What it’s like to… be a surrogate mother

After having two children of her own, Kathy Frenette wanted to be pregnant again so decided to be a surrogate mother. Here, she discusses the highs and lows, and how it felt to receive hatemail from friends and strangers about carrying a baby for a gay couple…

Kathy Frenette, 38, lives in Seattle, USA, with her husband Kris and their two children Jordan, 11, and Layla, eight. At the time of the surrogacy, they were living in Ontario, Canada.

I love children. I have always worked and or volunteered with children: I taught nursery school, was a preschool teacher, volunteered in Dominican Republic, was a nanny, breastfeeding helper, ran a parenting website, school volunteer, assisted a doula with a couple births, etc.

Also, I like being pregnant and helping people so when I knew we were done with our own children but my mind and body wanted to have another baby, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to help a couple out that wanted children. Surrogacy had always fascinated me and I had met some women previously that were surrogates. I also knew way too many people that struggled to get pregnant or for various reasons just could not.

In Canada, you are not allowed to pay a surrogate so it works differently than in the US. It is legal in Ontario but only expenses can be covered. I looked at using an agency that matches surrogates and intended parents but at this time, one of the agencies was being investigated and I didn’t want to get into any trouble or have any issues.

If we were going to do this, I wanted to make sure the intended parents got along with my husband and my children

My husband and I wanted to do everything by the books and keep it legal so I placed a free ad on a surrogacy site, giving a little blurb about myself and why I wanted to be a surrogate. I received numerous emails from people from all over the world. A few I wrote back to and I hate to say it, others I just ignored. It is almost like an online dating connection; you have to ask direct questions, give direct answers and see if you like their answers and connect.

For example, I did not want any more than two embryos implanted; now after going through this and more research, I would only want one. I knew I wanted the support of midwives. I knew my beliefs when it came to termination, my own life, etc. and needed a couple that agreed with me. I did want a Canadian couple that would be close, so that they could be a part of the process.

Something just clicked with the couple we finally chose. I talked to a few other intended parents via email and even met a couple in person but we just didn’t feel right about it (my husband Kris and myself). If we were going to do this, I wanted to make sure the intended parents got along with my husband and my children. These people were going to be part of our lives at least for a year or so, so we wanted to make sure we had a connection. BJ and Frank were both teachers, worked with children at a camp and overall sounded like they would make great parents. They were a few hours away but wanted to be part of the process.

Frank and BJ already had embryos frozen when I met them (they had an egg donor that they found previously and used their own sperm). These were stored at one of the fertility clinics in Toronto. There were a lot of pre-appointments, check ups, testings and medication before the embryos could even be inserted into me. My husband Kris had to give me needles every day and I was on a lot of different medications to have my body ready to get pregnant. The medications were not the easiest on my moods or body.

They did pay expenses – all fertility drugs, prenatal vitamins, maternity clothes, transportation to and from Toronto (bus, train or gas for my vehicle), life insurance for the year (if something happened to me during the pregnancy), all lawyer costs and filing any paperwork, fertility clinic fees, DNA test (to prove Milo was in no way mine), and things like that related to the pregnancy. I did not see all the fees/receipts, so I am not sure the exact totals. I did have to keep all my receipts to prove to the courts that I was in no way paid to do this, if anyone ever questioned anything, I still have them filed in a box just in case.

The first time it didn’t work and we were all devastated. I felt like I was a failure

When the big day finally comes you have to drink lots of water, you have to come to the clinic all natural, meaning you’re not allowed to wear makeup, wear deodorant, use hair products, or anything. This was the first time I met Frank’s parents. I will admit I was self-conscious looking so plain. You put on a hair net and a gown and we all went into a room, I lay on the bed and we watched a TV screen while the doctor inserted a speculum into the entrance of my uterus. The embryos are put in through a catheter into the womb and we watched it happen on the ultrasound screen. I had to try to stay very relaxed, even though I was so nervous. I wanted this to work so badly.

The first time it didn’t work and we were all devastated. I felt like I was a failure. We decided to try again right away. We all anxiously waited for my next cycle to come so we could do the procedure again. There were blood tests scheduled to see if I was pregnant but I found it too hard to resist and I did pregnancy tests way too often. I was so hoping to be pregnant for Frank and BJ. Then on October 6th, in the middle of the night, I did two tests and sent a picture to the boys that we were pregnant.

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As it was not my child it was left up to Frank and BJ to decide whether they’d like to find out the sex of the baby. They said they wanted to, so they joined me for the ultrasound and we found out all together that it was going to be a little boy. It was nice to know if it was a little boy or girl growing inside me.

This pregnancy was totally different to my first two. First off, the baby wasn’t ours. There were contracts to sign (calls back and forth to lawyers), more appointments (in Toronto, a three-hour drive away), dealing with the fertility clinic (lots of blood work, ultrasounds, questions, physicals), lots of monitoring and so many different medications that my body had to take including needles everyday.

Your body still does the same things, once pregnant, but your mind does not. I wasn’t planning on a nursery, picking out paint colours, baby clothes, deciding on names etc. It was neat to feel Milo kick but I didn’t have the same excitement. I was excited for the boys but not for myself. I wasn’t racing over to my husband Kris, to get him to feel the first kicks. Life carried on pretty normal: working, taking my own children to competitive sports, volunteering, homework etc.

