Back in 2009 I was a gestational surrogate. Now that I’m pregnant with my own 2nd baby, I feel the urge to share the birth story!
I was only 37 weeks, but I had been having strong, regular BH contractions for a couple weeks. The daddies were going to be in town for a doctor’s appointment (they live in San Francisco, I live in Portland), and I was really hoping that I would go into labor that weekend. My best friend from childhood’s wedding was also a week later in Pasadena, 1,000 miles away. I had given up any hope of being there, but I thought it would be wonderful if I could make it somehow. And I had been having horrible gall bladder pain since my 6th month. I was ready to be done with this pregnancy.
The day the daddies were flying up, I started having contractions 3-5 minutes apart. They were strong, but not painful, so I wasn’t sure what to do. DS was born at home unassisted, so the hospital birth thing was very new to me. I talked to a nurse in my OB’s office who told me to go to the hospital. I got there in the late afternoon and the dads arrived that evening. I was about 3 cm at this point, I think. By that night, my contractions had stalled and I went home.
I woke up at about 3AM with regular, intense (but not super painful) contractions again. I went back to the hospital. This time I was pretty sure this was it (or I was willing it to be so) and I called my doula. We walked the halls and in the hospital garden for hours, but the contractions didn’t get any stronger. We had an appointment with a lawyer to do some surrogacy paperwork the next morning, so she came to the hospital. My OB showed up shortly thereafter and checked me. I was at 4 cm. At this point, my contractions stopped completely again and I went home AGAIN.
The dads had planned to visit some friends in Seattle (3 hours away), and they decided to go, since it seemed nothing was happening. We picked up DS at my brother’s house and my SIL suggested that we all go swimming. It was a great idea, and it made me feel a lot less frustrated and tense.
The next morning, I took a long, long walk alone to see if I could get contractions started again. It was 4th of July. Nothing much happened all day, but regular contractions started back up again at about 9 PM. They got strong pretty quickly, and I sat on my birth ball and breathed through them as I listened to fireworks! By midnight they were more uncomfortable than they had yet been. I still wouldn’t call them really painful, but they were getting there. After about an hour I decided to go back to the hospital.
I called the dads and got voicemail. Then I called my doula. The dads called back as we were arriving at the hospital. I had to put down the phone in the parking lot for a contraction during the conversation. They wanted to wait until the nurse checked me before leaving to come back, but I told them to start driving and that they could turn around and go back to bed in half an hour if they wanted. I was kind of ticked off that they were hesitating, but in retrospect who can blame them?
We got checked in and the nurse checked me. I was still at 4 cm. I was pretty exasperated, but the contractions were still intense and close together, so I still hoped this was really it. She asked me if I wanted to get in the tub, but my contractions were still pretty manageable and I was worried that it would make labor stall again. She said she didn’t think that would happen, so I got in the tub (which, I have to mention, was waaaaay down the hall from my room. This will be important later). During this time, DH was busy trying to pacify DS (3 at the time), who was really not happy about being woken up in the middle of the night. My doula arrived and DH left to take DS to my brother’s.
Being in the tub took my contractions from moderately uncomfortable to barely noticeable. It was fantastic! I was marveling at this with my doula and we were chatting and laughing. Near the end of a contraction I felt a pop and a gush. I knew my water had broken and I was super happy because I knew it was really going to happen this time. She told the nurse, and they decided to get my hep lock ready (I was GBS positive).
When the next contraction started, I felt like I was being hit by a bus. It was, by far, the most overwhelming, incredibly painful thing I had ever felt (including 14 hours of back labor with DS). I was completely stunned, and I remember thinking, “There is no effing way I will be able to do THIS for another 6 hours!!!” I didn’t know how the contractions could go from being so easy to THIS wretched so quickly.
My doula saw the change in my reaction and said, “That one seemed a bit stronger.” Um, yeah! She asked if I wanted them to put the IV in while I was in the tub and I nodded vigorously. I hadn’t yet recovered my powers of speech.
The next contraction started almost immediately and I started to panic. I braced myself and then suddenly my body was pushing!!! WTF!!! I was only at 4 cm half an hour ago! I couldn’t be pushing! My doula called the nurse, who started panicking and told me not to push. As if! She checked me and said I was at 7.
The next contraction started and I was pushing again. Suddenly there were 2 more nurses in the room and everyone was telling me to get out of the tub (they didn’t do water birth at this hospital). I said I couldn’t and they proceeded to drag me out. The contraction ended and I was standing, naked and dripping, with no idea what to do. I was completely in panic mode and I didn’t think I could move my legs, waiting for the next contraction to start. I remember a nurse trying to tell me that she was going to put a gown around my back so I wouldn’t be half-naked walking back to my room. When I finally grasped what she was saying, I was like, “I don’t care!!!!” I had no idea how I was going to get back to the room! I certainly couldn’t move under my own power. I was just terrified for another contraction to start and totally blindsided by the whole situation. The last thing in the world I cared about was someone seeing my naked ass!
