Embracing the Joys of Pregnancy After Loss: My Surrogacy Journey

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
I am the mother of a stillborn son whose life was cut short because my uterus ruptured. I consider myself “lucky,” which must sound absolutely crazy but it’s true. I’m lucky because when my uterus ruptured, I was a mere eight minutes away from a hospital where a doctor saved my life. I’m lucky because instead of doing what I was insisting on, and taking me to NYU Langone Hospital where I was supposed to deliver, my co-worker drove me to the nearest hospital. I could have died on the hour-long journey to NYU. 
In the hospital, I was told I couldn’t get pregnant anymore; if I did, my uterus might rupture again. In spite of this tragic experience, I still feel fortunate. Even though I ultimately chose to become a parent through surrogacy, I got to experience the physical joys of pregnancy and bonding with a baby growing inside my body. Many women choose surrogacy because they can’t carry their own child, due to health issues or other reasons. They’ll never know what it’s like to watch their belly grow. To feel a baby kick. To bond with another human growing inside of you. I know that those are amazing feelings and I consider myself blessed and fortunate to have felt them for 31 amazing weeks.
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After my uterus ruptured, surrogacy felt like my only choice. But it’s a complicated, emotional, and expensive undertaking. It’s an especially challenging process for those living in New York State because of an archaic law making paid gestational surrogacy illegal. (Currently, The Child Parent Security Act, a bill that would make gestational surrogacy legal in New York, is in front of the New York State Assembly.). 
As a New Yorker who went through two surrogacy journeys, I can attest to the fact that it’s an overwhelming experience made harder by having to secure services out-of-state. My husband and I went to Greenwich, CT for IVF (I went through several rounds), egg retrieval,  embryo creation, and transfers. We hired an agency, Circle Surrogacy in Boston, that matched us with surrogates (from Kentucky and Utah), helped us with legal agreements, and provided us with a care coordinator and social workers. 
For me, the biggest hurdle of surrogacy was putting trust in a complete stranger to do the most important thing in the world: care for my unborn baby for 10 months. The good news is, most surrogates are amazing, generous, and brave women who already have families of their own (and who love being pregnant) and want to help women like me to have their own children.
Trusting someone to carry your baby after loss takes the experience of pregnancy to a whole new level. It’s hard to celebrate the milestones —heartbeat, second trimester, 20-week ultrasound —when you’ve experienced a loss. During our first surrogacy journey, I was really nervous. I couldn’t help but bring my emotional baggage and anxiety into our pregnancy. I felt it wasn’t fair to our surrogate, who had two children of her own and had already experienced one beautiful surrogacy. I needed to pass the 31-week mark before I could believe that we may actually have a healthy baby.
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Tragically, we didn’t get to that mark. Our daughter was born via emergency c-section at 29 weeks and passed away two hours after she arrived due to an incurable heart condition. It was horrible for everyone involved. For my husband and me, and for our surrogate and her family — all they ever wanted to do was help us achieve our dreams of having a baby.
After that loss, I didn’t think I could do it again. But I’m fortunate to be blessed with a resilient spirit, a very encouraging husband, and an IVF and surrogacy benefit at my then-workplace. So with our families, our grief therapist, and our surrogacy agency forming a community of support around us, we started the process again. 
This time we were matched with a surrogate from Utah. I don’t think I could have gotten through our second surrogacy without the support of our grief therapist. My husband and I went religiously every two weeks. As we were contemplating our second surrogacy journey, the therapist gave us very good advice: “If you don’t celebrate the milestones, and at the end, you have a healthy baby, you’ll cheat yourself out of the joys of pregnancy. If you do celebrate the milestones and something happens, you’ll be just as devastated no matter if you were positive along the way or not. So, be kind to yourself on this journey and be positive about those milestones,” she said. We did that as best we could.
After 39 weeks and 6 days, Carolina Maria De Feo arrived. I wish we could have shared those first few hours and days with our family back in New York. I wish Carolina’s older sister, Marianna (my stepdaughter), didn’t have to meet her for the first time on FaceTime. But none of those things changed the fact that she was here — and alive — and healthy! A few hours after she was born, when we had Carolina to ourselves in our own room, my husband and I turned to each other and said: “I’m so glad we didn’t give up!” I have that same feeling every day as I watch our daughter grow — crawling, walking, talking, and saying “momma.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Lia De Feo.
Today, I’m advocating for legalizing surrogacy in New York State. I want it to be easier for others who cannot carry to be able to experience the pure joys of motherhood. Having to go out of state for fertility treatments and transfers is expensive — and nearly impossible for most working people. I had a supportive boss who encouraged me to, “do what you need to do.” But I know everyone isn’t as lucky. Some don’t feel comfortable disclosing to their employer what they’re going through. My boss also allowed me to take a week of maternity leave prior to our due date to be there for the arrival of our daughter. Many people miss the delivery of their baby because their child arrives early and they can’t get to the hospital, often in another state, in time. 
Passing the CPSA Act in New York to legalize surrogacy would make a very difficult process — and the lives of women who have already been through so much — a little bit easier. That’s a cause I can throw my full support behind.
Lia De Feo is the founder of Fly Bravely, a consultancy dedicated to de-stigmatizing infertility and raising awareness of infant loss.
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