The woman who gave birth to my twin daughters is a lot of things, but she is not their mother.
She is the woman who carried my baby girls in her womb and nurtured them when I could not. She is incredibly generous, kind, thoughtful, caring, and compassionate beyond measure. She is a woman with whom I am intimately bonded through the experience of giving my daughters life. She is now a treasured friend.
But, she is not my daughters’ mother.
If you ask her, she’d say the same. If you ask that question of any gestational surrogate, you’d get the same answer.
Gestational surrogates are not the mothers of the babies they carry in their wombs; they are not the mothers of the children they give birth to for the sake of the intended parents. What they do is a unique act which creates a unique relationship.
A gestational surrogate does not have any genetic or biological connection to the pregnancy she carries. An embryo created by two other people is placed in her womb to be given a chance at life. Sometimes the embryo is biologically the child of the intended parents. Sometimes one or both of the intended parents are unable to contribute biologically, so an egg donor or sperm donor is required. Sometimes it takes a whole team of people to bring a life into this world and complete a family.
In my own case, my husband and I went through the process of creating embryos to be stored for our future when, three months before our wedding day, I was diagnosed with cancer and told the treatments which could cure me would likely render me infertile. I did not cry when I was told I had cancer. I did not cry when I was told of the surgeries, treatments, and procedures I would soon undergo. I did not cry when I was told I would lose my hair, feel nauseous, fatigued, and suffer from a slew of side effects. But I cried when the doctor told me that I would likely be infertile. Then, I cried.
Luckily, my oncologist took notice of my reaction and sent me to speak with a reproductive endocrinologist, right away. The fertility doctor suggested we do a somewhat rushed cycle to try to produce embryos to be cryopreserved for our future. We did. Our efforts resulted in eight precious embryos and a peace of mind for which I was immeasurably grateful.
After my cancer had been in remission for a year, my husband and I began talking to our doctors about starting our family. It took half of our cryopreserved embryos to result in my pregnancy with a single baby boy. He was born blue-faced but healthy. I, however, was severely hemorrhaging. I was bleeding out. Before I even had a chance to hold my baby boy, I was rushed to the O.R. for emergency surgery. A hysterectomy saved my life. While I rejoiced the fact that I survived, while I was grateful to have my son, I was lost in despair over the fact that I would never be able to give our remaining embryos a chance at life. The family my husband and I had always dreamed of seemed painfully impossible.
Enter Sarah. This woman did not know me. She had known other women who struggled like me and decided that she wanted to help. She read my plea and reached out to me, knowing we could not afford to go through a surrogacy agency, knowing that we were simply a regular family who needed help to give our remaining embryos a chance. Just a chance was all we wanted. The hope she granted was enough to lift me out of the despair I was struggling against. Our embryos would have a chance, thanks to her.
To be a gestational surrogate, a woman needs to be thoroughly committed to the process from start to finish. There are medical screenings, psychological screenings, background checks, doctors, lawyers, oh-so-much paperwork, countless appointments to keep, and medications in many forms (including much dreaded self-administered injections). Not to mention that, if successful, she then has all the symptoms and side effects of pregnancy and labor to bear.
Sarah endured it all, without complaint. She nurtured our baby girls in her womb until they were strong enough to be born. My husband and I were in the room as she pushed our daughters into the world.
Sarah gave our daughters life. But, she is not their mother. She is something unique and special. She deserves to be treasured and celebrated as such.
Our family needed a way to honor her. The girls’ birthday might seem like an obvious choice but, in our family, birthdays have always been about the person celebrating another year of life. Mother’s Day was not an appropriate fit, either. We determined that we should create our own day, especially for Sarah — Surrogate’s Day. We chose September 25 — the day that Sarah allowed for our embryos to be placed in her womb — because, though it had taken a great physical and emotional investment on her part to get to that day, that truly was the moment of truth, the point of no return. Her choice that day forever changed our lives. Thanks to her incredible compassion and generosity, our daughters were born, we have the family we always dreamed of. I have never since felt the pangs of disappointment or longing. We are complete.
Though we may not say it every day, not a single day goes by that we are not grateful for this tremendous gift.
So, though we are appreciative every single day, we celebrate Sarah and what she did for our family every year on Surrogate’s Day. Over the years, others within the surrogacy community have taken notice and the idea is beginning to spread. All gestational surrogates deserve to have their unique role honored. So, on September 25, Surrogate’s Day, we invite the world to join us in celebrating the incredible women who serve as gestational surrogates, who give life to family dreams.
Photos shared with Sarah's permission.
This piece originally appeared on Medium.