“It was 6 months post my 4th open heart surgery. I was out with my friends excited to be celebrating turning 26, a milestone my mother and doctors never thought I’d reach. I celebrated by doing the things I loved most: socializing and dancing. That night I met Ryan.
He witnessed me literally dance on top of a bar (because nothing says wohoo I’m ALIVE, like dancing on top of the bar) and within 30 minutes of meeting him, I told him everything you probably shouldn’t tell anyone until at least your 3rd or 4th date. As we chatted a little, I interrupted him mid-sentence. ‘You really don’t want to be interested in me.’ I continued, ‘I have a lot of baggage.’
‘What do you mean?,’ he replied.
‘Well for starters,’ I continued with my long list of things: ‘I just had open heart surgery, I have this heart problem and only half of my heart works.’ He stared blankly back at me. I continued talking because my anxiety tends to do that, awkward silence brings on more awkward (and honest) things for me to say. ‘My livelihood isn’t good, and I’m probably going to die soon.’
He then told me that he could just as easily walk outside that night and get hit by a bus and that he might die soon too. ‘True,’ I thought. After every attempt at me trying to scare him away (or maybe me trying to show him that I was much too wild for his calm and quiet demeanor) he still stood there unscathed by everything. I reluctantly gave him my number, thinking he was too good to be true.
I proceeded with caution, but not too much caution. Within 8 months of dating we were engaged and within a year and a half, we were married.
After our first date I had let Ryan in on my second biggest ‘baggage.’ I explained to him that because of my congenital heart disease, my doctors had always advised against me carrying a baby because of the huge risk it would be to have a baby inside of me. I was waiting for him to take off – he wouldn’t have been the first person I had dated that got scared off by this. But again, somehow, he stood there still unscathed.
As we prepared for our wedding and met with the priest, the typical questions came up. When the questions came up about having kids, I got flustered and upset. While Ryan knew and fully understood the extend of my heart disease, not everyone knew the severity of it, what having this heart problem meant for me, for our marriage and for us having children.
Over the next year Ryan and I talked in detail. We prayed and hoped for a sign on how we would grow our family. We had conversations with priests, nuns, my doctors, and our family; and after all of it, Ryan and I decided to explore the option of gestational surrogacy. Gestational surrogacy is when another woman carries your biological child for a mother that can’t carry her own.
While this decision came to us full of prayers and with 100% of our faith, knowing and trusting we were doing what was best for us and for my health (and our potential baby’s health), not all were understanding.
Some people (even close to us) did not fully understand or respect our decision to grow our family this way. Some were confused by the entire process and didn’t understand that if this worked, how another woman could carry for someone else and then ‘give up’ the baby. There were even some that thought we shouldn’t have kids at all, because like I had said before, ‘I might die soon.’
In the fall of 2015, I went through the difficult process of IVF. The bruised and battered outside of my body wasn’t even a comparison to the emotions I went through those few weeks on the IVF medicine. Whether or not the egg retrieval was successful, based off my ‘behavior’ while on these shots, Ryan had already said he didn’t want me doing IVF again if this first time didn’t work. So, we hoped and prayed that this one egg retrieval would work. The end of October, we learned that the egg retrieval was successful – we had developed a few good embryos.
After we found out we had embryos, we decided to begin trying to find a gestational surrogate – someone to carry our baby for us. We were beginning the mission to find a woman that would be our baby-baking oven. We knew we wouldn’t be picky, I like to think we had simple requirements, but mostly we just prayed we wouldn’t end up with someone we’d end up on a lifetime Original movie with. We wanted someone who would love our baby enough to carry it for 9 months, but didn’t want a baby enough that she’d try to run out of the hospital with ours. A simple request.
The winter after my retrieval, I had one conversation with one of my best friends. But as it turned out, she was just the one friend I needed to talk to about this. Ohhh, how this one conversation was about to change our lives forever.
*SPOLER ALERT* this next part: hang on – because I’m about to show you how amazing the universe works. There’s no bigger blessing than the guardian angels watching out for us.
‘So, I think we’re going to start looking for a surrogate.’ I told her. ‘But it’s just so weird because I don’t know anyone that’s ever been a surrogate or even used one.’
2 days after the ONE and only conversation I had telling someone we were going to start looking, I got the text while I was at my mom’s visiting. ‘Hey! I think we found you a surrogate!’
‘Her name’s Beth, my fiancé works with her,’ she continued. A million questions ran through my mind: how? What did he say to her? How did he find her? ‘I guess she was talking about how she liked being pregnant, but definitely doesn’t want any more kids.’ Kevin (her fiancé) knew we were looking and mentioned that she should think about surrogacy. ‘She said she had to talk to her husband Mike about it, but she totally wants to do it!’
I read everything over and over. Ecstatic, I ran to my mom in the other room and read the texts to her. ‘She seems like she’d be awesome!’ I said to my mom, ‘she just has to talk to her husband Mike!’
My mom seemed to be processing the information in way more detail and faster than I was.
‘Wait? What did you say her name was?’ ‘Beth,’ I exclaimed! ‘Haha, that’s funny,’ she said. ‘Mike & Beth!”
I stared at her and back at my phone in tears – our surrogate Beth and her husband Mike – my parents have the same names. Beth & Mike. Mike, my dad, passed away 7 years ago unexpectedly. I smiled to myself, my Dad in heaven, he must really be doing something up there.
There it was, that was our sign.