With our own kids, we wanted to make sure it was clear that this was not a brother/sister for them; the baby was not related and would not be coming home with us

Our daughter, Layla, was born at home but as this was not our child we thought it would be better for all to have the baby in the hospital with me going home right after giving birth. Thankfully it did go as planned and I was able to leave a couple hours after and be with my own children. With my son I was induced so he was born in the hospital but again I came home a few hours after. Our son was 15 days overdue, daughter was 10 so I was thinking Milo would be overdue as well and just as expected, he was 10 days over as well.

I don’t feel like I gave the baby away. Milo was never mine to begin with. He is not biologically mine or my husband’s; there was an egg donor and the sperm from Frank and BJ. As part of our contract and a requirement by the clinic both Kris and myself had to talk to a counsellor before getting pregnant, to make sure we were both able to handle it. Other than the initial counselling session to make sure we were stable, we did not receive or seek out any other therapies. I didn’t feel like I needed it, but would encourage other surrogates and couples to seek help if ever needed.

Overall it was a great experience and they feel like part of our family now. With help of social media we see pictures and see stories almost daily about each other’s families. A few times it was stressful. Contracts were very hard and seeing your life written out on paper with rules you have to follow is stressful – for example, no sexual contact with your own husband for so many weeks before and after conception day. Also, what we all agreed to if we ever terminated the pregnancy, that I couldn’t leave the country or travel to Quebec after so many weeks pregnant (my family and I travel often for pleasure), I couldn’t skydive (not that I would while pregnant, but being told that you can’t do it, makes it interesting).

I don’t feel like I gave the baby away. Milo was never mine to begin with

Frank and BJ were not able to attend all the appointments, tests, ultrasounds, though they did try to come to quite a few. A few times I wish they would have been there but most of the time there were no issues. I would call and let them know what happened and how baby was growing. I don’t think I ever felt judged by them, by other people – yes – but not really by them. I am sure they may not have liked some of the stuff I said/did but pregnancy hormones were raging, and I still had my own family to take care of.

With our own kids, we wanted to make sure it was clear that this was not a brother/sister for them; the baby was not related and would not be coming home with us. At the time we were hoping for a relationship with the family after the birth but with surrogacy there are no guarantees. So we tried to not really talk about the future – only the present. The kids came to visit in the hospital and held Milo after he was born as well. Now they feel he is like a cousin or friend. We talk and see pictures and love to play with him but he doesn’t belong in our house or with us. He has a Daddy and Papa that love him very much.

I planned for a natural birth, with the guys and my husband in the labour room with me and with midwives assisting. I feel skin-to-skin contact is important, also delayed cord clamping and breastfeeding. As soon as Milo came out, he was handed right over to Frank and BJ. I wanted it this way, as it was their child.

BJ Barone - father through surrogacy - theearlyhour.com

In the picture that everyone has seen (see above), Milo is still attached to the umbilical cord. I was emotional but in a good way. Some people have criticized me – saying I looked sad, horrible, like a man, how could I do something like this. I just had a natural birth and pushed out a 9lbs 7oz baby. I was in pain, Frank was pulling Milo, which pulled the cord and it hurt (Milo and I were still attached). But I was relieved, happy, exhausted, my adrenaline was pumping and I felt like Super Woman all at the same time.

It was overwhelming to see Frank and BJ hold their son for the first time. They waited so long for this to happen. So, if I did have any tears they were joyful tears of happiness, seeing two people so in love with their child. After this Milo, was cleaned up, he breastfeed, met one set of grandparents and we were all overjoyed. Him and his daddies stayed overnight in the hospital and I went home to be with my own family. We went back the next day to say goodbye before they headed on their drive back home to the Toronto area.

My recovery was pretty good but having breastfed my own two kids, I found it hard letting my milk dry up. In theory I was going to pump and donate but to be honest after doing this, I wanted to enjoy camping, boating, amusement parks etc with my own children that summer and storing and pumping breastmilk wouldn’t have been easy.

I hope my children will grow up to accept anyone and everyone and know that love is what makes a family.

The worse part of the whole thing was the backlash from the media. I would sit at home and see what people behind their computer screens were saying about me. People would email me, send me private messages on Facebook and were very nasty. Some people I thought were my friends didn’t speak to me, because it was for a gay couple and they didn’t approve.

I kept the surrogacy fairly quiet, close family and friends knew but that was it, as I didn’t feel it was anyone’s business. I normally didn’t discuss Frank or BJ, so most people didn’t know it was a gay couple; I just referred to them as the parents.

I hope my children will grow up to accept anyone and everyone and know that love is what makes a family. It doesn’t matter if it is two moms, two dads, a single parent or grandparents raising a child. Initially, I tried to shield my own children away from the media comments. I even kept my son from sharing a picture on a project before of him and Milo as I didn’t want him to be judged like I was. But now they are older and understand it all more.

I sometimes wish I didn’t have Lindsay the photographer in the room with us. I did want memories but I would have never guessed a single image would be used to show love one minute and such pure hatred the next. I do wish as soon as the picture was posted I didn’t close off as much as I did to my family, friends, Frank and BJ. To be honest I didn’t know what to think, getting hate emails sent to you multiple times a day is overwhelming. I still find the experience so surreal. Sometimes it feels like a dream.

Now, I have talked to several people about the process (future surrogates, intended parents, moms, dads) and love answering questions and helping them out and or pointing them in the right direction to find help on their own. I have no regrets about being a surrogate.”