4 Families Reveal What Using A Surrogate To Welcome A Child Was Really Like

People touch the belly of a surrogate mother.
Dariia Pavlova/Shutterstock

Kim Kardashian rang in the New Year by announcing that she and Kanye West are expecting their fourth child, their second via surrogate. She faced major struggles during pregnancy with her first two children, and doctors advised against another pregnancy.

Earlier this year, Gabrielle Union spoke openly about her fertility issues, which include nine miscarriages and three years of in vitro fertilization, or IVF. She welcomed a daughter by surrogate in November, and went on the record for the first time about just how beautiful — and complicated — that process was. “There’s nothing more that I wanted than to cook my own baby,” she told Women’s Health. Surrogacy, on the other hand, “felt like surrendering to failure.”

And Andy Cohen had a son via surrogate as a single dad earlier in February, calling the woman who carried his child “incredible” but expressing frustration with all of the red tape that still around surrogacy. “Surrogacy is illegal in so many states, including New York, Cohen told People. “I don’t understand why. It’s a voluntary process, obviously.”

Surrogacy is becoming more common, both in practice and in discussion. Then again, it’s one thing to be a celebrity, armed with the money and resources in the world to find the right surrogate to carry your baby to term, either by traditional or gestational surrogacy. But what about people, who cannot, for a myriad of reasons, get pregnant? What are their stories like? What’s it really like to have that experience?

The Mom Who Lost Her Fallopian Tubes And Found A Surrogate In Her Last Round of IVF

Stephanie Caballero, the principal attorney at Surrogacy Law Center in California, went through 11 egg retrievals before she opted to try surrogacy. She was 40 when she and her husband welcomed twins via surrogate, and her last round of IVF was the year before that. Now, she has 17-year-old twins.

“I did IVF in the dark ages,” she tells Bustle. “They didn’t have PGS, PGD,” or preimplantation genetic screening and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, which test the genetic makeup of embryos before implantation in a surrogate’s uterus, and can increase the chances of a healthy embryo and a successful pregnancy.

“You transferred Day Three,” Caballero says. “They didn’t have Day Six.” These days, embryos can be transferred any time between one and six days after egg retrieval, though it is usually on days two through four, according to the American Pregnancy Association. “All the meds have changed,” she says. “If you get a genetically normal embryo that’s been tested, chances are [your surrogate] is going to get pregnant.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Caballero

After having emergency surgery and losing her fallopian tubes, Caballero was no longer able to carry her own child. And so — she turned it over to someone who could. “You have to trust somebody else,” she says. “For a woman, it’s hard to say, ‘I wasn’t able to carry my child.’ You feel less than a woman. You feel like, ‘What’s wrong with me? My body’s betrayed me.’ All those emotions come through.” Once she accepted that she wouldn’t have the experience of being pregnant with her own children, after trying for eight years, she was able to lean in to the idea of surrogacy. “If a baby had fallen out of the sky, I would have been thrilled,” she says.

Perhaps the hardest part was giving up on the dream of sharing a pregnancy with her husband. The process is “a huge leap of faith,” she says. Today, she and her husband are open about where their children came from. “It’s my kids’ journey,” she says. “They don’t think it’s weird or odd. It’s always been there. My kids are comfortable with it. Their friends are like, ‘Oh, Kim Kardashian did it? OK, cool.’” Caballero thinks Kardashian did a service to other families opting for surrogacy by being open about her choices, and feels grateful to her for that.

Caballero’s twins inspired her to focus her career around surrogacy law. “It’s kind of a blur,” she says. “I passed the bar, opened my law office, and I realized I could communicate and have a lot of empathy and understanding for my clients. I’ve been through the egg transfers.” She knows what it’s like, and helps other women navigate the same complicated process that she did herself, almost two decades ago.

