My Surrogacy Journey.
Hi, my name is Shanelle, and I am a gestational carrier.
This year I had the amazing opportunity to help someone with their family building, and I am excited to share my surrogacy journey!
Let’s go back to the very beginning. For years I have always thought about becoming a gestational carrier. I wasn’t really sure what the process was or everything that is required, other than you had to have already carried a child of your own. At the time I was doing my research I didn’t have a child of my own yet, so my dreams of becoming a surrogate were put on hold.
Years had passed. I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy and experienced the joys of becoming a parent. Then when my son was two years old, my thoughts came back to how I could help another family and I knew I was ready to become a gestational carrier, but I was unsure where to begin.
I began online searches for surrogacy agencies in my home state of Wisconsin. I reviewed different agency websites trying to find one that spoke to me. I finally found the “one” and I filled out an inquiry form to get to know more about the agency, The Surrogacy Experience. What drew me to this agency is that it was founded not only by an Intended Parent who used surrogacy to help grow their family but also by someone who had been a gestational surrogate/carrier themself. Knowing that my support would be given by people who experienced surrogacy themselves and that I wouldn’t be just a “number” gave me comfort.
Less than 24hrs after sending the inquiry form, I received a call from the agency’s owner, Tina Dettlaff. She was wonderful at providing great information about the agency’s service and support, answering my questions, and she was very knowledgeable about surrogacy. In fact, Tina was an experienced gestational carrier who helped two families (singleton and twins). From that point on I knew I found my agency and filled out their application. Tina then invited me to their pre-screening process. I appreciated the fact that they did all screening in advance so that I didn’t have to worry or have any unexpected surprises later on. After the screening was completed, I was introduced to my Client Relations Manager, Tammy. I loved that I had one contact person at the agency that was with me the entire time and really got to know me! I wasn’t bounced from one department to another, I always knew who was there for me and who would help me prepare for the matching process and everything else to come.
I appreciated that The Surrogacy Experience believes in mutual matching and facilitates introductions based on values, beliefs, and expectations. They took the time to find out what my desires were for a match with intended parents (communication, involvement, personality, etc.). Based on our conversations I was presented with an intended parent profile to review. I felt such a connection to them and requested to have introductions made. In March 2021, Tammy helped facilitate the video call between us. Before the call, she was wonderful at making sure I felt comfortable and was helpful at answering any questions that I had. I have to admit, I was nervous during the call. I had so many emotions and was a little anxious hoping everything would go alright. What if the intended parents do not only like me? Would they be able to accept and trust me to be a gestational carrier for them? Tammy took the stress out of the call and once we were done asked us all to take a couple of days to think about our conversation and reply with any further questions, we may have in order for us to decide whether we all wanted to match and work together. I knew as soon as the call ended that I wanted to work with the intended parents. We were on the same page on what we were looking for in a surrogacy journey, and I was so happy that they felt the same. It was a match!
Now that we agreed to match there were so many moving parts (legal, fertility clinic physical, etc.), but Tammy guided us through every step. My husband and I were flown out east where my IP’s fertility clinic was and went through their required testing (an overnight trip). After receiving official clearance from our fertility clinic and having contracts in place, we were given instructions to start medications for the IVF (in vitro fertilization) process and prepare my body for the embryo transfer. In August 2021, after a few ultrasounds checking the lining of my uterus and having blood draws, my body was accepting the medications and I was ready to have my transfer day scheduled. On the day of the embryo transfer, I prayed so hard hoping that the embryo would stick and I would become pregnant.
In September we had an ultrasound to determine if the embryo had implanted and hoped for confirmation of pregnancy. The ultrasound provided images of one fetus and one yolk sac, with another small-faded circular spot. I was pregnant and the embryo transfer was a success! I couldn’t wait to tell the intended parents! I had a mix of extreme happiness and excitement to also being worried about what could happen as I carried someone else's child. A week later I went back to the doctor to have another routine ultrasound and while everything appeared to look good the doctor said they noticed something. The small-faded circular spot that was on the first ultrasound was now another yolk sac! There was a second fetus now showing on the ultrasound. TWINS!
