My Journey: Elsa Hensel – A Surrogate Who Traveled the Surrogacy Path Twice
This Christmas season we wanted to do something a bit different and share a beautiful story of surrogacy for this winter’s edition of In the Spotlight.
Ronny Schwartz-Dgani, Expecting’s CMO and co-founder, sat down for an intimate conversation with Elsa Hensel, who has had two surrogate journeys so far.
Elsa, it’s such a pleasure to speak with you about your surrogate journey. How did you start thinking about becoming a surrogate?
I thought about being a surrogate back in 2014. My son was a toddler and I couldn’t imagine my life without him. I also wanted to be pregnant again so that is where it all began. I was young but it had been something I wanted to do and doing unique things fits my personality.
Back in 2014 when I began, I found out I had hepatitis C during the process. I had no idea I had it so it was really a blessing to find out and potentially save my life. I was adopted from Albania at 2.5 years and in an orphanage, and that is most likely where I contracted the virus. I did the treatment and cleared it right away.
I went to pursue surrogacy again in 2017 and at that time was unsure but wanted to see if I was still qualified to do it. I was and I didn’t think twice about doing it. I am very open to what I went through and how I got hepatitis and what I had to do for it. Thankfully, my intended parents were never worried about it.
What was the process you went through when you decided to start your journey?
I did go through an agency that was local to me, I found them through Google. I had to apply and then get approval from my OB to carry. Once that was done, I did background checks, psychological evaluations and then medical screening at the fertility clinic. People at the agency helped along the way.
What tips would you give intended parents who are starting to look for a surrogate?
When intended parents are starting their search, I would suggest they figure out what they are looking for in a surrogate and what their expectations are. One thing for my intended parents that was a big thing was support. Since they knew they were so far away, they wanted to make sure that I had the support I needed because they weren’t able to be here. They also wanted me to have my expectations and a voice for myself.
Let’s go back a bit to your first journey. How did it go? What are the differences between the first journey and the second one?
My first journey and second journey were so different. Completely different. My first one was for a couple in the US and my second was for a couple that was international. The first one was hard. The pregnancy was my hardest pregnancy. It was both of our first times going through surrogacy and the intended parents did not know what to expect as well. During the first surrogacy, there was a lot of anxiety from both sides. I was very sick during that pregnancy as well, and I am talking up until delivery. That was really exhausting and mentally hard at times. The intended parents and I became friends. I never expect that from surrogacy and I know that is not the outcome for everyone. During the pregnancy I would see them about every 2 months. They would come to MN and I would travel to go see them as well. We had a blast! I got to meet their friends, their families and see how they lived. To this day, we are still friends and I am thankful to have their friendship.
The first journey did end in my first C-section. At the time, that was very hard for me and I swore up and down I would never do surrogacy again. As soon as I saw them with their baby and knew I got to help them with that, it was such an amazing feeling I can’t explain.
Now, for the second journey it was a couple that was international as I stated. I chose to not carry for my first set of parents because they were not ready at the time and I was ready to do another journey after some thought. I was actually matched with a couple and I got out of that match, because I had been through it and set my expectations this time around and knew they were not it.
I met my intended parents and knew right away they were it. I prayed for the match. It was amazing how well we clicked. Now, the couple being international was tough, and it was during COVID. We were hoping to see each other during the pregnancy and they had tickets booked, but they were not able to come.
We used Whatsapp and we would Facetime, talk and text all the time. We became friends as well and again, I did not expect that. The journey at times felt lonely though, because during my first one I saw my intended parents every 2 months, where this one I could not see them until it was time for the birth.
The pregnancy ended up being my best one yet - it was my fourth pregnancy and my best one. I felt so good. I was so active this pregnancy and just loved it. It was amazing, until 29 weeks when I found out I had gestational diabetes. This was very new to me. My intended parents were so awesome throughout. There were several weeks that were full of tears, hormones and anxiety. They handled that so well and were able to be there for me. This is where the support comes in. Thankfully, I have the support I need from my husband and my family. We did get through it and I was able to maintain the diabetes with diet.
My intended parents got approval to come and they arrived in late August. My C-section was set for September 2nd. I was very adamant on not having a C-section. The parents stayed at our house a week prior to the birth and that was so much fun! It seemed wild because we have never met in person, but I am so glad we did it that way. We had the best time ever! They went to the State Fair, got to meet a lot of family and friends and everyone loved them!
I ended up having a VBAC birth and there are no words. I believed in the birth I wanted and had the support I needed and made it happen. My intended parents then stayed in MN 6 weeks after the birth and that was also a blast. We spent a lot of time together, but it made leaving that much harder. To this day, we still keep in touch and it is a family we now have across the world.
What were the best moments for you?
The best moment would be the birth. The love witnessed in the room that morning was beautiful. My daughter and I made a gender reveal video for their families that they shared and then they also recorded their families reactions and sent it back to me. That was so much fun to see!
More great moments are them spending the 6 weeks in MN. They went to a Vikings game, they went shopping, apple orchard, pumpkin patch. I also babysat the baby while they were at the Vikings game. We went out to dinner, my husband's family hosted an American BBQ for them, they met a lot of my friends and the list is endless. The things they did were endless. We also would hangout where they were staying, get food and just watch movies together and talk.
Saying goodbye to them was hard. I made some best friends/family. I selfishly wanted to just keep them here. I have learned so much about them, about how they lived and their families. My husband and I plan to go visit them this spring and we can not wait!
You probably went through some challenges along the way.
Can you tell us how you coped, what helped you overcome them and what you would recommend other women do in similar situations?
There were definitely some challenges along the way, like not being able to see each other because of COVID. I’m thankful for technology. It was hard for all of us and I know it was as hard for them. They wanted to be here in person and see me during the pregnancy and be a part of it, and then during the hard times they wanted to be here to support me in person and be there for me. It was a very weird thing, I am across the world carrying their baby and they had not met me in person. I coped with that by leaning on my support system. Of course, the intended parents and I would talk about it and express our feelings throughout.
Another challenge was diabetes. I had support to get me through thankfully, but there were times it was hard. Overall, the challenges don’t seem that big, but during the time they were hard. What was key for me was that my intended parents stayed calm and that kept me calm. They trusted that I was doing everything that I was supposed to do and taking their baby’s best interests to heart.
There will be challenging times during surrogacy. It’s important to talk about how you are feeling, and make sure you have that support and someone to talk with. If not, reach out to a professional.
The last challenge that I faced was postpartum. Them leaving, that was hard. I cried for days when my intended parents left. I was going through postpartum with all the hormones and I was sad. I never had any problems with PPD during other pregnancies. Why was this one so different? The whole journey was different and I did not miss the baby at all. I had no problems there. I missed my friends, I missed the journey. It seems that at the end, we shouldn't have any challenges because the pregnancy is done and I had completed everything I needed to.
How did I cope with that? I gave myself grace. I knew what I had just gone through. I talked with my husband and my family A LOT. I was going to give myself a week or two and if I was still feeling sad and upset, I would reach out to my doctor. But I knew that as soon as they went home and we started communicating the way we were used to, it would be better and that once I started working I would be back into a routine. It did pass, and I am doing much better, but just know that your feelings during surrogacy are important and they are valid. I have learned so much about myself during both journeys, and there may be a third!