Motherhood

On Being a Surrogate

On Being a Surrogate

My brother Andrew and his wife Catherine live in Scotland with their six- and four-year-old daughters. For years, my sister-in-law’s best friend Reena was also trying to have a baby. Reena got pregnant seven times, but would miscarry before she was eight weeks along. Although she could produce an egg and grow an embryo, her womb couldn’t handle carrying the pregnancy to term. Her doctor suggested surrogacy, but for a long time she continued to try on her own.

Reena was led down many heartbreaking, circuitous paths before she could accept her reality. By this time, however, she was 45 and no longer making strong enough eggs. Luckily, she had frozen two embryos a few years before, and now they were her last chance. Though Reena never asked, her best friend Catherine, 42 at the time, volunteered to be her surrogate. Today, Reena and her husband Mark have an 18-month-old son named Hari. Here, we spoke with Catherine about her selfless act of love…

How did you decide to be Reena’s surrogate?
I knew all about Reena’s difficulties. One afternoon, I was sitting there talking with Reena about her quest for surrogacy and in my head I was like, I fit that bill. I didn’t want to say anything at first, because I hadn’t yet discussed it with my husband, but I thought, I could carry this child.

When did you bring it up with your husband?
Andrew and I were on vacation, at a beach cottage on the edge of Scotland. We were having dinner, and I said, “I’m thinking about offering to be a surrogate for Reena because I tick all the boxes and I’ve had really easy pregnancies. Why wouldn’t I do that?” And Andrew was like, “Yeah, that is a great idea, you should totally do it.” It was as if I had said, “Should I go get some more wine out of the fridge?” It was that casual. So I sent Reena an email with the headline, “This Email May Change Your Life,” and she called me in tears.

What happened next?
They defrosted Reena’s embryo at the clinic. It could have died while defrosting or it could have replicated, which it did. This meant it was alive and wanted to grow, so that was a good sign. They put it inside me and within 48 hours, I was sure I was pregnant. They kept telling me you couldn’t know for at least 10 days. But I knew. I felt pregnant!

How did you feel during the pregnancy?
I was confident that if I got pregnant I would deliver the child because I had never had any problems. I was like, this kid is not going anywhere. For Reena, since that hadn’t been her experience, she worried every step of the way until the baby was in her arms. She came up to Glasgow for every major scan and appointment with the doctor. But I knew, with my womb, my hips (they’re massive, I mean have you seen me in a bikini?), I will take this thing over the touchline, no question!

Did you bond with the baby when you were carrying him?
I’d tell him, “We are going to be really good friends, you’re going to meet your mom very soon.”

Were Reena and Mark with you during the birth?
I had an elective C-section, which is typical for a surrogacy. Reena and Mark were there. The anesthesiologist walked me through everything, saying “This is what is happening now, you are going to feel this now…” It was so reassuring. I loved that woman. When it was over, they washed off Hari, wrapped him up, and gave him to Reena. We went back in the delivery ward, the nurses made us all cups of tea, Reena was holding him, and it was a really magical moment. It was the end of a journey for me, and the beginning of a journey for her.

Did you both stay overnight in the hospital?
Leading up to the C-section, we asked the hospital many times to make sure Reena could spend the night at the hospital. They said, “We’ll do our best, but there isn’t a legal right for her to be there.” But I was really adamant. “I am not mothering this child, because he is not my child, he is her child. It would be emotionally unfair to everyone involved if I spend the night feeding him.” Luckily, in the end, we got a room. Reena slept on a pullout couch next to me and took care of the baby all night. I basically watched her turn into a mom. She didn’t know what she was doing (like any new mom), so she would do what she thought, and occasionally ask me and I would tell her, “I’m not worried about that” or “You could pat him on the back…” It was the most beautiful night of my life in many ways.

Were there any hard parts?
The hardest part physically was after I gave birth to him, my boobs went into overdrive and wanted to feed him. But I wasn’t; Reena was giving him formula. It was so painful, I had ice packs, and it was terrible. In the first few weeks after Hari was born, Reena also had some insecurity about not carrying him. She wasn’t breastfeeding, so she would sometimes say, “I don’t know that he knows I am his mom.” But he did.

What about emotionally?
After we left the hospital, we all came to our house and drank this amazing bottle of vintage Champagne. Then they took him in the car back to their flat and there was a little bit of me that was like, “Oh, he’s gone now.” I did feel that. Also, because I wasn’t taking care of a baby, and my body was obviously expecting me to be, I went through a period of feeling a little lost after the birth. Everything in my body, my hormones, were telling me that you’re going to breastfeed and cuddle a baby, but I was back at work. That was something I wasn’t totally prepared for and it probably took about three to six months to get over.


