After a botched surgery that almost resulted in her death, Los Angeles socialite Suzanne Sansone Faiman was told she would likely never safely carry a child to term. The news was heartbreaking. But in keeping with her resilient nature, Suzanne began to search for new options to fulfill her motherhood dreams.
Suzanne is not alone in her struggles. Infertility and reproductive complications are on the rise, leading many people to search for alternative means to become parents. After a lot of research and conversations with her supportive husband, Dan, Suzanne decided on surrogacy as her best option.
The decision seemed obvious, but the road ahead would be complicated, long and, at times, devastating. Now the mother to a wonderful, healthy child named Summer, my longtime friend Suzanne opens up about her experience with surrogacy, sharing her rawest moments with the glowing honesty of a strong and proud Mama.
Tell us about Baby Summer!
I know a lot of people say this, but she really is an angel baby. She has the sweetest, most gentle demeanor. A lot of people tell me that because I struggled to have her, now I get to have an easy baby. I am so blessed because she has been such a joy and so easy so far, so crossing my fingers that she will stay easy!
What is surrogacy?
Surrogacy is when someone else carries your child for you. That can come in many different ways and for many different reasons.
In my experience, very few people choose surrogacy as an elective means to have a baby. I think that a huge misconception about surrogacy is that it is a choice that women come to for vanity purposes. That is actually super rare. Surrogacy is very expensive, so we see celebrities or people who have the means to do that using a surrogate, but that is not the majority. Many people also think surrogacy is easier, but there is nothing easier about surrogacy than there is about carrying your own child. It is a very intense, emotional, legal, and expensive process. My agent told me that in her 25 years of doing this, she has only come across elective surrogacy once or twice.
There are different kinds of surrogates. There is traditional surrogacy, which is where you would use the male’s sperm and the egg of the person who is carrying your baby. Back in the day, that was the main way people went because fertility wasn’t as advanced as it is now.
Most people nowadays use what is called a gestational surrogate, which is either the woman’s egg or a donor egg, and your partner or chosen person’s sperm. Of course, there are a lot of cases where a woman cannot use her own egg, but when she can, this is more widely used because when a surrogate, which is usually someone you do not know, uses her egg, there is much more legality to it.
Because you had a gestational surrogacy, what was your surrogate’s legal right over the baby?
This is where every state has different laws, so you go by whatever the laws are in the state where your baby is born. That is why it is very important to know the surrogacy laws in the state where your surrogate lives.
My baby was born in Georgia, which meant my surrogate did not have any legal ties to the baby. However, there was a lot of legal paperwork that had to be done beforehand because in the United States, for the first few minutes that a baby is in this world, the surrogate’s name is on the birth certificate because she technically gave birth to the baby. The legal paperwork we did beforehand was already there and ready when we got to the hospital. It is called a “pre-birth judgment,” where both we and the surrogate had gone before a judge, and she said, “I have no legal ties to this child,” and we said, “we are taking this child. This is our child.”
It is very much a business transaction. Bottom line, you are paying someone for a service. It sounds crazy, but it is true. You have to have thick skin because, throughout the process, you go through a lot of ups and downs. You have to keep in mind that it is a service because when such heightened emotions are involved, things can get very blurred.
Why was surrogacy the right choice for your family?
Ten years ago, before I even met my husband, I was very sick with a severe case of endometriosis, which is common, but the severity of my case is not very common. I had endometriosis of my intestine, which ended up blocking my intestine. My surgery went very, very wrong, and it was just a slew of surgeries after that. It was very intense, and I am lucky to be alive. Because of that and all that they had to do to keep me alive and all the scar tissue, I was not going to be able to safely carry a child. It would not be safe for me, and it would not be safe for the child.
It was hard for me because, as a woman and as a wife, I wanted to give that to my husband and give him that experience. I think I was more upset for him because I had had years to grieve it beforehand. He wanted to be supportive of me, so I don’t think he ever got to grieve it. He is very analytical, so he just said, “Okay, how do we get this done?” People always think with surrogacy that it is the women who miss out, but the men miss out in this situation, too.
How did you find Summer’s surrogate mother? Was there an interview process?
The first step is to go to a fertility doctor. When I did, and we decided that this may be a possible route for us, she gave me a list of agencies.
