Monday, July 22, 2013

Surrogacy Together

Last week I was asked to photograph an event in Seattle for a surrogacy campaign put on by Surrogacy Together. A dear FBF (Facebook Friend) of mine was touring around the world doing a photo campaign to bring more awareness to surrogacy. Anyone who had any connection to surrogacy, was invited to participate. People were invited to write on the white board, what surrogacy meant to them. As a surrogate, I was thrilled to attend and of course, work the event as a photographer. Double bonus!  

I was able to meet my FBF, Jon, and his wife, Christy. I also met their daughter, Austin, who was born through gestational surrogacy. Meeting Austin was a first for me, as my nephews are the only two people I have ever met who were born through surrogacy. She stole my heart.

Jon and Christy's current campaign has been giving surrogacy a voice that it has not had before. Together, they are asking all those involved with surrogacy to speak up and tell their story.  Jon writes a compelling blog here about why he fought to have his daughter and why he is fighting for her still, and why all of us, together, can make a difference. Truly this is a must read.

Being an advocate for surrogacy myself, I found it easy to connect to this campaign. At first, surrogacy for me, was about doing an act of love for my brother and sister in law.  An opportunity to give, because I could. A chance to bring life into this world and love. As I became more involved with the surrogacy community, my ideas and knowledge of surrogacy evolved rapidly and still are to this day. Although I still believe it is an act of love, I believe what happens AFTER surrogacy is just as important as what happens before and during.  Without these voices that came before us, none of us, involved with surrogacy, would be standing here today.  Surrogacy is not 100% accepted in society, and in fact is still illegal in other countries and even some states here in the U.S.  Without our voices to continue to stand up for surrogacy, other people won't have the same opportunities. Acceptance for surrogacy is key here, and the more voices, the merrier.  

When it came my turn to write on the board, what surrogacy meant to me, I was stumped! I had so much to say (per usual). How do you put in a sentence or two what something so life changing means to you? I decided on two photos.  One that showed how much I changed from it, and one that showed the unsung truth. I feel I get a lot of praise for what I did. Praise is lovely, but that is not why I did it and I am not the one who deserves it the most. So many of us came together to make this happen. On my end, it was my little pod that made it possible for me; my husband, and my two sons.  

Some of these photos may appear in the first Magazine dedicated to Surrogacy that is coming out on August 24th. I am being interviewed for the magazine, so keep your eyes peeled. I will let you know when it's published.

Also, I have only met one other surrogate in real life ( read the story here ) and so meeting other surrogates was really special for me. I belong to an amazing group of surrogates online, we are surro sisters and they are like family to me.   Meeting other surrogates last week was actually magical to me! It was like seeing a unicorn. I know that sounds silly, but I am just so overwhelmed by women who do surrogacy.  Even though I went through it, I don't always feel like I was a surrogate. It went by so fast now that I look back. I am not sure if this even makes sense, but there is something so special about these women, that you just want to sit and soak up their energy.  It was really nice being with them and I want to sit and gab with them forever! Which of course, is no surprise there. Here are a couple favorites from the day:

Jon's campaign is still going. Follow updates on their Facebook Page. Surrogacy Together is also hosting their Inaugural Salute to Surrogacy Celebration August 24th, 2013 in San Diego, California from 6-10pm. More details on the event page here

Oh, and here is what my oldest son wanted to say about surrogacy. Our littlest does not totally understand yet, but he is enthusiastic anyway!

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Stop And Read

The pictures you will see on today's blog are some very moving photos.  Feel free to skip the story and scroll straight to it, but I don't recommend it. :)  It's such a beautiful story and really makes these photos even more inspiring.  But I might be biased!  

