Worldwide Surrogacy Specialists
Stephani Pegg is a gestational surrogate with Worldwide Surrogacy. She completed her first surrogacy journey in 2020 and is currently planning a second journey—a sibling journey—with the same set of Intended Parents. This is her story, in her words.
It was around 2006 when it all began. I was chatting with Andy, a co-worker I was friendly with, but not especially close to, when he told me how his sister had recently had a baby for a gay couple.
“That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard!” I said. The conversation ended there, and while the concept stuck with me, I didn’t think much of it.
One day, months later, I got curious about surrogacy. I tried Googling it and it seemed like only people in California could reasonably do it (at least based on the one and only agency I could find that provided any additional info without me calling or applying). Again, my thinking about surrogacy fell by the wayside.
Life continued, and soon enough, I had three babies of my own—all boys, all “easy” pregnancies. (Let’s be honest, no one truly has easy pregnancies…some of us just have fewer symptoms and are better at dealing with them.) The main reason I consider my pregnancies “easy” is because I don’t get nauseous—there’s no such thing as morning sickness with me. On the other hand, I’ve never been pregnant with a girl and I’ve heard plenty of stories of people who were “never sick with my boy, but sick the ENTIRE pregnancy with my girl.” (That’s terrifying to me…nausea is not something I handle well, and luckily, almost literally nothing makes me nauseous.)
So, 2017 rolls around. It’s been two years since I had my last baby (who was already one more than we originally agreed on, so we were definitely NOT adding another kid to our family), and I imagine it was probably the hormones that got me looking up surrogacy again. I mentioned the idea vaguely to my husband, George, over the years, all with less-than-thrilled reactions: “That’s crazy. Why would you put yourself at risk for people you don’t even know?”
You know what we figured out over the 10 years we’d been married for at that point? We’re both slaves to my hormones. (Shh…that’s a touchy subject.)
Later that year, around Thanksgiving, I pushed the topic further: “This is something I want to do. This could be good for our family. I will get compensated. We could _______ (fill in the blank with an assortment of things we could do with some extra money). It’s something I really want to do.”
He thought about it for a while. I don’t remember what exactly flipped his decision, (usually it’s something mysterious I never learn about), but he said I should do it.
I applied with an agency we’ll call Baby Makers (name changed for confidentiality) and got started with all the prerequisites. Collecting all of my OBGYN records for all of my pregnancies going back to 2009 was quite the task. After that, I had to schedule a home inspection by someone from Baby Makers and complete my profile so that potential parents could check me out. The process felt like it took FOREVER, but really, it was only a couple of months.
Once I was cleared to be a surrogate, I was quickly given a couple to meet to see if we wanted to match. They were a gay Asian-Canadian couple who already had one baby through surrogacy and were looking to complete their family with one more—and they knew it was going to be a boy (WHEW!).
We decided to match, and that’s when the fun really began.
My husband and I flew out to Las Vegas for my medical screening where I managed to win over $1,000 on 3 spins of roulette. (Not pertinent to this story, but exciting, so I figured you would want to know.)
After my screening, I wasn’t immediately cleared because my uterine lining was a bit thinner than they liked. “Not a big deal,” they said. Apparently, many women who had used an IUD for several years were similar.
We started a medicated mock cycle to see if I could pass the test. Basically, I took fertility drugs as if I was going to go through with a transfer just to make sure my uterus did what they wanted…and guess what? It did! The monitoring clinic said everything looked beautiful. They were super excited for me because they thought I was heading to transfer in a couple of days, but unfortunately, it was a mock cycle so we needed to start all over again.
We quit the drugs and waited for my period to start…and waited. And waited. Apparently, my body didn’t understand what this “on drugs, off drugs” thing was all about.
Then they gave me drugs to make me have a period. The following cycle they sent me my drug protocol and all the drugs I would need, and it was WAY more than I had used in the mock cycle. I guess they figured a little did good, why not add a lot?
Well, my body was not cool with that idea. I proceeded to go through three medicated transfer cycles, getting more and more anxious each time. I finally started asking questions on Facebook and the rest of the surrogate community starts explaining natural cycles to me (basically, let my body do it the way it wants to). The lightbulb went on from there: “Of course that makes sense! I had three babies naturally myself with literally no wait time between deciding to get pregnant and becoming pregnant.”