There is something called independent journeys, where you do not go through an agency and you handle everything yourselves. I would not advise you to go that way. I would say that with all that is involved in this process, going with a third party is the way to go.
I went down the list, and the first agency that actually picked up the phone and spoke to me rather than having me fill out forms online first was the one I went with. Whether that was the right way to do it or not, I do not know. But this person and I had a lovely conversation about the whole process and I went with them. You then pay the agency a one-time fee and they are basically your baby representative in addition to your actual lawyer. It is important to like the agency you go with because surrogates do not sign on with multiple agencies, so you have to feel like this agency gets you and is going to have the kind of surrogates you want. They are very expensive, and they are not refundable, so you need to feel sure, which I did when I picked this agency.
Once you pick your agency, you go through their list of surrogates. You not only have to pick them but they have to pick you, too. You create your profile with your story so that you are kind of auditioning to be a parent. It is uncomfortable from the start. Surrogates have in mind what kind of journey they want to have just like we have in mind what kind of surrogate we want.
Then there were so many things I hadn’t even thought about. For instance, one of the questions was whether or not we wanted a surrogate who was comfortable with termination. There are a lot who will not terminate under any circumstances. Some will only terminate for serious illness, but then everyone’s definition of “serious illness” is different. These are horrible things to have to think about, and I was not prepared for this nitty-gritty process, but it is a really big deal.
There is also a whole list of qualifications that your doctor will give you and every doctor is different. For example, the surrogate’s BMI has to be a certain number, and they cannot have had any C-sections or gestational diabetes in the past. Your doctor is trying to maximize your chance of success. She also cannot have had preeclampsia before. A lot of people do not know that you have to have had a baby to be a surrogate because the only way for your doctor to know how your surrogate’s body takes pregnancy is if she has been pregnant before. Anything that might hurt your chance of having a baby cannot be present in your surrogate.
We found a 21-year-old surrogate who had had a baby at 17 with her current husband. They were a lovely couple in San Diego. She had already done a surrogacy once before for an international couple in China. Dan and I ended up hitting every roadblock imaginable. After two egg retrievals, we only had one viable embryo, and that was it. I was not willing to do any more egg retrievals because it was really hard on me, and I was 38, and it was $25,000 per round, and the money we had set aside for this was beginning to dwindle. We had one shot.
We did what is called a mock cycle. This is where you give the surrogate IVF drugs but instead of implanting the embryo, the doctor does a biopsy of her lining to determine if the embryo would have taken. There is only one lab in the entire world that does this, and it is in Barcelona, which is wild. The entire fertility industry is wild. This kind of thing has only been possible within the last five years. Every year, there is more and more they can do.
So, in the middle of this, my surrogate started acting funny and being distant. I told Dan I knew something was up with her. Lo and behold, we got a call saying she wanted to put everything on hold. I thought I was months away from becoming a Mom. I was crushed and very, very angry. We decided we had lost our trust in this person because she knew how much was on the line for us. I was livid. I jumped the gun and told my agent I wanted to let her go. She asked us to give her some time to just consider a few things. My agency encouraged me to give her that time because if we let her go, we would lose out on a lot, so I said fine. I gave her a couple of weeks, but she ended up leaving us anyway because she had found out that her husband was cheating on her. In the long run, it was better that we were not involved in that situation, but I was still so angry. I was so devastated, I could not get out of bed for a week. I had never felt so crushed and so desperate after having this ripped away from me again.
We found another person who I knew in my heart of hearts was wrong. All I can say is that I made a poor decision out of my desperation. She was not a bad person, but I just did not click with her in the way I needed to with the person who was going to carry my child. But after the last time, I decided I did not want to be close to this person at all. I did not want any contact with them at all, which was way too extreme in the other direction.
She became very lackadaisical and wasn’t on time getting things in and ended up putting on a large amount of weight before the transfer, which made her BMI over what my doctor said was okay for the transfer. We ended up trying to help her and getting her a gym membership, but it was all just a horrible situation. I decided at the end of the day that we needed to let her go, so there went another $20,000 down the drain.
I know I keep referencing the money, which sounds cold. But it is a lot of money. Now that I have my child, I can tell you I would have spent a hundred million dollars to get her if I had to. But at the time, before I had this baby in my arms, it was really taxing on our finances, our life, our marriage, just everything.
