By Blair Sullivan Cuje, founder of the gestational surrogacy agency, The Surrogacy Experience (TSE)
My childhood was spent in a seaside town in New Jersey, the youngest of four children of parents who are still in love today after 40+ years of marriage. Their daily actions always demonstrated the value of family, the satisfaction of mutual support and the importance of commitment. This upbringing laid the foundation for my desire to have a family of my own some day.
George and I have been together since we were juniors in high school—two kids who were fortunate enough to find each other early on because soon we were dealing with some very grown-up issues. From the age of 18 on, medical concerns influenced my life with increasing severity. I was eventually diagnosed with a rare condition that compromised my entire digestive system. Within 18 months, I had three major surgeries and was hospitalized for weeks on end. It was a challenging time for a young relationship but love tested is love enduring. George was an amazing source of support and encouragement.
The next decade was spent in survival mode: painful procedures, countless days in the hospital and slow recoveries. We were afraid; certainly we had questions that sometimes even the doctors couldn’t answer. As other organs started to deteriorate, I was poked, prodded, examined and tested. From the Mayo Clinic to the Cleveland Clinic to the finest physicians in the country, we searched for answers. Finally, a team of specialists in New York provided a more accurate diagnosis of my condition. After three more surgeries, they managed to put a stop to my downhill slide.
I felt better, but well enough to start a family? Over the years, George and I watched my siblings build their families and we shared in the joy of each new baby. I considered myself a second mother to seven nieces and nephews, but I wanted to be a "real" mom, too. It was unlikely I would ever conceive naturally, although the doctors thought I may be able to carry a child.
We consulted an In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) clinic where surrogacy was first introduced as an option. Quite frankly, the idea frightened me. Surrogacy was something I knew nothing about, had never remotely considered and didn’t think I needed. I had viable eggs and was still hopeful to carry my own child. We decided to go with IVF.
Implantation worked on the first try. We were elated to find out our dream was going to become a reality. While everyone was concerned that my health wouldn’t hold while carrying a child, I enjoyed a surprisingly easy pregnancy. Because of the high risk, I delivered by Cesarean section at eight months; Sophie was born on Oct. 23, 2006.
Our joy tumbled to fear as my health declined immediately after delivery. Sophie was placed into the NICU for precautionary reasons and by the end of the week I endured another major setback. After a few weeks recovering, Sophie and I were released from the hospital together. George and I experienced a joy that no crisis could diminish; we had our family at long last. Sophie was our little joy, and we were madly in love.
After some time passed, George and I discussed having another child. While we enjoyed Sophie immensely and felt incredibly grateful to have a healthy baby, George and I had always dreamed of a large family. Due to the complications that arose immediately after Sophie was born, my doctors told me that it was too risky for me to ever carry again. We would have to consider other options if we wanted to expand our family.
We considered adoption at first, but more and more I returned to the idea of surrogacy. We had so many questions! But not much information—not much from doctors, not much from the Internet. We did have some wonderful relatives who offered to carry for us, but it was all too overwhelming. We began to question if this was, after all, the right path for our family.
We had our first surrogacy consultation in November 2007. We simply wanted to gather as much information as we could and then take our time to decide if this was the best option for our family. At that time there wasn’t a lot of feedback available from other intended parents and I was very apprehensive. Months went by before I felt comfortable moving forward. We decided to take small steps for as long as it continued to feel right.
As George and I began the process of reviewing gestational carrier profiles, we thought we might never find the right person. It often felt like we were trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole. We decided to take a break from the process and put our profile on hold.
When we reactivated, Tina’s profile was the first we received. She lived in Wisconsin with a supportive husband and a 16-year-old son. After our conference call with Tina, it was clear we shared a strong connection and the same outlook on certain medical decisions. We waited anxiously for the results of the background check, home study, medical records review and psychological exam. We watched for red flags that never waved and finally got clearance to meet in person and move forward.
We transferred three of my eggs and one took! Since we had taken great care to find the right match for our family, the good news we received felt 100 percent right coming from Tina. We shared core values and agreed to let our personal relationship evolve naturally. One of the most exciting moments of the experience was flying to Wisconsin for the 20-week ultrasound. It was thrilling to come home and show Sophie a picture of our new little baby.
George, Sophie, my parents and I arrived in Wisconsin on the day before Tina delivered. It is impossible to describe the experience of watching another woman endure the pain of labor on your behalf. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that a woman who had been a virtual stranger to me only one year prior was willing to give George and me the most precious and personal gift anyone could ever hope for.
During the delivery, my mom and dad took Sophie to a water fountain in the hospital lobby. As she tossed her little penny, she whispered, "I wish for a baby sister." On Aug. 28, 2009, Chloe Cuje was born in perfect health. When Sophie came into the hospital room to meet her baby sister for the first time, the sheer joy and excitement on her face was something George and I will never forget. "My wish came true!" she yelled. All of us in the room that day knew exactly how she felt.
Though I was blessed with a wonderful outcome, there were many ways that I thought the experience could be made to be more personal both for intended parents and gestational carriers. I want to help erase some of the question marks and, for those who choose this path, I want to help them do so with confidence. Most people, like me, won’t know anyone who can offer knowledge and guidance in this area. TSE's goal is to offer that personal touch while guiding you along this exciting journey.
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