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San Diego Writer Talks About Being A Surrogate Mom

Audio

Aired 10/27/09

Pamela MacPhee, a mother of three, was a surrogate mom for a family member whose wife suffered from cancer-related infertility. She describes her experience in a new book, "Delivering Hope."

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): Of all the procedures and medical interventions that have been developed to help infertile couples have their own children, none is more mysterious and controversial than surrogacy. The idea of agreeing to become pregnant with a baby you will give away is still mind-boggling to many women. Yet, the joy such an arrangement can bring to a couple who wants children, is profound and is perhaps the greatest gift that can ever be given. Joining me to talk about her own experience being a surrogate, is my guest Pamela McPhee. Pamela lives in Encinitas and delivered a baby girl for her cousin and his wife, a cancer survivor. Pamela has written a book about the experience called "Delivering Hope: The Extraordinary Journey of a Surrogate Mom." It’s a pleasure to welcome you to These Days, Pamela.

PAMELA MCPHEE (Author): Thank you so much for having me. It’s wonderful to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And we invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you wonder about surrogacy? Is it right to ask women to make such a huge physical and emotional commitment so another couple can raise an infant? Call us with your questions and your comments. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Tell us your story, Pamela. What brought you to the decision to become a surrogate?

MCPHEE: Well, I had grown up with my cousin, you know, playing in the backyard and jumping on beds together, and when his wife was diagnosed with cervical cancer and subsequent infertility because of treatment, I just – I was in a position where I just wanted to do something to help them. I wanted to give them some hope after such devastation. And so I did some research on surrogacy and what would be involved, and I just came to the realization that this was a calling for me. This is something I really wanted to do for them.

CAVANAUGH: How did you broach the subject with your cousin and his wife.

MCPHEE: That’s an interesting one. It was kind of a tough decision to decide how to do that. How do you offer that to someone else. And I decided – Actually, it was on Christmas Day about ten years ago now that I approached actually my cousin’s wife. I decided that she was the one that wasn’t going to be allowed to carry the child so I should approach her first and ask her. So I just kind of threw it out there. I told her, you know, I’d been wanting to help them and I’d done some research and I thought this was something that I could potentially do for them and asked them, you know, if they were going to pursue that route, if they were going to go through surrogacy that they consider using me as their surrogate.

CAVANAUGH: Now the way that I understand the situation is your cousin’s wife had some of her eggs frozen before the cancer treatment?

MCPHEE: Yes, and that’s really important for anyone going through cancer treatment, to make sure they talk to their oncologist about that, to preserve their fertility future. And so her oncologist was on top of it and had suggested to her that she harvest eggs. So they did that, they harvested a bounty of about 30 eggs, which is a record number at the time, I think, and they were able to freeze 18 embryos and kept those in storage in four different groups or straws, they call them, to be thawed out at a later time when they were ready for an embryo transfer.

CAVANAUGH: So what was the physical process actually like for you in getting pregnant. What did it concern? Did you have to get hormone shots? Did you have to go in for multiple procedures? What was that like?

MCPHEE: Yeah, there was a lot of medical evaluation up front, blood tests and they do a survey of your uterus to make sure it’s actually a, you know, a good environment for a transfer.

CAVANAUGH: Now you already had kids, is that right?

MCPHEE: Yes, I have – I already have three of my own and my husband and I were done having children. So we knew I could carry a pregnancy but the doctor just wanted to make sure that everything is, you know, perfect for a transfer. And then the transfer procedure itself, well, they – you take hormone shots to prep your body to fool into believing its pregnant and then when they – The transfer itself is a very uncomplicated procedure. It takes just a few minutes. It was kind of surreal in some senses and it’s not uncomfortable. And then you, you know, you have to be still for about 30 minutes and then take it easier for a few days. And then you continue to take hormone shots after that to help the pregnancy along, to help it take.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Pamela McPhee. She is the author of the book “Delivering Hope: The Extraordinary Journey of a Surrogate Mom.” I wonder what kind of psychological preparation you needed to make in order to become pregnant with a child that you knew that you were not keeping.

MCPHEE: People are always curious about that one and, honestly, I knew from the very beginning, from when I made the offer, you know, I was making this offer to be able to give a child to my cousin. This was not a child I had ever planned on having. And I knew from the beginning this was their embryo. So when the embryo was transferred into my body and throughout the whole pregnancy up to the birth itself, I knew this was their baby so I didn’t have the same kind of attachment or bond form that I did with my own children, so that at the end it never felt like it was giving a baby up or giving a baby away, I was just giving a baby back. You know, it had been on loan to me to – you know, in a safe place where it could grow and develop and then I just gave it back to my cousin when the time…

CAVANAUGH: So you actually had a completely different relationship with this child you were carrying than you did with your own children.