My mom and I met Beth a week later. It was essentially an ‘interview’ of sorts. Since there is absolutely NO handbook in how to navigate infertility or surrogacy, I hoped that after I met her I would ‘just know.’ it was important for me to listen to my heart in helping us make this decision of choosing a surrogate. My mom and I asked every question under the sun that we could think of; the biggest one was why she wanted to be a surrogate. Her response was awe- inspiring: ‘Because I want to do something bigger with my life. Don’t get me wrong, being a mom is a big deal, but I want to do something more for someone.’
She was sweet, hilarious, calming and genuine and if surrogacy had a matching profile I would have swiped right, messaged her and stalked her until she’d reply; she seemed too good to true.
As if she couldn’t get any better, not long after, Ryan and I also met her husband Mike, who was just as sweet, hilarious and as fun as she was.
The entire surrogacy and IVF process prepared us as parents much more than a traditional pregnancy possibly could. We met with a counselor (mandated) as well as a lawyer (also mandated), where we had to answer specific, very difficult questions, and have it all documented for legal purposes in our contract with our surrogate. ‘Will you be aborting for any reason? Will you be doing genetic testing? Do you want to do the test for Down syndrome? If there’s abnormalities, what will you do?’ These questions aren’t the typical questions people ask right before they’re about to go lay in bed with someone. Before you can have someone carry your baby, you better make sure you know exactly where you stand and what your plans are.
Our responses were quick and simple, no, no, no and no. We weren’t going to test for Down syndrome, nor would we be aborting even if anything came back abnormal. We chose this for a very simple reason.
Because as my sweet husband had pointed out, ‘What if you weren’t here just because you have a heart abnormality?’
It was those conversations with him that reminded me why we were chosen on this journey together.
We did or first embryo transfer, and it stuck. The day we found out we were pregnant, we surprised all of my family (technically we were only a few weeks along, but hey! We were excited!) The day we told my mom, unbeknownst to me, was actually the same day my mom and dad had married 3 decades ago; it was the day of their anniversary.
When I told our surrogate Beth this, still amazed at the timing of it all; her response was, ‘Oh my, that is sooo cool! It’s kind of like you got to tell both of your parents together!’
Over the next 9 months of Beth’s pregnancy, Ryan and I were involved in every way we could be. We went to every appointment and got together to hang out. She invited us over for the holidays and her sweet husband Mike was supportive of not only Beth, but of us along the way. He too came to all the big appointments – to the embryo transfer, to the 20-week ultrasound and he was there for the delivery.
Beth delivered our baby girl, Elleora Beth on May 11, 2017, on Mother’s Day weekend. My husband and I, as well as her husband Mike, were all in the room.
Two years later, Beth delivered our second baby girl, Esme Jeanette, October 19, 2019, on Beth’s birthday. Again, every one of us were in the room.
Beth is our first-born Elleora’s Godmother and she named our second baby, Esme’. Beth and Mike and their 2 sons come to Elleora’s birthday parties and we try to get together at least a few times a year. Her boys understand it and as our girls get older, they’ll learn about our journey to both of them with the help of one truly amazing and selfless couple.
There aren’t enough words to describe someone bringing life into this world for you, the magnitude and beauty of your child being born. I was in awe of Beth’s strength and selflessness in those moments. Esmé was perfect with her perfectly little round features. When I saw her, it felt like all the stars had aligned, like all those small and big coincidences weren’t just coincidences at all. It was the universe and God showing us that she was here, made perfectly just for us.
Beth is often was asked why she’d choose to be a surrogate. She described those final moments beautifully.
‘Whew!!!! What a weekend! Thank you everyone for the birthday and well wishes with baby Esmé. The emotions that surround surrogacy are complex and it’s hard to put into words the ‘why.’ It just felt ‘right.’ They say a picture is worth a thousand words… I think this sums it up. The pure joy of witnessing a mama feeling/holding/touching her baby for the first time and knowing I played a part in it… that’s why.’
Before our surrogacy journeys, I felt like I was missing out on a lot not being able to carry my own babies. I yearned to feel my baby kick inside me or for Ryan to feel that also. I envied every cute little pregnant girl who rocked her adorable pregnant belly in those sweet maternity clothes. But in the end, I realize I gained so much more. I gained a bond I never even knew existed with another woman and another family, I gained an experience and a journey and I’m so much stronger because of it.
It has instilled more faith in me in women and motherhood. And maybe most importantly, because of this journey, I’ve been able to keep my health intact. Because I didn’t risk my heart’s health, I am able to play with my sweet toddler Elleora at the park, climb through the jungle gym and chase her as she squeals with her little toddler excitement. I can also keep up with my newborn baby and still enjoy my very tired time as a new mom of 2.
Ryan and I are forever in debt to Mike and Beth. How do you repay someone who has literally brought LIVES, plural, into this beautiful world for you?!
I’ll honor our surrogacy journeys by loving my babies as much as humanly possible, and by making as many sweet memories as God, and my time on this earth, will allow me to make. I owe it to them, but not only to them, I owe it to our surrogate, too.
I share our story in hopes that it’ll inspire others to follow their heart and listen to their own intuitions. Through this journey I’ve learned that motherhood is way easier when you stop listening to other people’s opinions.
Every good person deserves the chance to have children if they wish to – whether it’s through adoption, surrogacy, IVF, or the natural way. There is no ‘right way’ to have children. As long as you’re making decisions out of love, you’ll end up where you’re meant to be. If sharing our story helps other women find hope, then it’s worth being vulnerable and open about.
After all, the happiest people are the ones who are truest to themselves and to their dreams.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christina-Mouse Jennings. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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