I’m A Surrogate For My Best Friend — Here’s What It’s Like

As I type this, I’m seven months pregnant. This is my fourth pregnancy, but I’m not taking this baby home.
But let's go back to how it all started. I’d just offered to carry a baby as a surrogate to my dear friend Lisa — over text! — and my heart was racing. I didn’t tell my husband about it — not right away. Because I wasn’t sure if I could actually go through with it. Specifically, I didn’t know if my body could handle it. 
Three full-term pregnancies left me with two abdominal hernias and diastasis recti (ab separation). I’d had fairly major surgery a few years earlier to reunite my mid-section and insert mesh to prevent my stomach from escaping through my belly button. Vom. (I no longer even have a belly button — it was removed during surgery.)
But if there was one thing my surgeon was very clear about, it was the fact that I should have this surgery after my baby days were behind me. Knowing this, I’d just gone and promised my uterus to my friend. 
I’d offered to help her realise her dream of having a much-longed-for baby after she’s been trying to get pregnant for over six years. Lisa has been through 16 excruciating rounds of IVF. She’s had 16 implantations and 16 separate two-week waits, followed by that heartbreaking fertility clinic phone call saying, “Sorry, not this time” — after she’s exhausted so many different options and hit roadblocks and setbacks every step of the way.
And now, I’d just offered her a chance to parenthood. I’d given her hope — the most intoxicating and dangerous thing of all. And I wasn't even sure if pregnancy was even possible for me.
I quickly called my surgeon to find out. “What if, by chance, there was a situation where I wanted to be pregnant one more time?” I asked him. “Not for me, but because I want to be a surrogate for a friend?”
Yes, I could get pregnant, my surgeon reassured me. Phew. 
“Broadly, there are no risks to the baby,” he said. “But there are risks to you of some pain and discomfort, especially towards the end of the pregnancy. You could get another hernia or sustain some muscle damage — or you could be fine. It’s hard to know. But if this is something that’s important to you, we can put you back together afterwards.”
My heart was racing as he spoke. Holy shit. This could actually happen.
“Just pray you don’t get a big baby,” he slipped in before hanging up. “And no twins!”
After I hung up, excitement and nerves washed over me like a burst of confetti was showering down from above. That same feeling you get when you accept a job offer, move into a new home, decide to move to a different city, or agree to do some other massive life-changing thing. 

I adore the little guy already — it’s a boy — and I’m so protective of him and beyond excited to meet him. But I know that I’m not his mum.

I’ve always been interested in the idea of surrogacy because I’ve always felt like fertility can be so unfair. Other than having the message drummed into us NOT to get pregnant in our teens and 20s, coupled with the grim warning that our eggs start drying up at 35, fertility is such murky territory. I’ve had friends with unexplained infertility, which just seems awful — a problem with no clear solution, other than to keep trying, keep trying and then trying some more. 
I think pregnancy is miraculous (how does something grow from a teeny ball of cells into a complete person?!) and I’d discussed the idea of being a surrogate with my husband before, so it didn’t come out of the blue to him when we talked. Our experience of having a family had been so textbook and straightforward; actually, we’d won the fertility lottery. We decided we wanted a baby, started “trying”, and eight weeks later, I was pregnant with our eldest, Lila. The same thing happened with our second daughter Noa. And when we wanted a third, we got pregnant with our son Jesse within months as well. 
The only time we were touched by fertility issues was when I became pregnant in 2018 by surprise, and had a miscarriage at nine weeks. That experience — the profound loss, and grief, and counting how many weeks I ‘should’ have been and marking milestones that would never be — dropped me to my knees. The depths of despair I fell into over that baby and that loss were only matched by the guilt I felt for being so sad, when I had the privilege of being able to drown my sorrows in the cuddles of my three beautiful kids. 
Thinking of women who had faced that heartbreak again and again, without the “prize” of a baby at the end… well, that experience fuelled me to take a serious interest in being a surrogate. And that is, of course, the most common question I’ve been asked since sharing this news. 

“What made you want to be a surrogate?” 

It’s in fierce competition with “How are you going to hand the baby over?” as the most frequent question people fire at me.
I totally understand the curiosity. Surrogacy is a bit of a black hole of information in Australia because it’s not commercialised here — unlike, say, in the United States, where it’s a thriving (and some might say slightly sinister) industry. There are money-hungry vendors willing to take their clip of the ticket every step of the way in some countries. My friend shared that they paid $35,000 to have their twin babies born via surrogate in the US, and that wasn’t including all the legal fees, IVF and travel expenses. 
In Australia, you can only be a surrogate for altruistic reasons, which means there can’t be any payment involved. For my pregnancy, Lisa covers every single medical bill and pregnancy-related expense, down to the vitamins my obstetrician prescribes and the compression belly band I’ve been wearing in the third trimester. Overall, it’s a relatively expensive undertaking for the intended parents, as each round of IVF costs around $8,000 to $12,000, on top of other medical procedures, tests and legal fees.

I will be the most devoted aunty in existence and my kids can’t wait to meet their “cousin”, but I’m totally clear that this part of the journey comes to an end once he’s born.

With so much complexity, it’s perhaps no surprise that there are only around 100 babies born via surrogate in Australia each year. Less than two per week! That statistic is a little bit heartbreaking when you consider how many families could benefit from this arrangement, and it's such an incredible honour to be the last piece of the puzzle that helps Lisa and Stevan finally get their much-longed-for baby. 
This pregnancy has been so different to my previous ones, for a few reasons: physically, because I’m older, I’ve been much more tired and I’ve had way less energy than when I was pregnant at 30! And emotionally, it’s a whole different ball game. I adore the little guy already — it’s a boy — and I’m so protective of him and beyond excited to meet him. But I know that I’m not his mum. I’m not thinking ahead to the milestones, like how old he’ll be for his first Christmas, or what season we’ll be in for his 1st birthday; I’m not looking at the logistics of next year’s family holiday and calculating the best time to travel with an infant. I will be the most devoted aunty in existence and my kids can’t wait to meet their “cousin”, but I’m totally clear that this part of the journey comes to an end once he’s born.
On the topic of his birth, let’s revisit that other question I hear quite a lot: how am I going to feel, handing the baby over? For me, this won’t be an issue, because there will be no "handover". He’ll be born and the obstetrician will hand him straight to his parents. After an almost eight-year journey to bring her baby earth-side, I think Lisa has well and truly earned the right to be the very first person to meet him.  
If you or anyone you know has experienced the loss of a child and is in need of support, please reach out to The Pink Elephants Support Network or call the Red Nose Grief and Loss hotline on 1300 308 307.
Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here.

More from Relationships