The surrogate birth I recently photographed has yielded so many questions and emails! I’ve had many people ask me to share more of the actual story (and accompanying pictures) than has already been shared both on my Facebook page and on Birth Without Fear. Where possible I ask the mother to share her own words. I have tried writing birth stories before and I just can never do it justice! That was especially the case with this story, which has too many beautiful bits and pieces for me to forget! I will say though that this was an incredible experience for me, to see this family made whole through the patronage of “once a stranger”. It also was a good challenge for me, documenting all the small details of not one baby, but two baby’s births! Born on different days no less! I feel very blessed that I got to document those miraculous moments for the intended parents as well as the birth mom. Leticia and I met online first, I suppose, but later discovered our kids were in the same class at the same school. I made my bucket list known on my business page one day, and photographing a surrogate birth was of course on that list. So when she told me she was going to be a surrogate for a couple in Austria, and was very interested in gifting them birth photography, I was giddy. The stars had aligned and I know it was not a coincidence. I walked away from this entire experience feeling like the world had just become a better place.
“My journey began decades before I actually took the steps to make it a reality. I have always loved babies and after having my first born, I thought every woman should experience this kind of joy. I was blessed with four children of my own and always thought of giving back once my family was complete. Fast forward to the summer of 2013, several of us Doulas had the opportunity to work with a family who had welcomed two little ones via two surrogates. I immediately felt drawn to ask questions about how I could get started. I shared my excitement with my family and friends and everyone was super supportive. After researching agencies, I chose one that I felt I could connect with and would respect my birthy views. I created my profile with an emphasis on wanting a holistic pregnancy and birth and thought surely it would take a while to find a match. WRONG!! I received a profile very soon after from a family who was very interested in speaking with me. The IM (Intended Mother) wrote me a personal letter sharing their story and struggles and why she felt I would be a good fit for them. It instantly melted my heart and I looked no further!
With surrogacy being illegal in Austria, they had their embryos stored in a clinic in CA. I flew out to L.A. with two of my good friends who are also the Doulas that attended the birth. We agreed to transfer two with hopes that atleast one would take. A few weeks later, we had a confirmed pregnancy test and the ultrasound showed we had two little muffins baking!! I can still vividly recall the phone call to my IM telling her it was twins! She screamed with excitement and we both cried over the phone about the joy that we were about to embark on. Itʼs like telling someone they won the lottery, but with a feeling a million times better. Later I found out that they were having a special party on that day and had just finished praying for everything to work out. It makes the memory of that day even more touching.
In the months following, we established our relationship via weekly emails and Skype. I never felt disconnected to them and always felt supported. My pregnancy was pretty easy and uneventful which made things so much easier and less stressful. I made sure very early on to have a supportive birth team and created my village. I had regular chiropractic visits, acupuncture, the most supportive OB (and a male!), hired my doulas, an AMAZING birth photographer, a montrice and a midwife! Being a birth worker, you can never have too much support and I wanted to make sure this experience would be one that the parents would never forget and feel connected to. It was very important to me that even though I was the one going through the process, that the parents also feel each experience and emotion. I tried to imagine what I would be feeling if someone were carrying my babies and lived across the ocean. I made sure to send them my growing belly bump pictures and share each new milestone or movement. You never realize just how special listening to heartbeats are until you send those heartbeats to a mama whoʼs desire reaches far beyond anyoneʼs imagination. I can tear up just thinking about the emotion and gratitude she shared with me. I truly had the best pregnancy anyone could have and it was filled with so much love. I look back and think love is what grew them so big because I had zero cravings and eating was a chore from the beginning.
Our paths were finally able to cross and we met on December 3rd at my OB appt. It was really like something out of a movie scene where two people who have been waiting for so long to meet are running down the hallway towards each other. I of course was waddling, but itʼs still something you never forget. We both hugged and cried as she was finally able to see and meet the belly who carried her babies for the first time. My Doula was also there to capture this moment and there are not enough words to describe seeing a family full of so much love and compassion. Iʼm not used to being the center of attention and yet they constantly asked if there was anything they could do for me as if I was some sort of royalty. My only thought was of how honored I was to have been chosen to carry their babies and all I wanted was to help make their dreams come true. I had known for a while that I was carrying a boy and girl so when we met, I decided to ask them if they had names picked out. Up until then, they were known as “lil muffins” and I wanted to be able to start calling them by their names. My IM quickly responded “Yes” and then proceeded to ask if it was ok to give the baby girl my name as her middle name. Talk about water works!! I was in shock and disbelief! I never in a million years dreamed that would I be chosen to complete a family, let alone have my name be carried on through this precious lil muffin that I grew and loved inside me. Itʼs such a indescribable feeling.