This surrogacy thing was supposed to be easy peasy. I reached out to the clinic and brought up my brilliant natural cycle idea. What I didn’t know is that many times, if a cycle doesn’t work three times, the clinic recommends the Intended Parents (IPs) move onto a new surrogate.
Suddenly, my match ended. I felt dumped and wasn’t sure what would happen.
Baby Makers reached out to me and explained that because I was rejected by a couple or the clinic (I’m still not sure exactly which part was the issue), they could no longer match me with anyone except for IPs that were working with this ONE clinic in California.
I was to be put on a list to wait…and wait. And wait. Finally, Baby Makers calls me back and tells me that there are just too many surrogates on the waitlist (which I fondly refer to as “Reject Island”) and they were going to fire me as well.
I definitely thought that was it. It was super frustrating because, as previously mentioned, I’m pretty good at being pregnant…and getting pregnant. And getting pregnant. Remember that third kid we welcomed into the world after our previously planned family of four? Why couldn’t that clinic see that?
I started to feel like surrogates were seen as expendable vessels, only to be used if they were so-called “perfect” because the clinic wouldn’t want to hurt their success rates.
During my time at Baby Makers, I was added to a group chat of surrogates from Minnesota. We would ask each other questions and talk about things they wouldn’t necessarily want to discuss on Facebook. It turned out another person in that group had a similar experience to mine, and she introduced me to Worldwide Surrogacy Specialists.
I was hesitant to go through with all the emotional turmoil again, but I’m also a very determined person. I’m not a fan of being told I can’t do something that I think—scratch that, know—I’m capable of.
It’s the middle of 2019 at this point. I applied at Worldwide Surrogacy and things went way faster than at Baby Makers. I already had all my records in one place, which was handy. They conducted the screening incredibly efficiently, including the psychological evaluation with a licensed psychologist.
I don’t recall exactly how long it took to move onto being matched, but it must have been weeks as opposed to months.
I was matched again with a gay couple, this time from New York. They had never had a baby before and only wanted one. We didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl (“Ehhh, I can do this,” I thought. “It won’t be horrible.”). They were working with a fertility clinic in Connecticut and were going to be at my medical screening, so I was able to actually meet them in person. That was really nice. We hit it off well.
Funny enough, the doctor they were working with was one that many people had complained about on the surrogacy groups because he’s so blunt. Of course, my husband and I met him and thought he was hilarious.
During this screening, he found scar tissue in my uterus that the last doctor hadn’t seen, so I had to go home and have a hysteroscopy. (This involved being put under and having my uterus scraped.) Then, I got to do another saline sonogram (basically, they fill up your uterus with saline so they can see what it looks like) which I had already done twice for my previous screenings. That worked out successfully, so we were on to another mock cycle.
This new blunt/hilarious doctor knew about my issues at the last clinic and said that we would try a different kind of drug instead, again as a mock cycle. This time, I got to inject myself with estrogen rather than take it in pill form.
Guess what? Apparently, my body doesn’t like that either. I knew my stuff by now, though, and asked for a natural cycle. Basically, they agreed to check out my uterus the next month with no drugs and see what it looked like.
One month after a medicated cycle, it didn’t look great. That doctor didn’t bother waiting for a third try, he recommended the IPs dump me straight away—and they took his advice.
Here I am again, on Reject Island—but this time, unlike Baby Makers, Worldwide Surrogacy didn’t consider dumping me. They already had other clinics in mind and felt I could still be a good surrogate.
Part of my day-to-day job is arguing audit findings, so I’m used to presenting evidence and writing arguments for why something should be a certain way. I decided to take my next match and medical plan into my own hands.
I wrote a letter pointing out to the next doctor that I have records of having a successful mock cycle. That mock cycle used minimal drugs and I had not been on drugs the month prior. Previously, the clinics always had me on birth control so they could manipulate the exact timing of everything. (I mean, I get it…who wants to worry about working on a Sunday because my cycle decided that was when I should get pregnant?)
I did a new mock cycle on my own with my own OBGYN. She’d been cheering me on the entire process, telling me I would make an excellent surrogate and that she wasn’t sure why these doctors couldn’t see that. I did my mock cycle through her on my own, and voilà! I had a perfect lining.
