Journey to Surrogacy: Crystal and Kunal

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Verywell Family recently published a series of interviews with families about their experience building their families through surrogacy. Here's one of those heartwarming stories.

Crystal Patel and Kunal Mody

Ages: 38 and 39

Location: Chicago, IL

Occupations: Client development specialist at ConceiveAbilities and hospitality developer (respectively)

Daughter's age: 6 months

Image: Christian Alzate / Verywell

Why did you decide to use a surrogate? 

It was a difficult decision, but ultimately became one of the last options we had available. I suffer from fibroids (over 100 to be exact). There isn't enough room in my uterus for a baby to grow and develop.

After a miscarriage in 2019, we consulted with a radiologist to see if I was a candidate for uterine fibroid embolization surgery. This surgery carries a 10% risk of ovarian failure, therefore it was recommended I freeze my eggs in case the worst were to happen.

Come to find out through this process we learned that I also had very low egg quality, which made it difficult to create healthy genetically tested embryos. After four rounds of IVF, we were able to create one embryo.

We knew the odds of success were not on our side due to the state of my uterus which is why we decided to pursue surrogacy. We wanted to give our one miracle embryo the very best chance of life.

How did you find your surrogate?

We found our surrogate through our agency ConceiveAbilities. After struggling with infertility over the last four years, my journey to surrogacy led me to make a career change. In October of 2020, I joined my agency as an employee while I was also a client. I wanted to help other intended parents such as myself and Kunal.

What was your role in the birth?

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, initially the hospital took a hard stance that we would not be able to be present for the birth of our child. The plan was once Zahra was born, she would be transported to our hospital room which was located right next to our surrogate.

Our labor and delivery nurses were the kindest people! Once we checked into the hospital the morning of induction and they learned our story they said there was absolutely no way we would miss the birth of our child.

"[Our surrogate] has always been our biggest advocate and was no different at that moment."

— Crystal Patel

We both went to grab a coffee and before we could take a sip, the nurse walked in and asked if we were ready to meet our daughter. We sped next door and my husband and I were next to our surrogate as she labored. Ten minutes and three pushes later our daughter had entered the world! My husband was able to cut the umbilical cord and then she was given to my husband and I for skin-to-skin contact. 

Our surrogate was amazing! Even as she was pushing she was reminding the OB/GYN to hand Zahra to me immediately, yelling at her husband to make sure and get pictures of everything so we could be in the moment. She has always been our biggest advocate and was no different at that moment.

What is a misconception about surrogacy and how did your experience contradict it?

I think our biggest fear was how can I trust that [our surrogate] was taking care of herself every day. Was she eating healthy foods? Was she making decisions throughout the day to protect our child that we worked so hard to create? One of the most difficult things to come to terms with is that no one will carry this pregnancy exactly like you. With time you will come to learn that it is OK.

Our journey looked quite different than I had hoped due to COVID-19, but technology was such a gift through the process. Our surrogate always video chatted me during all of her appointments if and when the obstetrician allowed it. She emailed the medical summary after every appointment once it has been uploaded electronically into her chart, even if I was there virtually for the appointment.

She took it upon herself to purchase Belly Buds, which allowed Kunal and I to read to Zahra. Then she played the audio for Zahara so she could learn our voices. As she progressed along in the pregnancy and could begin to feel Zahara move, she always texted to let us know if she was active that day. Or, she would warn us that Zahara was up at all hours of the night so we might have a party animal on our hands.

Ironically, a majority of the time when we were texting one another, we weren't even talking about the baby. I think she knew on some level that I needed to know that she and Zahra were safe. We would talk about the sports that her children were participating in, or talk about work, or what crazy ideas we were coming up with next to convince our husbands to partake in.

There are multiple ways to be connected throughout the process and it will look different for each family. I would encourage intended parents to be honest from the beginning of what their expectations are. This way your surrogate can help you feel connected throughout the process based on your preference.

"Don’t let your mind travel to a dark place if [your surrogate] doesn’t text or call back immediately. She is also living her life as a mother, spouse, and support system." 

— Crystal Patel

A piece of advice: Remember that your surrogate has a child of her own, maybe a career, or spouse as well that she is tending to. Don’t let your mind travel to a dark place if she doesn’t text or call back immediately. She is also living her life as a mother, spouse, and support system. 

Celebrate your victories—big and small. Put one foot in front of the other every day, and then repeat. You very much have control over what this will look like, but understand your surrogate is on your team. Her goal is to help you create or complete your family. 

From Verywell Family:

While the number of children born each year in the U.S. via surrogacy is a small percentage of the total, the number of families turning to this practice has risen sharply in the last 20 years. According to a study in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, the percentage of surrogate births out of all assisted births tripled between 1999 and 2014, while the number of infants born annually via surrogate doubled between 2004 and 2008.1

Even so, there is still a shroud of secrecy and confusion around the practice and the legality of surrogacy varies greatly from one state to another. To help demystify the process, we asked a diverse group of parents to share their reasons for pursuing surrogacy, what their experience was like, and the misconceptions that exist about the process.

One of the biggest ones: The definition of the word surrogacy, which many of the families here found themselves explaining to friends and loved ones. In most cases, as many of the parents explain, "surrogate" typically refers to a gestational carrier or a woman who becomes pregnant through in vitro fertilization (IVF) and is not genetically related to the child she is carrying.

Gestational carrier vs. surrogate

"Gestational carrier" is a mindful alternative to the word "surrogate." "Surrogates traditionally were genetically related to the baby, while the term gestational carrier indicates no genetic connection to the baby," says Rachel Gurevich, RN, a fertility advocate and member of the Verywell Family Review Board.

Traditionally, surrogates are genetically related to the baby they are carrying, oftentimes artificially inseminated by the baby's father. The term gestational carrier acknowledges the possibility of a donated embryo from the intended parents, in which the gestational carrier has no relation to the fetus.