The next few weeks came and went as we were able to spend family time together preparing for the arrival of their babies. I had purchased a birth tub to labor at home with and created my birth plan around spontaneously going into labor. Having never been pregnant with twins before I had no idea what to expect, but just knew it was going to be like the stories I heard of quick and easy deliveries with much smaller babies than my own. My own labors were long and I always pushed for at least an hour so I tried to prepare my birth team for this possibility and each time I would share this, I would get the same answer of “These babies are going to be much smaller and it will be easier” We all had to shift our thinking when I gained 20lbs of fluid in one week and therefore leaving my OB to suggest setting an induction date. I have to admit it was not easy for me to accept. As a Doula, I often encourage mamas to let their bodies do what they need to and if faced with an induction, try alternative methods. I was also not going to let my birth tub go to waste so I decided to have a pool party with my two younger ones and if even for a minute, I would feel like I got my use out of it. This special time in the pool helped me to be at peace about what was to come.
The big day finally came on December 22, 2014. I checked into Labor and Delivery with my oldest daughter by my side. I remember walking into the room and seeing the two warmers and two cribs and feeling completely supported in my desire to birth in the room instead of the OR. The charge nurse took my birth plan and made sure to provide and support all of my requests. I truly felt like a celebrity and yet they were amazing to everyone who was part of the birth. Once the induction had begun, I had some time to spend with the parents who were so nervous and excited at the same time. I can only imagine all of the emotions they were feeling waiting to welcome their precious lil muffins. They wanted to respect my privacy and said they would understand if I decided to not have them present when the babies were born. Of course I wanted them present and could not even think about not allowing them those unforgettable first moments. I had planned for a birth photographer to be a surprise for them so I couldnʼt wait for that moment to happen either. My labor was filled with all the intensity, love, support, laughter, patience, skill and guidance that every woman needs. I had a support team that included my husband, daughter, two doulas, a montrice and midwife and I needed every single person in there. They each had their unique gift that brought so much calm and love you could float on how much oxytocin filled the room. After twelve hours, it came time to push and the parents came back into the room to welcome the babies they had prayed and waited for to enter the world. As with my own, I pushed for a while before Livia made her entrance at 10:45PM weighing 7lbs 15oz 19in. We were able to do delayed cord clamping before my IM was able to cut the cord. She was finally able to meet her baby girl and hold her skin to skin as if time stood still. Immediately after Livia was delivered, her brother decided to have some fun with all the extra room and flipped breech. My OB and Midwife quickly did an external version to get him back head down. That was definitely one of the most intense feelings iʼve ever experienced, but it was done with such calm that I canʼt even explain. I went back to pushing and after a while I just knew he was going to be as big as one of my own. During that time, my OB was called to an emergency c-section so he told me to labor down until he came back. All I could think about at that point was thank goodness I have a patient doctor. Since we were waiting on baby boy to make his entrance, my IM brought Livia over so I could nurse her. We had previously discussed nursing the babies and I was more than excited at the opportunity to provide them with the best possible start. My OB finally came back and we started the pushing quest once again. I had no concept of time at this point, but I knew it had been a while. With several more pushes, Benedikt arrived on December 23, 2014 at 3:30AM weighing 9lbs 7oz 22in. They now had two birthdays!! We once again did delayed cord clamping before my IF was able to cut his cord. It was such a surreal and joyous moment to finally meet these two precious and beautiful babies. My IPʼs emotions were felt by everyone and I donʼt think there was a dry eye in the room. They were able to have their own special moment of skin to skin, each soaking up the joy that comes from meeting your baby for the first time.
As the days go by, I will always hold Livia and Benedikt in my heart. My journey was also their journey and it was my honor and pleasure to give their parents two healthy, beautiful and blessed little beings. There are some things you canʼt measure and this feeling of accomplishment is one of them. I cannot thank my support team and OB enough for such an incredible experience. I will forever be thankful for the opportunity to give back and would do it again for them in a heartbeat.”