How was Hari’s name chosen?
Reena and Mark wanted to find something that was both Indian (her background) and Welsh (his). We spent ages going through websites together, it was fun. When we came up with Hari, Reena’s dad said, “Hari is not actually a name.” It means “god,” “holy one,” or “sir” in several ancient languages. But we all really liked it and then we discovered that Hari means “gift” in Gujarati and we knew that had to be his name.

How did you explain the situation to your daughters, Sadie and Bella?
I told them that Reena was my best friend, and her tummy didn’t work, and that I was going to use my tummy to help her have a baby. They really love Hari. And bizarrely, he has a sort of intrinsic love for them. He just follows them around like they are the coolest things. I do think for whatever reason, spiritually on some level, they are connected in a way that they wouldn’t be otherwise. I can’t explain why, but they seem to all feel it. It’s lovely.

Has your relationship with Reena changed?
We’re definitely even closer — now I feel like I can impose on her like a sister! Her family sees me like a cousin. I get invited to family dinners; her mom gives me marinated chilies every time she makes a batch. It brings you into the fold, definitely. They weren’t going to have a grandson until I bridged the gap for them and they really appreciate that — and I really appreciate the chilies. No, I really do! They’re amazing.

What do you think looking back on the experience now?
It’s one of those things that when I die, I hope it will be mentioned in my eulogy. It’s rare that you do something in your life that you know will make the grade. I feel proud of it, and I also feel proud that Reena and Mark are parents now. Nine months of your life is nothing, but now they are parents forever.

On Being a SurrogateCatherine, with her daughters, when she was pregnant with Hari.

On Being a SurrogateReena (with Hari), Catherine, Mark and Andrew in the hospital.

On Being a SurrogateCatherine and Hari.

On Being a SurrogateReena, Mark and Hari, who’s now 18 months old.

(Top photo by Jo Reynolds. Other photos courtesy of Catherine and Reena. Interview by Megan Cahn, senior beauty editor at Refinery29.)

  1. Stephanie says...

    Crying. What an amazing gift for everyone.

  2. Gabriella Dean says...

    Thank you so much for writing this. It can be in our society. I think surrogate motherhood is great achievement of the world. These women, surrogate mothers, are ready to become pregnant with a foreign baby and to give him to his biological parents after child’s birth. They are worthy of respect and support I think. I can’t understand the negative attitude by public and some officials who are against such procedure as surrogate motherhood. Today this question is rather hot in the world society. A lot of states start banning surrogacy programs saying that it is immoral and must be punished. As for me I consider surrogate motherhood to be a great opportunity both for infertile people and women who think of becoming a surrogate mother. Infertile people can have biological child despite the infertility diagnose. My friend from Ukraine told me about a clinic in Kiev. This is private clinic, which employs about 300 people and offers a wide range of services from in vitro fertilization to child birth. This country has beautiful and healthy women. According to the local law surrogate mother has no rights towards the child she carries in the frameworks of the program of that clinic. Therefore intended parents in order to have children have no rights to leave this child as he is genetically their native one.

  3. Amira says...

    As a woman who became a mother through the gift of surrogacy, thank you so much for posting this. In this day and age there are so many ways in which we become mothers and reading other peoples’ stories makes me feel less like what we’ve done is so obscure. Our beautiful son is almost 2 years old now and he was created by us (sperm and eggs) in New Zealand, shipped, frozen, to Canada, and born through a wonderful woman who offered to carry him for us. We will forever and a day be grateful for her giving us the greatest gift anyone can give. Thanks again for posting this story.

  4. jen says...

    I don’t know how I missed this one, but I’m only reading it after the link from today’s post (the intro to Megan). It was so emotional! I kept crying when a new paragraph would start.

    I’m carrying my 2 month old in the carrier. This story just makes me appreciate those little breathing sounds so much more, as my back is sore and I’m “stranded” on nap duty.

    What a beautiful story of love. Congrats to the families. May your bonds only grow stronger and may your children follow your examples of true love.

  5. Ashley says...

    As my husband and I start the journey of having a surrogate carry our child, this was an incredible story to read and perfect timing! The surrogate process is an amazing thing and I am so grateful for women who are willing to use their bodies to create such joy and happiness for people who cannot start a family on their own. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Isabelle DC says...

    This story is incredible on so many levels… To want to do this for your friend without her even asking, and the fact that it is medically possible… Life can really be wonderful! Thanks for sharing this beautiful story. It moved me to tears and I so love Catherine’s “I can do this!” attitude.