 A few months back, I received an email from a mother, Jenn, who was expecting her own child via surrogacy. She needed a photographer to document some of the upcoming milestones, baby shower, maternity, birth, newborn.  I remember turning to my husband with an excitement I had never felt before! As many wonderful emails and stories that have come my way over the last two years since starting this journey, I have never met, in person, another surrogate or intended parent.  My heart was about to burst. One funny side note, Jenn contacted me because she loved my photos, she had no idea that I was also a surrogate. Before I could respond to her email, she had written again telling me she just realized I was a surrogate and that she was a follower of my story already!  It was destiny!  

When I first met Jenn (IM/Intended Mother) and Lauren (surrogate), I was smitten. I did not want to leave either of their sides. I over stayed my welcome, I am sure, and just sat by them.  As the birth drew closer, I began to get more and more excited. I love photographing births, but this one would be extra special.  Jenn was going to help deliver her own son, as Lauren pushed him out.  Teamwork from the beginning all the way until the birth.  

                              Lauren (Surrogate, pictured left) and Jenn, (IM, pictured right) the day I met them.

A little back story on how Jenn and Mark got to where they are today: Jenn and Mark have two sons already. Collin who is 8 years old, and Jack who is 4.   When Jenn got pregnant with Collin it was a surprise. She and Mark were in the process of starting an adoption when she found out she was pregnant. They had chosen adoption because Jenn had had unstable type 1 diabetes for 22 years. During the pregnancy her kidneys started to fail and so Collin wasn't growing. 

The doctors tried to get Jenn to terminate the pregnancy but Jenn knew Collin was a fighter and she continued on. He was born at 26 weeks weighing 1 pound 4 ounces. The doctors thought maybe Jenn's kidneys would come back after Collin was born but they didn't, so 5 weeks after Collin's first birthday she had a kidney and pancreas transplant. After the transplant Jenn went on the website and this is where she met Lauren. Jenn and Mark knew they wanted more children but didn't want to go through another life and death situation for mother and baby.

Lauren and Jenn talked off and on for a few months until Jenn's doctors told her it would be ok for her to get pregnant again since she now had new healthy organs. But in week 11 of the pregnancy Jenn's organs started to reject and again they were faced with a life and death for their baby. Again Jenn fought for her baby and won having Jack at 32 weeks. He was 4 pounds 6 ounces and she thought he was fat! As over the moon she was with her little family Jenn just knew it wasn't complete.

She continued to talk with Lauren and other surrogates on and pray about this big decision and eventually discovered that not only did Lauren live in Washington state, but she literally lived right around the corner from Jenn! It was an answer to prayer! They arranged to meet and not only did Jenn's heart connect with Lauren's, the boys bonded to Lauren's two kids. For the next 3 years Jenn and Lauren continued to talk about surrogacy but weren't sure it was going to happen with everything else going on in their lives. Lauren had another child of her own and Mark and Jenn moved, but their friendship grew and their love for one another and their families grew. 

Finally last May, Mark and Jenn knew they were ready and Jenn took a pregnancy basket over to Lauren to tell her they were finally ready. Though the pregnancy wasn't always an easy one, as Lauren had to be on bed rest for a number of weeks in the beginning due to a bleed and she went all the way to exactly 40 weeks when they thought she'd deliver earlier, Jenn felt like they went through the pregnancy together. Lauren might have been doing this FOR Jenn and Mark, but it felt like she walked side by side with her through every step of the way. It was a beautiful emotional time.

Although Jenn and Mark had considered adoption in the beginning and were huge advocates for adoption as they have a cousin that is adopted, after having their own children and getting to see one another in those children's faces and actions and personalities it seemed like surrogacy was the best option for them and their family.  Baby Will was due June 14th, 2013. 

I got the call ON baby Will's due date and rushed down trying not to speed (I drove six miles per hour over the speed limit, shhhh).  I arrived right as Lauren was getting her epidural in.  She has given birth three times before and has never had one.  Needless to say, she was enjoying the rest of the birth on a whole new level!   The room was full of people, Jenn and her husband, Mark.  Lauren (of course) and her husband Erik and their 8 year old daughter Jo Jo. Two nurses, myself and the spectacular earth angel midwife, Gretchen.  To me, it did not feel crowded at all, it felt like family, every one of them.   

