Your Pregnancy Matters

What's it like to be a gestational carrier? Nicky's story

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Nicky Haynes, center, is a first-time gestational carrier who was matched with a married couple from Dallas, Martin, left, and Jessie. Martin Hechanova is an Ob/Gyn specialist at UT Southwestern.

On the path to parenthood, surrogacy is becoming an increasingly popular option for those who can't carry their own pregnancy.

In the U.S., the number of embryo transfer procedures using assisted reproductive technology and gestational surrogates nearly tripled in eight years, from 1,957 in 2007 to 5,521 in 2016.

In these cases, the intended parents – the couple who wants a baby – work with a fertility specialist to combine their own (or donated) eggs and sperm to create an embryo. In Texas, intended parents cannot use their gestational carrier’s (GC's) eggs to create the embryo. The embryo is then transferred to the uterus of their GC, who carries the pregnancy and gives birth to the intended parents' baby.

So, what might motivate a woman to go through the physical and emotional rigors of pregnancy for another couple? GCs have shared many reasons with us over the years.

Some women enjoy being pregnant but don't want to raise more children of their own. Others may want to provide for their family with the financial compensation surrogacy can provide. In Texas, first-time gestational carriers of a single-baby pregnancy are compensated on average between $25,000 and $50,000. Sometimes it’s more, depending on the agency they use, where they live, insurance arrangements, and various other support factors such as allowances for maternity clothes.

Nicky Haynes says becoming a gestational surrogate feels like her life's mission. She finds joy in being the mother of two young daughters and wants to help hopeful parents achieve that gift for themselves. Nicky is in the third trimester of her first surrogate pregnancy. She was kind enough to discuss her journey so far and offer tips for people who are considering working with a GC.

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My first gestational carrier pregnancy

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"Becoming a gestational carrier feels like my calling," says Nicky Haynes, who has been documenting her surrogacy journey with photos such as this one.

By Nicky Haynes

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, my husband and I were nestled on the couch when we felt her move for the first time. I clearly remember telling him in that moment, “I have to do this for other people.”

My own two pregnancies were blessedly easy, and I loved every minute of being pregnant. Now, at age 31, becoming a gestational carrier feels like my calling.

My husband and I made this decision together, and he has supported me every step of the way. We agreed that before I applied to become a GC we would be done having our own children. All GCs have their own opinions about this, but for me, it would feel strange to give birth for someone else and go back to having my own babies.

After we were sure we were done, the excitement began. I started looking for an agency to help with the process.

Related reading: What to expect when you’re expecting – via gestational surrogacy

Syncing up with an agency

The application to become a GC covers everything from health history and lifestyle to personal ethics preferences.

Some of the agency’s questions were easy to answer, such as whether I wanted to work with a local family. Yes – I wanted the intended parents to be as involved with the pregnancy as they wanted to be.

Others were more difficult, such as how I'd feel about terminating a pregnancy if the baby developed a medical condition. The GC's feelings should mesh with those of the intended parents.

I also had a range of screenings to determine whether I was healthy enough to reasonably expect to carry a pregnancy to term. I met with a psychologist to confirm I fully understood the emotional implications of my decision. My husband and I also attended individual and joint counseling sessions to determine whether the family was prepared to handle a surrogate pregnancy.

Once I was accepted as a gestational carrier, the process started to feel a bit like a dating service.

Getting matched up with the intended parents

The agency gave me profiles of intended parents seeking a gestational carrier, and I selected a few that seemed like a good fit. The agency shared my profile with them, too.

Via Zoom, I visited with the couples who wanted to meet me. Their agency coordinator and mine led the conversation. They asked enlightening questions that never would have occurred to me, including preferences about the intended parents' lifestyles and mine, as well as our prenatal and delivery expectations.

As a result, I was matched with a lovely couple in Dallas. The intended parents worked with their lawyer to draw up several contracts we all had to review and sign. The contracts were extensive, covering details such as how my prenatal and postnatal care would be covered, our rights as GC and intended parents, and preferences to which we all agreed.

Once the details were settled, I began in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Related reading: Preston's dads share 6 tips for parents who choose gestational surrogacy

What the pregnancy has been like so far

The intended parents chose not to attend my IVF appointments, but ever since I became pregnant they haven't missed a prenatal visit. I love seeing their faces light up whenever they hear their baby's heartbeat and see it moving via ultrasound.

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"When their baby kicks, I try to record the movement with my phone so (the intended parents) can see," says Nicky.

Helping people experience that joy is exactly why I became a GC.

In many ways, this pregnancy has been similar to carrying my own babies – I'm as comfortable as can be expected in the third trimester, and everything is going smoothly.