The Trailblazing Dads Who Were Among the First Gay Couples To Have a Child by Surrogate

Courtesy of Will Halm

Will Halm, managing partner of International Reproductive Law Group in California, and his husband, Dr. Marcellin Simard, had their first daughter by surrogate 22 years ago, back in the “dark ages” of IVF, as Halm puts it, echoing Caballero. (Full disclosure: I worked as a nanny for Halm and Simard’s three amazing children years ago, when I was in my early twenties.) “When we wanted to have kids 20-plus years ago, adoption was really the primary way that gay couples could create families,” Halm tells Bustle. “There was prejudice and difficulties in the adoption process, because they wanted us to lie about our relationship — one of us had to be the pretend roommate.”

Times have changed, but surrogacy for same-sex couples was rare when they started the process 25 years ago. “I got turned off by adoption because of the duplicitous nature of it back then,” Halm says. “Surrogacy and IVF became more on the radar, and Marcellin and I were among one of the first gay couples [to use a surrogate]."

In 1995, it was a big deal just to be a man in a relationship with another man and have a baby born by surrogate. “There was a story in the New York Times about our second surrogate,” Halm says. “We were on 20/20 with [our first child],” Halm says. “We had a second surrogate who was pregnant with [our second child] at the time. His birth was filmed by 20/20 in September 1997.” It was all a whirlwind, and Halm’s profession came into play. “I helped develop the assisted reproduction law, if you will, in California,” he says.

Halm and Simard received the first parents’ judgement in a gestational surrogacy case, which means that both of their names were on their second son’s birth certificate. Before that time, Halm says, all couples who went through surrogacy had to go through a second-parent adoption process. After his and Simard’s judgment came down, “the court recognized surrogacy was different,” Halm says. “Legal parents were the intended parents. Now, courts will issue parents judgments declaring that the intended parents are the legal parents. The surrogate has no rights. Back in the day, there was no place in the statute, no provision that specifically addressed it.”

As you might have guessed, it was hard to find a surrogate who was willing to carry a child for a gay couple two decades ago. “Twenty years ago, surrogacy [in general] was really underground,” Halm says. “It was really very uncommon. People were skeptical.”

Since surrogacy was so veiled, that Halm says only a few psychologists knew anything about surrogacy. “There were no long-term studies about the effects of surrogacy on children born through surrogacy," he says. "There were fewer surrogates, and there were even fewer who were willing to work with a gay couple back then.” To further complicate matters, doctors and egg donor agencies also refused to cooperate with gay couples at that time, Halm says. “That’s why I started the agency Growing Generations,” he tells me. “I wanted to help gay individuals have kids through surrogacy. Really, there was no other place to go.”

It was a rocky road. To qualify as a surrogate, a woman must have already given birth to and raised a baby herself, and has to be financially secure. At first, Halm and Simard tried working with a couple of women who weren’t good candidates, out of desperation: one hadn’t had any kids of her own; the other faked a pregnancy to exact money from them. Neither were financially stable. Finally, a friend agreed to be their first surrogate. “For the second one, I started this agency, and we used one of our first surrogates,” Halm says. The same goes for their third child, who is now in high school.

Halm and Simard have been open about having children via surrogate. “There’s no hiding it,” he says with a laugh. “We’re not carrying children. The kids all met the surrogates. They saw that their sibling was growing in another woman’s tummy. We’ve been very open about it.” They chose who would be the biological father based on their desire to have biracial children. “We wanted our kids to be biracial,” says Halm, who is Asian. “If the donor was Asian, we used [Simard’s] sperm. If the donor was white, we used my sperm.”

These days, Halm and Simard live in New Mexico, and casually stay in touch with all three surrogates. He admits it can be hard to watch someone else carry your baby, and stay out of their way. “The hardest part is you don’t have any control,” he says. “You have to trust that she’s going to take care of the child. They’ve all had kids of their own.”

A lot has changed in 22 years. “Now that [many celebrities] have successfully gone through surrogacy, public opinion has changed,” Halm says. “I’m ecstatic about how it’s developed on many fronts,” he says. Slowly but surely, stigma is falling away.

“Women are much more comfortable about helping other intended parents without any stigma,” he says. Thanks to a changed attitude in this country, more people have the option to have kids. “A lot of people who thought they could never be parents — straight couples facing fertility issues, single parents, gay couples [can have children]," Halm says. “Surrogacy has opened the door for so many of them.”

