Birth story shared by Northwest Arkansas surrogate mom

Editors’ note: Northwest Arkansas mom and writer April Wallace recently interviewed a fellow mom of 3 named Michelle McKinley who lives in our area and who experienced a remarkable journey as a surrogate. (Click HERE to read Part 1 of this 2-part story.) Not only was the journey full of highs, lows and dramatic turns, it ends in the most inspiring way and beautifully illustrates the commitment, love and generosity involved in surrogacy. 

I know that this pregnancy did not end in the typical way, but when did everything change?

I was feeling good and still working out when I went to a regular checkup at 23 weeks. Despite my history of no pregnancies with complications and my habit of being active, the doctor said ‘I just don’t want you to go into labor early, so let’s just tone it down. Don’t stop being active, but no more gym.’ I had to swallow my pride.

It was spring break, and I was out and about with the kids. When they went back to school, I was 24 weeks and 1 day. That morning I wasn’t feeling differently, I felt fine but I had some incontinence. When I picked the boys up from school, my pants were wet. I took all three kids to my sister-in-law’s, so I could go check in with the doctor.

At Washington Regional, the doctor said I’m pretty sure your water broke.

I was devastated. I didn’t know how early a baby could be born and be OK. I knew if I had him that day it would be very touch and go.

My water had broken, it was a trickle, so they admitted me. I was so scared. Derek was working, so I called my mother-in-law and she came straight there. I didn’t know if I should call the family. I thought, “What if I unnecessarily worry them?”

From there things got extremely difficult. What happened?

They hooked me up to magnesium through an IV, a 12 hour drip to help the baby’s brain development. It makes your body feel like you’re on fire, like the flu. I was given steroid shots for his lungs and received antibiotics through an IV. I had an ultrasound but they said that my fluid levels were still full.

A couple hours later, Derek arrived and they were taking me to UAMS in Little Rock because they have the highest level NICU there. It was the baby’s best chance. I asked, “Am I having him today?” I wasn’t given a straight answer, but they said if I didn’t have him today I’d have a high chance of infection.

I was convinced I was going to have him that day. I wasn’t having contractions yet but I was dilated to a 2. It didn’t feel like it was happening but it was.

I couldn’t go on an air flight because of the weather, so I had an ambulance ride to endure by myself while Derek drove behind. I experienced hard contractions the whole time. Once we got to UAMS I was taken to the antepartum floor (where women whose labor started too early go to wait it out as safely as possible). I was still dilated to a 2 but they got the contractions to stop.

The plan was to get me to 34 weeks.

It was nonstop doctors in and out. I had ultrasounds, constant IV and antibiotics for 4 days; magnesium drip another three or four times, that was terrible. On the fifth day they did another. Someone from Arkansas Children’s Hospital came to check his heart, which was great and they had me do my glucose test that morning. (Really?) Yes, really.

That night I had terrible contractions again. They took me to delivery to monitor me and hooked me back up to magnesium. When contractions stopped, I was sent back to antepartum. They told me to rest, no more walking around. If I decided to shower and the cord fell out, they told me to pull the (emergency cord).

So I just sat. I was too scared to move.

The next day I had a sharp, painful pressure. The baby had pushed his leg through the placenta and it was an emergent thing. The way he was turned and his tiny size meant I couldn’t do VBAC. I was by myself for an emergent c-section for a baby who wasn’t mine.

At what point did you let the family know?

I called the agency and the family when we were on our way to Little Rock. They were on standby, they had decided they were not coming right away.

What was the c-section like?

I was put back on magnesium, and as they were prepping me for surgery, they asked me if I wanted my tubes tied. I agreed to do it. I thought in the moment I shouldn’t have any more children. The c-section was so different than the one I had with Saylor Grace. With Saylor, it was so laid back. The nurse asked me, “Which Pandora station do you want? Would you like to text anyone?”

This one wasn’t. They were trying to make it seem less scary for me, but I was terrified. When the baby came out, he was squeaking. They took my phone and took photos for me and his mom.

Once I made it to recovery, I broke down. I called Derek to tell him they tied my tubes even though I’m not done having kids. It felt like a super slap in the face.

That must have felt like you were bombarded at the most emotional time. 

