Heidi Dietrich is 10 weeks pregnant. She has two children, Declan, 5 and Delaney, 2 ½, and a loving husband, Matt. They live together in Bismarck where she leads a normal life as a mom and a business owner and right now she’s experiencing the typical symptoms of early pregnancy—headaches, bloating, fatigue and nausea—but Heidi’s pregnancy is far from typical.
The baby Heidi is growing and carrying is not hers.
“Delaney is too young to understand, but Declan understands that there’s a baby in mommy’s tummy, but it’s not our baby,” explained Heidi. “Kids are so accepting. He just said ‘For real? How’d it get in there?’ He wanted to know how it worked.”
How it all works is a common question Heidi receives about her decision to become a surrogate mother for her high school friend. It was a decision and offer that, it turns out, came easier to her than the process, which started with a phone call and, if all continues to go well, will end with the birth of a healthy baby.
Heidi, who grew up in Seattle, had been close to her friend since meeting her in junior high. Even though time separated them by distance, they continued to keep in touch with each other, checking in with phone calls every month or so. When Heidi became unexpectedly pregnant with her first child, and then experienced an easy conception and pregnancy with her second, she began to realize that her pregnancy story wasn’t necessarily the norm.
“Pregnancy was so easy for me,” she said, explaining that it was difficult to watch so many of her friends struggling to conceive. When she checked in with her friend in Seattle about her family plans, she encouraged her to start early. “I advised her not to wait until she thought the timing was right, but to start now because so many of my friends had struggled.”
Unfortunately, the journey that awaited Heidi’s friend wasn’t going to be an easy one. After trying for several months without success, the couple sought professional help at a fertility clinic.
“I told her then, that if it came down to it, I would be a surrogate for her. It was something I had been contemplating, but it was so easy for me to offer, because my pregnancies were uncomplicated and I saw how they were struggling. But I didn’t really think it would become a real reality.”
Doctors soon discovered that Heidi’s friend was born with half a uterus and one fallopian tube. But even with that prognosis, the doctors thought that she could conceive and carry her own child to near full term with bed rest and the help of a NICU. So the Seattle couple went through with a series of intrauterine insemination procedures (IUIs) that resulted in a pregnancy. Unfortunately, at six weeks, Heidi’s friend’s pregnancy was undetectable, even though her HCG levels were rising, a curious phenomenon that resulted in a DNC and an intense procedure to kill the cells.
“Her doctors told her that pregnancy was no longer an option for her, and that, in fact, she should be taking measures to prevent it,” explained Heidi.
And then Heidi got the phone call that would set the friends on the crazy, complicated and emotional journey of surrogacy.
“She called me, and we hadn’t spoken for a while, so I didn’t know she had been pregnant. She said, ‘I don’t want to push you, but your offer has given us hope that this might be an option for us,’” said Heidi, who explains that for her, personally, the answer was yes, but once she realized it could become a reality, she needed to sit back and be realistic about the effects the decision would have on her husband and her family.
“My husband struggled with it, even though my pregnancies were easy. There was a fear of the unknown. He wanted to know how it works and who’s financially responsible,” said Heidi who added the couple also started to worry about health risks and pregnancy complications that would be out of their control.
So the families decided to seek counseling through her friend’s fertility clinic where they worked to remain open and communicative before making the decision to enter into the process. It was a decision that helped both couples sort through concerns about distance, finances, legal issues, and the worry about remaining friends through the process. It also helped Heidi come to terms with the fact that although she wanted to have more kids of her own, after finding out that her son has muscular dystrophy and she’s the carrier, the couple has decided that they won’t be expanding their own family.
But being able to help her friend start hers was something that really appealed to Heidi.
“The fact that I was done having children of my own has been a good thing for me,” explains Heidi. “This is my last time being pregnant and I want to enjoy that part of it and then I get to give this wonderful gift to someone else.”
But emotions and intentions aside, there were some legal issues the couples had to work out before they moved forward, a process that wasn’t fun for the friends, but necessary to make plans for unknowns and worst case scenarios, should the come up.
Part of the legal discussion was based around financial compensation, which the couple ultimately decided to agree upon and one that their counselor advised.
“Our counselor explained that it can become a messy process if there isn’t an agreed upon financial exchange, because one person always ends up feeling like they’re losing something,” said Heidi who explains that this has been the hardest part of the process for her so far, because she isn’t in it for the money and she feels bad sending the endless doctor bills along to her friend. But the money they receive will go to their children’s college savings funds and that is a good feeling. “In the end we’re able to give them something that they couldn’t have and in return they’re doing the same for us.”
From the time the couples entered the surrogacy discussion to the time the embryo transfer procedure took place, eleven months had passed.
“It will be almost exactly two years after her miscarriage that I will deliver,” said Heidi who went on to describe the medical process the two women went through to get to the positive pregnancy test, a process that involved her friend going through a series of medications and shots to retrieve and fertilize her eggs. When it was all said and done, six of her friend’s embryos survived. At the couple’s request, and with the help of science, the embryo implanted into Heidi is a girl.
And while Heidi’s friend went through a more invasive process, the embryo transfer, according to Heidi, was simple.
“It took about 45 minutes total,” said Heidi, who flew out to Seattle for the procedure. ““Now that I’m pregnant I feel like we’re at the tail end of this long process.”
At ten weeks, Heidi is close to what is considered more of a “safe zone” of the second trimester mark, which she realizes is significant to her friend who is understandably anxious. The two friends keep in touch daily and to help ease her friend’s nerves and Heidi sends her text updates on how she’s feeling.
“I can feel daily that I’m pregnant, I have headaches, I’m nauseous,” said Heidi, who is sensitive to the fact that her friend doesn’t have that physical reassurance. “I will text her ‘still pregnant!’ with a little green sick emoji, just to let her know it’s going the way it should.”
Maybe not typical, but, according to Heidi, who sent up prayers and received the signs she needed, the way it was meant to be.
And if you ask her why she felt so compelled to offer a chance at such a gift, Heidi simply answers, “Because it makes sense.”