Faces of Choice
Stories of Women Who Faced an Impossible Decision Under Extreme Circumstances

Hannah’s Story, Part One*

Hannah’s Story, Part One*

*all names and identifying details have been changed to protect those interviewed.

Hannah was a 22, a recent college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and she needed a job.  The first several months after graduation were spent diligently looking for jobs, but it seemed that in order to do anything with her degree, she needed to go to graduate school.  Having just finished four rigorous years of studying, she wasn’t sure she wanted to do that, but she was quickly running out of options.  Her student loans would soon come due and her job waiting tables at the local pub wasn’t going to cut it.  Hannah resorted to calling her friends for advice or, at the very least, sympathy.

“Why don’t you offer to become a surrogate?”

“What?” Hannah couldn’t figure out what Susan was talking about.

“Come to California and sign up to be a surrogate mother.  There are tons of agencies looking for young, healthy women to carry pregnancies for couples who can’t have their own babies.  They are so desperate, they’ll pay your medical bills and even give you a place to live until the baby is born.  That’ll buy you nine months to find a job and a place to live and I’ll help you.”

The whole notion seemed absurd, but the more Hannah thought about it, the more it appealed to her.  She wasn’t opposed to being pregnant, she just didn’t want to raise a child at this point in her life.

Hannah headed to the University Library as soon as it opened the next morning.  As she spent hours reading everything she could dig up on surrogacy, she began to convince herself that this wasn’t such a crazy idea.

“I became certain that this would be a terrific thing to do for someone else.  What cooler gift would there be than to give someone a child of their own? And it would definitely buy me some time to decide what I wanted to do.”

Her next step was to contact an agency.  Hannah sent emails to several she found on the Internet to inquire about their policies and practices, and she began to get excited.  Within two days she had four phone calls, two from interested couples and two from attorneys who wanted to know how soon she could get to California.  Hannah instantly developed a rapport with one of the women over the phone and agreed to let the couple buy her a plane ticket so they could meet in person.

Hannah told her parents that she was going to visit a friend in California for a while before deciding where to settle permanently.  She wasn’t sure what to expect from this first meeting and was wary of opening up a serious discussion around something that might never happen.  A representative from the agency met her at the airport and escorted her to the expensive hotel room they had booked for her.

“I felt like a celebrity. It was so weird! The room was stocked with snacks and bottled water. I had this gorgeous view of the ocean and they kept asking me if there was anything else I needed.  Was I hungry or anything.”

A meeting was arranged for later that afternoon and Hannah was left on her own with a binder full of information.  The couple she was going to meet later just needed Hannah’s womb.  The wife had had her uterus removed during cancer treatment, but the couple had put aside their own fertilized eggs for the future.

Hannah’s medical expenses would be entirely covered by the agency and the couple was offering her their guest room for the duration of the pregnancy.  Hannah was required to undergo a thorough physical exam to ensure that she could carry a pregnancy to term.  In addition, she had to be willing to sign a contract stating that she would abstain from alcohol, drugs and other substances or practices that could potentially harm the baby.

“I was a little weirded out by the thought of living in their house. I didn’t want to feel like I was being monitored all the time, but honestly, they were super nice people and I was getting pretty seduced by the idea of being able to do something like this for someone else. They were so desperate to have their own baby and it was only a year of my life, right?”

The first meeting went well.  Peter and Anna were eager to get to know Hannah and seemed pleased that she wasn’t married and didn’t have children of her own.  Hannah empathized with Anna as they related the story of her cancer diagnosis and the painful treatment she had endured.  Making the decision to have her uterus removed was particularly agonizing, but by freezing their fertilized eggs, Anna felt hopeful that they might be able to have a baby together one day.  By the end of the day Hannah was won over.  She was determined to help this couple have their child.

The following week she spent a morning at the doctor’s office being tested for HIV, Hepatitis, TB and any other diseases that would preclude her from hosting the pregnancy.  Anna and Peter’s doctor performed an exhaustive review of Hannah’s medical history and by the end of the week she was beginning to understand what a lab rat must feel like.  It was at this point that she decided she had better fill her parents in.