However, the differences are starkly apparent. For example, I’m less relaxed than when I was pregnant with my girls. Being a GC is the ultimate babysitting job – this is their bundle of joy, not mine! I feel that responsibility acutely. So, I’m far more cautious about what I eat, drink, and do.

One odd difference is that I haven't had intense food cravings this time around. With both girls, I craved ice cream and other treats my husband and I would share. I think he's a little disappointed – perhaps it really was him who wanted the snacks back then!

And then there are all the fun tasks leading up to delivery. This time, I won't be setting up a nursery or buying baby clothes – that excitement is for the parents to navigate.

When their baby kicks, I try to record the movement with my phone so they can see. I don't grab my husband's hand and hold it to my belly as I did with our girls. He still thinks it's cool to see it move, but also a little weird because the baby's not ours. It's exciting in a different way – we're thrilled to help the intended parents experience those special moments.

Planning for delivery during the pandemic

I’m in the third trimester now, and the baby is due in July. So, we are talking more about our plans for delivery and how COVID-19 might change our birth plans.

Coronavirus guidelines are in place in Labor and Delivery at William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, including limits on how many people can be in the delivery room. I had originally planned for my husband to be my support person during delivery, but I want the couple to be present for their son’s birth. So, we're playing it by ear. I feel pretty calm about it because this will be my third delivery.

Related reading: COVID-19 and pregnancy: Answers to 10 key patient questions

I feel fortunate to have matched with a great couple that has been married since 2018. [MO4] They started the process about 6 to 8 months prior to syncing up with me. The first step for us was finding the appropriate egg donor via an agency and fertility specialist here in Dallas.

After the process of egg retrieval and fertilization, they consulted with various surrogacy agencies who told them the "matching" process could take 6 months or more. We were fortunate to be matched within weeks of the start of their search, and I’m looking forward to delivering their baby.

Being a GC can be an amazing adventure. I encourage any woman who is considering it to thoroughly research the process. There are many things you and your family will need to understand before making the decision.

Take a Virtual Tour of Our Labor & Delivery Suites

Before your big day arrives, get a preview of the accommodations for new moms at UT Southwestern's Clements University Hospital. From the chef-prepared meals to the roomy, high-tech labor and delivery suites, we want to make sure that you, your baby, and your family have the opportunity to bond in a safe and soothing environment.

A few things I recommend for potential gestational carriers

Assemble your support system

It's a journey not everyone understands – without good support from family and friends, you risk feeling isolated or getting overwhelmed by the physical demands of pregnancy.

My husband has been a rock. He knows how important this experience is to me, and I couldn’t have done it without him. Early in the pregnancy, I'd come home exhausted from work (I'm a teacher) but determined to be fully present for my family. He recognized the struggle – this is his third go-round, too! – and encouraged me to rest while he cared for the kids and fixed dinner.

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Nicky Haynes: "Becoming a parent has been the most wonderful experience of my life, and I’m so grateful to be able to help another couple discover that joy."

I was fortunate that the agency I worked with had a Facebook page just for gestational carriers. The support from fellow surrogates is priceless. Veteran GCs share stories of what to expect and offer tips to us first-timers.

We share belly bump photos and stories. We vent about challenges such as IVF shots, morning sickness, and hormone fluctuations. Though I love being a GC, it's nice to have a sympathetic ear sometimes!

Work through an agency

Trying to navigate the legal and emotional process on your own is just too overwhelming. The agency we worked with has seen it all, and the experts there know how to screen, match, and prepare GCs and intended parents. A good agency makes the journey memorable and as stress-free as possible for everyone involved.

Talk to your children

Depending on their age and demeanor, your children might be excited, horrified, or ambivalent about the pregnancy. My daughters are 4 and 2, so we explained that a doctor was going to put a baby in mommy’s belly because another family who wants one can’t grow a baby on their own.

The 2-year-old couldn't care less. The 4-year-old had a few questions, but her biggest concern was that we for sure weren't bringing the baby home. When we told her we weren't, she said, "Good, because we already have a baby!"

Becoming a parent has been the most wonderful experience of my life, and I’m so grateful to be able to help another couple discover that joy. Every normal pregnancy challenge along the way has been worth it.

A few closing thoughts

Gestational carriers like Nicky volunteer nearly a year of their lives to help hopeful parents have a baby. The prenatal and delivery care for GCs requires a team approach.

Our Ob/Gyns and nurses work closely with GCs and intended parents to provide the safest, most inclusive experience we can. At the end of the day, our goal is a healthy GC and baby – and a new, happy family.

If you’re thinking about gestational surrogacy to become a parent, visit with an Ob/Gyn to discuss your conception and care options. Call 214-645-8300 or request an appointment online.

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