When it came time to push, Gretchen and Jenn assumed the position. Gretchen lovingly guided Lauren as she began to push baby Will down.  Mark and I stayed hidden in the back corner, recording video and photographing and pretty sure holding our breath (at least I was!).  I could tell the baby was almost out because Jenn's face  morphed into this beautiful expression of love that I could never describe yet only able to recognize as love I have felt for my own children the first time I saw them.  Her face genuinely describes that feeling.   The photo of her helping deliver her son, gets me ever.single.time.

I still cannot believe I was able to witness such a beautiful miracle.  To me, a truly once in a lifetime chance to see and photograph a birth like this. I am so in with love my job, and the people that have continued to bless it with their presence and the stories and memories they share with me. 

                    Jenn (intended mother) holds her son, Will, a few days old. With her friend and surrogate, Lauren, that      
                                                                     carried Will for Jenn and her husband Mark.

The past two years have opened my heart to so many beautiful things in this world.  Surrogacy has not just changed me because I was a surrogate, but because of the community it brought me into and the ways it has opened my eyes and my heart (remember, I used to be anti IVF and Surrogacy!).  I invite everyone to look deeply into all the ways we build families these days and to rejoice in the love that is used to make these families.  Because the rest doesn't matter.  Just the love.  Just the love. 

  As always, I love reading your thoughts.  What did you feel when you saw these photos? How has surrogacy changed and affected you?  I would love to hear from you and thank you for stopping by.  

With love,

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Confessions of My Perfect Life

I wanted to do an adorable Valentine's Day post with these really cute photos of my boys, maybe some heart shaped balloons or some twinkle lights.  Maybe they had adorable matching shirts that said "Chick Magnents" with little chickies on them? The Pinterest photo ideas were endless!  Then I could blog about love, and say some really inspirational things about how love is so important on Valentine's Day and every day. And maybe even go off on a random tangent on how I have never liked Valentine's Day because you should not wait for a holiday to show someone you love them, but having kids made me love it again because all holidays are magical to them and bla bla bla and the post would be perfect and maybe even make someone tear up cause of the love talk ...  and then... and then.... it just never happened.   Homework happened, shopping for twin day at school happened, over splashing in the bathtub happened, syrup snuck into the bed and all over the pillows, sheets, comforter, toddler hair and walls happened, bills happened, too much time spent on the phone fighting the automative service robot ladies happened.  This week I missed my train, I burnt a new dinner idea (found on Pinterest, dang you you little rolled grilled cheese sandwiches you!), have not unpacked from my trip (hubby tripped over suitcase in middle of night when going to comfort little one who escaped from the bedroom running around the house crying), let my office explode with work and not tidy it up, and I didn't brush my teeth before bed last night GASP! The list does go on!

I'm an imperfect mom, imperfect daughter, imperfect wife, imperfect sister, imperfect friend, imperfect business owner, and even an imperfect blogger!   But I am leading a perfect life. Sometimes a feel a lot of pressure to appear perfect looking.  I feel my house always has to be in order, my looks, my kids, my life.  I feel with social media the way it is, we all have to be on display a certain way.  I feel like I want to impress total strangers so they think I am a good mom, a clean, organized put together person.  But why?  Why do some of us feel that way?  Where did that feeling come from?  Why do we need to impress so much. So today, I let go of that pressure like a fart in the wind and celebrate and confess who I am really am.  I encourage you to do the same.  Here are some confessions of my "perfect" life, don't be too jealous:

My dishes are perfectly not cleaned today.
My laundry is perfectly not folded today (and  slothily falling behind the washer and dryer and yes I made up that word).
My hair is perfectly a hot mess today.
My boys are perfectly fighting and annoying each other today.
My bills are perfectly overwhelming today.  
My heat in the house is perfectly set to  50 degrees, my fingers are perfectly frozen as I type this.
My car is perfectly not working or starting and leaking and most likely an animal is living in the door.
My tummy perfectly jiggles when I brush my teeth.