Yes, I was now pregnant with twins. I cried with so much happiness for the parents. I couldn’t wait to call them with the news that they were having Mono/di twins. For those who may not know Monochorionic/diamniotic twins are identical twins who share the same gestational sac and placenta but still have separate amniotic sacs. This type of pregnancy is considered high risk because the fetuses share a placenta which could result in “twin-to-twin transfusion” where one fetus can get more blood supply and nutrients than the other. A few days later, while at work, I started to experience heavy vaginal bleeding and went to the emergency room. My biggest fear was that I was having a miscarriage, but the doctor confirmed that both of the twins had strong heartbeats and they weren’t in any distress. It was determined that I had a subchorionic hematoma which is where blood pools between the embryo and the uterine wall after an embryo implants and are not uncommon in IVF pregnancies. Nonetheless, it was a very scary moment.
During the first part of the pregnancy, I experienced a lot of morning sickness for the first few months. At 16 weeks pregnant, I began seeing Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) who are high-risk doctors that provide extra monitoring for my pregnancy (along with my OB). Thankfully every appointment went very well and the twins were growing great as they should! They were doing great, but in February I tested positive for Covid-19. Even though my symptoms were mild, the doctor said I should receive a monoclonal antibody infusion to help keep my symptoms at bay. I also received an iron infusion to help boost my iron levels because they were getting very low. Admittedly, being pregnant with twins and caring for my own child was a little tough at times. I always felt tired or sometimes didn’t feel well due to the morning sickness. The intended parents always kept great communication and were so supportive through everything, always asking how they could help or to check on me to see how I was feeling. I’m so thankful that I had such an amazing support system around me which included my husband, stepchildren, my mom, and my sister. My supervisor and coworkers were great at helping me and being accommodating if certain tasks were getting too hard for me to complete.
Heading into April I developed a cold and when my symptoms kept getting worse, I knew I needed to see my doctor. I tested negative for Covid-19 and was advised to take over-the-counter medicine to help me rest. A couple of days later I went to the emergency room and after a nasal swab and a chest x-ray, I was diagnosed with Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV) and pneumonia. I was admitted to the birthing unit in the hospital for IV antibiotics and monitoring of the twins. I couldn’t imagine how the intended parents were feeling. They had to be so concerned for me and the babies, and it must have been so hard because they lived far away. The next evening one of the babies was showing a little bit of distress and I was starting to dilate so the doctor scheduled a C-section for the following morning. This was three weeks earlier than what we had planned. I called the intended parents right away with the news. The intended mother jumped on a plane and was at the hospital the next day. The babies were constantly being monitored and to our relief, they were not showing any further signs of distress.
Another change of plans. Since the babies were not in distress the C-section was canceled but the doctor wanted all of us to be closely monitored. That meant that I would need to stay in the hospital until I went into labor on my own or until my scheduled c-section date. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, I was only allowed to have two visitors at a time in my room. The intended mother was there every day, and my husband and my mom would take turns visiting or staying the night so I wasn’t alone. It was so hard for me that I was not allowed to have my son come and visit due to hospital restrictions, so I made sure to video chat with him every day.
The babies appeared to be doing well over the next few days when suddenly one of the babies started showing signs of distress. Later that night I started to have very bad back pain, my blood pressure was a little high and I couldn't get comfortable. As a little more time went on my body started shaking like I was having uncontrollable chills. The nurse never left my side and kept monitoring everything closely. They discovered I was dilated more and due to my symptoms, the doctor said we needed to prep for an emergency C-section. Everything immediately changed. Within minutes there were at least five nurses in my room, each doing different tasks to get me ready for surgery, all while I’m on my phone calling the intended mother and then my husband to come to the hospital because delivery was happening NOW. Before the C-section was over, both my husband and the intended mother arrived at the hospital, and the intended father arrived the next day.
