Episode 60 – Zoe – surrogate

Zoe birthed a little boy as a surrogate in Wollongong in October 2018 for her sister and brother in law who live in New Zealand. Unfortunately the relationship dissolved during the pregnancy and post birth. Surrogacy has had a huge impact on her life, contributing to the strains in her now separated marriage, and she wants to share her story so future surrogates and Intended Parents can be aware of the challenges.  

This episode was recorded in June 2024.


These podcasts were recorded as part of the free webinar series run by Surrogacy Australia. If you would like to attend one, head to this page for dates and registration links. The recording can also be found on our YouTube channel so you can see the photos that are described. Find more podcast episodes here.

The webinars are hosted by Anna McKie who is a gestational surrogate, high school Math teacher and surrogacy educator working with Surrogacy Australia and running SASS (Surrogacy Australia’s Support Service). 

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Are you an Intended Parent (IP) who is looking to find a surrogate, or a surrogate looking for Intended Parents? Consider joining SASS.


Thanks for watching!

Welcome back, or if this is your first time, thank you so much for taking the time to listen to Surrogacy Australia’s podcast series with me, your host Anna McKie. My guest on this episode was a co-host on the regular webinar series that I run. Those one-hour webinars are free and will take you through the surrogacy process in Australia. You will hear from a surrogate or parent and there are opportunities to type in your questions and we will try to answer them. You can find upcoming dates on our website at surrogacyaustralia.org

This episode, recorded in June 2024, features Zoe. Zoe birthed a little boy as a surrogate in Wollongong in October 2018 for her sister and brother-in-law who live in New Zealand. Unfortunately, the relationship dissolved during the pregnancy and post-birth. Surrogacy has had a huge impact on her life, contributing to the strains in her now separated marriage and she wants to share her story so future surrogates and intended parents can be aware of the challenges.

A trigger warning for this episode, we cover topics of Postnatal Depression, Suicidal Ideation, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, CPTSD and having no contact with family. Zoe takes us through how she offered to her sister, how this promise impacted her own family creation decisions, previous postnatal depression, extreme depression during the surrogate pregnancy which resulted in induction for her safety and the babies.

Zoe is articulate about how she has changed due to the CPTSD that she experienced due to surrogacy and the journey to wellness that she has been on. For me, this episode was a reminder that we need to be having the hard conversations with our surrogacy teams. Whether you’re a surrogate, intended parents, IPs or a surrogacy team listening, I hope this episode can be a resource for discussion for you now and in the future.

If you’re looking for more individualized support or as a team, I highly recommend you join SASS, Surrogacy Australia’s support service. You’re then connected with me to guide your team through this complex journey, as well as a mentor for all parties so you can be connected with that peer. There is prepaid counseling to access during pregnancy and we will be there with your whole team during this journey, providing the recipe and support.

so the relationship as a team stays intact and blossoms. I hope this episode creates conversations in your life.

So Zoe, we’ve got you here tonight to talk about your surrogacy journey. And it’s a bit different to others. Usually when I would have a surrogate or an appearance through surrogacy on, we’d go, okay, tell us about the beginning and then the steps that you went through, the pregnancy and the birth and life after birth. But I think a lot of people know, or who’ll be listening to this webinar, probably know that process. Yours didn’t go so well. There was some many challenges that arose. So I suppose we won’t go through all the steps of the counseling and legal’s tonight, but I guess let’s talk about what events happened and what decisions were made along the way

your journey not going smoothly. Yes, as Anna said at the start, I birthed in 2018. So the little boy that I birthed, who’s my biological.

nephew is now, gosh, he’ll be six this year. But very sadly, I don’t know him at all. And I have no contact with him or his parents. So that’s my sister and my brother-in-law. It was a strange experience. I volunteered to be a surrogate. My sister, when she

had reproductive issues. And at the time when I volunteered, my sister and I were not estranged, but we weren’t close. We had never been super close as sisters.

I think we liked and respected each other, but we were just very different people with very different life experiences. We hadn’t lived in the same country for a really long time. And crucially, she was going through all of her health issues at the same time that my mother was dying of cancer. And so I remember sitting in the parking lot of the hospital with my sister and her telling me about her troubles. And I just said very casually, well, don’t worry, I’ll have the babies for both.