Yes. The first four months after giving birth to him was such a dark place. I was mourning the fact that I was not able to get pregnant naturally and have another baby with my husband. We never had trouble getting pregnant before. What that doctor did to me by asking me if I wanted my tubes tied in that specific situation was unethical and should have never happened. That should’ve been talked about before I was on medication and going back for a C-section without my husband, at a time when I hadn’t slept for a week and was scared out of my mind. I just feel like our family isn’t done and I think that’s what stinks the most.

I’m guessing that tubal reversal surgery is expensive. It looks like even if you have it reversed, it’s then still harder to get pregnant than before with only 70% success.

Exactly, that’s why it’s like a punch to the gut.

What a sick feeling. How were you, and how was the baby?

Xavier was born on April 2 at 25 weeks and 1 day gestation.

He was tiny, 1lb 15 oz, but his rating number was high. They took him to the NICU, and at that point Derek was on his way.

A certain amount of hours after you have a c-section, the nurses are supposed to make you get up and try to walk, but mine didn’t. My belly was so distended. I met with a lactation consultant, and started pumping as soon as I got back to room. Then they took me to NICU to see him.

How did that work?

They called the baby’s mom to get permission for that. She was about to have a 32 hour flight from Australia. She said, “I don’t want him to be alone, let her see him.” We had planned for me to nurse him. She was going to rent an apartment in Springdale.

What was it like to see him for the first time?

Seeing him for the first time took my breath away. He was beautiful and fragile. While I couldn’t even comprehend what had just happened, I couldn’t help but feel like a failure. I was the one who was supposed to keep him safe and help him grow. That was my job. So to see him like that I definitely felt like a failure.

But I prayed. I was covering that baby in prayer constantly. As he started to get bigger and stronger it made me feel at ease. When I got to hold him for the first time, even though he was covered in wires and tubes, it took my breath away. He was and is such a fighter. I call him a brave little lion.

When did you get to meet the baby’s mom?

I met her a few days after she got to the hospital.

A few days after this tiny fragile baby came earth side, emotions were high. I wanted so badly for it to be different. I wanted her to experience her first baby as full term and healthy. But even though it was far from ideal she was so welcoming. She allowed me to be informed with everything concerning doctors and care for him, which she didn’t have to do at all. (Here’s a photo of me holding the baby while his mom files his tiny fingernails.)

How did things go from there on out?

The car ride home was hard. I was coming to the realization that he was the last baby I was going to have, which was super emotional. It really hit me, everything that had just happened.

The recovery from the c-section was different, I don’t know if it was because the baby wasn’t there with me to distract from it or what. I was pumping breast milk every two hours. That was like a full time job, waking up through the night.

Two weeks later we went to deliver breastmilk and to see the baby. He looked so much bigger when we got there, even though he was still tiny. We went every other weekend for 5.5 months. If we didn’t go to Little Rock, I’d meet his mom in Russellville. I liked to go all the way to Little Rock so I could see him.

If we had gone full term I don’t know if we would have been so connected, we went through that together, he was a fighter.

What made you decide to go above and beyond to provide breastmilk for the first six months?

I decided everything based on what I would want if I were in their shoes. That’s what I would want for my kids, so that’s what I did.

Did it ever get confusing for any of your children when you visited the baby that didn’t live with them?

My kids knew! I was pumping full time, and sometimes they would help pack the big cooler of breastmilk. Saylor Grace always pretended she was pumping. Beckett would play with his sister when I had to pump, which was constant for six months. When they would ask about the baby, I would show them pictures.

Did you ever take your kids with you?

No, they didn’t ever get to meet him, with RSV season upon us the plan for them meeting didn’t work out. I would give anything for my kids to meet him and have pictures done with them all together. Maybe one day!

What was it like to say goodbye without knowing if you’ll see him again?

I was so thankful and praising God that he was healthy and going home, but that also meant that I may never see him again. Telling him goodbye was so bitter sweet. I hope I will get updates and get to follow his life story and one day maybe see him again.

April Wallace is a stepmom to one smart, funny teenager, mama to two beautiful and curious baby boys and wife to a very kind and generous man. She spent the past decade as a news reporter, sometimes lifestyle writer, and recently left her job at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to be with her babies while they’re still babies. When she gets a few minutes to herself, April loves to run local trails and read fiction. For more of April’s posts on pregnancy, babies and toddlers, click here.