The parents and the babies are back home and establishing their new routines. I am so happy that we are staying in contact and I can’t wait for updates as the girls grow. I feel so blessed that I was able to be a part of their family building and thank them for the trust they had in me.
As I was researching surrogacy, which seems long ago, I came across a quote that will forever be with me.
“The greatest good is what we do for one another.” - Mother Teresa
Thank you for reading my story!
I am now 36 weeks pregnant, and a lot has happened since my last update. I still get nauseous every once in a while... sometimes I can pinpoint what it is (like eggs, blah!). And at other times I will eat the same thing 2 days in a row and be fine one day and not the next. Haven't been getting headaches anymore! YAY! To be honest, I've been feeling really good.
So far, at all of my appointments, everything has been going great with the baby and me.
At my 26 week appointment, I had bloodwork done to check for gestational diabetes. I've never had it with any other pregnancy and do not have it this time either. :-)
At my 31 week appointment my OB Doctor told me that starting at 36 weeks I would have weekly appointments and at those appointments, they would do an ultrasound in the office to measure the amniotic fluid around the baby and also do a non-stress test. This is standard for women who are 35 years old or older.
The Intended Parents and their 5-year-old daughter are planning to make the drive from New Jersey to Iowa right after Christmas so they will be here before the baby arrives.
I can't wait to see them again and meet their daughter!
Let's talk about COVID19 and pregnancy.
Let me just start out by saying, I take the pandemic very seriously. Sadly, I personally know people who have passed away from it and I know people who have had it and been completely fine. When the vaccine was offered to me in March of 2021, I was in the process of IVF with a potential pregnancy in April. I had reached out to both my OB and my IVF doctor to see if they recommended it for women who were trying to get pregnant or were currently pregnant. Both of these doctors told me that there was not enough research with pregnant women to tell me, either way, to get or not to get the vaccine so it was up to me. Knowing that there was not enough research, I chose to not get vaccinated. To be honest, I don't get many vaccines because I believe that my body is made to fight off illnesses.
Fast forward to October 2021, I had a routine OB appointment and was asked if I wanted to get the COVID19 vaccine. We chatted a while about it and I concluded that I just did not want to get the vaccine at this point. I was 29 weeks pregnant at this time and just felt like I was too far along in my pregnancy. I had been healthy, I don't hang out with many people or large groups of people and I just felt in my heart, I didn't want to get it at this point. Let me say, it was a bit of a battle with the OB doctor but ultimately, this is my decision.
I am not against anyone who has gotten the vaccine or anyone who has chosen to not get vaccinated - it is each individual's choice and I do not judge others because of it.
On November 19th, my son started sniffling and feeling congested. Iowa weather is crazy between fall and winter... there are days it is 20 degrees and days it is 60 degrees and this is the time of year people are getting colds, strep throat, sinus infections, etc. He started with a slight cough a few days later but other than that, he had his normal energy and no fever. On November 22nd, my daughter complained of being hot. This isn't unusual for her. I took her temperature and it was 99.4, so not anything super high. That same day I had a headache but contributed it to the pregnancy, but it later developed into hot flashes.
On November 24th I got a text from another parent who has a child in my daughter's class saying her daughter tested positive for COVID. Her child had basically the same symptoms as my children. Since we would be celebrating Thanksgiving with family, I stopped by the pharmacy and picked up at-home test kits. I took my test in the car and it was negative. I went home and tested both kids and they were both positive. We ended up going to urgent care that night and getting PCR tests on the 3 of us. It was going to take 2-3 days to get our results back but the doctor said since the kids tested positive with the home test and I was having symptoms, to just assume the 3 of us were positive. We were bummed that we would not be getting together with family for Thanksgiving but knew staying home was the responsible thing to do.
On November 26th, we got our PCR test results back and both kids were positive but mine was negative. The Doctor said I may have just tested early so I took our last at-home test and it immediately came up positive.
