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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Guidance for other gestational carriers penned in Iowan's book

Knowing how fortunate she was to get pregnant and bring healthy children into the world, Staci Mason didn't hesitate when she offered to carry a baby for a young cancer survivor she hadn't even met.

After months of preparation, Mason became a gestational carrier and eventually gave birth to twins – the biological children of another couple. She details the complicated journey in the recently released book, "Helping Jamie: My Journey as a Gestational Carrier." The book was adapted from a journal Mason kept during the pregnancy more than two years ago.

Mason, 39, of Huxley had casually mulled the idea of becoming a surrogate after hearing her sister talk about a friend who had done so. At the time, Mason wondered if she could ever do the same. Months later, in 2010, Mason overheard her mother talking with a friend about her daughter, who lived on the West Coast and was unable to bear children following cancer.

Learning of the situation, Mason piped up: "I'll have her baby!"

The young woman, Jamie Wolds, who grew up in Iowa, became pregnant with her first child in 2009. Six weeks into her pregnancy, she miscarried, but the tragedy led to an early diagnosis of uterine cancer. Despite the heartbreak, the miscarriage had ultimately helped save her life.

The pregnancy itself had been a miracle — Wolds never should have been able to conceive. As part of her cancer treatment, she would need a radical hysterectomy and could no longer carry children.

Prior to surgery, doctors were able to harvest eggs from Wolds, eventually resulting in 12 frozen embryos awaiting a carrier.

Although the two women had never met and lived hundreds of miles apart, their parents were good friends. They soon formed a lasting bond.

"It was odd how it all came together. When my mom mentioned it, it took off. For Jamie, it was: Someone's serious about it. For me, it was: Somebody needs me to do this. It all fell into place," Mason said.

Wolds continues to be thankful to Mason, supporting her book and providing the foreword.

"I was awakened through this entire journey that life is a precious gift and that it is up to us what we do with it. I hope after reading this story you know that carrying a child for someone who cannot do so is one of the most beautiful gifts one could ever give another human being," she wrote.

Mason admits she felt a maternal pull to help, and hearing the pain a young woman suffered after losing a baby moved her to help. There were times when she questioned her decision, but faith, family and friends became her support network.

Throughout the process, Mason met with a therapist to talk about her emotions. But she was unable to talk to other women who had done what she was doing. That's one reason she wrote the book. At times, frustration set in sorting through the complications of insurance and legal matters, she said.

"I didn't have anybody to talk to about it. I didn't have any resources. Looking back, all of those things that seemed like roadblocks weren't that bad," she said.

She hopes the book provides courage to those interested in becoming gestational carriers and encourages those who are unable to bear children to seek out alternatives that will allow them to become parents.

Even before the book was released, the story had an impact on other families. An Iowa woman read the story about the special delivery of the Wolds twins in Heath Connect magazine, published by Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames where the twins were born, and chose to carry a baby for her sister.

Anyone considering becoming a gestational carrier or surrogate should strongly consider talking to a therapist so they are adequately prepared, Mason said.

"(The therapist) was able to give a lot of validity to the things I was feeling going into the journey. I was very nervous about it. I was very fearful that we'd go into the transfer and have a miscarriage and have to start over," she said.

Being watched by many people, Mason was under tremendous pressure. Wolds and her husband, Ian, had entrusted her with a great responsibility and the decision impacted her own family as well. For Mason, the physical changes posed the biggest challenge.

"I think that's because I purposed to not become emotionally involved while I was pregnant," she said.

She set a strict role for herself early on, distancing herself emotionally from the twins. To prevent an extreme emotional attachment, she never referred to the babies as "hers" and thinks of them more like a niece and nephew.

"I just didn't do it. I knew I couldn't let myself go there," she said.

She also let Wolds set the tone for the journey. Mason, who was busy raising three teens of her own, said she has always made known that she doesn't think of the twins as her children.

After Hannah and Carson were born in July 2012, the biological parents immediately took over and Mason was happy to turn over parenting duties to them. She was tired of being pregnant, but visited the newborns daily while they were still in Iowa for a few weeks.

The first few months, she also used FaceTime to connect with the family. As the twins have grown older, the families resumed their own routines and communicate sporadically now.

Once the Wolds family is ready, Mason welcomes becoming part of the twins' lives in some way.

"I know I did the right thing. I think often about those two little kids and what they're going to do some day and accomplish and the kind of parents maybe that they will be. It's something I'm very proud of. Some day when my grandkids talk about me, I hope it's a part of my story that they include," she said.

The experience opened up Mason's eyes to the despair and emotions of infertility and cancer, giving her a chance to walk alongside a young woman dealing with those issues.

"There's no reason for me not to wake up every day and just feel grateful for what I have. I think that really nailed that into my soul," she said.


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