MCPHEE: Yes, it definitely felt different. And I communicated differently to the baby. I felt different about it. It was really a family experience, too, it wasn’t just mine. My children knew that their cousin was growing inside of me and that was very exciting for them. And my husband, of course, was also a big support system. But all of us related differently to this because we knew this baby wasn’t being brought into our own family; it was going to be a gift to my cousin to allow them to have their own family.

CAVANAUGH: And how did you share your pregnancy with your cousin and his wife? I read that there were some extraordinary late night phone calls.

MCPHEE: Oh, that was so funny. When I – You know, I was always looking for ways to share the pregnancy.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

MCPHEE: So whenever an opportunity came up, I wanted to. One night late when the baby – when she was kicking inside of me, I called up my cousin after midnight just to, you know, tell him to tell his daughter to be quiet so I could go to sleep. And that was just my way of trying to include him. I, you know – They came to me – Lauren, especially, his wife, came to me – with me to all the doctor’s appointments, Dr. Gerber in Encinitas, came to all the OB appointments and then I just included them in as many ways as possible so that they would feel like this was their pregnancy not my pregnancy.

CAVANAUGH: How has this changed your relationship with your cousin, if it has?

MCPHEE: It absolutely allowed me to reconnect with my cousin and we had grown up very close. We had kind of drifted in different directions and then we had reconnected and then through the surrogacy it allowed us to develop a very close, caring relationship, and I am so – you know, I treasure that relationship today through this experience.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Pamela McPhee. She’s written a book about her surrogacy experience called “Delivering Hope: The Extraordinary Journey of a Surrogate Mom.” And if you’d like to join the conversation, we’re inviting your calls at 1-888-895-5727. I wonder, Pam, if you’ve thought about the difference between your situation, being a surrogate mom, helping out your cousins who you knew so well, basically keeping the baby in the family, so to speak, and somebody who is a surrogate in a more commercialized sense. Is there a difference? Should we perceive a difference in those two situations?

MCPHEE: There is a difference but, you know, honestly I’ve met with a number of different surrogates and they are all generally coming from the same place of really wanting to give a couple the opportunity to have a family. Yes, they, in their case it’s commercial so they are being compensated, as they should be, for giving up, you know, a year or more of their life. It’s a very risky and time consuming and emotionally draining process and they should be compensated for that. But I don’t think any of them would be able to actually go through an entire surrogacy unless they were really grounded in the fact that they really wanted to give a couple a family.

CAVANAUGH: Now, do you – is there anything, as that commercial—I’ll call it commercial surrogacy just to differentiate it from the family surrogacy you did, is there anything you find troubling in that?

MCPHEE: No, not really. I know some people have reservations about it but, you know, people have concerns about women doing it just for the money and, honestly, you know, most commercial surrogacy are done through agencies and those women are screened out in the very beginning because they’re not good candidates to go through a surrogacy. And none of the surrogates I have met, you know, I’ve had any reservations about. They’ve all been really wonderful people and very similar to, you know – this experience has been very similar to mine but in their case they’re just giving a baby to someone they don’t know.

CAVANAUGH: I’d like to speak a little bit about your relationship with Hope, the child that you delivered for your cousin and his wife. Tell me a little bit because now she’s nine years old, is that right?

MCPHEE: She’s eight, yes.

CAVANAUGH: Eight years old. Tell us what she knows about how she was brought into this world and what your relationship is with her.

MCPHEE: You know, she’s known since she was little that I carried her in my belly. Her parents were very up front about telling her that. And when she was little, she, every night before she would go to bed, she would ask her parents to tell her ‘the miracle of Hope story’ is what she liked to call it, her special way of being brought into the world. And now that she’s older, now that she’s eight, she has obviously a more complex understanding of our surrogacy and she is so proud of that relationship and she feels a connection to me through that. I actually, one of my first book signings, she was there and she sat with me and she signed all of the books with me and talked to people and listened to me have a discussion with the group. And she’s very curious. She actually had her parents read the entire book to her every night before going to bed this past summer.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I want to get to your book in a minute but I do want to ask a question about your family and your husband while you were pregnant with Hope. And was there a – did there ever come a point where there was a question about, okay, we said we were okay with this but we don’t know now, or why exactly is this happening? Was there ever any second thought?

