Out in the Open

The pain and pleasure of being a surrogate mother

'Does this person deserve to have me as their surrogate?'
Pregnant woman in the doctor's office (Dragan Grkic/Shutterstock)

Sarah Jarvis has been a surrogate mother twice. 

She put an ad up on a website, and received about a hundred inquiries within the first couple days of posting. After being inundated with emails, she pulled the ad — only to have people follow up with more messages begging her to carry their child.

"It's very difficult [to decide who to pick]. I'm put in this position to interview these people and sort of figure out what I'm looking for, and basically curating. It's such an interesting dynamic because it's like asking them private, personal questions to find out 'does this person deserve to have me as their surrogate?'"

She'd been offered up to $80,000 to have another woman's baby — but turned the offer down because the surrogacy conditions and subsequent relationship didn't fit what she wanted. 
Sarah Jarvis

"Because she was in the States, she wanted no contact. She really wanted it to be a business transaction - that wasn't something I was looking for. I was looking for someone who was local, and who I could have a relationship with and watch the child grow from a distance, and someone who had a very familial, warm feeling — a connection."

The first time she became a surrogate, she had wanted a continuing relationship with the child — to be "Aunt Sarah". Unfortunately, that didn't happen. 

Despite having two children of her own, she received criticism from the parents whose baby she had carried, and had to "pull back" when she couldn't keep up with the heavy demands of the couple. This resulted in no contact at all, and meant she re-evaluated how she approached surrogacy the second time around with a new couple.

"They were on the same page — they really agreed with what I was wanting, and their wants were the same. It was like this match made in heaven. We fell in love with the idea of working together and it was great — for a portion of the journey."

Towards the end of the second pregnancy, it became stressful for Sarah, as much of what she had been promised vanished. Instead of a baby shower with the couple's extended family, it was crickets — and minimal contact after the baby was born.

So why did she do it — not once but twice? 

Sarah admits she loves being pregnant, and she wanted to be able to give the gift of a baby to a family that wouldn't otherwise be able to have had a child on their own.

Despite enjoying pregnancy, there were several moments of pain and stress, and times when Sarah questioned why she was doing this for someone else. But the worst was when the connection was lost after the birth. 

"That moment became more prevalent when they stopped talking to me and including me, and I suppose I can see where they're coming from — and it's common. A lot of surrogates have the same problem, where they just finally get what they want, and then they just want time to themselves with their child. But I think it's the manner in which it's handled."

Sarah says she didn't expect recognition for being a crucial part of bringing a baby into the world, but would have appreciate it.

Reflecting on her experience, Sarah says she wanted to make an impact and "leave a legacy", but after four children — two of her own, and two surrogates — she feels like she's ready to retire.

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Perfect Strangers". It originally aired on May 7, 2017.