Over the next few days, we were congested and coughing. I contacted my OB on and she recommended I get an antibody infusion. This was supposed to make sure my symptoms didn't get any worse. I really didn't feel too bad to begin with, just like I had a cold, but I took her recommendation and headed to labor and delivery to get the infusion. Two hours after the infusion I had a horrible headache and horrible sinus pressure. This was the worst I had felt since I found out I had COVID. After 6 hours, I was feeling better but had lost my sense of taste and smell.
On November 30th, my husband tested positive. Besides having chills for 2 days, he had the same symptoms the kids and I had... congestion and a slight cough. We were all doing pretty well and we came out of our quarantine feeling pretty much back to normal.
I do not want to downplay that being pregnant and having COVID can be a very serious thing but wanted to share my experience as a gestational carrier. As of today, I am barely congested, still coughing a little, don't fully have my smell back, and can barely taste anything. But, if that is all, I'd say I am doing well! :-)
This past weekend I started having Braxton Hicks contractions. I am hoping this little girl stays in a little longer, at least until New Year! And I can't wait for the big day where her parents and sister get to meet her.
I will keep you all posted!
Let's Catch Up!
I can't believe it has been 2 months since I have updated this blog! I am almost 26 weeks now! Some days I feel like this is flying but most days it doesn't feel that way and so even though I have not been feeling the best (lots of headaches and back to throwing up occasionally) I am still trying to enjoy every day because I really enjoy being pregnant and I don't take being able to do this for granted.
My routine OB appointment at 18 weeks showed everything was looking perfect. I was finally starting to feel better and not be so nauseous and had VERY few puking episodes.
I had my 20-week ultrasound in Iowa City near the end of August and was finally able to see in person (and HUG) the intended parents!! I have to say... the drive to Iowa City I started getting so nervous to meet them. I kept thinking... what if I'm not what they expected, what if it just feels awkward, what if we have nothing to talk about... I picked them up from their hotel in Iowa City and we shared a huge hug and all my nervousness went away.
Our appointment went great. Baby girl is doing awesome and is looking fantastic. She has some nice long legs and the ultrasound tech did confirm for me that baby is indeed a girl. Something new that I've never had before was that the Doctor who looked at the ultrasound said that I have an anterior placenta (meaning the placenta is in the front- this happens in about 1/3 of pregnancies). This isn't a huge concern and although the doctor said I may not feel baby kicking/moving as much because of it, I sure do feel her! Also, since I am having a C-section, the OB will need to be extra careful while doing surgery as to not cut into the placenta.
After the appointment, we took a walk and got a late lunch, and were able to just sit and chat in person. I dropped them back off at their hotel and probably won't see them face to face again until Christmas time. I am thankful that we text almost daily so we keep up to date on baby and just life, in general, that way.
At the beginning of September, I had a 22-week routine OB appointment and talked to the Dr about my headaches. I let her know that Tylenol wasn't cutting it and most of the time neither was the Excedrin tension that I was told I could take. She told me to check my blood pressure once a week and also prescribed me something for the headaches but to only take if absolutely necessary.
I have to say, this has been my hardest pregnancy, and although it has been a little rough, I am really trying to enjoy each day because I really do love being pregnant.
My next OB appointment is next week and then a couple of weeks after that I will have my appointment to check for gestational diabetes.
UNTIL NEXT TIME. . . . . . .
Hi Everyone! It's a NEW MONTH! I am currently 15 weeks and 4 days pregnant!
I AM FINALLY FINISHED WITH DAILY INJECTIONS and extra medications to help keep this pregnancy viable! My body has now taken over naturally and everything is going great! (Except for daily nausea and vomiting) 70 injections... DONE!
Since my last post, I've had an appointment with a nurse practitioner at my OB office. We talked about my past pregnancies, health, and blood work to check for any issues. I was able to have the Intended Mother on a video call with me so she was able to get any questions answered and just chat with the nurse practitioner. Since the parents live in New Jersey, it is nice that they can at least be a video call away! Technology is WONDERFUL!