MCPHEE: You know, there wasn’t really. There would be flashes of a moment when we would be in the middle of a really painful hormone shot or I was really nauseous with this pregnancy. I was throwing up every day, so I would be lying on the couch and sick or my husband would, you know, he would have to pick up the slack because I was so exhausted. And there would be moments but they passed very quickly because I was very focused on the ultimate goal, which was to give my cousin and his wife hope, to give them love and joy and to be able to have a family.

CAVANAUGH: Now we’ve already made the point that your cousin’s wife is a cancer survivor. How is she doing now?

MCPHEE: She’s doing great. She’s been cancer free for, you know – since that happened, so it’s for nine years now. So – and it’s still a concern but it – the thing about the surrogacy was it really allowed her to move forward from the cancer. She was kind of stuck in that place, understandably so, with all the fear associated with cancer and facing death and the surrogacy allowed her to have something to look forward to, to step beyond the cancer and that’s been able to help her move forward in her life without that fear, I think.

CAVANAUGH: I think some people ask the question of couples who cannot conceive even through in vitro and the other measures, why is adoption not an option? And since you were the one who put yourself forward to be a surrogate in this situation, were they considering adoption before you came forward?

MCPHEE: You know, it – it was absolutely part of the conversation and I think it is for most couples. But, you know, it’s an individual decision and in their case, they were given the opportunity to have their own children because they had frozen embryos, because I had come forward to offer to be a surrogate. And so they chose to take that path first, and I think it’s a different conversation for every couple.

CAVANAUGH: Now I want to speak about the book, “Discovering Hope (sic),” because I believe one of the reasons you wrote it is because people came with you – with so many questions.

MCPHEE: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: What kinds of questions do you hear most from people?

MCPHEE: Well, the most common question is, was it hard to give the baby up, which I’ve addressed a little. The – another one was how I made the offer. People ask if it really felt different carrying this baby inside of me. And then they’re curious about my relationship today with her. I – You know, I’ve had thousands of different questions that have run the gamut, some much more interesting than others.

CAVANAUGH: Are you surprised that people still have so many questions about surrogacy?

MCPHEE: You know, I’m not really because people are just curious. I mean, I remember when I was researching surrogacy and deciding whether I wanted to offer this to my cousin. I didn’t know anything about it. And people have preconceptions, I think, that are incorrect, and so when they start getting information about what it was really like and they’re really touched by the story, the message of giving. There was so much joy for me, and that’s really the message of the book. There was so much joy in being able to give my cousin and his wife hope and a family, and that giving gave so much back to me in return and has continued to give me so much back. And I think people are really touched by that and want to just know more about it.

CAVANAUGH: I have a question about the legal issues surrounding this. Is it easy in California to establish who the parents are on a birth certificate of a surrogate child?

MCPHEE: It is. California is one of the most surrogacy friendly places in the world actually and that’s why I think there are quite a few clinics, and people come to California from all over the world to go through surrogacy. They’re – What my cousin and his wife needed to do was somewhere, I think it was in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy, they had to legally establish parental rights of the baby inside of me, which was – it was strange for me and for my husband. You know, my cousin and his wife were basically suing us for parental rights of a baby that was theirs. But if that’s what it takes for it to satisfy the courts, then that’s fine.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, Pam, did anyone actually to you, to your face, criticize your decision to become a surrogate. Did – Have you heard of any criticisms from people since you’ve become public and gone out with your book?

MCPHEE: You know, I haven’t. Nothing directly anyway. There are some people that are more embracing of the idea. Some people just don’t say anything at all but sometimes that’s just because people don’t know what to say and other times it’s because they’re not so supportive of it. But most of the people who – that I’ve talked to who’ve read my book at the beginning were wondering why the heck I would do this and didn’t really understand and after reading, you know, my book, they feel much better about what it’s all about and they’re more accepting of it.

CAVANAUGH: And let me tell everyone, the book is called “Delivering Hope: The Extraordinary Journey of a Surrogate Mom.” And my guest has been Pamela McPhee, of course, the author of that book. You also have a really good website. Can you just tell us where we could be able to see that?

MCPHEE: It’s called Deliveringhopebook.com and there’s more information there about the surrogacy and you can order the book there but it’s Deliveringhopebook.com.

CAVANAUGH: Pamela, thanks so much.

MCPHEE: Thank you so much, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And I want to tell everyone if they’d like to find out more, you can go to KPBS.org/TheseDays. You have been listening to These Days on KPBS.

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