Becoming a mom was always top of Diane Bartlett’s list of priorities. But without a partner and in her late 30s, she knew she’d have to do something sooner rather than later.
“So I went for artificial insemination,” she says. Diane (now 43), a recruitment consultant from Cape Town, was told not to get her hopes up but “it worked first time – and it was twins!”
She sailed through the pregnancy and, although the babies were premature, they were healthy – and a perfect pigeon pair. She named them Ava and Kayden.
When the twins were a year old she started looking into donating her eggs. “I was so thrilled to be a mom I wanted to help others become mothers too,” she says. “But I was too old – egg donors have to be under 35 and I was 38.”
Then the issue of surrogacy came up. “My boss told me a friend of his was desperate to have a child but couldn’t because she had a rare blood disorder,” she says. “Would I ever consider surrogacy? I thought about it and I decided I would.”
But it was easier said than done. One of the prerequisites of becoming a surrogate is to be screened by a psychologist – and the first one she saw deemed her unsuitable. “She thought I’d be too attached. I was devastated. But I didn’t give up – I really wanted to do this.”
She met the commissioning couple who recommended she go for a second opinion and this time she passed with flying colours. Then the process began. “You have to go on a series of hormone injections and inject yourself several times a day,” she says. “It got to the stage where I was running out of space on my butt!”
There were major disappointments along the way. Three failed IVFs, followed by three unsuccessful Gifts (a process where harvested eggs and sperm are inserted directly into the fallopian tubes)… But Diane wasn’t prepared to give up, and neither were the commissioning parents. “We thought we haven’t come this way to pack it all in. And after the fourth Gift it worked.”
Diane had an easy pregnancy but never felt attached to the life growing inside her. When the baby kicked it was fun and reassuring rather than emotional.
“It was their baby – I was merely the vessel bringing it into the world. My twins were just over two at that stage and I told them that auntie’s tummy was broken so I was looking after her baby until it was ready to be born.”
And it was ready to be born three days before the date of the planned Caesar – 20 October 2010. Diane’s water broke and she went to the hospital “without feeling a twinge of pain”, only to be told she was in full-blown labour.
She went into theatre for the C-section with the commissioning parents by her side. “Well, the mom was – the dad was sitting down. I’ll never forget the look on the mom’s face when her baby boy was delivered and handed to her. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. It was all worth it, making her so happy.”
Diane and the mom roomed together in the hospital. Colostrum was extracted from Diane’s breasts soon after birth and fed to the baby via a teaspoon, and she was then given drugs to dry up her milk.
Nearly five years later, she has occasional contact with the parents who send her pictures of their son every now and then. But that’s it and that’s fine, she says – she entered into a contract and that contract has been fulfilled.
Would she recommend being a surrogate to other women? Yes, she says – but go into it with your eyes wide open. “It’s a big commitment and it comes with a lot of stress. Hormone treatment, the fertilisation process, the pregnancy, the birth… there’s a lot to deal with. But if you are motivated solely by giving someone the most precious gift, then go for it. Nothing can compare to the feeling of seeing the parents holding the life you have made possible for them.”