They started shuffling me back to my room, a nurse on one side and my doula on the other. I remember saying, “This can’t be happening! His daddies aren’t here yet!” and the nurse saying, “Oh, they’re not gonna make it, honey.” I felt like I was carrying a watermelon between my legs. Another contraction started about halfway down the hall and I was pushing uncontrollably again. The nurse put her hand between my legs to keep the baby from falling out on the floor and they dragged me the rest of the way to the room!
I was so relieved when I got to the bed that I clambered up onto my knees, hugging my pillow. The nurse told me to turn over and lie back. I said, “I can’t!!!” My doula helped me turn over and I clung to her for dear life as I pushed again. At some point during all this, other staff were getting all the birth stuff ready and someone paged the doctor on call.
The nurse made me stop pushing again so I wouldn’t tear as the baby shot out of me like a rocket. And then suddenly there was this little person on my chest! This was totally not in the plan. He was going to be born and his dads were going to hold him first. I was bewildered, but I held him and said hi and told him his daddies would be there soon and I would take care of him until they got there.
The doctor (someone I had never seen before) arrived in time to catch the placenta and someone gave me a shot of Pitocin, I guess. My doula called DH, who was just arriving at my brother’s house to drop my son off, and DH called the dads, who were still 2 hours away and who, I can imagine, were pretty devastated at missing the birth.
The nurse took baby MB to do whatever they had to do. I asked them to delay all non-urgent procedures until the dads got there and I asked for a breast pump.
My doula held MB while I was pumping, which she loved. I got quite a bit of colostrum out! The LC/nurse was impressed. Then I fed MB his first bottle and let him suck my pinky for awhile. DH arrived around this time and took some pictures.
The nurses came back in and said they had spoken to the dads and took MB to the nursery. I think this was a request of the dads, who were probably pretty freaked out by the whole situation and afraid some freaky, hormonal bonding thing would happen in their absence (even though we were pretty close by this point). That was fine with me. I felt awful that they weren’t there. Really, though, the only thing I felt was a very strong, protective instinct. Like I was responsible for him until they got there. I never once felt like he was mine or had an urge to breastfeed him or anything. It was SO different than when I had DS.
The dads arrived and came to see me first, right before I was moved to my pp room. I hugged them and said I was fine and told them to go meet their son.
I couldn’t believe how great I felt! After I had DS, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Every muscle in my body ached. This time it was like, “Did I just have a baby?” My first pee barely even hurt, and after a couple times I didn’t even have to use a peri bottle. I did have some after-pains and ended up taking ibuprofen, but they weren’t too bad.
I stayed in the hospital for 3 days. I was perfectly fine, but they wanted to keep MB there that long for observation because I had never gotten my antibiotics for GBS+. It was just easier for me to be there to deliver colostrum/milk every couple hours and they didn’t have a problem with me staying.
The hospital stay was kind of weird. I would have liked to see him and hold him more, but I didn’t know how the dads felt, with everything going so differently than planned. And the hospital staff seemed kind of weird about it, like they were deliberately keeping him away from me as if it were an adoption situation or something. I didn’t know how much of that was just their inexperience with surrogacy and how much was the wishes of the parents. I think we were all feeling a bit weird and didn’t really know what to do. It would have been nice if it was more natural and less awkward.
The parents stayed in town for a few more days. I visited them at their hotel and delivered more milk. I was able to go to my best friend’s wedding a week later (yay!) although I had trouble finding something to wear that would fit over my huge, engorged boobs and my swollen abdomen. I also bled horribly and my legs swelled to the size of tree trunks from flying 5 days pp. But it was totally worth it. My friend told me that she felt like she had to entertain her bridesmaids, but as soon as I arrived, she felt calm and relaxed. That’s all I needed to hear. J
I pumped for 4 months and Fedexed milk on dry ice once a week. It was hellish, especially since I got a job 3 weeks pp. I had wanted to pump longer, but I just couldn’t keep it up. It was too exhausting, and between my new job (the first job I had had out of the house since my DS was born) and the 3+ hours per day I was attached to the pump, I felt like I was totally neglecting my own child. Honestly, deciding to quit pumping was the most emotional part of the whole surrogacy experience for me. I felt like a horrible person for breastfeeding my son for 3 years, but only letting this baby have my milk for 4 months. But I did what I could do.
We visited the family about a year later, and we still get update emails and pictures. I’m really glad they’re keeping in touch. It’s wonderful to see this beautiful family grow and to know I helped make it. J