“I called Mom because I figured Dad and I would both rather have the news get to him through her.  I didn’t want to have that awkward conversation with him, that’s for sure.  At first she was sure I was joking, but once I convinced her I wasn’t she just started asking questions.  By this time, I knew that I’d have a place to live and expenses paid plus they would pay me a fee to have the baby, so I tried to get her to understand that I was being rational about all of this.  I was envisioning being able to pay off my college loans with the money I made and then start looking for a job without that debt hanging over my head.  I don’t think she was thrilled, but Mom’s biggest concern was that I would get attached to the baby and not want to give it up.”

Hannah’s menstrual cycle was timed and Peter and Anna accompanied her to the clinic for the implantation of the fertilized eggs.  Within two weeks Hannah’s HCG level indicated that she was pregnant.

Hannah admitted feeling a little overwhelmed at the pace.  She had arranged for most of her things to be shipped to her parents’ house from her apartment and moved in with Peter and Anna.  Physically, she felt fine, but the energy it took to adjust to so many new experiences was staggering.  Anna was fiercely protective of the fetus, constantly checking to make sure Hannah was eating enough and not lifting anything heavy or exercising too rigorously.

“There’s this whole new language to learn.  IPs are the ‘intended parents,’ GS is ‘gestational surrogacy.’ There are negotiations for fees for maternity clothes, Peter and Anna invested in a life insurance policy for me.  I had to read up on what not to do and what to expect as my pregnancy progressed.  It was wild.”

Peter and Anna both worked full-time so within a few weeks, despite the multiple phone calls every day to check in on her, Hannah was bored.  She had few friends who lived in the area and no work to do other than nurturing her pregnancy, so she spent her days taking walks and reading.  She explored the idea of finding a part-time job, but Anna was afraid it would prove too much to work around various doctor appointments and it might pose a risk to the pregnancy.  Hannah’s mother called often to ask about her but with the exception of needing to take a nap every afternoon, she didn’t feel much different at all.

Peter and Anna asked Hannah to undergo an amniocentesis to determine the baby’s gender and rule out genetic anomalies.  She couldn’t understand why and, frankly, was tired of being poked and prodded.  She had proven she was healthy and strong, and Anna had only been 31 when they harvested her eggs, so what was the big deal?  Hannah put off the discussion for a few days until she couldn’t ignore the issue any longer. Anna came to Hannah one evening and confided that she had grown up with a brother who suffered from cystic fibrosis.  Watching him suffer physical ailments and emotional letdowns until he eventually died at the age of 14 had had a powerful effect on her.  Anna wanted to be certain their baby wouldn’t have to endure any similar difficulties.

Hannah agreed to the procedure.  By this time the baby had begun to move with slight flutter-kicks in her belly, and Hannah was curious whether it was a boy or a girl.  She wanted to be able to put some sort of physical characteristics with the sensations she was having.  As always, Peter and Anna accompanied her for the procedure, one which Hannah describes as “pretty damn uncomfortable.”

The three of them spent the weekend stroller shopping and placing bets on the baby’s gender.  Hannah thought it was a boy, Anna thought it was a girl, Peter wavered between the two.  They joked about the champagne they’d have in the delivery room and Hannah felt good being included in their anticipation. They had been told that the test could take up to two weeks, just long enough for everyone to put it out of their minds and go on with life.

Hannah was outside when the phone rang on a Wednesday afternoon.  Careful not to run over the rocky pathway, she opened the screen door just as the answering machine picked up and recorded a message from the doctor’s office.  The results of the amnio were in.  Hannah called Anna at work and they agreed to wait until all three of them were together to get the results.

They sat around the kitchen table at 4:30, the phone lying on the yellow tablecloth in the center.  Anna leaned in,

“You’re on speakerphone, Dr. Gibson. We’re on pins and needles here. Is it a boy or a girl?”

“You are having a son.”

Hannah and Peter whooped and gave each other high fives as Anna screwed her face into a mock-pout.  She had lost the bet.

“I’m glad you’re excited. Please let me go over the rest of the results.”

The rest of this story will be available in the book when it is released. Like our Facebook page to get updates on the publishing process!

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