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Monday, September 7, 2015

Merton woman serves as surrogate mother, births twins — twice

For 36-year-old Andrea Ashby, motherhood came easily and naturally.

She remembers as a young child crafting cribs out of shoe boxes for her dolls and being an eager babysitter for a younger sister born 12 years her junior. When she fell in love with her husband, who had a 1-year-old son, the picture of her own family started to form. In addition to her stepson, Andrea and her husband added two more sons and a daughter to create their family.

And then they were done.

Sort of.

After much thought, discussion and research, the town of Merton resident helped a couple in Florida to realize their own dreams of having a family.

She became a surrogate.

Despite the odds, which were overwhelmingly against such a bounty of fortune, Ashby delivered her first set of twins for the family in September 2012.

In February this year, she delivered a second set of twins for the same family.

Coming to the decision
"After our daughter was born, I was good with not having any more kids," Ashby said. "We just thought we have four, they're good — they're happy and healthy, and we're going to stop here."

But when her youngest was about 4, she began to experience some pangs.

"I had this feeling, not that I wanted to have more kids, but that I missed being pregnant and going through the whole thing," she explained.

Ashby thought it was a phase that would eventually pass, but a year later she found herself in the same state of mind.

At that time, she said, a relative unable to have children went through the adoption process, which triggered some thoughts. "I started doing some research and getting in touch with people who have been on both sides of it (surrogacy issue), hearing stories about people who so badly wanted to have a family. That was something I took for granted because it came so easily to me," she said.

Hearing stories from people who could not have children was "heartbreaking," Ashby said. "I talked to my husband and at first he was like 'are you crazy?'" But he quickly came to support the idea, she added.

"He was the one who did most of the research for me. He found the agency we actually signed up with (Center for Surrogate Parenting). It is in California and is a very, very supportive group agency. Every three months we would go to Minnesota for a group meeting. I got to go to a group meeting before I ever even agreed to be a surrogate. You get to talk to all the other women; you get to hear all the aspects of every stage of the process. It was really what sold me on this. Everyone was so open and honest and the support through the group was just fantastic," she said.

After the meeting, the couple signed up and agreed to start the matching process, which took about a year.

"I had a choice of which couple I wanted to pick from. That was honestly one of the hardest decisions I had to make. I think they sent me three or four profiles, and I had to read them all and decide which one I wanted to work with," she said. Ashby said the most difficult part was not in choosing which family, but in the fact she could not help them all.

She and her husband each read the profiles and both chose the same family.

Emotional component
The couple attended another meeting and then met with the prospective parents and a psychological counselor in Milwaukee.

"Every couple and every surrogate has a counselor or a psychological coordinator. They cover everything — things as serious as what if you have a baby diagnosed with a horrible mental or physical disability before they were born. You have to talk about terminating pregnancies, or what if you only wanted one and there were two. It was a pretty heavy meeting," Ashby said.

After the counselor left, the Merton couple spent the day with the prospective parents and brought them back to their home to meet their family. The couple bonded even further as they prepared to enter the next phase of the process, six months that included doctor appointments, counseling and scheduling.

Physical component
The first embryo transfer took place in January 2012, using donor eggs.

"It is not painful at all. It was very fast; I expected it was a whole big to-do. I showed up at 8 a.m., and it was done by 8:20 a.m. They made me lay there for another hour and then told me to go sit at the hotel for two days. But with that transfer, they transferred two embryos and both of them stuck.

"In September of 2012, at 38 weeks, they had two almost 7-pound baby girls," Ashby said.

The doctor had cautioned that by transferring the two embryos, there was only a 30-percent chance that even one of them would take.

"Everything went perfectly, to be honest with you," she added. "They really wanted twins."

Ashby said they bonded so well with the couple that they later agreed to proceed with a second surrogacy.

And, like the first, they again beat the odds, and Ashby was once more carrying twins.

The second set of twins, a boy and girl, this time, were born in February 2015, this time by C-section.

"This one was a little different because we found out pretty early on that she (baby girl) had a pretty serious heart defect. She was actually here for nine weeks after she was born and had to have two or three procedures in those nine weeks," Ashby reported.

Leaving the hospital
Ashby said she was well-prepared, both times, to hand the babies over to the parents.

"It was not difficult at all. I went into it with the state of mind that this is something I wanted to do, and it was for these people. What I was doing was greater than any attachment I would have had, or any feelings I would have had. I think mentally you are so prepared that I just kind of did detach myself. I was very careful, but it was more like a job, and I was trying to do the best job I possibly could. It was all mental.

"They weren't mine," she explained.

Ashby said she did not face any negative feedback from family, friends or co-workers about the surrogacy.

"If anything, I got the opposite response. At some point, I thought if people ask, I'm going to have to tell them. I was selective in the conversations that were taking place. I was not going around announcing it, but if it came up and people asked questions, I was going to tell them. A couple of women at work started crying, saying 'that's the most beautiful thing I ever heard,'" she said.

That is not to say she wasn't concerned.

"I have heard from women in the group whose kids in school get ridiculed, or things like that. I was a little worried about that; I'm not going to lie. I told my kids early on, and I think it helped that they met the parents. They just got it. Even their friends' parents were very supportive," she said.

According to the website of the surrogacy agency Ashby went through, CPS, payment for a surrogate mother can be up to $55,000. Additional compensation is paid from the intended parents' trust account.

"The agency has a compensation schedule that allows for monthly payments, and you are compensated up to a certain amount. If you carry multiples, it's more, and if you actually give birth to multiples, they allow for another allowance on top of that," Ashby said.

"I thought it was generous enough," Ashby said.

But for Ashby, the reward of helping a couple become a family was greater than the financial compensation.

She remains in touch with the people she helped make parents, including visiting with the family in their Florida home.

"Honestly, it was to coolest thing being down there and seeing them as a family," Ashby shared.

Her husband, Jamison, agreed.

"I see it as her way of giving back. We have been blessed with four beautiful children and seeing as we decided to not have any more, this is her way of still being able to continue to have the experience of childbirth and help other families experience the joy of raising them. I have backed her up 100 percent in this and will again if she decides to do it further," he said.

The agency they used, however, caps the number of pregnancies at five. With three of her own biological children and the two surrogate pregnancies, Ashby is at that ceiling.

She considered what advice she would give others considering becoming a surrogate.

"I will honestly say it is not for everybody. There are a lot of horrible things that can happen, and you really need a good support system. It's a pretty big undertaking and it can take up more than a year of your life.

"It was probably the most rewarding thing that I have ever done," she said.


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