Gemma’s story

My name is Gemma and I was a surrogate for the first time, giving birth back in Feb 2018. I have two children of my own, a Son (7) and a daughter (3). I am married and back in 2015 I knew I had completed my family. I had for a long time desired to help someone struggling with either fertility issues or carrying a child but I didn’t know where this desire would take me.

I joined a support group that was primarily a meeting place for people new to the surrogacy world, both intended parents and surrogates. It was a place to research and gain advice in the processes and procedures with a variety of members from agencies and working independently. It was on this social network platform, that I met a lovely couple, Katie and Steve, who were unable to carry a child as it posed terminal health risks for Katie and they had previously lost a baby due to pregnancy complications.

We connected online straight away. Something just felt “right”. We met for coffee and exchanged stories of what had brought us to this point in life. We left one another and I remember sitting in my car and crying – I wanted to take away the pain, hurt and loss that they were feeling but obviously I couldn’t. However I knew that I could try and ease some of the pain and help their family become whole.

We officially matched, signed agreements and began the numerous health checks around Summer 2016. Both physically and emotionally, once we were given the all clear, we were able to go ahead at attempting surrogacy.

Fast forward to Sunday 4th February 2018, a heavily pregnant Gemma, overdue, large and fed up, took my son to Rugby training and when I returned I was suffering pains and blood loss. I was absolutely devastated and feared that something had happened to the baby. I was also concerned that the parents would have an accident in their rush to get to us as they were just over an hour away.

On arrival at the hospital, I was admitted for monitoring as there had been fresher blood, but the heartbeat was fine and all seemed intact downstairs. The following day (Monday 5th Feb) a Doctor attended to us and it was agreed to induce on medical grounds. I was ecstatic as the end was in sight and soon enough the parents would be able to hold their baby in their arms (and I would be able to sleep on my tummy again – oh the joys!)

My body had different ideas though! The gels administered on the Monday and again on the Tuesday proved futile and no amount of ball bouncing, walks or stair marching helped. Our initial excitement and apprehension eventually turned to restlessness and me sticking in my headphones and watching a TV series on my laptop.

I was really going through a range of emotions at this stage. The mild cramps eventually started to agitate me. I felt frustrated that I was somehow failing the family by the baby not coming (though I knew 100 percent they did not feel like this). It all just felt like I was stealing yet more time with their baby. Our minds are our own worst enemy at times!

The one positive thing with the delay was that we had time for a meeting with the hospital where we discussed their surrogacy procedure and what would happen post birth. I signed paper work to allow the parents to make all the key decisions (e.g. the hearing checks, and if baby required any emergency treatment post birth, as well as them being allowed to leave with baby). Finally we agreed following the birth the baby would go with them and I would go to a different ward to rest and await discharge.

Wednesday 7th Feb: The contractions were heating up at this point. The midwife came and checked me and it was (finally) agreed I had dilated to, I believe it was 3cm and they thought they may be able to break my waters, but we had to wait for a delivery room to be ready for us… The excitement kicked in again, strangely, all I wanted in that moment was a shower. I’m not sure if it was because I thought the warm water would soothe the contractions or if I just needed some calm before the storm.

The parents popped out on my request for snacks and were back in a shot. The contractions had racked up by this point, my best friend arrived not that I could speak to anyone. The contractions were coming thick and fast.

On our birth plan it was agreed I would have 3 birthing partners; Katie and Steve (the parents) and my closest friend. In the event of an emergency C-section either both parents were to be there or if only one was allowed, then Katie would be coming in. I wanted her to be as big a part of the birth as possible.

I kept asking to go to delivery. A midwife came to check me with an internal and Katie and Steve left the cubicle. A monitor was placed on my bump checking baby’s heart rate. I got ready for the midwife who began the exam, it started off slightly uncomfortable as I was contracting but then the pain was unreal, suddenly alarms started going an influx of people rushed to me, sides down and I was pushed passed the petrified faces of Katie and Steve – it turned out that the baby’s heartbeat had dropped suddenly.

I was pushed into theatre and was prepared for an emergency C-section. Whilst the anaesthetist explained things to me and a cannula was inserted, a scan was carried out and baby seemed relaxed again and heart rate returned. I was crying, I was scared for the couple and the baby. But the team reassured me and we agreed to attempt a natural birth.