The Woman Who Lost Her Womb To Cancer And Had A Baby Last Year

Heather Hatfield, a social worker in Indiana, had two children of her own, who are now 12 and 15 years old. But several years ago, doctors found an invasive carcinoma, or cancer that begins in the lining of internal organs, that started in her cervix and spread. She had a partial hysterectomy, and married her husband, Joel, a chef, a few years later. “We knew we wanted to have more children,” she tells Bustle, “but we didn’t know the options. At the time, we knew nothing about surrogacy.”

They began their research, and eventually went to a fertility clinic to start the IVF process. “But we hit a whole lot of bumps along the way,” Hatfield says. IVF wasn’t recommended in the first place, because of Hatfield’s history with cancer, and they found out that her husband had male factor infertility and no viable sperm. Even if they could retrieve eggs, IVF wouldn’t work for them.

So they found a surrogate — on Facebook. “Our surrogate offered for us to use her eggs,” Hatfield says, “but when we found out that we had male factor infertility, we did choose to adopt an embryo.” Their clinic has an embryo donation program for anonymous donors; couples who have not used all their embryos from IVF can opt to either donate or destroy the remaining embryos. In choosing an embryo, Hatfield and her husband were presented with a profile that included medical and psychological backgrounds, demographics, eye color, hair color, and weight, but little else.

Hatfield’s daughter was born a year ago, when she was 35, but the journey wasn’t without its hardships. “I had children of my own, but I still very much felt like I was unable to do something that I should have been able to do,” Hatfield says. “My husband didn’t have any of his own children. There was wanting to be able to do that for him as well.”

Though much has changed for the better in the past decade, society still conflates a woman’s fertility with her worth. “Even as a young girl, I always tied fertility [to being a woman],” Hatfield says. “I still felt that made you less of a woman [if you couldn’t carry a child].” But she went through an emotional transformation and moved forward. Once she and her husband chose to go with a surrogate, Hatfield became determined and left any negativity in the past.

It all worked out for the best. “We had such a positive experience,” Hatfield says. “We still have a fantastic relationship with our surrogate.” She and her husband went to every major appointment, and stayed in a hotel close to the hospital to be present for the birth, which was in Tennessee.

When Hatfield’s daughter grows up, she’ll know all about her birth story. “We’ve been very open from the very beginning,” she says. “She still visits with our surrogate. She is going to know all along. It’s such a unique and amazing part of her story.”

Hatfield is outspoken about her surrogacy experience in her community. She’s not shy about sharing her experience to challenge stigma; she even posted a video about her surrogacy on Facebook when she found out her surrogate was pregnant. Even her mother, who was originally skeptical, came around.

For Hatfield, the drive to help others find surrogates and become parents via surrogacy is strong now that she has gone through it herself. She is part of “a matching group for people who want to donate embryos,” and is often struck by the singularity to every intended parent’s experience. It’s beautiful, she says: “Even though everyone’s going through the same process, the stories are so unique.”

The Fathers Who Discussed Surrogacy The Night They Met

Courtesy of Stuart Bell

Stuart Bell is the senior partner at Growing Generations, a full-service surrogacy and egg donor agency based in California. He and his husband, Allen, have an 11-year-old son by surrogate. “I have known for a long time that I would do this,” Bell says. “When I met my husband 16 years ago, we were talking about kids the first night. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I want to be a biological dad.’”

“Our surrogate was so special to us,” Bell says. “We don’t talk every day, but she’s someone we will always love and care about. I was just texting with her last month.” But everyone’s experience is different. Gay couples generally look at surrogacy with gratitude and excitement, and straight couples have usually “been down such a tough road” before opting for surrogacy, which can make the process more difficult, Bell says.

The good news is that the general public view on surrogacy has shifted. “I have seen that change as things become more accepted,” Bell says. “We don’t deal with as much disappointment. It’s not embarrassing. You’ve got all of these people who have been public about it. Angela Bassett was [open about] her surrogacy.” Bell adds that he was surprised to discover recently, while reading Becoming, that Michelle and Barack Obama used IVF for both of their daughters. “They had a miscarriage, did IVF, and had their daughters,” Bell says. “People need to see it’s not something to be ashamed of.”

