Because every woman has her own journey.
At 17 years old, I was reading the local newspaper and an advertisement about surrogacy instantly seized my attention. It was one money-maker I had never thought of before. The year prior, my dad passed away. I left school to help my mother and two older sisters run our family farm through challenging financial times. We always had food to eat, and a roof over our heads, but luxuries like a new pair of shoes, or coat were reserved for extraordinarily special occasions. With my sister’s full-time job, and our family contributions on the farm, we were averaging about $650 a month. For context, this was above average for a household in our small town in Southern Ukraine. My mom’s parents also lived with us, but this too was very common in my home country.
One day while tending to the chickens, I casually asked my sister if she’d heard about surrogacy and the pay associated with it. She defensively responded as if it were something she had considered herself. I knew my family would’ve disapproved of the idea, but inquiring wouldn’t hurt— or would it? By this point, I was pretty much set on my decision to eventually become a surrogate. I’d like to think that I was intrigued by the idea of helping someone start a family, but I know that wasn’t my case— it was the money. Financial stability with my dad gone was a major struggle. Surrogates in my native country of Ukraine could make $17,000-$22,000 in nine months. Women have been pregnant and birthing children since the beginning of time; and this surely sounded like a job I was up for. It would take my family years to make that kind of cash. One thing I desperately needed: a secret way to do this.
In my traditional household, I couldn’t just be pregnant with someone else’s baby. Let alone a baby I wouldn’t be able to keep. The concept was surreal. Though very common, surrogacy isn’t widely accepted in Ukraine— and I was gradually learning this the hard way.
By 19 years old, I reached out to a local clinic, who ran several tests to ensure I was a good fit physically. Upon those clearing out, I was put in touch with an agency located hours away in Kyiv where I met several potential couples on Skype video conference calls. Two from the U.K, two from Germany, one from South Korea, and one from Portugal. Each person ‘pitched’ their story in hopes of a match. I was astounded to see how high the demand was; and was thrilled to move along in the process. I was young, and nervously signed a contract with the couple from Portugal who had been trying seven years for a baby. We instantly made a connection.
At this point, I had to resolve a few things:
-What cover story would I tell my family?
-Where would I stay?
-Could I even deal with the emotions associated with pregnancy, labor, and delivery?
In the USA, most first-time surrogates have gone through pregnancy and birth of their own child prior to being accepted by an agency. This wasn’t the case for me.
I had my whole life ahead of me, but I wanted money…badly. Shortly after, I told my family that I had planned to do a technical training course in Kyiv- and would be away for a while. The moment I told them; I could tell my sister knew what I was off to do; but I was never going to admit the truth— at least not now.
The couple I had signed a contract with had three embryos. Unfortunately, the first attempt was unsuccessful. Luckily, the second transfer process was a success. Just to give you a little backstory, these procedures caused me to enter an emotional roller coaster aka not nearly as straightforward as I’d imagined. The terms of our contract noted a specific timeline for check-ups, testing, delivery procedures, etc. Oddly- in reality, these sessions were cut in half, and my pay was slightly lower than promised, but that didn’t bother me too much. I did miss my family, but the monthly paychecks made it all worthwhile. The agency I worked with had an option for surrogate housing at a subsidized rate- which was ideal for saving money while in Kyiv. Life in the capital was much more sophisticated and expensive than life in the village where I’m from.
My first surrogacy experience was intense. Sonograms, first kicks, and stretch marks led me to grow a bond with the little boy I was carrying. I had to remind myself daily that this is simply a job; and the baby in my rental womb isn’t mine and will never be mine. I had a planned cesarian due to partial placenta previa in my third trimester. Recovery was tough. Oddly enough, once I recovered, I was instantly ready for the next journey.
I returned home to Southern Ukraine, and received the warmest welcome from my family. Although we kept in contact via phone, it was immensely satisfying to hug each one of them. With my compensation, I was able to fix the leaking roof of our dacha, add a new purchase window alongside the farm, and buy some new outfits for everyone in the house. I was mentally ready to do the whole process again and decided on coming clean to my family- who slowly showed their support. Very slowly.
During my next pregnancy, I was able to take the train back home throughout and spend time with everyone. I was now 26 and onto my fourth pregnancy- twins! That one was particularly tough, and doctors advised against future c-sections. I’ve never met any of the parents of the babies I’ve carried in person. But everyone has a special place in my heart and has shown their gratitude for my services.
With my earnings, I was able to study in Northern France, where I earned a degree in chemistry and now work at a pharmacy in Brooklyn, New York. Life for me has changed drastically, as I never imagined a future in America. Without my past as a surrogate, none of this would’ve become my reality.
Dating is tricky. I’m reluctant to open up to just anyone about my past as a surrogate- it’s too much. I also keep my pubic area wildly unkempt to hide the scars. Anything is better than delving into what I see as a very personal journey.
In my mid-thirties, I am now in a serious, and happy relationship and have revealed info about my earlier surrogate days. Should things work out between us down the line, I hope that we don’t have challenges with starting a family of our own— because one thing we cannot afford in the USA… is a surrogate.
Sveta, Brooklyn, New York