My life is not perfect, it will never be Pinterest perfect (although you know I am going to keep trying for Pinterest cute!) and I would not change a thing.   Okay, maybe get my hair done, and lose 20 lbs, no.. make that 40 lbs.  And invent calorie free wine. Oh and toilets that magically clean themselves, that would be lovely.  But other than THAT, I walk around with wings on my smiling heart, trying my very damn best not to take the really important and amazing things for granted.  It has not been easy, some really hard times have gone before me and will come again.  I must power through the best I can, and just keep swimming. Thank you for my perfectly imperfect life. To everyone who has contributed to it.  To my husband, my two sons, all my parents, my siblings, my in laws, my niece and my nephews, all of my family, my friends, my readers.  You have contributed to my awesome life.  I promise every breath I take during it, will be filled thank you beats from my heart.  

Speaking of hearts, here is a photo taken last night of my two hearts.   It was not the planned photo I imagined, I didn't get the cute outfits, the cute backdrop, the heart balloons.  But I ended up getting the heart from this photo, even better than what I originally wanted. I got my two boys, straight out of the bathtub in clean un matching jammies, being themselves and we didn't plan it.  Imperfectly perfect.  

What are some confessions of your "perfect" life? Comment below or on the Facebook page, I would love to hear from you!

P.S.   I want to be perfect so bad, and to fight that urge, I am NOT sending this blog to my editor today for corrections before posting.  She is reading this for the first time live, just like you guys and probably having a heart attack over all the mistakes!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Gone, Babies, Gone....

 This blog post written by Tiffany Burke, Surrogate Mother

It's a funny thing, the surrogacy.  It seemed like it took so long but now that it is over, it went by in the blink of an eye. In fact, it was so fast and feels so long ago that it almost feels pretend.  Did it really happen? Did I really carry twins for my brother?   Did I really give birth to them?   Sometimes it takes me a moment to remember it all happened, I think because I don't have two new little humans in my home to remind me.

So let's get to it!  A lot of you have sent in reader questions about how I am doing after the birth, and I have done my best to answer them here.

How are you doing emotionally now that the twins are gone?  How are you doing after giving the babies up?

One of the reasons I was inspired to blog and to film this whole journey was my curiosity about what happened to the surrogate after the birth. I was certain she said good bye to her surro baby/babies, went home, and lay in her bed and cried for 6 weeks while she healed and missed the babies.  Really.  I thought that. In fact, I was a little nervous it may happen to me! I know myself pretty well and I am confident in knowing how I will react in most situations.  But I am human, and there is no guarantee to knowing how I’ll really feel until it actually happens to me.  You can talk the talk, right?  So, in a way, signing up for this was a bit of a gamble with my feelings.  I was betting the lot that I would be just fine, but there was a possibility I would end up crying and brokenhearted. 

The exact opposite happened.  Honestly, I am doing amazing!   Truly! I feel so good - the best I have felt in a long time.  I could not wait to leave the hospital and be home with my boys, and to start experiencing life again without being so sick.  I have never, ever, in my life, been that sick for that long.  It gave me a new perspective.

I felt like as I left the hospital, they handed me a new body.  It was a little beat up, and a little weak from the blood loss, but I will take it!  I was no longer sick all day! I felt like I had a new take on life, a new chance at life with my children, and with my husband.  I was also on cloud nine because I had just accomplished something I never thought I would - giving birth to two children, who were not mine, and giving them to their parents who had been waiting so patiently to be with them. We had done it - all of us, not just me.   My "team" was my husband, my brother and Natalie, and all those supporting us along the way.  It really DID take a village.  

Also, I don't let my mind go to a sad place.   Carrying babies and giving them away is not a sad thing.   It could be if I made it that way, but for me, it is a beautiful thing and it makes me so happy to know they are in this world and being loved and snuggled by their mom and dad right now.  

