Surrogacy has always interested me, although when I think back to the time before I needed it to expand my family, I forget exactly why. In 2019, I remember getting a pedicure when I was pregnant with my first son, Luca, at a nail salon in Saint Louis. An episode of Friends was playing on the salon’s TV—the one where Phoebe was a surrogate for her brother. Like many thirtysomethings, I’m pretty sure I first learned about surrogacy through this episode when it aired in 1998. While getting my pedicure, I texted my best friend, Seda, who had never been pregnant before and half-jokingly asked her if she would be our surrogate for our next pregnancy (she said no).

I hated being pregnant—it was the worst experience of my life. I was constantly nauseous, and I literally had no life left in me. My pregnancy felt like every cell in my body was devoting itself to growing Luca, with nothing left for me. My husband and I agreed Luca would be an only child.

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Just when I thought my pregnancy couldn’t get any worse, it did. During my 24-week ultrasound, it turned out Luca was alarmingly small for his age and the placenta was not working properly. To make a long story short,  Luca was delivered via C-section at 25-weeks gestation but passed away after two weeks in the NICU.

Suddenly, surrogacy was looking like a real option.

The doctors told me the chances of that entire episode happening again were high. They advised me that for my next pregnancy, I start taking baby aspirin as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and then “cross my fingers” we would get to 32-weeks gestation. My husband and I didn’t like the idea of “crossing our fingers,” and that’s how we decided on surrogacy.

Surrogacy, to me at the time, was a distant concept, something only celebrities did. I’ve since learned surrogacy is quite common. I have learned so many other things, too, like how many agencies charge an insane amount of money for the services they provide, with very little explanation or accountability. (The average fee is $25,000, and a few charge more than $40,000—not including the surrogate’s average compensation of $35,000. Crazy, right?). Plus, surrogacy agencies aren’t regulated; literally, anyone can start a surrogacy agency.

On the other side of the coin is the fact that agencies do play an important role in finding and screening surrogates and in guiding both the surrogate and intended parents through the surrogacy process. So, yes, $25,000 is a lot of money, but my husband and I decided it would be worth it.

When I started my Instagram account (@thebiggestask) to document my surrogacy journey as an intended parent, I learned about Facebook matching groups, through which intended parents and surrogates try to save money by trying to match without an agency.

I learned matches really can happen on Facebook (and surromomsonline.com) and that many people are happy with their experiences. I had no idea these groups existed, but here we are.

I also learned how medical insurance works when you use a surrogate (spoiler alert to intended parents: your insurance won’t cover surrogacy), when and why you need lawyers, and how many people use surrogates (in 2019, almost 5% of embryo transfers involved a gestational carrier). I’ve taken everything I’ve learned and put it all together in an online course on my website www.thebiggestask.com so that anyone who is interested in surrogacy can learn about it for free.

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This wouldn’t be complete without including the surrogates themselves, whose generosity drives my passion for surrogacy. These women often go unnamed, and I don’t understand the norm of hiding surrogates’ identities. Why don’t we know the name of Kim Kardashian’s, Wes Anderson’s, or Sarah Jessica Parker’s surrogate? Everyone should celebrate these women who bring so much happiness and love to those who have hurt so much. That’s why during my surrogacy journey, I started a “Surrogate of the Week” post that highlighted these wonderful women.

These days, I’m home with baby Enzo, delivered by our surrogate, Jennifer, to whom my husband and I owe so much.

Enzo’s middle name is Jennifer’s last name; I want to make sure he always remembers who brought him into this world. There is nothing we could ever do to repay Jennifer for what she has done for us. No matter what happens between me and Jennifer, she will always be the woman who brought our son into this world. If that’s not something to be passionate about, I don’t know what is.

MaryJane Carnahan

MaryJane Carnahan is a professor in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her website, www.thebiggestask.com, offers a free surrogacy online class and other useful resources for anyone interested in gestational surrogacy. Her blog publishes articles written by other intended parents and gestational carriers about all topics related to surrogacy.