Andrea Syrtash is a nationally recognized relationship expert, author and founder of Pregnantish, an infertility and modern family building community she created after a painstaking ten-year journey through infertility that ultimately resulted in meeting her little girl, Aria, born through surrogacy.
Nazca Fontes, founder of ConceiveAbilities, interviewed Andrea on the All Things Conceivable: A Surrogacy Podcast to talk about how infertility shaped her, how she navigated the long road to parenthood and why she was determined to build a community for others experiencing similar journeys to parenthood.
NF: Your path to parenthood was complex. Why are you so passionate to share your story through your online community Pregnantish?
“So many of us have been touched personally by the experience of modern family building, so it was easy to spark my passion because I saw how underserved this topic is. Infertility and modern family creation affects millions of people. Yet sometimes it's this big dark secret for absolutely no reason, because it's nobody's fault if we need intervention to build our families. I was struggling over many years and I was feeling really isolated. I needed more content and resources that I couldn't find, which led me to create Pregnantish four years ago.”
NF: Agreed. We just founded the Surrogacy Learning Center, an online community to help connect people who are interested in modern family building as well. One of the things you have said often that resonates with me is, “It's the best club that you don't want to be a member of.”
“I think this painful experience has been one that nobody really wants to navigate on their own. When you have a medical issue or you need modern family building because of other reasons, maybe you're in the LGBT world or you're single, whatever the case may be, people's well-meaning advice is not helpful. When you find a community who understands the pain point and the process, it's life changing.”
NF: When did you know you would have fertility challenges?
“When I started menstruating around 14 years old, a doctor suspected I had endometriosis. I remember the doctor saying I may have fertility issues later, but I was 14 and the last thing I was thinking about was getting pregnant. When I married my husband, I told him that it may take us a year or two to conceive. I laugh at myself now, because it took us eight years, 18 fertility treatments, eight doctors, miscarriages, major surgery to remove a fibroid tumor and a lot of stops and starts and heartache before we finally met our daughter. In year six of trying to conceive with fertility treatments, we saw our reproductive endocrinologist who suspected my embryos were healthy and it was my uterus. After genetic testing, my doctor said I have good news and bad news. The good news is, I think you're going to meet your baby because you have healthy embryos. The not as good news is, I don't think you can carry your embryo and I'd like you to consider gestational surrogacy. I had never heard of that and I knew very little about surrogacy.”
NF: Was your family history a big motivator for using your own embryo?
“A lot of times people will ask you when you were doing gestational surrogacy, “Why do you need your own genetics?” We have so little family left on my father's side, because they were killed in the Holocaust. Literally. I wanted to continue our bloodline, if it was possible. If I couldn't, I would have been thrilled to bring a baby into the world and that baby would have been mine, no question. But it did have deeper meaning for me, in terms of literally rebuilding our family.”
NF: How did you know surrogacy was right for you?
“Through research (I had Google on my side), I realized surrogacy has really helped a lot of people build a family. It was a relief, because after six or seven years of fertility treatments, I was tired. I had taken thousands of shots in my belly and my backside and I was relieved to think about not trying again. The whole process of finding a gestational carrier was its own crazy chapter. We worked with an agency, not as good as yours. I won't name it, but let's just say the agency matters a lot. We had two surrogates drop out on us. When my last surrogate ghosted us, we had already paid, done all the legal and medical steps and the transfer was about to happen. I was devastated and couldn’t get out of bed. Then miraculously, my first cousin Alana texted and asked if I had ever thought of a family member carrying for me. I was shaking so much that I could barely respond. The rest is history.”
NF: You are a relationship expert and you had a husband and a career, how did you balance everything while you were going through this emotional journey?
“I wasn't as together as I may have seemed to the outside world. When I came out on Facebook saying I was infertile, the last line of my post was don't judge a Facebook by its cover because people had seen me on TV. I'd host television shows and go on book tours, but behind the scenes I was crying and struggling to keep it together.”
NF: How did infertility affect your marriage?
“I try to take my own advice as a relationship expert. I think the key to healthy relationships is being direct with respect and keeping communication open, which we tried to do. My husband and I were not always on the same page. There were times that he felt that he was done. There were times I felt I was done. I often tell couples after they receive sad news on this journey like, for instance, a failed IVF transfer, don't decide your next step in that moment. You're not thinking clearly. You need to literally take a moment, grieve, connect with each other, communicate, and then you'll figure out where you're at. I think we tried to make too many decisions in moments of stress and distress.”
NF: What words of encouragement do you have for other hopeful parents building their family?
“You have already shown you're going to be a great parent by the dedication you've put into trying to become a parent. I mean, you're doing this for someone you haven't even met yet. I can only imagine the love, attention and dedication you will have once this being is here.”