TWIN FALLS — After having six biological children, becoming a surrogate mother was in the back of Jennifer Yost’s mind for years.

But for the Jerome woman, it wasn’t easy to take the first step.

“It took me almost six years to bring it up with my husband,” Yost said. Her husband was great about it, she said, and they talked about the idea with their children, too.

Yost wanted to participate in a gestational surrogacy — where she carried someone else’s child, but didn’t donate her own eggs. “I’m just the oven,” she said.

Nearly two years ago, she delivered a baby boy at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center — the biological child of another Idaho couple.

“Surrogacy can be the most beautiful gift you can give to someone else,” Yost said.

Surrogacy is part of the St. Luke’s Health System‘s relatively new Unique Families Program, launched in 2013. Here in the Magic Valley, it’s only the second year of the program. Yost was the first patient and she’s among eight families who’ve participated.

St. Luke’s Magic Valley is also coming up on its third international surrogacy — where a woman here is carrying a baby for parents who live in a foreign country.

The Unique Families Program encompasses surrogacy, adoptions, refugee and inmate populations, migrant families and same-sex couples. It’s designed to help families have a better experience in the hospital, said Tracy Larsen, maternal child case manager for St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center.

Medical providers refer patients to the program. A team meets with affected families between 20 and 28 weeks into the pregnancy to answer their questions and come up with a plan for delivery so there aren’t any surprises.

If possible, the meeting includes the adoptive parents or those who will take the baby once they are born.

Across the St. Luke’s Health System, the number of surrogacy admissions has grown steadily. There was a 166 percent increase just between the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years — from 30 to 80 families — but numbers dropped off slightly for the 2017 fiscal year.

One possible reason for the increase: Idaho has the least restrictive surrogacy process in the United States, Larsen said, and there aren’t any state laws on the books regulating it.

‘It’s not a

common thing’

Yost grew up in a huge family: She’s among 12 biological children and her parents also adopted four children, including two boys from Brazil.

“For me, it was always a thing I always wanted — a lot of children,” she said.

Yost said she and her sisters would talk about carrying each other’s children if one of them couldn’t become pregnant.

Yost had six healthy pregnancies, delivering her sixth at age 30. After that, her husband wanted to stop having children, she said.

Yost struggled for a long time. She didn’t feel like a child was missing from their family, but she still felt so young and able to sustain another pregnancy.

After years of thinking about surrogacy, she finally talked with her husband about it. They decided to move forward. Yost wanted to be a surrogate just once.

Once they made a decision, one key piece was missing: Finding a couple to help.

Yost said she started praying she’d find a couple to become a surrogate for. She wanted to find a woman to help who’d be like a sister.

Finding a family

One day at church, a woman was asking for prayers for her daughter-in-law, who was a surrogate and was going through health complications. Afterward, Yost talked with her about it and asked for the daughter-in-law’s phone number. They later talked on the phone.

Yost is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and said there’s a lot of stigma around surrogacy. “It’s not a common thing. It’s a little bit discouraged.”

Yost didn’t know where to go next. She called an agency that helps with surrogacy to ask for information. They told her they’d turn her away as a surrogate since she’d had six biological children.

But the agency’s attorney passed her information along to a couple looking for a surrogate. Yost received an email from the couple — one she had no idea was coming — and they later talked on the phone and met in person.

The biological parents are from Idaho and are also LDS. They — along with Yost — had both been praying to find someone of their same faith.

The woman had a kidney transplant and couldn’t carry a biological child. She’d used a surrogate for the first pregnancy and one of the twins didn’t survive.

Yost said there’s no way the entire surrogacy process would have happened without a series of connections — starting at church. “All these little pieces kind of connected.”

It was meant to be, Yost said. Tears welled up in her eyes. “For me, it was really important to have a bond between the two families.”

Yost’s children visited the baby boy in the hospital shortly after he was born. He’s like a cousin to them. And Yost — who has blond, curly hair — refers to the woman whose child she carried as her “brunette sister.”

“I see it as a special thing I was able to do for her,” she said.

The preparation

Yost went through extensive counseling in order to become a surrogate. She and the intended parents also had to outline decisions on many topics via a contract.

That included what they’d do under a number of possible scenarios, such as if the baby had a disability, if it was a multiple child pregnancy or if something went wrong during the delivery.

There were lots of medications and shots, too. And “weird comments” and questions followed about her decision, Yost said: Was her family short on money? Is that why they were pursuing surrogacy?

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Yost said money wasn’t a factor and surrogate families have to demonstrate they’re doing well financially.

A surrogate mother, though, can charge fees of as much as $35,000 to $40,000, according to the Surrogacy America center’s website.

When Yost and her husband started their own agricultural business and were shopping for new health insurance, they called around to make sure surrogacy was covered under their plan.

When she received medical bills throughout her pregnancy, she sent them to the intended parents.

Yost started the process of becoming a surrogate at age 37. She was 39 when the baby was born.

It took four embryo transfers through the Idaho Center for Reproductive Medicine before a pregnancy was sustained. She became pregnant each time, but had miscarriages. Yost said she had never experienced that before. Throughout the process, “my husband never once faltered,” she said, and her children were praying for her.

Yost may have been the surrogate, but the process was a group effort, she said. “My husband was my support. My family was amazing.”

During the pregnancy, Yost would talk with the intended mother on the phone and send videos of the baby kicking. She often heard questions around the community about whether she’d have trouble giving the baby away. But for Yost: “There was never any question of who he belonged to,” she said.

‘I don’t regret

it at all’

Yost’s health took a turn for the worse toward the end of the pregnancy. She was induced at 36 weeks and had a natural delivery.

Both of the intended parents were in the room with her during the labor and delivery. Yost said she wanted them to experience the joy of childbirth — especially, since they had a traumatic experience with their first birth.

But her health was in jeopardy. Her lungs filled with fluid and her heart rate dropped to 39 beats per minute. She didn’t realize it at the time, but a crash cart was outside her hospital room in case her heart stopped beating.

Meanwhile, her husband hadn’t gotten a hospital-issued wrist band to allow him to come and go from the labor and delivery suite. That caused even more stress.

Throughout all of it, Yost said she was focused completely on the baby. And thankfully, after delivering the baby, her health improved significantly.

But for a month or so, she and her husband were processing what had happened — and the impact of her life-and-death scare.

To this day, Yost and her family stay in contact with the biological parents of the baby boy. They’re like extended family.

Yost said she wouldn’t go through surrogacy again. She wouldn’t want to put her husband through that. And it was never the plan to be a surrogate more than once.

But despite the trials, Yost said: “I don’t regret it at all.”

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