I asked Worldwide Surrogacy to provide the next clinic with my letter explaining my story first, then the records for my two successful mock cycles, and only then all my other records—which they happily obliged.
I had the incredible luck of ending up with Dr. Thornton, who turned out to be absolutely amazing. He called me and was clearly moved by my determination. He told me I could be medically cleared at my own doctor rather than having to come to Connecticut again. (Not gonna lie…I had enjoyed these free trips all over the country until this point, but I was just excited to get this done quickly.)
I went to my OBGYN, got screened, and lo and behold, I was cleared without a mock cycle! This was super exciting because it hadn’t ever happened before.
So, now that there was a clinic willing to work with me and I was medically cleared, I was matched again, this time with a single man from the Canary Islands. He wanted to have (wait for it) …a girl.
Honestly, I’m not sure why I accepted that match. It didn’t feel right from the get-go…and he wanted me to be pregnant with a girl! (I joke about this way more than I probably should…it didn’t really affect my decision, but still!)
Every time I’d been matched until now, we spent a considerable amount of time getting legally cleared in the contract phase. Basically, a contract is written up and both me and the IPs work with separate attorneys to ensure that we are all well aware of all the pertinent details—and to make sure that there is absolutely no way, whatsoever, in any version of how this works where we end up with this baby. (I think my husband asked that question at least 42 different ways.)
The Intended Father from the Canary Islands must have had a tighter budget than the previous matches I had made and there were several sticking points. I happened to make a considerable salary at the time, which meant that for things like travel to the embryo transfer and maternity leave and any bed rest, the cost to simply replace my lost income was too much, so we ended our match before I got the chance to try a transfer.
Fast forward to the next phase of my surrogacy journey: We’re now rolling into 2020. We all remember how great that year was, right? Yeah, us too.
I told Worldwide that my next match needed to be unconcerned about money, for the most part. I knew I could be an amazing surrogate for someone, but I also couldn’t lose money doing it, so that figure for my income replacement couldn’t make the next IPs run for the hills.
That’s when George and I met with a gay British couple who had homes in London and Miami. They didn’t have an issue with my income level, which we made sure to discuss upfront. (By the way, that’s a weird conversation to have on your first “date.”)
Overall, we clicked and decided to match. They were also working with Dr. Thornton, so I was already medically cleared. We just needed to speed through legal clearance (my fourth time through this ringer) and we’d be ready to go!
Did I mention it’s 2020 at this point?
We got legal clearance right when the world shut down. Everyone was going to go on a two-week lockdown and then, we all thought, COVID would be eradicated, and the world would go back to normal, right? Wrong…very, very wrong.
Well, Dr. Thornton didn’t let this deter him. I had to take my minimal drugs for 2 weeks anyway so the timing of my travel would be right after the lockdown. On April 2nd, 2020, after several canceled flights and freakouts about possibly driving from Minnesota to Connecticut, George and I flew to Connecticut on an empty plane, with empty airports at both ends—and I mean literally empty. The airport we flew into in Connecticut (we picked a little out of the way one rather than fly into JFK where the virus was running rampant) literally did not have a single person in it.
Actually, we got abandoned at this abandoned airport. Our car rental place was closed even though we reserved a car in advance. We called an Uber to get to our hotel and had to hunt down a new rental car the next day. Food was difficult to find because restaurants all over were closed.
Regardless of our struggles, we managed to get ourselves to the clinic at noon on April 4th for my transfer. There were a few other surrogates in the waiting room with us. I was the very last transfer that day—and the last one for some time after that because that two-week lockdown turned into a much longer issue than anticipated.
I finally got to meet Dr. T in person for the first time, and he was just as fantastic in person. He was sensitive to my comfort and made sure I understood everything that was happening. He even measured my uterine lining so I could gloat about how great it was, being that all these other places didn’t believe I could do it.
With everything going wrong around us in the world, we did this transfer, and even though we weren’t supposed to, Dr. T and I hugged. We were both tearing up over what it took to get to that point.