The first appointment includes a TON of blood work. Most of it is just routine things that are checked but we also decided to do the Prequel Blood Test. This blood test is a non-invasive prenatal screen that uses cell-free DNA (cfDNA) to determine if a pregnancy is at an increased risk for common chromosome abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. It also can tell you the gender if you're interested in knowing that already!
The parents definitely wanted to know the gender, and since I've been saying I'm SURE it's a boy, we were all curious. Typically it takes 10 days to get your results back, but to my surprise, 4 days later in the morning, I got a call from the OB office letting me know they already had the results! The baby is fine and healthy (as determined by blood testing), and they asked if I wanted to know the gender and of course, I said YES! They told me and I knew I wanted to do something special for the parents to reveal to them whether the baby was BOY or GIRL!
My kids and I decided to load a box full of balloons and then video chat the parents to let them know. I wasn't able to get the balloons until the next day and it was SO hard not to just tell them that I already knew. I text the Mom and asked her if we could video chat the next evening. The next day I raced home from work with a car full of balloons and the kids and I got them packed in a box for the big reveal. We got on the call, chatted for a minute, and then.........
To say I was surprised is an understatement! I almost 100% thought I was carrying a boy! I had the same symptoms and cravings as I did with my own son so I just assumed it was a boy. The parents (& their daughter!) are so happy and I am glad we were able to do this video call with them.
We have scheduled our 20-week ultrasound for mid-August and the family is planning to come to that appointment. I cannot wait to FINALLY meet them face to face and give them a big hug!
It's a new Month!
Hello to everyone who has been following me on this journey and to all the new people who are just joining me!
It has been a whole month since I have done an update and everything is going fairly well.
As I had said in my last post, I have been very nauseous and throwing up multiple times a day. I have currently lost 10 pounds!
On May 25th, I was struggling to keep anything down, even Gatorade. The next day I had left a message for my OB and they recommended I come in to get some IV fluids. I didn't realize how dehydrated I was until it was difficult for the nurse to find a vein to put the IV in. They gave me 2 bags of fluids and some Zofran to help with nausea and 3 hours later I was feeling better and back at work.
They called in a prescription of Zofran and ever since then I have been taking it every 4 hours to try to help. I am still throwing up but now it is only 1-3 times a day rather than 5-6 times a day and still keeping fluids down, thankfully!
On June 9th I had a follow-up ultrasound just to make sure the baby was still looking great. The ultrasound tech said that baby is an overachiever and was measuring 5 days ahead! They did notice a small sub chorionic hemorrhage but said it should just resolve on its own.
For now, I am just trying to eat small, frequent meals of whatever sounds good that day and continue to take my medication regularly.
I will be 12 weeks pregnant tomorrow (June 25th) and that means I am DONE doing daily injections and wearing patches - I can't explain how happy I am to be done with these shots!
My husband and kids have been SO supportive. I am not much of a complainer but I know I have complained every. single. day. to my husband and he just listens to me. My kids, especially my 11-year-old daughter, are always asking if I'm ok and letting me take naps when I need them. I could not do this without such an amazing support system.
I will start seeing my regular OB in July and have my regular appointments with them until we deliver this baby!
Sometimes, things just work!
Hello Everyone! It has been a while since I updated and that is because I wanted to make sure that everything was going smoothly first.
On April 21st, I had the embryo transfer, and soon after I already started having symptoms- sore chest, nauseous and tired. I was hoping these were pregnancy symptoms and not just side effects of the medications and injections I was taking.
It was a LONG 12-day wait before I was able to get bloodwork done to confirm pregnancy and that the tiny embryo had indeed gotten all snuggled into my uterus. To confirm pregnancy through blood, your HCG levels are checked. Typically you want that first number to be at least 50- mine was 756! Then you go back in 48 hours to get bloodwork done again and you want that number to double to make sure that this is a healthy pregnancy. I went back about 45 hours later and my number had almost quadrupled at 2,735. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I have been on this journey before and it wasn't as easy. It took 3 embryo transfers before we had a healthy, viable pregnancy and in between that time, there were many ups and downs. I was already in the mindset that this could possibly not work on the first try.