At the time I was not a mother, I hadn’t had any children. Hadn’t had your boys at that point. So it was a… I hadn’t had my boys. So I was agreeing to something that was going to be way down.

She wasn’t ready at that time to have a child. I was about to get married. And having sort of said that, having offered, I felt really obligated to go through with the process. Even though so much had happened in your life since that baby, was that something that you carried with you feeling like, well, I made a promise I should see it through? I’m that sort of…

Do you know the very strange thing about it? We like to think that we’re rational human beings who make sensible decisions based on evidence. But there’s a lot of evidence against that. I realized first that my thinking about surrogacy was problematic. After I’d had my two boys, I chose to have them very close together because I knew that there was going to be a third pregnancy and I wanted to get everything out of the way before going.

back to a career. Wow. So that was factoring in the decision to have your boys close together was because you was holding this in your mind, this promise that you’d made.

when your mum had been unwell, just sort of, did that bring your mum joy, thinking that her girls were going to be okay and you know, she’d have grandchildren through them? Was that part of it? Well she had brain cancer, so she was very altered and it wasn’t a big part of that at the time, I don’t think. But I had just, I had come from a background where, a Christian background, where mothering was really on it and where choice was not always on it.

And I’d also come from a family that had lost a couple of children in various ways. For me, this was something that I didn’t say to myself, you know, should I go through with this? I thought I have to go through with this. And I can remember when I realized that my thinking was, was really altered. This is a horrible thing to say. I found myself when we were at point of, you know, picking a date.

for me to travel to New Zealand for the IVF. I found myself Googling how to go through IVF and not get pregnant. Wow. So you were already having these feelings of, I hope this doesn’t work, I don’t actually want to do this, but you didn’t speak up? I couldn’t voice them even to myself. I was so obligated and it was so important that my sister had a child. I couldn’t voice them even to myself. I was so obligated and it was so important that

Couldn’t. Important to who? It was up to the universe to. And that’s one of the things that I didn’t question. And that, you know, had I had really good counselling, I would have, you know, I now strongly, firmly believe that you do not owe anybody a child. Not even yourself, you know? If you’re someone who’s going through infertility, that’s a hard thing to arrive at, you know, to give yourself the freedom to say, I don’t owe this to anybody. You know, this is not something that has to happen.

But my brain wasn’t working that way. Are you saying though, it didn’t get picked up by the counselors or the lawyers at any point that they were sensing this hesitation from you? Were you good at bluffing it? Or they just, were they not as experienced in surrogacy and didn’t pick it up? What happened? Not experienced in surrogacy. I think that in the IVF industry, there are a lot of really well-meaning, beautiful people who really want people to have children. And they’re not really in a position

in and of themselves because of the work they do and that they’ve chosen to go into. They’re not really in a position to say rationally, you know, you’re not someone who should do this. You know, you’re not totally thinking straight. You’re not someone who should do this. So to cut a long story short, things got worse.

And during the course of the pregnancy, I was severely depressed. I was had regular, just relentless suicidal ideation. And the depression got to the point where it was bordering on psychosis. And these are things that happen to pregnant women. You don’t think that it will happen to you. I had

I had postnatal depression after my first child. When I was assessed for and did the counseling through the IVF clinic in New Zealand, I told them that. They certainly knew.

but it was glossed over, it was not really taken too seriously. Right, because in theory that should be not necessarily a red flag, don’t do it, but in some cases probably not. But in terms of how we’re going to manage this, having the whole team aware of it so that we can all support each other and support you during this in case it does happen. Exactly, exactly. Because we were living in different countries, because we were not hugely close anyway,

And we really relied on that, you know, oh, but we’re sisters, you know, family connection. And I can remember saying to the council, you know, council saying, you know, what if things come up, you know, what if this comes up, what if that comes up? And we were just like, oh, we’ll talk it through. We’d never talked anything through in our lives. You weren’t that type of sister. We just weren’t those sorts of people.

There was really poor communication. I think she was scared of me, scared of upsetting me, scared of putting me on the spot. I was in my own spiral and unable to think straight. And what ended up happening was that 37 weeks I was induced because I was a danger to myself and to the child. Yeah, wow, things were that dark for you. Yes, yes they were. And induction’s not fun.