I think it certainly helps that my husband and I do not want any more newborn babies, and of course, that I knew the entire time that those babies were not mine.   I always felt a different love for them, a different connection, than I did my own boys. At times I would feel guilty that I was not as connected to them, or feel like something was wrong with me for not feeling the same love I did during my own boys’ pregnancies.  

Still, right now, I feel torn.  I am happy I don't love them as much and that I don't miss them, but part of me feels guilty, as though I SHOULD be missing them, aching for them etc.   I assure myself this is healthy and good and I am happy I am not too emotional over this.  I have not seen the babies since they were 11 days old.   Each time I was going to visit or try to do their newborn photos, I would get sick and could not be around them.   Then we went on our road trip vacation to be with family for the holidays. Hopefully we will get to see them soon, we are planning a dinner soon at James and Natalie's and my boys will get to meet their cousins for the first time! 

                                                                   The last time I saw the twins in the NICU, can't wait to see them again!

Things that surprised me about after the surrogacy:

I saw a picture of someone (not Natalie) holding one of the twins and I was so jealous!  That was a new feeling.  Seeing Natalie and James with their babies makes me happy, but this new feeling was not cool.  It lasted a full minute and I moved on, but I thought that was an interesting and unexpected feeling!

Another surprising thing is that it feels very strange going in public now and being a "normal" person - meaning, not pregnant.  When I was pregnant, everywhere I went it was obvious I was pregnant and people would talk about it and we would share stories and connect.  Now, I am checking out at the grocery store and I have no babies, and I just want to blurt out "I'm fat ‘cause I just gave birth to twins..."  Then I realize how awkward that would be for all involved!  Going back to being a normal person without babies is good, but strange at times too.

The last thing that surprised me is a sensitive subject for me which I don't speak about often.  As some of you may have read, I unexpectedly lost my 20 year old brother in February (post here: ).  Then, about 6 weeks later, I was pregnant with the twins and I was sick very early on.  I don't think I had a proper time to grieve and I am having a hard time with it now, much harder than I hoped or imagined possible.  I am going to a support group and I may decide to open up more in another post.  For now, though, this is all I can really share emotionally because...well... I don't really know what else to say except that it is very painful and I try to stay moving the best I can and be positive for my kids.  I loved my brother so very much, he was one of the most beautiful souls I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I just really hate that he is no longer on the earth with us and I am adjusting to that the best I can.

What are you doing with your breast milk? Did you encapsulate your placentas?  

I had plans to donate my milk, since Natalie took medication to induce her breast milk and was able to nurse the twins. After the severe preeclampsia, I had to go on blood pressure medication. Although safe in breast feeding, the lactation consultant said milk banks would not take my milk, and I could pump and dump until going off the medication, then donate after that.  The doctors did not know how long I would be on it; it could have been a few weeks, or a few months.  12 weeks of pumping and dumping sounded terrible to me!   I was very unsure of what to do, so I went home and pumped and dumped for a few days and realized... it FELT horrible too.   I was waking up in the night and doing all of this, only to dump it out?  

Ultimately I decided I had put my body through enough, I just wanted to go back to functioning as I normally would.  I was fearful I would not lose my weight as fast or it would make me sad not to have the endorphins from pumping, or that I was not doing enough - what if there was a baby out there that needed my milk in 12 weeks?  It took a few days to decrease and a few weeks to stop lactating all together.  Hahaha, I'm publicly talking about lactating.  Oh I am SO immature sometimes!  In the end, I was very happy with my choice, I still wish I was donating for a baby, but I am happy to have my body back.  Also, I did not encapsulate my placentas but sort of wish I had.  It would have been fun to try!

How are your boys adjusting to having their mom "back"? And how are they coping with not having the "normal" end result of a pregnancy (a new sibling)?  Do they understand the situation?  