At that point, this had been a full-time job for me for a year and a half. It was a horrible time in general that I went through quietly. This was not something I could call up my girlfriends and talk about. People wanted to be supportive but would say things that unknowingly set me off. I found it easier to go through this in solitude. I would give myself one day to wallow every time I got bad news. I would cry myself to sleep and then wake up the next day and power through. I did that for three years.
Then we found Megan. All the drama we had faced led us to her. She was 26 at the time. Our agency was doing everything they could to find a good person for us. She had just filled out her paperwork and my agent was like, “this is her.” We met her and her husband on FaceTime. They were a really sweet couple in Georgia. Her demeanor was really, really calm, and I liked that juxtaposition because I am very high-strung. We met her in January, and by March, we had signed on with her.
How involved were you with the pregnancy? How about her family?
We texted but never talked on the phone. It was great for me because it was a middle ground between the last two surrogates I had. I felt very comfortable. She also had a great support system with her husband. I feel that energy was important, too, because I feel when you are trying to get pregnant, both mind and body have to align.
Her husband came to every appointment with her, which was great, but a little uncomfortable during the transfer. It was amazing, though, because we got to watch our daughter on the screen and see her implant herself. We all put our hands on Megan’s belly afterward, and she said a little prayer. It was really beautiful, even though it was a little uncomfortable for my husband.
After the transfer, she was on 24-hour bedrest. Then she flew home and the blood test was three weeks later. A lot of surrogates take an at-home test before that, but I asked her if she did take one, not to tell me the result because people get a lot of false positives. She ended up taking four, one each day after the seventh day, and the line got darker and darker each day. She ended up giving them to me later.
I was in the car when I got the call from my doctor. She told me to pull over, so I thought it was bad news. She told me Megan was pregnant and I just remember screaming and yelling and it’s so terrible but I didn’t even think to conference my husband in because I was so excited. I went right home and told him.
We did not find out the sex of the embryo. I wanted to pop the balloon and have that one fun moment where I could be like other moms. It was the best decision because when I popped the balloon and saw it was pink, I was the happiest I had ever been.
How did your friends and family react when you told them you were considering surrogacy?
Everyone was super supportive. They all knew I had been very sick, and they knew what a miracle this was when it happened.
How was the birthing process?
Well, a fun little thing called COVID happened, which was terrifying. Someone was carrying my baby in another state, and there was a deadly virus in the world. She also lived in a state that basically stayed open. I was terrified.
I wanted to be in the room for the birth, so we went to Georgia three weeks early to quarantine. She had a false labor one week after we got there, which ended up being good because we got to do a dry run. After another week and a half, we induced. It was the height of COVID and we wanted to get our baby home and she was ready to be done.
They ended up letting both of us and her husband in the room. She was very into us watching the whole thing. She said she wanted to see us see the baby for the first time. She was adamant about that from day one.
Megan was induced at noon and started pushing by 1. The baby was crowning 20 minutes later. I grabbed a leg, and her husband grabbed a leg, and Dan was there watching. He normally gets queasy at a paper cut, but it was just the most beautiful experience. It is so crazy what women can do. Also, she was eerily calm. You see on TV all these people yelling and screaming, which was what I was expecting, but it was really quiet.
All of a sudden, here comes baby. She was perfect.
I had done a lot of research on connections. The baby knew Megan, her taste, her scent, her voice. At that point, it was simple biology, so I had done a lot of research on emotional transfer. It was really powerful to have Megan hand me the baby so that the baby would know that someone she knew and was comfortable with was handing the baby away. So she gave birth, they put the baby on her, and then Megan and baby Summer and I hugged. We held each other for, like, three minutes. It was so powerful and so beautiful what a woman can do for another woman. She made me a Mom. She gave that to me.
Will you tell Summer about her surrogacy story? If so, when?
Oh yeah! For sure. I think it is really important to be honest with your kids. I want to be honest with everyone about where she came from. Just as there are many different kinds of families, there are many different ways to have a baby and become a mother. Megan and I are still in contact, and I plan on her being a part of our lives forever. She will always be an incredibly important person to me. It takes a very special person to do this for somebody and I want Summer to know her and know that she is that special person.
What advice do you have for other families out there considering surrogacy?
Educate yourself. It is really important to know what you are getting into. I didn’t. I would not change anything because I have my beautiful baby, but now knowing all the roads that this can take and all the facets that go into it, I would say you need to make sure you are ready for this.