I was wheeled out and into a delivery room by 10 pm. In the room we had myself, Katie, Steve, my friend, the midwife and a trainee midwife. My midwife was absolutely fantastic, in the heat of the most painful contractions she was calming and serene – counting with me, helping me breathe through the contractions – although I can’t say how pleased I was when the epidural was finally administered!!

Time to wait now… I look back and realise how lucky I was to have such supportive friends in Katie and Steve. They watched me in pain and I knew they would take it away in a heartbeat if they could, they gave comfort and love and even an inflatable hammer (don’t ask ha) and my friend Jo, no ask was too big or small; how that girl puts up with me I’ll never know!

At 11:15 it was time to push, Katie and Steve gave encouragement throughout, I wanted them to see their baby actually crown, so they stayed in the room and close enough to see their beautiful baby enter the world.

It’s true what they say, you really don’t think about who sees what at that particular moment in time in order for them to have that special moment. A beautiful baby girl was born at 11.26, passed straight to her mother for skin on skin and dad staring adoringly, we all cried. Relief, joy, happiness and love… other than the birth of my own two children – there has been no greater euphoric feeling in my life.

I had expressed colostrum for them previously in the weeks leading up to the birth… so while I delivered the placenta they fed and cuddled baby.

I didn’t wish to hold her that night just in case my hormones tried to play silly games with me. Instead I gave them space as a family, showered, went to bed; had a happy cry and went to sleep… on my tummy!

The following morning I went for my cuddle and to visit the new and complete happy family. I love them so much and I never ever expected my desire to help someone become a family could lead to such an incredible bond.

I was discharged once my checks were done and I went home to my children and we smiled for days. Life isn’t always bad sometimes just sometimes it surprises you.

Katie’s story

It’s a near impossible task to put into words our experience of our little daughter being brought into this world via our friend and surrogate, Gemma Cromwell, but I’m going to give it a go!!

I think the best way to describe the overwhelming feeling I got the moment I saw her head crowning, is to imagine a sudden, bright and all-consuming light is switched on and makes you realise in that instant that you’ve been living in a dark room all your life.

It really was an indescribable feeling that I’m sure came from the mixture of a million emotions we had all been feeling throughout the whole of our surrogacy journey. Gratitude, selflessness, awe, excitement and love were most definitely up there with the strongest emotions I was feeling, as well as a huge amount of fear and helplessness when Gemma was rushed into theatre when baby’s heartrate dropped. Fortunately, baby’s heartrate returned to normal and Gemma was spared of any surgery, thank God.

We had arrived in hospital on the Sunday after Gemma had experienced some bleeding, and were all understandably quite concerned. It may sound awful, but my only real focus at this point was Gemma, and not baby. I was so scared that something bad might happen to Gemma as a result of this unbelievably selfless and incredible thing she was putting her body through, just for our sake that I couldn’t focus on much else. A million things were going through my mind… would Gemma be ok? What would happen to her family if anything happened to her? How could I live with the guilt if anything happened to her body as a result of this? Was Gemma starting to regret doing this for us? But I needn’t have worried! After three more days of false alarms, bouncing on balls, inducing labour and consuming huge amounts of sweets and chocolate (!!) labour began! It was so surreal, we had all been waiting and planning for this moment for months and months from the minute Gemma had said she wanted to do this for us! I suppose my experience must have been something like what labour is for dads… I wanted so badly to help and do the right thing, but I was also worried I’d get it wrong and irritate Gemma at this crucial time. I can honestly say that throughout our surrogacy journey I felt as close to Gemma as I do to my own sister, and that really is saying something, as my sister and I are inseparable! As I watched her contractions get stronger and more painful I wanted so badly to take the pain away from her and go through it myself instead. My husband put his foot in it several times during the strong contractions saying things like ‘I’ll get a hammer to hit you with to take your mind off the pain’ and ‘don’t worry, the pain will go when the baby’s out’ !!!!!!! We laugh about this now, but not so useful at the time!

As I said before, the instant I started to see our baby’s head I felt like my whole world changed. I’ve wanted to be a mum for as long as I can remember and here I was, about to become one after so much heartache losing a baby three years previously, and being told I could never risk pregnancy again because of issues with my heart. Gemma had made this moment possible and I can never thank her enough for what she has done. Gemma, you’re our angel and we love you for making our dreams come true!!

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