Produced by Jacquie Cosgrove
While the state of New York recently overturned a long-held ban on commercial surrogacy, and news about celebrities opting to have children through surrogates — Kim Kardashian, Andy Cohen, Gabrielle Union, Nicole Kidman, Jimmy Fallon and many more — continues at a reliable pace, it’s not often that we hear from paid surrogates themselves. Especially now, when the coronavirus pandemic has upended every aspect of life, and particularly those around parenting and pregnancy and childbirth.
But enter Chelsea Hernandez, 32, a Marine Corps wife, mother of two and prenatal home visitor with Head Start in San Diego, Calif., who is in the midst of her second journey as a gestational surrogate — meaning she is paid a fee (ranging wildly from about $10,000 to $50,000, depending on the agency) to carry to term a baby, genetically unrelated to her, for the “intended” parent or parents. And, unsurprisingly, she’s finding this time around to be much stranger and uncertain that the first.
“This is a weird time. I don't know any other word to use,” Hernandez, who shares details of her journey on her Instagram account, Their Joey My Pouch, and a blog of the same name, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It definitely feels different than the last one.”
It was about a month ago that coronavirus anxiety began to creep into the process — when Hernandez began hearing, through online surrogacy forums, that some cycles were being canceled, either by doctors or intended parents. She had a discussion with the intended parents, who live on the East Coast and who she had never met in person, about how they would no longer plan to fly to California to meet.
“I got kind of worried, to be honest,” she recalls. “I reached out to my intended mother like, ‘Do you think this is going to cancel our cycle? How do you feel about that?’” They all decided to go ahead and hope for the best. And so far, everything’s been a go. “Mine is actually one of the few clinics around that are still doing transfers and cycles during all of this,” she says. “They're just really taking extra precautions.”
Now, for example, Hernandez can only have one support person with her at appointments — such as at her most recent one, when she had the couple’s embryo (containing the intended mother’s egg and intended father’s sperm) transferred into her uterus. “My first transfer [for this couple, which was successful but quickly ended in a lost pregnancy] was handshakes, hugs, ‘good luck,’ and this time everyone's just like, air high fives,” she shares. “The clinic did their best to still be joyful and talkative, but I know that they're stressing out, too, because they're having to change their dynamics and how they treat their patients.”
Plus, she said, “This time we went ahead and transferred two embryos instead of one, like last time. These are their last two embryos, and because of the whole COVID-19, they're unable to make more …and who knows if we tried one and it didn't work, if I would be allowed to do a third attempt?”
As far as who will be allowed in the delivery room, only time will tell. Although typically, Hernandez explains, “it's up to the surrogate, because sometimes they're not quite comfortable with anyone other than family being in being in the delivery room.” During her first journey, when she carried for a single man, she says, “I wanted him there. I said, if you're comfortable, I want you to be there because you have to see your daughter!” Her husband and 9-year-old son were in the room then, too. “My husband was telling him, ‘Yeah, and you have to do skin-to-skin!’”
She has heard of some surrogacy journeys stopping cold because of the uncertainties that this pandemic brings. “I know it has some fearful, which I understand, because, to be honest, if I were wanting to have kids, I don't know if we would try,” she admits, “because you just don't know what's going to happen.”
But this journey is about meeting others’ needs, Hernandez explains. So how did she get to where she is now, as far as being a mellow, open-book of a surrogate? Her desire to help others have children is deep-seated, she explains, going back to middle school when she wrote a science report about “test-tube” babies, and a fascination on the topic stayed with her into adulthood, especially “as I got older and started being around family members and friends who struggle with infertility,” she says. “I wanted to help with that.”
First, she and her husband wanted to have their own children. “My almost-4-year-old, he sealed the deal,” she says. “Then, instead of getting my tubes tied, I got them completely removed.” (Despite the confusion on the part of many friends and acquaintances, yes, she can still be pregnant and carry a child, thanks to the combination of intrauterine insemination and her still-functioning uterus.)
She opted for an agency in Chula Vista, Calif., and had her profile matched with that of a single intended father in Los Angeles.
“You're matched with families who are like-minded,” Hernandez explains. “So, you're not going to be matched with a family who says they automatically want twins right away if you're not comfortable carrying twins.” She and the intended father met at a Starbucks, along with a mediator from the agency, and, she recalls, “We talked for well over two hours. We just kind of connected.”
They decided to work together, and things went smoothly. Hernandez recalls noting the differences between how she felt as a surrogate and how she felt when pregnant with her boys. “When I was pregnant with my own children, I had that feeling like, I can't wait to be a mom. I can't wait to do X, Y, Z with my child… With surrogacy, it’s more like, OK, let's make sure we have a healthy pregnancy. Let's make sure that this baby grows the way that it should, and … I wonder how he's going to react when he gets his daughter. Is he going to cry?”
Hernandez explains that she did not get attached to the baby she carried as a surrogate and that it was all about mindset. “Not getting attached, for me, was knowing from the beginning that this is not my child…I did connect — not as a mother would with a baby that they're carrying, but more like a teacher with the student or an aunt with a niece… or a caretaker for children. I was able to draw that line — you're just in my care temporarily. I'm just babysitting you for nine or so months. And then, when you're finished, you get to go to your father.”
The birth that first time went very well. “I had a vaginal birth,” she says. “My labors tend to be pretty, pretty easy, pretty uneventful.”
Afterward, she recalls, “I felt like I accomplished something greater than I could ever imagine. I didn't feel like, ‘Oh my God, she's being taken away from me.’ It was more, ‘Oh, she gets to go with her dad!’”
At the hospital, she recalls, a social worker kept checking on her emotional health, which, she said, was completely OK. “Not all surrogates are like that. There are some who do feel that loss. But fortunately for me, I was just happy seeing her with her dad. Like the look on his face and his mother's face. There was so much happiness and love in that room. It's something beyond anything I can explain.”
The new couple she’s working with tried for a long time to have a baby, she says, explaining, “I fell in love with them and their story and they're just really nice, friendly people.”
Now she’s hoping for a positive pregnancy blood test, normal pregnancy and birth, despite the complications of the coronavirus.
“I feel like people who want to have a baby should be able to have a baby,” Hernandez says of her decision to be a surrogate, even in these uncertain times. “You'll hear a lot of times people say, ‘Why? Why don't you just adopt?’ Well, I feel like if someone has a chance to have their own biological child, then why not?”
And while some intended parents will use a donor egg but their partner's sperm, or the other way around, it’s not always biologically the baby of both parents. “But people just want that experience,” she says. “And I just feel like for me to give that…it's just something that you can't explain. It's just, like, a rush — like, ‘Oh my God, like this is mine. I've been hoping and praying and wishing for years. And I finally get it.’ I feel like everyone should be able to experience that if they want to.”
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