It was done! Superstition says that I am supposed to eat McDonald’s french fries after my transfer. (No idea where that came from, but who am I to argue that I SHOULDN’T eat McDonald’s french fries?). Plus, dipping french fries in a McDonald’s ice cream cone is one of my favorite things ever, so I was excited for that. Unfortunately, for some reason, McDonald’s believed that soft serve was going to spread COVID so the machine was turned off.
Oh well…just one tiny, silly thing that went wrong surrounding one huge, amazing thing that went right.
Fun Fact: Did you know that surrogates in particular are especially addicted to peeing on sticks? I started taking pregnancy tests the next day. I had a bulk pack of them from Amazon and I was going to test every day until I saw that second pink line. I knew deep down that it was definitely going to come back positive, so just how soon was my only question. I never doubted this little nugget would stick.
Sure enough, on the fourth day, I started seeing things. Was that a second line I was looking at? It was super hard to see, so I started peeing on sticks a couple of times a day. Sure enough, as the days went by, the line got darker.
I was pregnant! How to tell the dads? A compilation video of all the pictures of our trials to get to the transfer put together by my 9-year-old seemed like a good idea.
It was a jaunty little thing. I ended the video cheersing with a champagne glass of ginger-ale. (I mean, I’m pregnant, so I don’t get to have the champagne—but funny enough, it turns out the dads are quite fond of the bubbly!)
We transferred one embryo, and the dads chose not to know which one of them created it, so we still don’t know whose baby it is biologically. (Can I say that this detail is something I especially love—and made me love the dads even more for it?) I asked them if they ended up knowing the gender and they told me they did. I asked them not to tell me to see if I could figure it out. It didn’t take long before my 4-year-old and I decided it was a boy. I couldn’t wait for the ultrasound (or, god forbid, the birth) to find out, so I asked after only a couple of weeks…and we were right!
Over the next several months, I did a whole lot of nothing, like most of the world in 2020. We didn’t get to go to all the museums and theme parks and restaurants that we typically did. In a way, it was nice I was pregnant because there are already so many things you can’t do pregnant. The fact that I spent most of quarantine pregnant and unable to do a lot of fun things anyway made it easier.
As 2020 was coming to an end, the dads were busy figuring out how they could get here and when. I was due December 20th and had previously had each of my babies a little earlier and a little faster—and by “a little,” I mean that my last baby was born less than two hours after my water broke.
Coming from England wasn’t a possibility because of the travel ban. One of them had work in Abu Dhabi, which worked out because he was allowed to travel here from there as long as he had been out of England for at least 2 weeks. The other had a wedding to attend in Mexico which also worked out well timewise because of travel allowances.
The plan was simple: They would come stay in Minnesota around the beginning of December to make sure they made it to the birth. We had already worked out with the hospital that they were going to allow both dads and my husband to be in the room for the delivery, which was a huge relief. I had seen several surrogates who had to pick a single person to be in the room with them.
On November 21st, my body decided not to cooperate as well as it had with previous pregnancies. My water had never broken outside of a hospital in the past, but this time, my water decided to break on its own…in my husband’s car (Sorry honey!) at the end of my 35th week of pregnancy.
35 weeks isn’t an ideal time for a baby to come into the world. It’s not the worst, but definitely not the best.
I was terrified I would deliver the baby wherever my water broke with how fast it went with my last one, but this time my water breaking didn’t induce labor. You can only stay pregnant for up to 24 hours after your water breaks though, so we headed to the hospital.
I wanted to make sure there wasn’t some way to stay pregnant and battled with whether to panic the dads yet. I mean, one was in Mexico and the other was in Abu Dhabi…not exactly a quick trip to Minnesota no matter how you look at it.
I ended up deciding to reach out before getting an update from the hospital because I was hoping at least the one in Mexico might make it in time. He scrambled to get a flight that day, but it just wasn’t happening. At least he was able to get one for the next day.
The doctors gave me drugs to start labor and started checking my cervix periodically. It was incredibly painful compared to what it had been like with any of my own babies because my body wasn’t ready to do this yet. They had to reach a lot further up that tunnel to figure out what they were dealing with—and then when they did, they got confused.
The nurse gave me a weird look and said she was going to have her charge nurse check.
So, the charge nurse checks. She, too, gives me a weird look and says she is going to have the doctor check.
The doctor checks, gives me a weird look, and says we’ll check it out again in a while.
