Even after experiencing both the highs and lows of carrying three babies for two different couples, Shelda Anglin of Bakersfield remains an advocate for surrogacy.
The first time, Anglin and her family made a connection with a couplethat remains strong years afterAnglin delivered their twin daughters.
But the second time, she and her family endured a strained relationship with the mother-to-be before and after the birth.
Still, Anglin encourages others to explore the opportunity to give someone a family -- with lessons learned from her.
"I want to make sure they know to enjoy it," she said. "Don't let the process kind of overshadow enjoying the pregnancy 'cause it's going to be over, you know, quick and then you're going to be left with regrets."
FINDING A GOOD MATCH
Anglin, a mother of two, started to think about surrogacy around the year 2000.
"I've always felt better just in general while I'm pregnant than when I'm not. My mood is just better," she said. "Then of course there's that aspect that you're carrying a life and you know the movement of a baby."
Anglin's excitement grew after she got in touch with the Center for Surrogate Parenting, an agency in Los Angeles. "I felt like, 'They get it, they understand why I want to do this,' because I was talking to my husband and to my mother and they were both saying, 'You are nuts.'"
As they pondered whose baby Anglin would carry, she and her family gravitated toward one couple's profile.
The husband and wife didn't have any children yet and they lived in Washington State, which appealed to Anglin's desire to have some distance between her and the future parents. The Anglins also liked that the husband had been a Marine.
Julie and Chuck McEwen had married in 2001 but waited to get serious about having kids. Julie was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 7 and had been warned her that pregnancy would be risky for her and any baby she might carry.
She probably would have tried to have a child anyway, but Julie said her parents "were really freaked out by the idea" and in the end, they financed part of the surrogacy.
The McEwens considered adoption, but were concerned they might not get an infant or that an adopted child could have attachment issues.
The couple also tapped the Center for Surrogate Parenting and were candidates to work with two other surrogates before Anglin picked them. One surrogate rejected them; they turned down another.
"In a way (being rejected) was a blessing because I feel like Shelda and I had a very open relationship where we could talk to one another," Julie said. "At the time, though, it felt devastating."
At last, their profile made it to and appealed to the Anglins. Shelda and Julie talked regularly on the phone and the McEwens suggested the families meet at Disneyland.
"By the end of the day, we knew,'" Anglin said. "My husband and I both discussed it and said, 'We're gonna work with them.'"
According to her contract, Anglin would be paid $22,000 with an additional $3,000 if she were to become pregnant with another baby. The McEwens would also have to cover her mileage, health insurance and a life insurance policy.
The details were inked, but getting pregnant proved to be a challenge. None of Julie and Chuck's embryos took in the first round of in vitro fetalization.
"There was definitely a feeling of disappointment because for me, I had never had to try to get pregnant, I just did," Anglin said.
The next round produced better results. In early 2005, an elated-Anglin discovered she was pregnant.
"I debated, should I tell Julie or should I not. Should I do something exciting, you know, send her balloons? And I was like, 'No.' I just called her because I couldn't contain it," Anglin laughed.
They soon learned that Anglin was carrying twins. Julie never worried that the surrogate might be tempted to keep the infants.
"She could go off and have as many kids as she wants, why would she want to take mine? I never got the feeling from her that she ever really looked at them as anything other than my kids," Julie said.
During her first surrogacy, Anglin was surprised how many people were bothered by what she was doing and she often felt the need to defend herself.
"A parent asked me if I was doing it for the money the first time. I was so offended. I said, 'Obviously, you have no idea,'" Anglin said.
The McEwens' daughters, Kieran and Noelle, were born Nov. 14, 2005, and Anglin handed them to their parents. Anglin said the look on Julie and Chuck's faces "was priceless" as they held their daughters for the first time and everyone in the delivery room was in tears.
Still, Anglin left the hospital with mixed feelings.
"Mostly I felt like I was giving this amazing gift but then there's this little bit of you, a little part of me, that felt a loss," she said.
But Anglin came home to flowers and talked to Julie and it reminded her again why she did it.
The Anglin and McEwen families still have a warm relationship, and have met up a few times over the years in California.
"That's nice just to know that even if we haven't talked in a while, when we pick up the phone it's an easy conversation," Julie said.
Even when the twins, now 7, were younger, Julie explained who Anglin was to them in simple ways.
"I don't feel like there is anything to hide about it and I want my kids to have an open mind and know that families have kids in different ways," Julie said.
Anglin's children also gained a unique view of how families are formed. Anglin's daughter Ariel, 16, said she enjoys watching twins grow up.
"To have that bond with them is really cool," she said. "It's just like this really interesting experience that not everyone gets to have."
TOUGHER SECOND TIME
Anglin liked the thrill after her first surrogacy experience and wanted to do it again.
About a year after the twins were born, the agency approached her to be a surrogate for an East Coast couple that had suffered many losses trying to become parents, including a then-recent miscarriage via a surrogate, Anglin said.
When she met them, Anglin said, it was different than meeting the McEwens. She could feel the wife's desperation.
"It's always frustrated me, you know, that so many people have children that don't want them and then there are these people who are just desperate to have a baby. That was part of my reason for becoming a surrogate in the beginning, to help people that wanted to have a child," Anglin said.
Anglin was soon pregnant for the fourth time. But her relationship with the baby's mother became stressful.
"I felt like she was trying to micromanage me. I felt like I couldn't enjoy the time because she was calling all the time," Anglin said.
The mother did not respond to an email from The Californian requesting comment for this story.
Anglin said her husband started to screen the phone calls. Her interactions with the woman's extended family was also cooler than with the McEwens. Where Anglin felt Julie's family was incredibly grateful to her, she felt like "a means to an end" with other woman's kin.
The pregnancy went well but the baby was overdue and the mother wanted Anglin to be induced, according to Anglin.
"I ended up finally caving to her and ended up being induced because I just could not take her anymore,'" she said.
The boy was born in the summer of 2007. Anglin again felt the joy of giving a great gift, maybe even more so because the couple had been through so much. But she also felt relieved.
Anglin said she felt like the agency may have rushed things because of the family's considerable resources. Karen Synesiou, co-owner of the Center for Surrogate Parenting, said everyone pays the same fees when working with the agency and everyone did the best they could.
"It was a more complicated relationship. I think (Anglin) was deserving of something that was a little bit friendlier," but the couple also did their best in the situation, Synesiou said.
Anglin's relationship with the baby's family stayed rockier than has her ongoing bond with the McEwens.
She said has prepared herself for the reality that she will likely never see the boy in person again. But when she sees how happy he is in pictures with his family, she feels the trying times were worth it.
Anglin, who recently moved to Texas, isn't interested in being a surrogate again, but she speaks enthusiastically about her surrogacy journeys and tells women who have good pregnancies that they should be surrogates, too:
"(I) try to empower (other surrogates), to help them realize how important they are and also help them have a little more say during the process."