Beyond Limits: Surrogacy as a Mother of a Child with Non-Verbal Autism

My name is Ana Bernier, a married mother of 2 and a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, non-verbal, epilepsy and sensory processing disorder, and I am a surrogate. My daughter Sabrina was diagnosed at a young age and was fortunate to be a part of early intervention. Although Sabrina reached all milestones by 18 months, she began her regression at around the 2-year mark. After sharing our concerns with the pediatrician, the doctor concluded that Sabrina could have autism. After further testing and evaluations, Sabrina was officially diagnosed at 3 years of age with speech delay but did not utter a word until she was about 8 years old. Sabrina is now an adult with autism at 20 years old and due to her age and inability to have or use receptive and expressive language, she is considered non-verbal.

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Although we had support when needed, as her mother, I had most responsibilities, with her father having the financial ones. I would take Sabrina to appointments, therapies, doctor’s visits and to and from school. This became part of regular life and even though we wanted a big family, we had to think about what our future would hold. Knowing we had the possibility of having another child on the spectrum, and already dividing our time between our son and daughter, my husband and I decided that our family was complete, and we would not have any more children. Even though this was a difficult decision, it was the best decision we could have made for us. However, I began to feel a sense of loss and nostalgia for being pregnant and felt the lingering emotions of what it was like to be carrying a baby. It was something which had been an easy, unique, and amazing experience and I longed for the feeling once again, even though I was certain I did not want to add another child to our family.

After seeing an ad about surrogacy in a baby magazine, I shared the idea with my husband. Although we were done growing our family, we realized we could help others start theirs. It was also a way to fulfil the desire to go through a pregnancy again and be mentally ready to be done with that part of my life. At that moment in time, I had felt like I had lost my sense of purpose, because I was feeling like just a mother and caretaker, but not like my own person.  And with Sabrina requiring all my time and attention, I was unable to contribute to the family’s finances because I could not find a job that would cater to my specific schedule. The money that would come from surrogacy would be helpful with the additional medical bills we were receiving.

Deciding to Become a Surrogate

After making the decision to become a surrogate, my husband and I began to research what the surrogacy process entails. We realized quickly that we would have to come up with a plan to add surrogacy into our already hectic life. We did our research and found the right agency for us. They explained in detail what the process would be and the time commitment needed for it.  We would have to manage surrogacy appointments and travel with our daughter’s therapies and doctors’ visits. We had to find support for both our children for medical appointments, like babysitting, and school drop offs/pickups. Once the medication protocol began, we had to figure out how to administer injections and monitoring appointments. And once we achieved a pregnancy, we had to set a plan in place for all the possible outcomes, like bedrest, c-section, or hospital stays.

We had discussions with family and friends to find our circle of support. That did not come easy, as surrogacy at the time was not well known and we had to educate people before we found support. The major concern of everyone was for Sabrina. Would we be able to balance our life and the commitment needed for surrogacy and still give Sabrina and our son the attention they needed and deserved. This made for a serious conversation with my husband but, in the end, we felt that we could take on the added responsibilities and the decision was based on the motivation to help others. If we had the chance and opportunity to help others, we should always take it.

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Potential challenges in the surrogacy approval process

During the intake process of becoming a surrogate, I learned that I had to obtain all my pregnancy and delivery records. My history of smooth pregnancies and uncomplicated deliveries made me an ideal candidate for surrogacy. I also had to obtain a medical clearance from my OB/GYN stating that I could carry another pregnancy. I was young and in good health, so my doctor signed off on the clearance without hesitation.

My medical evaluation with the fertility clinic included questions about my family and background, leading to concerns about my daughter and her diagnosis. At the time, there were still so many unknowns with autism. This included misconceptions about vaccines, environmental factors, and even pregnancy-related factors. Studies were being done to determine if genetics could play a role in autism. I had to advocate for myself and share that my daughter’s diagnosis could not have been predicted in utero. (Remember, when you become a surrogate or gestational carrier, you are carrying a child that is not linked biologically to you.)

In the ongoing journey of surrogacy, I had to prove that our family could manage the demands and responsibilities of a surrogate pregnancy, including additional appointments and travel, while also considering how to balance this with our daughter’s needs. Throughout this process, I connected with other women who had children with special and different needs facing similar challenges, and sometimes scrutiny, from friends and family. It was important for me to recognize the validity of questions raised by clinics and prospective parents, particularly regarding the extent of my daughter’s special needs, which could range from medical complexities to behavioral challenges. Providing honest answers allowed everyone involved to make well-informed decisions.


Balancing family life with surrogacy commitments

Once we began the process, we found ways to manage our time and commitment to our children and surrogacy.

  • We found time during school hours to attend necessary appointments.
  • We started asking our circle of friends and family for babysitting for a few hours for medical appointments.
  • We took advantage of respite services for alone time with our son.
  • We accepted the support from the local special needs community as well as surrogacy groups.
  • My surrogacy compensation package was able to help with home care, such as cleaning service after the third trimester.
  • My husband saved some vacation time to be available for delivery.

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Building families amidst life’s challenges

I moved forward with the process of becoming a surrogate after being matched with supportive intended parents who showed understanding about my daughter’s needs. With support from my loving family, we had an amazing surrogacy journey and my intended parents welcomed a healthy baby boy. Having uncomplicated pregnancies and deliveries allowed me to pursue additional surrogacy journeys. In total, I had the privilege of helping to create 4 different families and welcoming 6 additional children into the world.

Life is unpredictable, so we did encounter some challenges throughout these journeys. There were changes in our home, like adapting to new schedules and additional therapies and appointments. Then, the sudden loss of someone very important in my family resulted in bedrest to ensure the safety of the unborn child. Thankfully, extended family and close friends provided support and comfort during those times.

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Continuing my journey in the world of surrogacy

Throughout my experiences, I discovered that knowledge and education is very important when addressing concerns about our children’s diagnoses. I also learned to appreciate the importance of being open-minded to the concerns of others regarding these challenges. Above all, we needed to affirm that even though we encounter some challenges and obstacles, we have a wonderfully normal life filled with happiness.

If you are considering surrogacy, I recommend being thoroughly informed in the process so that you can have important discussions about how it will impact your life and family. Also, establishing a network of support through family, friends, support groups, and even therapy can help equip you to handle all that life has to bring.

I am truly thankful for my experiences as a surrogate. Some of the best times in my life have been when I have been able to help others. I am grateful I can remain dedicated to helping educate and welcome new women into the surrogacy community.