Everyone is telling me his head is weird and they think he’s got his face pointing outward or something strange, but no one is sure what. Someone asked at that point if they should check with the ultrasound, but the doctor didn’t think it would make a difference.
A while later, I got to do that entire painful event again. Labor was speeding up by this point and all three of them were still confused, so they finally brought in the ultrasound.
Guess what his weird head issue was? His butt. They were all poking him in the butt.
Do you know what it means when the doctor can feel the baby’s butt when they do a cervix check? That means you get an emergency c-section.
I chose not to do twins primarily because I did not want to end up having a c-section. I’ve had an emergency appendectomy before and I did not want anyone cutting into my abdomen ever again, but you don’t get to try to spin a baby after your water has been broken for some time like mine was. There is no fluid left to turn the baby.
So, we went off to have a c-section.
There were several reasons why I wanted to become a surrogate. One superficial, but still prominent one was because I wanted to watch peoples’ faces when I said, “Oh this? (Pointing at my obviously pregnant belly.) It’s not mine.” I know, what a dumb reason to want to go through all that, right? I digress.
The other reason was that I wanted to watch the faces of new parents that I was able to give a baby to in the moment it happened.
I figured we would end up on Zoom while I was delivering the baby, but because I ended up in surgery, I just ended up staring at the ceiling while my husband documented the fun for them. Then, when he was being cleaned up on the table, my husband Zoomed with the new daddies and got to tell me about their reactions later. I wish I’d asked him to record it.
Little man showed up at exactly 36 weeks, so he was allowed to stay in our room. Remember the part of the contract where we discussed that this kid will in no way, ever, in any fashion end up ours? We did too, but I wasn’t about to make him go live in the nursery for his first hours of life.
He started out in our room and shortly after they gave him his first bottle of donor breastmilk, he was having breathing issues. He ended up going to stay in the NICU, where I spent a fair amount of time holding him until his dads could make it to him.
One dad made it by the following afternoon. Little man was born in the middle of the night, so he was around 12 hours old by then. I got to spend a lot of time with that dad and baby because I was still considered the second “parent” in the hospital’s eyes at that point.
As soon as his second dad showed up, I could no longer visit the baby because of COVID restrictions, so I didn’t get to spend as much with them time anymore. Suddenly, I was discharged heading home, feeling like a blob and unable to move well from surgery.
We had previously discussed me supplying breastmilk for them, which I was happy to do because it helped me get back in shape with my previous pregnancies. I had never exclusively pumped before, so I wasn’t sure how that would work out, but it ended up being easier to gain a milk supply than when I breastfed.
I slept on our couch for a month because I was waking up overnight to pump, and I couldn’t move well at first, so it all worked out. I got to continue visiting little man after he got out of the hospital a week later while the dads stayed in Minneapolis for the first month.
After that, the dads went to stay in Miami while they got little man a passport so they could finally move home as a family. My husband and I arranged to visit the dads in Miami before they planned to go home so we could use their condo after they left. The government took so long to get little man his passport that the dads ended up having to leave their condo for a week to let us stay there. Luckily, they love to travel, so they were all about bringing little man to Disney. (Honestly, I think it was really for one of the dads…you should have seen the look of pure joy on his face as Mickey and Minnie rolled past in a convertible.)
Finally, little man got a passport and the dads have headed back to London to introduce him to all the people that were dying to see this new little family over the past few months.
Little man needs a brother, (whew, not a sister!), so we are already in the process of getting the logistics of surrobaby #2 worked out. I look forward to our next journey!
My experience with surrogacy has been eventful and crazy. It was a ton of work to get to this point, primarily because my body just wants what it wants, but it was so worth it.
We’ve gained a second family throughout this process and they’re absolutely amazing. In retrospect, I am so thankful that all those matches failed because I never would have met this couple.
Overall, surrogacy is such a rewarding thing to do. It’s a truly unforgettable journey, and despite all of the hiccups we encountered along the way, I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world.
For my next journey, there is one thing above all else that I’m excited for: I’ll be able to go out in public more with my “It’s Not Mine” shirt.
Are you just as excited as Stephani about donning your own “It’s Not Mine” shirt one day? Or maybe you’re just interested in giving a family the gift of a lifetime? Take the brief pre-screen quiz to see if you qualify!