When Crystal Reagan went to the hospital for her fourth delivery, she knew she wouldn't be returning to her home with a baby in her arms. But for Reagan, that wasn't what her pregnancy was about, not this time. This time around, the baby in her belly, the baby she'd talked to and loved, wasn't hers or her husband's. This time, Reagan was acting as a surrogate.
After being blessed with three beautiful children of her own, the Texas mom known around the Internet for her blog, Simply Being Mommy, had decided it was time to help another woman out there become a mother.
What makes a mother? It's not a simple question, nor are the answers simple. Not in 2014. Not 36 years after the first so-called test tube baby, Louise Brown, opened motherhood up to women who had long feared they could never become moms.
Nearly 7.3 million American couples experience infertility, but thanks to in vitro fertilization (IVF), hundreds of thousands of those couples become parents every year. And one of the growing paths to motherhood is third party reproduction, more commonly known as surrogacy. According to the statistics, the number of babies born to gestational surrogates grew 89 percent percent between 2004 and 2008.
So who are the women who are "renting" their wombs out to infertile couples? Why would a woman decide to carry another couple's child? With Mother's Day fast approaching, The Stir sat down with Crystal Reagan to talk about what it means to help another woman become a mom.
The Stir: What made you decide to become a surrogate?
Crystal Reagan: Over eight years ago, I was sitting in church listening to a woman share her struggle with infertility. I already had two children of my own and it hit me really hard. In those moments, listening to her talk, I leaned over to my husband and told him I wanted to be a surrogate. From there we talked and waited until the timing was right, which was seven years later.
How did you go about finding the family you were a surrogate for -- or how did they find you?
I researched surrogacy and decided to go with the help of a local agency here in Texas. I contacted the agency and made an appointment to learn more about their procedures. Eventually I decided to stick with them and filled out what seemed like tons of paperwork. I was required to do some testing to make sure I was healthy and didn't have any STDs or anything that could harm myself or the baby. I also had to do a mental evaluation to make sure I was stable.
From that point, my profile was put into a database and couples looking for a surrogate could view my profile. Once a couple was interested in me, I would receive a copy of their profile and I could decide if I wanted to pursue it. I met with four different couples for a two-way interview. I didn't feel a peace in my heart with the first three couples, but as soon as I met with the fourth couple, I knew they were the couple I wanted to help.
Pregnant at 17 weeksWhat was the conversation like with your husband?
Pretty simple actually. Like I mentioned earlier, I told him I wanted to do it, and he was fine with it. He was and is my biggest supporter. He knew what it meant to me to be able to be a surrogate, and he fully supported me and helped me along the way.
Did you tell your kids before or after making the decision?
We told our children after making the decision. At the time they were 4, 6, and 9.
How did you tell them?
We had a book about surrogacy [Surrogacy Helps Make a Family Grow] and we read it to them. After we were done, we let them know that we were going to be like the family in the story and help another couple make their own family.
Did you have any rules in mind when you decided to go for this?
I did. I wanted to help someone who had no other options. Meaning, it couldn't be a lady wanting a surrogate because she didn't want stretchmarks. It had to be a true need. I'm also pro-life, so I needed to find a couple who was also pro-life and would not ask me to terminate the pregnancy.
When you were connected with the couple, how did things work out -- did you sign a contract?
Yes, there was a contract. Many, many pages of stuff I really didn't understand. But thankfully I had an attorney to guide me through everything.
So you're pro-life -- were you able to put that in a contract to protect you and the baby? I know other moms worry about that kind of thing -- and understandably so! Is that something you could make sure of, or did you have to just trust these people that they were pro-life too?
Yes, I was able to put all my terms in the contract. They could not ask me to abort for any reason. I always had the option to abort if my life was in danger, but they couldn't make me.
How did you actually get pregnant (it's not your egg, right!)?
Right, it was not my egg. Because of the circumstances, she could not use her own eggs, so it was actually the egg of an egg donor. We had to do IVF to get pregnant. Once the egg donor's egg was fertilized with the sperm of the father, it was placed in a Petri dish to grow for five days. On the fifth day, they chose the strongest embryo and implanted just that one.
How involved or uninvolved was the couple with your pregnancy?
They were pretty involved. It was a little bit difficult since they lived in a different state, but they flew in for many of the appointments and we talked and emailed pretty regularly.
They made it to the hospital in time for the birth, so they were both in the room when their baby was born and the father was able to cut the cord.
What was it like carrying the baby and knowing this wasn't going to be like your own pregnancies where you'd get to take the baby home?
During the pregnancy it was easy. I knew my family was complete. I treated this pregnancy like my own pregnancies. Although I knew I wouldn't be taking the baby home with me, I wanted him to feel loved in utero. I didn't want to be so disconnected from the pregnancy for fear of what was ahead.
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I loved that baby, I sang to that baby, I rubbed his little limbs when he would push against my belly ... I treated him like he was my own. He needed to feel the love of a mother, so that is what I gave him until his own mother had the opportunity to do that.
What is your relationship like with the couple now?
We are still in contact and they send over occasional pictures and videos. I can't believe he is already a year old!
What made it all worth it in the end?
The feeling of accomplishment. I am the reason there is a little boy who has a mother and father that love him dearly. Without me, that mother and father would have been unable to have a son.
The moment in the hospital, as I was giving birth to their son, I glanced at them and I'll never forget their faces in that moment. I can only imagine the pain and heartache they endured in their struggle with infertility, but they knew that in that moment, in the hospital room, that their dream had finally come true.
Would you recommend that other moms do this?
This is a very hard question to answer because I do not feel like everyone can or should be a surrogate. However, if you feel it in your heart, I definitely think you should do your research to see if it would be a good choice for you.
What was your path to motherhood?
For more on Crystal's surrogacy journey, and photos of the little boy she helped bring into this world, visit her website.
Images via Crystal Reagan/Simply Being Mommy