And particularly having to birth when you’re not in a great mental frame, that would have been, I don’t know if I want to say traumatic, but it would have been very hard to. It was. Okay, it was. Yeah. And by this point, I’d imagine, I mean, so much to get here that you’d move states. Marriage was being challenged. You had two young kids who were about four and five, I think, at this time. The journey hadn’t been quite what you thought the way of support, both in terms of physical stuff and emotional. You know, all the.

connection and stuff wasn’t there. And so then you were in a dark spiral and then then having to birth would have… Oh I mean I honestly I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Yeah it was horrid. Yeah it was absolutely horrid. Did you birth in New Zealand or Wollongong? In Wollongong. So they came over so they were there vaginal delivery or a caesarean and was everyone around? It was a vaginal delivery but only just. They used forceps I had.

a lot of damage from the birth. The medical staff could see quite clearly, it was quite clear to them that I was beside myself, you know, that I was, I was deranged, you know, I was out of my mind. But nobody else in my life really, it was a very hard situation to feel supported in because people didn’t have points of reference. By that, do you mean the other, the midwives and the medical staff or even your family had never had experience with other surrogates and teens before? Is that what you mean? Yes.

I think Wollongong was a bit freaked out at the time because they’d had another terrible surrogacy situation like two weeks before. So the midwives were like incredibly solicitous and careful. I kept getting referred to other people. The social workers came, the counselors came, everyone came. And I was lucid. Like I was able to talk quite clearly about what I was feeling and why I had gone to the hospital and said, I need help.

But after that period, I was in the hospital for a week because it was basically a cycle at that point. And I was in a maternity ward.

with all of these people who had babies. And my body was going into shock and grief because in my regular day-to-day life, I was like an intellectual academic person. I was able to be lucid. I was able to be clear. I was able to sort of look okay and front things. But anytime I ventured out and saw someone I knew, they’d ask me about the baby. They’d ask me about the surrogacy. And the world really wasn’t safe for me.

you know, like I became really, really scared to leave the house. It was a long journey and I have had a lot of counseling, psychological and psychiatric support.

I’m in a good place now and I’m able to talk about it. You know, I used to really enjoy shocking people with the surrogacy when you’re pregnant and it’s just so funny when people say to you, you know, oh, what are you doing? Like, what are you having? You know, how’s the baby going? And I’d say, oh, thanks. Yeah, thanks for everything. Yeah, and that’s not mine. And people just do this wonderful double take. Yes, there’s some mileage you can get. Often around the time of birth in a classic team, the intended parents who’ve just become parents might be in the hospital together with you.

for a night or two in a room nearby. I’m assuming they were in terms of how, and I know for my body too, because I went into postnatal depression after my surrogate bub too. And I know there’s this grief that the body’s going through of where’s the baby? Even though your head and your heart know what you’ve done. I don’t want the baby, but the body and the post, no, the post-birth hormones are adjusting. So were you finding that you wanted cuddles with this baby or to see them be parents? Were you finding, and did that happen? I was too traumatized.

Yeah, I gave birth. The baby was taken. I think I held the baby for two or three minutes. And then he was taken to see his parents who had not been in the delivery room. The hospital staff were very deliberately keeping them away from me.

Yeah, I just can’t emphasize enough how physical that particular grief is. It’s not something I expected. Like you say, like I didn’t, you know, I didn’t want a baby. I didn’t want a third baby. I certainly didn’t want somebody else’s third baby. There was, there was nothing in it, but, but, but you know, we are fundamentally animals. We’re lack-

and bleeding and all of this. If a dog or a cat cries when the puppies are taken away, what do you expect a human being to feel? And I had not really wrestled with that at all, I don’t think, other than to dismiss it and to say, oh no, it’ll be fine, I’ll be happy for them.

I think this is a powerful conversation because I often help people at the beginning of surrogacy and you know, oh, it’ll be all sunshine and rainbows. But then I think it’s really important that we have these conversations about the grief that the body goes through, even though in other teams that you’re happy and you can see the parents with their baby and that brings you joy for most of us, you know, we’re happy. But there’s this sadness sometimes in our body and I think it’s potentially important. This is what Katrina Hale, the psychologist talks about in these webinar recordings that I had mentioned before in terms of having cuddles.

almost weaning the baby off the birth mother. So seeing each other every day for the first week and then going to every second day so that your body has cuddles. But I’m guessing because of how you were feeling with everything in the relationship breakdown, that just wasn’t happening. I’m guessing that you started to lose contact? No, I think I, there was one meeting arranged. I didn’t have to see the parents. The baby was brought to my home and I sat with him for half an hour and that’s the only time I’ve ever seen it.

