Surrogacy: An Experience
by Talia Foster
So, I’m going to start with the punchline – 4 and a half years ago my family and I began the journey to become a surrogate for friends of ours.
With their blessing I’m going to spend the next few minutes telling you about some of my experiences.
And it is only MY experience; each of the players in our little adventure have their own story to tell and I can only speak for myself.
In putting together this talk, I was struggling with what bits of the journey to focus on – which parts do people find interesting. My confusion over this was further compounded by my own children’s utter bafflement over why anyone would want to hear me talk about the surrogacy; you see, to them, it’s not a big deal, it’s just something we did.
To gain further inspiration I looked back at the What’s App group the four of us had, my husband and I and our friends.
But obviously my story began before any such What’s App group existed. My story began with a phone call from my husband. He was away on a boys’ weekend and, to cut a long story short, the night before he’d had a fairly drunken conversation with our friend Jon. He recounted to me how Jon and Nicole were considering surrogacy, in India or America, and then he paused. “So, what do you think?” A heartbeat later I said, “Yeah. Let’s talk more when you’re home.” I won’t be so flippant as to say, and that was that, but…it kind of was. Two days later I phoned Jon, told him what we were thinking, told him not to say anything but to go home and talk to his wife, and get back to us. If it was a total no, then fine, but if it would be something they would consider, then come over, let’s chat. We did this for three or four Saturday night’s in a row, sharing food, wine and discussing every angle of a surrogacy we could imagine.
That was at the end of October 2015. Less than six weeks later, we were approved.
Once we’d committed to ‘giving it a go’ I knew there was something I had to do…tell my mum. I asked her (I thought, perfectly innocently) to pop over to mine. Apparently this isn’t something I usually do as she later admitted to me that she presumed I wanted to borrow money for building work to the house! The atmosphere was awkward from the moment she sat down, as she jokingly said, what…are you pregnant?! And I had to respond with, “Well, no, but I hope to be, but not with my baby…” She’d deny it now but she freaked out a bit. She was the first person I’d told and I learnt a lot from that experience, for example to lead with the fact that it wouldn’t genetically be mine. The poor woman thought I was about to give away half her grandchild – what self-respecting Jewish grandmother wouldn’t freak out a little at the news!
Anyway, she adjusted well (eventually) and was wonderfully supportive throughout.
I was fortunate that everything was done drug-free and on my natural cycle. It did lead to some brilliant exchanges on our What’s App group.
Me: I appear to be ovulating. I’ll test again in the morning to confirm and then I’ll call the clinic.
Nicole: How exciting!”…and another text I bet you never thought you’d be writing to anyone!!!
From my point of view I found the whole process so slow with so much to-ing and fro-ing; Jon and Nicole found this laughable – whilst we joined their journey at the end of 2015, they’d already been on the ‘fertility’ road for many long and painful years.
We got the date for the embryo transfer though in February – the day before I was due to fly to Israel with my mum and my three girls. It was a fairly strange holiday for me, not knowing yet if the embryo had taken.
This period obviously led to more activity on the What’s App group, everything from the fairly mundane:
Me: To caffeine or not to caffeine?
To the more unusual:
Me again: Also, just wondering what the plan is for Saturday. I was thinking it might be best for me to pee on the stick and then pass it to you (drips wiped off first, of course) and then you can tell us the results.
And the reply coming from Jon that up to three cups of tea is fine and he doesn’t have a favourite protocol with regard to pee stick D-day!
As I said at the start, this is a story that ends well. We were incredibly fortunate with how well everything went at every stage. We had our first scan mid-March and our 12 week scan mid-April.
For any of you wondering about my girls, it was at this point we told them. At the time they were 4, 6 and 9; and for anyone wondering how kids are going to cope with lockdown, going back to school and all the adjustments that that will mean, let me tell you something…kids rock! Kids are amazing, accepting, adaptable creatures. We sat them down and explained – we explained properly but we also explained how Nicole’s oven wasn’t working but they were going to give us their cake mixture and use my oven to cook it. And when the timer pings, and the cake is ready, we will give them their cake…because it is their cake (we felt it was important to stress this bit). They sat there for a second and then turned to us, big eyes shining…”Okay. Can we go and play now?” If you present things as normal, that’s how kids take it.
Telling the kids’ school was fun – arranging a meeting with all their teachers simultaneously – bless them, they presumed we were going to tell them that Nikki and I were separating, they were definitely not expecting us to tell them we were being surrogates.
But I needn’t have worried about people’s reactions – I was overwhelmed by everyone’s support, in Wolfson Hillel and in the wider community. It was incredible to me how many people have experience with, either directly or someone very close to them, fertility issues; one of the reasons Jon and Nicole were so enthusiastic for me to give this talk was that they believe that there should be more openness talking about fertility issues.
And so we went on.
Other highlights from the pregnancy include the phone call, after we’d all been in Oxford on the shul Shabbaton, from Rabbi Gary Wayland telling me one of his children had contracted the Slapped Cheek Virus and the baby could be in danger if I had been exposed.
And the phone call I had to make to Jon telling him I’d fractured my wrist…rollerskating. Don’t even ask – that definitely wasn’t my finest hour.
But all in all it went brilliantly; Jon dealt with it by constantly checking in on me (he’s a doctor, it’s in his blood) and Nicole dealt with it by making sure our freezer was always fully stocked with her homemade lamb kofkas and fishcakes. Top tip: If you’re considering doing this, do it for someone of Iraqui heritage that’s an amazing cook!
But let’s fast forward, as I have a strict time limit to keep to…
October 30th, only two weeks and a year since that fateful conversation Nikki had with Jon (one which Jon doesn’t even remember having though he says he thanks G_d every day he did); I’m sat on the couch with my family watching the results show of Strictly, labouring away but trying not to stress the kids out and also just wanting to see who was going out that week.
Twelve or so hours later, and Ruben was born. I won’t go into details, as this is after all a family show, so to speak, but let’s just say that if I was working under any illusion that as my fourth birth and, given what I was doing, HE might smile down on me and give me an easy birth, I was very, very much mistaken. But it didn’t matter. That moment when he was passed to Nicole made everything worthwhile.
Time is running out so to answer a few question you may have running around your head:
Yes, everyone was present at the birth
No, my husband didn’t care it was a boy – he wasn’t our baby
No, I felt absolutely no emotional attachment to him – again, he wasn’t our baby
Yes, we still see them regularly
And for those of you legally-minded, know that he was legally ours for the first sixth months, until we all had to present ourselves at Family Court.
I mentioned at the start how my children just see this as something we did. We moved house - we went to Thailand on holiday - we had someone else’s baby. And for a long time, that’s exactly how I felt. It’s only more recently that I look back and think – what was I thinking?! What did we do?! But I don’t regret it for a second and I give thanks every day that we were able to do this for our friends.
Thank you all for listening.