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!
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