Wow. So other than birth and just those few little bits around birth, that one time, and then I think you’d mentioned to me on the phone too, the post-birth counselling that has to happen. So that’s been the only time you’ve seen them since birth? Yeah, I saw my sister for counselling six weeks after the birth. But there is a thing with trauma where when people, if it’s too soon and people have to repeat their story over and over again.

which I had to do in the hospital, which I had to do to get psychological and psychiatric support. It’s re-traumatizing. So I could speak really lucidly about where I was and about what I thought might’ve happened to me. But in the end, all of that talk, including the counseling session with my sister, I ran out of it. Part of flight kicked in. It was total fire flight. And in all of this, I just feel incredibly, I don’t feel guilty for anything that happened.

Or should you? I don’t blame the parents for the decisions that they made and the way that they handled. Well, I don’t know. That might not be true. Disappointed, perhaps? Disappointed, yeah. The thing that I live with now is, you know, like with my sister, with a lack of relationship with my sister and the lack of relationship with this child, it’s also damaged a lot of other relationships. Yeah.

desperately loved to have all of his children in the same room together, it hasn’t happened. My sons don’t know their cousin and they do know that something really bad happened to their mother. And we were really, we were on point with parenting. They knew every day, every single day, your baby cousin is in the tummy, Auntie Meredith and Uncle Andy, every day.

books and this and that, but it’s yeah this is the thing with trauma is that it really ripples out in a way that makes me think of that um you know that that dump out graphic? Yes I do. I love that because it just makes people put down on paper like I’m supporting this person and I get support from there and everybody knows what their role is everybody knows where the…

you know, which direction the drama is going in. Because if you don’t have that and there’s a trauma that happens, and trauma, I didn’t come up with this, but there’s some trauma expert, might be Van de Kock, who’s like, trauma’s not, it’s not the thing that happens to you, it’s how it lives in your body afterwards. It’s a living thing. And I think that really only people who have encountered serious trauma in their lives maybe understand how it can make you a really different person. Like I am a,

different person than I was because of surrogacy. And… So tell us a bit more. So how has it changed you? And now that you’re all these years out, what positives have you found? I know while we were chatting on the phone, leading up to this webinar, it was about, I see you being…

a really strong advocate for yourself now in terms of what it is you’re looking for in your life, for your children, the relationships that you want to have in life, both with potential partners and family, friends, are they the sorts of positives that you find from this? This is such a hard one because I really, I shrink away from picking positives. I think that there are certainly lessons to learn from it. Maybe that then. What can we learn as a community here from your journey and what changes would

messages to pass on to future teams here. Yes, can’t say enough for informed counseling and regular contact, regular sessions if you are doing this with family members. So you’re talking about having sessions ongoing during the pregnancy and post-birth just to be clear. Yeah I don’t think you can have too much counseling honestly. I’d love to hear it.

100% behind you there sister. I had a lot. And I think not just the surrogate, but sometimes the IPs need a session on their own and then sometimes you need a session as a team as well. Yeah, I think that my sister and a lot of intended mothers, I think works differently for gay dads probably, but there’s a great infertility that women experience that’s really hard not to bring to the table in the relationship with the surrogate.

I think that intended mothers need to be incredibly intentional about their place in the dump out circle. Yes, they need to have a support network too for themselves. They need to have a serious support network. They need to be really honest with themselves about not bringing their grief and adding that to the burden of bearing a child, you know, because that’s enough hard work. Yes.