Our boys are so excited to have their mom back.  And I am so excited to be a mom again!  I can clean and play and cook.... okay fine, I don't cook.   But I am going to start!  I did make a delicious vegan thanksgiving meal and that was the start of something great, so what if it was almost 2 months ago?  :)  

Both boys have been great with understanding.  Our oldest is 7 years old and he has been so compassionate about the whole process.  Our youngest is 3 and he had babies in his tummy while I was pregnant, and when I came home he said, "Babies gone, gone babies. Where are babies?"   I told him they were at the doctor (still in the NICU) and they were with their mom and dad.  He still talks about his babies, and sometimes his babies are in his belly and sometimes they are at the doctor.   Mostly the babies are in his belly when he does something naughty, like find the advent calendar and eat the entire thing before day 8.   Then he blames the babies in his belly, "Babies eat chocolate mom. Babies sick now."  Hahaha  Overall, I know this experience took a toll on them, and I write more in depth about it in journals (Maybe I’ll publish a Kindle book?) but I know it was hard every time they wanted to play with me and I was too sick to do so.   So this is an exciting turn of events, having my energy back and being able to be with them fully.

                                                                     Shortly after the birth, just happy to be home with my boys!

Have you and your husband thought about adding another to your family? I know you have said this is your last pregnancy, but has the experience made you want another child?   

We always wanted to adopt through foster care after this and never had plans to be pregnant again.  We use birth control and are very careful, and before this I always thought, it would not be so bad if I were to get pregnant by accident.  Now, I would cry for a long, long time if I were to get pregnant by accident.  I know that sounds terrible, but you know, I tell it like it is!  It would, of course, be a blessing later but honestly, that pregnancy was so hard on me that I cannot imagine ever doing it again.   So we have ZERO plans of getting pregnant ever again.  In fact, we discussed having my tubes tied if I were to have a C-section, that's how much I don't want to be pregnant again :)    As for adopting, we are postponing it for a while so we can really focus on our kids and marriage and go from there.

Would you do surrogacy again or would you carry for a stranger?  

This is a hard question because I was so very sick and it took me away from my family. I will say this, if I had not gotten sick, I would do it again and I would carry for a stranger in a heartbeat.   There are so many deserving people out there, anxiously waiting to be parents.  I loved carrying the babies, the birth, the end result.  But clearly, this was the sickest I have ever been and I could not make that sacrifice again and put my body, my children, and my husband through it again.  Although I do fantasize about doing it again for strangers and that I would not be sick.  Fantasies can be good sometimes right?  I also fantasize about winning the lotto.  :)

Being a surrogate was one of the coolest things I have ever done in my life.  I am forever changed by it and I would love if I could do it for anyone else that needed me.   It breaks my heart a little that I cannot, but I am happy I was able to experience it once and the world it brought me into.

In closing:

When people ask, "How are you feeling after giving the babies up?"  I say this: I am feeling amazing and I don't feel like I gave them up, I feel like I gave them back. They were never mine.  For a short while I was blessed to give them a home and help nourish and love them until it was their time to be born. That was what I signed up for, what I wanted, and what I was happy with.  At times, I miss feeling them do their dance in my womb, but I also miss my own boys doing that.  Being pregnant is such a beautiful miracle.  It is bitter sweet that it was my last time. I am sad that the journey for me is over, but excited because theirs is just beginning.  I am just so joyful that there are two little humans in this world now, being loved and nurtured and growing so perfectly. I am so proud of them.   

                                                      Photo of James, Levi, Parker and Natalie taken by the amazing Jennifer Tai                

As always, thank you for reading.   On the blog next time, I will be writing about things I wish I had known before signing up for surrogacy.   This would not have changed my decision to do it, knowing what I know now, but would have prepared me more :)

If there are any questions I have left out, please feel free to post in the comments and I will do my best to answer them!     The twins are growing wonderful and James, Natalie and Hunter are so very happy.  We are all very blessed. 

“In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.”
― Robert Frost