“I researched surrogacy for over a year and joined an online support group called Parents Pursuing Surrogacy,” Jenn remembers. “When my husband and I finally signed contract papers, I felt pretty confident we were going in the right direction.” But when the agency director mentioned a gestational carrier, Jenn didn’t know what she was talking about. “Do you mean a surrogate mother?” she asked. According to Sharon LaMothe, a Seattle-based surrogacy consultant, gestational carrier is the more-recent term for a surrogate mother who is biologically unrelated to the baby she carries for a couple. “That sounded clinical,” Jenn remembers. “Not what we were going for, at all.”
On a waiting list for five months, Seattleite Jenn says she felt butterflies when she met Long Beach native, Mel, for the first time at the agency’s-office in Orange County. Told that surrogates were in short-supply, Mel was the only one ready at the time whose ideas about the surrogacy process matched Jenn and her husband’s. “I saw her photo and e-mailed with her a few times, but when I met her in person, I didn’t hear a word she said. I was listening to my instincts on this one, and my heart,” Jenn says.
Mel admits the same. “Jenn and her husband were my third set of Intended Parents. I worked for several years with a couple who never had success—and it was heartbreaking.” Several embryo transfers for the couple failed and the whole experience was very discouraging,” she says. But Mel didn’t give up. Matched a 2nd time with another couple, she was pregnant with and delivered a baby girl for them. “Having a baby girl for my couple was one of the greatest things I ever did. I don’t have words for the joy it brought to everybody.” It was right then that Mel knew she wanted to do another surrogacy—but only with a couple who shared her values. “I clicked with Jenn and her husband, instantly,” Mel says. “It was love at first sight.”
Although it was one of the hardest things she’d ever done, Jenn stood by attentively while her microscopic 3-day embryos were transferred to Mel’s womb, for safe-keeping. “I knew I had to let them go to Mel. And although I am a very analytical, somewhat-controlling-person, I was able to take a step back. Mel knew the process and was a consummate professional. Even more, I could tell her heart was in the right place.” A giant leap of faith by Jenn, she says the feeling is impossible to describe. “I placed our babies in a woman I barely knew. We were asking for a miracle.”
On their second embryo transfer (Jenn’s eggs and her husband’s sperm), the team of Mel & Jenn were pregnant. Their jointly-chosen OB called Mel’s pregnancy “textbook”, but the whole experience for Jenn, was anything but. And as much as Mel was financially compensated for what Jenn calls “ultra-early-babysitting”, it turned out Jenn’s hunch about “gestational carriers” was spot-on: “Mel wasn’t a carrier—she was a MOTHER.”
Baby at 12 weeks
Jenn says that not only did Mel eat right, rest, and get great prenatal care, she involved Jenn and her husband in her pregnancy and family from day-one. “I have an open-door policy so I invited Jenn and her husband in,” Mel says in a matter of fact way. “She cared for our baby like he was a member of her family,” Jenn explains. “And Mel’s husband and kids did too. I was in California for a prenatal visit once and stayed with Mel and her family. While Mel read a Harry Potter series book out loud to her own children, my baby stopped kicking to listen.” “He’s quiet now, Jenn,” Mel whispered. The look in her eye said it all. Gestational Carrier? “No, it was LOVE,” Jenn says.
Finally, one warm February day, Jenn’s dream came true when Mel went into labor. Meaning “gift from God”, they pronounced the baby “Jonathan”. Holding back tears, Jenn cut the cord from her surrogate to her precious gift. “You are the luckiest boy in the world,” she told her new baby. “You’ve got TWO moms.”
Jenn cuts the cord
Of course, many surrogacy stories end, right here. The parents take their baby home. The surrogate feels fulfilled. The end. But although Jenn and Mel didn’t know it at that moment, for them, it was only the beginning.
Jenn remembers that Mel’s husband looked her straight in the eye on the way out of the hospital. “We’re all going to stay together, now, aren’t we?” he asked. “Absolutely,” Jenn remembers answering. According to surrogacy expert, Sharon LaMothe, “Most legal contracts between IPs and surrogates have verbiage preventing the surrogate from contacting the family, after the birth. It must be a mutual feeling, a needed connection between all parties. ” Jenn and Mel’s contract was no different. But before they signed it, they talked about their hopes and dreams for a relationship, once the baby was born.
Mel and Jonathan, age-5
As Baby Jonathan grew, the families kept in touch. Jenn and her family (that included daughter Laura) flew almost every year to California from Seattle, to visit Mel and her family. Mel and her family flew up to Seattle, during school breaks.
Mel and Jonathan, age-8
The gifts and love, from the surrogacy experience, just kept flowing.
Mel, Jonathan, and Jenn
An avid Lacrosse player at age-14, now-teen-Jonathan found a sports camp (through an Internet search) in the Los Angeles area and wanted to go. “No, it’s too far from Seattle,” Jenn remembers telling him. But he wouldn’t drop the idea. “What if Mel and her husband looked after him, while he was there?” Jenn’s husband suggested. It was at that precise moment, that a light bulb went on. Just 15 years before, Jenn stood by, and let go of her child to Mel. And now, as if by some grand design, here they went, AGAIN. After a bit of soul-searching, Jenn says she realized that she felt very comfortable letting her son fly by himself from Seattle to Lost Angeles. His mom would pick him up in baggage claim. It wouldn’t be Jenn, herself. And it wouldn’t be a gestational carrier. It would be Mel. Jenn says it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
Jonathan and Mel, at the airport
“There are surrogacy stories that hit the press—more now than ever before,” says Sharon LaMothe. “But what happens between the surrogate and family, five, ten, or fifteen years down the road? These stories are just beginning to be told. There is no one-way to handle the situation. But the story of Jenn and Mel shows that it can be a good thing for all involved.”
What lies ahead for the team of Jenn and Mel? Neither mom is quite certain, but there’s one thing they know for sure: when you have faith, and let-go, no distance is too far and your own biology ceases to matter. “It’s all about love,” says Mel.” “Absolutely,” Jenn agrees.
Mel and Jenn
*JP Tammen is a freelance writer in the Seattle area