That’s enough hard work right there. And to be the person. Surrogates tend to be, I think, pretty proactive, ballsy women. And it’s tempting to rely on that.

in a relationship dynamic. It’s just, it’s a tricky thing. It’s always trickier than I thought. Having a baby with four people is complicated. I think that the world has come a long way in terms of the resources that are available now. Like I didn’t know about Katrina Hale, there was no SAS. Like people can be really informed now and should be.

really informed. On that when we formed SAS based on a research project that we’d done with surrogates beforehand, some carried for strangers but some carried for family and had instances where the relationship fell apart. And so it was based on what they wanted from this that we created SAS and it was having that recipe, having those people to check in and help you navigate that complex journey so that it doesn’t fall apart. No guarantees of course but having a support network

So if they as IPs and you as a surrogate had other people to talk to who had done this journey before and so that your IPs could have been guided on, here’s some things to do during surrogacy to help or to talk about. So in terms of them supporting you, if they were finding that knowledge from others, who knows, it might’ve helped a little bit. Oh my goodness, Anna. Like we got to the 37th week without having had a conversation about whether they would be in the room when I birthed. Yeah, right.

We got to the 37th week without having a conversation about whether we would let the cord drain and the baby would be on my belly. We had had no sex. Well, then, sorry, it has come a long way because I reckon most teams now talk about that not only during pregnancy, but even before pregnancy, everybody. Oh, my God. Yes, like, absolutely. And I think that one change that I would like to see more broadly for the media to report more meaningfully on.

surrogacy because it’s very easy for the Women’s Weekly or something to slap a success story on the cover and talk about you know Kim Kardashian and Nicole Kidman and Elton John and all the celebrities you know who can pay a million dollars for a surrogate and get you know the experience that they’ve paid for. It’s important to know that birth on a

good day is really messy and really dangerous. You add family dynamics into the mix. It’s just, I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through. I don’t want anyone to have to learn to live. Like I’ve been diagnosed with CPTSD. I have a different brain now because of the trauma that I went through. It’s kind of fascinating. It’s actually like I’m now at a point where I’m like, this is an interesting challenge.

It’s like learning to live with a new way of thinking. I can’t do the things I used to be able to do. I can’t think in the ways that I used to be able to think. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I wouldn’t go back and have this experience over again. Like, no way. It was not worth it. It was worth it. It wasn’t worth it. If I was back at the start of this, like I wouldn’t, yeah, I wouldn’t start it. But at the same time, I don’t think I would give the growth and the change.

that I have had to embrace and had to walk into because I had no choice. I wish I hadn’t been put in that corner of having to do that work, but I’m now really proud of the person that I’ve become. And I have a lot of compassion for that woman, you know, that woman.

I was and for my sister and for my children and for my father, I just have so much compassion for all of these people who were doing the best they could, you know, at the end of the day. What a story, Zoe. And although my struggles were not quite as severe as yours.

what you’re saying I can relate to in terms of, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And I kind of wish I didn’t have to go through it, but the growth I have done in ongoing counseling and wellness that I am glad for, but I still don’t necessarily know. I wish I’ve been on the path. So yeah, really powerful to hear. Yeah. Bless you Anna for taking, you know, a hard experience and really actually working to make change for others, you know, cause not everybody does that.

Thank you. Well, thank you for being here and for being a part of that change to bringing a voice to these stories where it doesn’t all go smoothly so that future teams could perhaps listen to this episode as a team and go, wow, that happened to their team. What, you know, what could we do differently there? Absolutely. If it freaks you out, you know, listening to a podcast, like sister to a story like this.

then sit down with your team and talk through that feeling because I can guarantee you it will not be the most uncomfortable conversation you have to have. Yep, because surrogacy is all about uncomfortable conversations. There’s going to be plenty, right? Yes, absolutely. Is there anything else then that you’d like to add to summarize or you feel that we’ve covered it? No, short and sharp and sweet, we did well. Thank you. Well, yes, thank you for being an advocate and for riding the wave that you have and the impact that it has had on your life there. We’re proud of you and the journey

that you’ve done and who knows when little Sam you know might listen to this in the future who knows what the future holds and your own sons too seeing what their mum has done. Yeah yeah all right thank you Anna good night. Good night. Thank you so much for joining me on our YouTube channel you will find many other episodes as well as the images mentioned in this webinar.

If you’re looking for more resources, check out the show notes for this episode and consider joining us for one of our webinars so you can have your questions answered on the spot. Please subscribe to this podcast if you found it valuable and share it with someone so they too can benefit from this conversation. Until next time, welcome to the Village.

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