Bell’s son knows all about his gestation and birth. “He knows everything. There are no secrets,” Bell says. He and his husband tell their son, “You can tell everybody you want. It’s also OK if you want to keep it private; you don’t have to share.” So far, their son has “had very little interest” one way or another. “We did 23andMe a year ago,” he says. “He wanted to. He wanted to see all the different pieces and parts. It was fun to do that as a family.” Besides, what with the internet and social media, “I always tell people there are no secrets in this day and age,” Bell says.

It’s not all smooth sailing just yet. “We still have a ways to go on certain kinds of families,” Bell says. “We work with HIV-impacted families where it’s completely safe, there’s a medical process, but most of our surrogates are not willing to work with them.” Even with as far as we’ve come as a society in some ways, Bell says there’s still a stigma surrounding HIV. He’s is optimistic about all of the leaps and bounds the surrogacy process has had thus far, but he hopes for more change in this regard in the not-so-distant future.

The Emotional Implication Of Surrogacy In The Modern World

Adrienne Black is the agency director of Heart to Hands Surrogacy in Oregon, gave birth to two children of her own, and has been a surrogate four times for three different families. She has a unique perspective on both sides of surrogacy, and she says it can be a real emotional journey. “The different components of surrogacy — the emotional pieces — are really complicated,” Black tells Bustle. A family’s background often dictates their experience. If they’ve been through trauma trying to get pregnant, trust and a feeling of safety can be hard to establish.

Not so for those who were always planning to have children via surrogate. “The families who come to us who always knew they could never have a child without some assistance don’t have that trauma,” Black says. “For them, the experience is quite different.” If trauma isn’t part of their history, “the darkness is not the same,” she says. For those families, fears attach more to questions of health and pregnancy. "[For everyone], “the vulnerability is universal,” Black says. “The need to control things to some degree is also universal.”

Plus, your relationship is on the line. Another person is part of your relationship for a solid year and a half, which can trigger fears about one’s worthiness, and about one’s partner emotionally bonding with the surrogate, Black says.

No matter what the background, there’s no such thing as an easy-breezy surrogacy story, Black says. “I do not just see an uncomplicated set of emotions,” she says. “I see a whole gamut. Of course, they’re elated, but even more than that, there’s a sense of — it’s not quite real until that baby’s in their arms. It’s hard to surrender to elation and happiness until they’re there. Buying those first few onesies is almost a dare: ‘OK, I’m going to surrender to this, and I dare you to screw it up for me.’”

Black says people can still be nervous about broadcasting their surrogacy stories. “We’ve had some bad experiences where people shared their experiences, and then it was construed in a way that didn’t feel truthful or honest,” she says. “People who go through surrogacy usually want to present the beauty of the experience, and when it’s shared in a sensationalist manner, it feels bad.”

For a long time, people weren't open about it, Black says. “In the past five years, there’s been such a push to talk about infertility that people are talking about it more. There are just as many intended parents who don’t want to talk about it because they want to respect their child’s role. By talking about it in public, they’re outing their child’s creation story.”

The openness to discuss surrogacy varies from country to country, Black says. “Within the U.S., I find that all of my intended parents have an intention to share their child’s creation story with them form a pretty early age,” she says. “There just doesn’t seem to be a taboo about that part.” This is generally not the case overseas. Black hasn’t seen the same acceptance internationally.

One of the most important — and often overlooked — elements of surrogacy is having sufficient mental health care provider for those involved, Black says. “A year and a half [all told] is a long time," Black says. "At some point, there will be a miscommunication or hurt feelings or something. Having a mental health care provider who can help navigate [is vital]."

No matter what the situation, it’s always a good idea to have some emotional backup when times get tough during the process, Black says. “[Surrogacy is] the most complex and vulnerable emotional situation that anyone can go into.” Like Halm said, it takes a lot of trust.