Colleen Iversen shares her experience being a gestational surrogate

Colleen Iversen who spoke at the Paris 2011 Ethical Surrogacy Practices seminar, is a two-time gestational surrogate who carried two babies for a couple who suffers from severe infertility. As one of CT Fertility's staff, Colleen had witnessed the couple's many attempts to conceive and carry a baby to term, until she finally stepped up and offered to become the couple's surrogate herself. Similarly to many gestational surrogates she met in her role as a Surrogate Coordinator, Colleen had several easy pregnancies carrying her own children, and felt empathy towards this couple and a strong urge to help fulfill their dream of becoming parents. Aware that complications might arise, given the fact that they had struggled with infertility for several years, all were surprised that Colleen became pregnant with baby # 1 after the first implantation. However, it took several subsequent tries for Colleen to finally became pregnant with baby # 2. That said, Colleen views her experience being a gestational surrogate as a memorable one, one of the best things she's ever done in her life.

Colleen, was kind enough to answer some questions and share with us her experience:

Why did you decide to become a gestational surrogate?

I had been working at CT Fertility for many years as a Surrogate Coordinator and during that time I started developing a relationship with Samantha, a women who for years had been trying to get pregnant on her own, but to no avail. After multiple failed pregnancies with the help of our clinic, Samantha and her husband Mark decided to try using the assistance of a gestational surrogate. I was heartbroken to learn that this pregnancy also did not turn out well (the surrogate was carrying twins but she lost the first one at 14 weeks and the second one at 16 weeks). Having had three easy pregnancies and never being sick whilst pregnant, it was difficult for me to see the anguish that Samantha and Mark were experiencing. I called my husband that day and told him "your really going to think I'm crazy but in my heart I feel like I have to be their surrogate." I gave him literature to read about gestational surrogacy and after thinking it over he was won over! By that time we had already had three children (two boys and a girl) and had completed our family.

Describe your journey being a gestational surrogate.

Whilst I already knew Samantha and her husband Mark, the first thing we did (as we recommend in all cases) was to get the families together. My husband and kids met with Samantha and Mark for pizza so that everyone understood what was about to happen, and after passing my medical tests I signed a contract. I wasn't motivated by the monetary compensation at all, however, after discussing the challenges and demands of the process and implications on my body, we discussed an amount that worked well for me and for the intended parents. The day of the implantation they transferred two embryos. I became pregnant and ended up carrying a girl born at 39 weeks. Early on I had agreed in principle to also carry a second child for them, so we decided to start trying again six months later. Whilst I knew the couple had sever infertility issues, and they were not using an egg donor, I was fooled by the first easy pregnancy and thought it would be a smooth ride the second time around; this however turned out not being the case. We ended up having 6 failed cycles. By the fifth cycle we had gone through all of their embryos and on the 6th cycle (we used her fresh eggs) PGD testing determined that we didn't have many quality embryos to work with. The seventh cycle didn't look good either and frankly I didn't think I was going to get pregnant, however by some miracle this was the one that took and 33 weeks later I delivered a second baby girl!

Some consider paying women to be gestational surrogates as exploitation. What are your thoughts on the matter?

I did not view it as exploitative. While I personally did not want to be paid, I have to admit that if they hadn't paid me I think they would have felt terrible putting me through all those failed cycles, and would have given up prematurely. But if you think about it, the $500 I received per attempt was more of a symbolic gesture than anything else, something to acknowledge the time and effort involved with injecting myself with medication and hormones prior to the cycle.

How supportive was your family throughout these two surrogacy journeys?

My husband and kids were extremely supportive. I had initially explained to my kids that "Samantha's tummy was broken and couldn't have babies. My tummy was not broken so a doctor was going to place a baby in my tummy to grow and then I was going to give the baby back to Samantha." Henceforward, my kids would say to people that "Mommy is growing a baby for a friend." Believe me they got it! The whole family saw this experience as it helping out another family.

Would you describe your gestational surrogacy experience similar to what other women experience?

Having worked with many gestational surrogates I've come to realize that it is very common for them when coming across other women who are having difficulty bearing children to think, "hey I've had easy pregnancies, maybe I can help out in some way".

How do you see the entire experience looking back, and how involved are you in the life of Samantha and her family today?

When I first met Samantha and Mark they were two broken souls. Seeing them today as parents of two beautiful girls is amazing and knowing that I helped this happen is an amazing feeling! I speak with them every day and we see each other pretty often. They attended my girls' birthday party and we plan to visit them in Pittsburgh. Knowing them they will most likely share with their girls their birth story and tell them how one day Colleen came into their mommy and daddy's lives and helped them start a family.