I AM SO HAPPY!!
Next, it was time to schedule an ultrasound just to make sure the baby has a nice strong heartbeat and is where it should be. I'm not going to lie, we only transferred ONE embryo but with how soon and severe my symptoms were and how high my HCG levels were, I was a bit nervous there maybe were 2 babies. Well, I had an ultrasound on May 24th (with the parents on a video call) and there is ONE strong, healthy baby growing just where it should. I am currently 7 weeks 3 days pregnant with a due date of January 7th, 2022.
I am staying positive that this will continue to be a healthy baby and pregnancy.
I have been having pretty bad all-day sickness- throwing up multiple times a day, extra tired, this weird taste on my tongue that I cannot get rid of no matter what, and a very tender chest- but this all just reminds me that I am pregnant!
Next, I will move on to regular appointments with my OB.
Medications and Preparations
We have parents, we have embryos and we have a gestational carrier! Let the journey begin!
With Covid still lingering around, it has definitely crossed my mind that I may not meet this deserving couple until I give birth and that makes this process feel... disconnected. Thankfully, we have been texting, sending photos, and had an occasional phone call so we are getting to know each other that way and I am so grateful for that.
I had to wait for my period to come before we could get started with medications. As soon as it came, I sent an email to my nurse at the IVF Clinic and immediately started birth control, vitamin D, baby aspirin, and a prenatal vitamin.
I am not one who takes many medications so seeing a calendar FULL of what I have to take/inject daily is a little daunting.
Mid-April I will head back to the IVF Clinic and have an ultrasound to check that my uterus is doing what it is supposed to and to get some bloodwork done. If everything goes smoothly, at the end of April we will be doing the embryo transfer!
Contracts and Behind the Scenes
I feel like some people just think you get selected to do this, get pregnant, have a baby, and go about your life. There is WAY more to it.
CLINIC DAY! Since the intended parents agreed to have their frozen embryos sent to the IVF Clinic in Iowa I wouldn't have to travel to New Jersey (where they live). The clinic is almost in Des Moines so it was a little over 3 hours away from one way for me to drive and because of COVID, no one was allowed to come with me.
Now that we all agreed this would be a good fit, we needed to start working on a contract to not only protect everyone legally but to get everything in writing. I reached out to my previous attorney and she was willing to help me again. The contract is an important part of this process. The contract guides the entire surrogacy journey, clearly outlining each party's rights, roles, and responsibilities before, during, and after the pregnancy. We finished up the contract at the beginning of January and then the parents needed to get their embryos to Iowa. Because of the snow and bad weather in the Midwest, this was delayed a couple of times but by the end of February, they had arrived
Meeting New Parents
Since I have already completed a surrogacy journey and trust the agency, I wanted to work with the same agency for my second one - The Surrogacy Experience.
I reached out to Tina, the Managing Principal, and told her after several years and chats with my previous intended mother, I knew I was ready to help another couple with their family. We got down to business right away and I collected my medical records and filled out all the required paperwork/applications. There is a background check, a drug screening, and a phone call with a psychologist.
Next, I was able to create a new profile that the intended parents would receive. In this you can add photos of yourself and your family, along with a bio describing your personality, hobbies, interests, your community and what a typical week looks like for my family and I.
Due to the fact that I had 2 failed embryo transfers and 1 cancelled cycle- some IVF Clinics did not want to accept me as their patient. In this case, we were able to find a clinic in IOWA that would accept me and then we would need to see if the intended parents would be willing to move their frozen embryos to Iowa.
Tina already had a couple in mind and she presented me their profile. They were lovely, so we set up a Skype introduction call.
Since I had such an amazing experience and a great relationship with my first couple, I was a little skeptical that anyone could be as wonderful as them, but I tried not to let that cloud my brain while on the call.
The couple already has a child via gestational carrier, so they've been through this process already as well. We chatted awhile and when we got off our call, I felt confident that the mom and I would get along just fine, and we all agreed to match. We are all so excited for our adventure together!
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