This was such a sweet gift, and it was so comforting for me to be able to hear my baby’s heartbeat at any time from across the county.
Kayla and I kept in touch almost every day—not always about the pregnancy, but about work, family, etc. Sometimes, I irrationally felt like I was bothering her in asking about how she was feeling or about the baby, but she always reassured me that I could ask anything, anytime.
As the pregnancy progressed, Kayla would send me pictures of her baby bump and videos of her stomach, through which we could see the baby somersaulting and kicking like crazy, which tracks with his very active personality today! My husband and I also ordered her a set of headphones that connected to an app that allowed us to read books to the baby through the app; Kayla would put the headphones on her stomach so he could hear our voices!
Kayla shared in our joy during the pregnancy in a way that no one else could. She was the first to find out, alongside us, at the anatomy scan that the baby was a boy. She sent me gifts from our registry, to which I always reiterated that she didn’t have to do that, as she was ALREADY GIVING US A PRETTY MAJOR GIFT!
I never once thought that Kayla would want to keep the baby, which is so often talked about with people who don’t know about surrogacy. In general, surrogates go through psychological evaluations by mental health professionals and any reputable agency conducts thorough criminal and background checks on their surrogates. While I had extreme anxiety about the pregnancy and the baby due to all Matt and I been through, never ever was my anxiety about Kayla. I knew she was doing all the right things and all she could to keep the baby safe. I never questioned that.
The remainder of the pregnancy progressed without any issues. Our baby was set to be delivered via a scheduled C-section in early April. At 35 weeks and four days during the second week of March, Kayla was having some pain and went to get it checked out. All was fine, and she was just told to rest, but twelve hours later, our sweet son decided he was ready to be born, and Kayla called to tell me she was heading to the hospital. It was 5:00 a.m. in Las Vegas, and seeing that Kayla was calling so early, I answered the phone before it even fully rang once! In a panic, I threw together suitcases and hospital bags and booked flights for my mom and me to get to Las Vegas ASAP. Matt was in Tokyo for work at the time, but fortunately, he arrived about 30 hours after our son was born.
When we passed through security at the Jacksonville airport around 11:30 a.m., Kayla’s husband Steve called and said,
“he’s here, he’s perfectly healthy and doesn’t need the NICU, and he has dark hair.” My heart exploded.
We decided he wouldn’t send any pictures and that I would wait to see my son for the very first time in-person, as soon as we arrived at the hospital.
I won’t lie: I was initially really upset that I had missed my baby’s birth. But my husband was overjoyed and thankful that our baby was finally here and healthy, and that gave me the perspective shift that I needed.
We got to the hospital in the late afternoon and checked in on Kayla before heading to the nursery. When I finally met my son, I immediately felt the stress and weight of the past six years leave my body; he was here, and he was perfect. We took him to Kayla so that she could hold him, and it was an emotional time for everyone. After a few days in the hospital, we stopped by to see Kayla again and headed home on a 4-day road trip.
We keep up with Kayla very regularly by texting and sending pictures. She even surprised us and flew to Florida in the middle of the pandemic in March 2021 to celebrate our son’s first birthday!
Kayla gave us the most perfect and precious gift we could ever receive.
She entered our lives in June 2018 as a stranger but is now, and will always be, one of the most important people in my family.