  7. Mirella says...

    Crying. Just beautiful. What an amazing gift.

  8. What an INCREDIBLE story!!! I have always wondered how that experience would go. Thank you so much for sharing!

  9. K says...

    I’m not a mom and I’ve never had the desire to be one, but this story moved me to tears.

  10. Ellen says...

    Simply beautiful- from beginning to end! Catherine and Andrew selflessly gave Reena and Mark the best “gift” ever. This is so beyond what one friend would expect from another.

  11. Emily says...

    That has got to be one of more beautiful stories I’ve ever heard.

  12. Sue says...

    What an inspiring story. Each one of us has so much love and care to share. The opportunity is always available.

  13. Cat says...

    Lovely story. Defy any mom not to have a little cry. What a wonderful friend and wonderful gift

  14. Katy says...

    I am also in tears, what a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing.

  15. Dee says...

    This is a beautiful story. What a wonderful gift to give to her best friend. Reena’s face in the last picture is priceless. She’s radiant. How wonderful.

  16. Bec says...

    I love this! So beautiful!

  17. Cathy says...

    Humanity has been restored for me today. Thank you for this story.

  18. Katie says...

    What a beautiful story!
    Can anyone answer: Why are C-sections typical for surrogate deliveries? Because labor might be more difficult since the mother is less emotionally invested? To prevent additional bonding through oxytocin during pushing? Or is it just a riskier delivery? Thanks!

    • Laura H says...

      I asked this very thing on AskMetafilter because I couldn’t find the answer and was so curious as well! (Especially because C-sections increase a baby’s risk of many things, such as allergies.) It turns out it’s because of scheduling concerns because surrogacy has so many different people involved: http://information-on-surrogacy.com/elective-c-section

  19. I am in tears! This is one of the sweetest things I have ever read. What a special sister-in-law you have, Megan! When my twin sister had her first child, she told me that if my husband and I couldn’t conceive (at the time we had never tried, but it turns out that wasn’t a problem for us), she would be a surrogate to one baby for me. After having two of my own, I can FEEL what a gift that is. To sacrifice for 9 months and then, more significantly, to endure the postpartum, the emotional and physical aftermaths of a pregnancy that was never your own. Oh what a selfless gift!

  20. melissa says...

    Ack! I LOVE this story so much. What a lucky little man to have such a huge team, cheering him on for life! Everyone is a winner!

  21. Here I am AGAIN crying while reading Cup Of Jo. Darn it! This story is so sweet.

    • jess says...

      me too!

  22. Julie says...

    It’s been an emotional day for me-this put me over the edge. What a beautiful act of friendship.

  23. SAK says...

    I have read nothing more powerful than this…..what a remarkable story, and two really amazing women. “it takes a village”….Indeed.

  24. Nancy says...

    Stunningly beautiful. Thank you for writing such a personal, insightful profile. And Catherine, I think you can rob and pillage from here on out and still go to heaven.

  25. Brenna says...

    Oh what a beautiful story. You are truely the meaning of a best friend. What a blessing you gave your friend. Best wishes to all and bond that ties your families together forever.

  26. What a lovely story and such a terrific gift for everyone. My son was born thanks to the gift of a sperm donor and 16 years in to being a mama, I am still grateful every day for the person whose selfless donation has meant the world to me.

  27. Becky says...

    This is such an amazing story. My first inclination is to want to also be a surrogate after having a very healthy first pregnancy. I then remember I have had 2 miscarriages since welcoming our son to the world 21 months ago. It’s like a light went off that said, you’re more in the camp of needing a surrogate than being a surrogate. Life is a journey ….

    Thank you for posting. It gave me hope.

  28. Kate says...

    Such a beautiful story! Bravery and grave all around! THIS is life in it’s most beautiful form!

    • Kate says...

      *grace!

  29. Jill says...

    Just beautiful! What a wonderful act of service for another.

  30. Anna Taylor says...

    Wow wow wow. That is such a wonderful thing to do. I’m in tears in and I don’t usually cry at this sort of thing. So moving and such a gift.

  31. Amy says...

    What a beautiful story! Catherine, what a selfless act. And Hari looks like such a strong boy! Thank you for sharing.

  32. This is beautiful -nicely done! Catherine did this in such a touching and respectful way. And I like the fact that she’s not too humble about it- she DID do something amazing for her friend! Yes, we can talk about adoption and surrogacy in other countries, but this is their story and their choice -and it’s holy beyond belief.