Surrogate motherhood: The journey of two women

Jenny Lowe is a cancer survivor who sought a surrogate mother to carry her baby following in-vitro fertilization. Brianna Bigelow is the mother of twins conceived through in-vitro fertilization and chose to serve as a surrogate mother for the Lowes who’d experienced infertility.

Jade Elliott spoke with Jenny and Brianna about the incredible journey that led them to surrogate motherhood on this episode of the Baby Your Baby Podcast.

Lowe married in her 30’s and she and her husband James tried to get pregnant for six months and then began the long process of infertility treatment. In 2019 she was happy to find out in-vitro fertilization (IVF) had worked, they had one embryo. But the same day, Jenny also learned she had cancer. It was Stage 3 ovarian cancer, and she underwent chemotherapy and a full hysterectomy. Suddenly, pregnancy for Jenny was off the table.

“I don’t think there are words to describe the emotions we felt that day,” said Jenny. “We learned the news of our embryo “EmbryLowe” in the waiting room of the hospital only a few hours before I was coming out of anesthesia to the news of my cancer.”

“We’d been elated to hear the news after so much disappointment. We shared a beautiful moment in the hallway, cried and embraced one another. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I went into my biopsy, certain they’d not find anything. But it was impossible to hold that excitement once we learned I had cancer. It felt like a cruel twist of fate. I almost felt angry we’d been successful, because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to carry the baby, and that was a devastating reality,” she added.

Jenny’s sister-in-law agreed to be a surrogate mother and carry the baby. And then some additional bad news came, the pregnancy failed. Now she’d need an egg donor and a surrogate mother to be able to have a baby.

Jenny’s husband James, made an urgent plea on Facebook, saying they were looking for a surrogate mother to carry their baby. Briana Bigelow responded, saying she’d be willing to carry their baby.

After some serious conversations and lots of medical tests, the Lowes used a new embryo with a donor egg and the couples started a new, nontraditional, and surprisingly comfortable pregnancy together.

Weighing the options

“James and I talked about a few options, including adoption. Both options sounded like a lot of work and we knew there were risks in either path. Financially, emotionally, physically, there were things to consider with both. We were now familiar with the surrogacy process. It seemed like it would be a smoother path, rather than to change gears.”

“I worried about my ability to connect with a child that had none of my DNA and I didn’t carry. And I didn’t want to take that ability away from James. I wanted him to be able to have a child that was biologically his. I didn’t want him to suffer the same loss that I’d been forced to deal with.”

James worried if he was biologically tied to our baby, it might cause issues between them and that Jenny would feel resentful or hurt, and if he looked down and saw himself in the baby and felt happy, he’d feel guilty.

Their decision came out of mutual respect and honesty with one another, which was one of the most important things they worked to maintain through the entire process.

“I worried seeing another woman pregnant would spark some feelings of sadness or anger, but the moment Hope arrived, I felt like her mom and bonded with her so deeply,” said Jenny.

Finding a surrogate

“It was important I knew or felt really comfortable with the woman we chose. It isn’t always an option to find someone in your circle, but make sure you feel comfortable with who you choose and decide up front what things are important to you. When you find the right person, the experience is amazing to be a part of,” said Jenny.

Jenny knew she wanted to be as involved as possible with doctors visits, updates, in-person visits to feel kicks or movement, even sometimes having difficult or possibly awkward conversations and ultimately, the delivery. Some women don’t have those requirements, they just want a happy and healthy baby.

“I also tried to remind myself that Dads experience pregnancy much the same as I was faced experiencing it. They don’t carry their child, but they’re able to bond with their child.” In the moments I felt I was somehow being slighted as a woman, I’d think of that.”

Motherhood requires flexibility

“Life does not always go the way we want it to and just like in any other situation, you have to be able to adapt to and work through the unknown. Being flexible through surrogacy was no different. I think staying flexible keeps everyone as healthy and stable as possible. The last thing we wanted or needed was to add pressure to the situation and cause ourselves more heartache,” said Jenny.

Jenny says trust is also a key factor in the success of the experience. The person carrying your baby may have a different idea of what a successful pregnancy looks like, and you have to be able to trust that everyone is doing their part. I think being flexible makes you a stronger person.

With COVID restrictions, they weren’t sure how the delivery would pan out, but it ended up that all four of them were able to be in the delivery room.

The Lowes treated the pregnancy just like it was their own. They went to doctor appointments, had a gender reveal party and prepared for the birth.

In late February, baby Hope made her debut. The name was significant for the Lowes.

“It became a very recurring theme throughout my treatment and through our fertility struggle. People would give us things or say things about the concept of hope,” explained Jen.

Brianna Bigelow went to high school with Jenny’s husband James and they’d reconnected on Facebook. Briana suffered back-to-back miscarriages and then had twins through IVF.

The thought of being a surrogate mother had crossed my mind from time to time, but it wasn’t something that really hit home until we were having our own infertility struggles. I think the infertility world really opens your mind to unconventional family-building methods,” said Brianna.

Brianna’s best friend had just gotten pregnant as a surrogate a few months before and she was in awe of her story. So when Brianna saw James’ post, it felt very serendipitous.

It’s a sacrifice and a unique experience to give someone something not everyone can give

“It’s not even something I can really put into words. It’s felt like this was always part of my life story. This was just so easy and natural to help in this way that it is easy to forget how big of a deal it really is. Sometimes I tell people I just had a baby — for another couple!”

Explaining your choice to your family

Brianna’s older teenage daughter had a good understanding that not everyone has an easy time conceiving and may need to follow a different route. So when she explained she wanted to be a surrogate, she thought it was a really neat concept. But she triple verified her parents were NOT going to end up with another baby in addition to the almost three year old twins.

“It’s always been important to me to show my kids how to not live a life that only concerns themselves. I want them to take their own struggles and say, now how can I help someone else get through their struggles?. And sometimes it’s as simple as sending someone good vibes, and sometimes it’s jumping in feet first and making choices that intertwine with another person’s life,” said Brianna.

Giving up the baby

Brianna said It wasn’t hard to give up the baby, it was the most rewarding part. At delivery, she felt like a fly on the wall watching James and Jenny FINALLY hold their baby after their struggles. She was overwhelmed with peace and felt so much calm.

She knew it might be a struggle, so she was proactive and shared those fears with Jenny.

“The relationship I wanted to have with Hope post-birth was something we had talked about before the pregnancy. It was good to talk early on because this way, I could help advocate for James and Jenny in the hospital and they were able to do the same for me,” said Brianna.

If you’re considering being a surrogate mother

Briana says it’s important to have a support system. You have to be willing to have really tough and awkward conversations like who gets to be in the birthing room. And how much do you want them to see? Who gets to pick the OB/Gyn?

There isn’t really a “how to build a surrogacy relationship” guide out there so communication is key.

“I think making sure I was done building my own family made the process easier, said Brianna.

While the birth itself was easy, following delivery, Brianna was rushed back to the hospital in heart failure. As it turns out, baby Hope revealed a congenital heart condition Briana didn’t know she had. Now she knows about it and can take appropriate action to keep it in check.

The Lowes said if they never started down the road to getting pregnant, Jenny’s cancer diagnosis could have come too late. For the Bigelows, baby Hope potentially saved Brianna’s life, as well. Hope is a miracle baby indeed!

The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.