When Maggie and Jessi met 18 years ago, in 1993, at high school freshman orientation they never knew the path their friendship would take.
A friendship that has stood the test of time and has given a whole new meaning to the phrase “I would do anything for a friend”. The pair survived high school, college, moves, marriage, and children with their friendship still intact. When Jessi found out that carrying a baby to a full term pregnancy would not be possible, Maggie didn’t think twice when she offered to be her surrogate.
Jessi was born with a Ventricular Septal Defect, in other words a hole in her heart. As a result Jessi developed Eisenmenger’s Syndrome which comes with a 30% to 60% maternal mortality rate. Most deaths occur during delivery or in the short weeks after. The baby can also suffer medical trauma and possible birth defects. Up to this point in time, Jessi had basically accepted and understood the risks involved with carrying a child. She had come to terms with the thought of not having children and didn’t long for the maternal role. But then she met Ben and saw a peaceful life that involved growing old with Ben and also having children.
Now fast forward to summer 2012, a beautiful afternoon boating with friends on Lake Champlain.
Jessi was chatting with friends, Maggie included, about Ben and the future they were about to embrace. Jessi and Ben had discussed the possibility of not being able to have children but were still planning to meet with the high risk pregnancy team to evaluate their options. When the question was posed “But what if you can’t have a baby?” Jessi simply replied that she would find a surrogate. She was thinking one of her two sisters could carry for her but unfortunately, in the surrogacy world, doctors like a surrogate who has had a nearly problem free pregnancy prior to a surrogacy situation and neither of Jessi’s sister’s have had children. Jessi knew that she wanted someone she knew, but wasn’t sure who would do it. That’s when Maggie, very casually, jumped in with “I’ll do it, I’m really good at having babies, and I should probably talk to Jim (Maggie’s husband), but I’ll do it”.
And so began an amazing journey.
Jessi and Ben still met with maternal fetal medicine where it was determined that Jessi shouldn’t risk trying to carry a baby to term on her own. Women with heart conditions have children, but the nature of Jessi’s condition would be very risky. Jessi’s medical state and health post birth could be life threatening because of possible irreversible damage to her heart. Jessi and Ben agreed that the next step would be a visit with reproductive endocrinology, and of course making sure that Maggie was still all in. Being the giver by nature that Maggie is, with Jim and their two children on board, she was ready to start the process of becoming a gestational surrogate.
Surrogacy in the United States is on the rise with more gay couples wanting children and society accepting that desire. There are two different types of surrogates; traditional surrogacy and gestational surrogacy. Traditional surrogacy is when the carrier of the child would also use her own egg to reproduce and would then turn the child over to the intended parents for adoption (the legal issues that can rise with traditional surrogacy are very complex). Gestational surrogacy, which is the more common of the two, is when you produce an embryo through some type of assisted reproductive method (such as IVF) and the embryo is then placed in the uterus of the gestational carrier. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine 859 surrogacy and gestational carrier cycles were performed in the United States in 2010 which included a 28% increase in gestational carriers since 2007.
As Jessi, Maggie, and their respective partners sat down to map out this journey, neither one of them really knew what lay ahead of them. The emotional investment of surrogacy is not something you can wrap your head around unless you have been in the situation before. Meetings with therapists and psychologists ensued to evaluate, perform psych consults, and assist with the psychological aspects of this process. Then there is the scope of the financial commitment that this would entail. In Vermont, IVF is not covered by health insurance. For the removal of eggs, fertilization, and transfer of the embryos it would cost over $10,000. This does not include the cost of medication to prepare your body for the process, so add on another $6,000 for that. Don’t forget the legal contract between the surrogate and intended parents, another $5,000, and you’re already over $20,000 into the process. Not implying that you can put a price on the miracle of having your baby but the financial investment of this process is astounding. In many situations the intended parents will also pay the surrogate a large sum to carry the baby as well. Once again, being the giver that Maggie is, she didn’t think twice about not requesting payment for being their surrogate. Maggie offered her womb to Jessi and Ben because she felt that everyone deserved to have this kind of love and to be happy.
There was one catch though, Maggie wanted to blog about their journey.
With neither of the women having blogged before, they started Womb Womb Pow and quickly became a hot topic in the community. Their blog posts left you crying, wanting more, and filled with all of the emotions that the writers poured into their entries. Womb Womb Pow’s Facebook page quickly grew to having over 1,200 “likes” from people all over the region. (Maggie has now found a new love in blogging and plans to do a spin-off blog focused on something along the lines of fitness, food, and body image.)
So here they are, ready with a blog, a drained retirement account, 7 extracted eggs, and ready to make a baby. Even though everything was smooth and the gods seemed to be aligned the first two tries didn’t take. The women were honestly shocked because they had assumed, since on paper everything went as planned, that Jessi and Ben’s little love embryos should have nestled firmly in Maggie’s “perfect” uterus. Now, a decision needed to be made. Do we try again? More egg retrieval, more meds, and more (possible) disappointment? Being already as emotionally and financially invested as they were Jessi and Ben decided, with Maggie willing, that they would try again.
Thankfully they did, because the third time was the charm.
Maggie found out that she was pregnant on March 5, 2014. She texted Jessi immediately and they “virtually wept” with one another. Over the course of the next few days Maggie had several blood tests done to confirm the pregnancy, which was confirmed, but time would tell if it was viable. Surrogacy seems to be at times like one big waiting game for all involved. Then, on March 24th, Maggie’s ultrasound detected a heartbeat.
Over the next few months Jessi and Maggie continued to blog about their journey, once again keeping many of us without a dry eye. Then, after a mostly uneventful pregnancy, Sunnie Violet was born on November 7, 2014.
In that moment Jessi felt more grateful and blessed than she had ever experienced in her life. For Maggie, she was overwhelmed with a sense of joy and relief. She was able to give someone the moment of seeing and holding their baby for the first time. It made every moment of the journey worth it for her.
Baby Sunnie is now growing and thriving at over 1 month old. She is surrounded by family and friends that are in love with her and are eternally grateful for what Maggie has done. Jessi and Ben are like any new parents: in love, scared, blessed, tired, joyous, and in awe of this perfect little being that their friend helped bring into the world for them. Jessi describes her thoughts as ones of feeling forever indebted and forever blessed. Jessi is glowing and has so comfortably slipped into her role as Momma.
For Maggie, she is aware that what she did is incredibly amazing and has learned to simply appreciate the wonderful compliments that she has been given with a simple “thank you”. Psychologically, she has felt less emotional postpartum in the recent weeks than she did with her previous pregnancies, which she attributes to being able to sleep post birth unlike when she had her own children! Maggie and her husband have done an incredible job explaining things to their children by being open and honest with them about what she was doing. They understand that Sunnie is Jessi and Ben’s baby and they will be forever bonded (as Maggie and Jessi call it) as a “surro-family”. No matter what it is called all that matters is the love they all have for each other. For Maggie there are no regrets.
“So that’s why I know this is the right thing to do. Because everyone deserves to love someone that much. Everyone should have someone to take care of them once they have left this earth. Every soul deserves a parent that was meant to be theirs. Everyone deserves to be happy.”
Everyone deserves to be happy.
Photo Credit: Mini Mi Photography
A special thank you to the sponsors of this post who all generously donated goods or services to be included in a gift basket to Jessi, Maggie, and baby Sunnie!