We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Andrea Syrtash. Andrea Syrtash is a relationship and lifestyle expert, TV personality and published author who, inspired by her own infertility journey, founded pregnantish. The site is an online platform for others experiencing fertility challenges. Since then, she’s shared her fertility ups and downs and how she has gone on to expand her family through surrogacy. Below, she answers our questions and offers her insight on making the transition to pursue using a gestational carrier, becoming an intended parent and finding a gestational carrier that works best for your situation.
ConceiveAbilities: Can you briefly walk us through your infertility journey and what led you to pursue surrogacy?
Andrea: The brief(ish) version: it took me almost 10 years to meet my now 10-month-old baby! For the first six years of trying and fertility treatments, we didn’t realize that my body was likely rejecting some healthy embryos. Between 2011-2018, I did approximately 18 treatments (IUI and IVF procedures) and had open-stomach surgery in 2012 to remove a massively large fibroid tumor. In 2013, I learned that the baby I miscarried was ‘healthy’ after I had a D&C. I lost that pregnancy at around 9 weeks, after we had seen a heartbeat, and I was devastated. The following year I lost another pregnancy after our embryo had implanted following IVF.
In 2016/2017, a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) told me that after so many years trying and so many treatments, something should’ve worked. I made a Day 5 blastocyst embryos that he said looked good, and this doctor encouraged me to genetically test the next ones before transferring anything else into my body Once we had healthy embryos from testing, he encouraged me to consider working with a gestational surrogate, whereby we’d use our embryo and implant it into a gestational carrier. He said that that would be our best shot at meeting our baby. He was right! My first cousin delivered our little girl, who had been frozen in 2016, in December 2018.
ConceiveAbilities: Can you describe the feeling of “accepting” that you needed the help of a surrogate to build your family?
Andrea: I think one thing people don’t realize is that by the time many people arrive at surrogacy as intended parents, they’ve been through the ringer trying to get or stay pregnant. Nobody ‘just’ gets a surrogate to work with. By the time we moved to this point I was excited and a bit heartbroken, too. This wasn’t the way I imagined meeting our baby and I was nervous. Surrogacy has so many elements that have to come together and I felt overwhelmed by it all. I also felt relieved that maybe we had a new option to consider. If my doctor was right though, this would get us closer to our dream of meeting our baby.
ConceiveAbilities: In your journey, you had two carriers drop out before your cousin offering to be a surrogate for you. What would you say to intended parents who are starting this journey in terms of finding “the right carrier” and going through that process?
Andrea: It’s imperative to trust the agency you work with and to understand that every process that involves humans involves emotions. I was more understanding when the first GC changed her mind. The second woman who left us left me speechless. We had formed a relationship with her over several months and had covered all the necessary counseling, medical tests and legal steps to ensure we were all entering a good arrangement. We said yes to everything she requested in the legal contract. Still, we didn’t really know her. She had a whole life behind the scenes and was struggling financially. The agency we used shouldn’t have worked with her, knowing this. I would tell other IPs: Research the agency you work with (if you work with one) and ask about the screening they do to ensure the surrogates they work with are financially stable and that they are committed. Speak to the surrogate and trust your gut. Keep communication open with the surrogate you are working with, so she realizes you’re there for her if she needs anything.
I think people who act as surrogates are incredible and most are in it for the ‘right reason’ - they want to help others bring a child into the world and some even enjoy being pregnant. I’ve always been grateful to surrogates who help people like me, who have medical issues in my body that prevent me from carrying a pregnancy to term. But like any relationship, trust is the foundation and you can’t move forward with someone if you don’t trust the agency or the woman. So - trust your gut feeling here and the evidence that everyone is on the same page!
ConceiveAbilities: Once the process began and a pregnancy was achieved (yaaaay!), how was it to have someone carry your child? Relief? Nervousness? Excitement? All the above?
Andrea: I was incredibly lucky that my first cousin Elana offered to be our gestational carrier. She and I have always been connected and I trust her deeply. I was relieved that she would carry our embryo. I knew that if the healthy embryo was in my body, I likely would’ve lost her. That was a much more nerve-wracking thought than the idea of Elana carrying for me! I think nervousness during this process is normal, too. This is literally LIFE - the most important thing! You wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t feel the high stakes during every step.
ConceiveAbilities: Now that you’re on “the other side” and have become a parent through surrogacy after years of infertility treatment, what advice would you give to those pursuing using a gestational carrier?
Andrea: Funny, I am and I’m not on the ‘other side’ since I’m still infertile and we have another healthy embryo frozen and have no idea how we would meet her if we want to try to give Arielle a sibling. My cousin was amazing but won’t be our GC again, as she is still building her family. So, I’d have to start again and the thought is overwhelming (and expensive). But, I’m on the other side in that I have a healthy beautiful strong daughter who makes me pinch myself daily. I dreamed of having her (well, a baby) for so many years.
I would tell people that working with a GC you trust is an incredible thing. There will be bumps in the road, just like we all get used to during infertility and/or fertility treatments, but the destination is so beautiful.
ConceiveAbilities: Lastly, you’ve taken your journey and made it bigger than yourself and created pregnantish to help others to not only share your story but share other family building options (IUI, IVF, adoption, third-party reproduction such as egg donation, embryo donation, etc.) What do you hope people gain from the overall message of pregnantish and your work?
Andrea: I hope people know that there are so many ways families are built today. Some of us need sperm, eggs or embryos from someone else in order to family-build and others, like me, needed a healthy uterus to bring my baby into the world. Those who pursue adoption, fostering or living child-free also deserve for their version of family to be reflected.
The narrative ‘first comes love, then marriage, then baby carriage’ is outdated for millions of people today. The point of pregnantish is to tell the new baby story. We include singles and LGBT on our site, in addition to hetero couples. Too often infertility is framed as a rich white older woman’s issue.
We just did a nationwide survey of 1100 people and the average age of the survey respondent, who was navigating infertility, was 33. We feature powerful non-white voices and male voices and trans voices on pregnantish. We tell the story of modern family with great content on pregnantish. It’s important for me to say: pregnantish isn’t a blog and it’s not about me! We’ve published over 50 writers from diverse backgrounds. I often say that pregnatish is sci-fi meets Hallmark!
Funny, I think “Modern Family” is a cute TV show, but it’s not even that modern anymore! My goal is to make our content reflect the story of today’s modern family. Every week we publish deeply personal essays by people who are building or built their families ‘with help’.
My goal is to support people building their families with help and to elevate the conversation of how so many of us become parents today. Infertility can be so damn isolating.
Finally, I’ve worked in the media for years as an author and on-air personality and I’m trying to leverage my existing platform to show more people that infertility is a disease and that everyone who works so hard to be a parent deserves that opportunity.
Written by Jennifer (Jay) Palumbo
Jay is a writer, a healthcare and family building advocate, CEO of Wonder Woman Writer LLC, a comic, and a thyroid cancer survivor, a wife and mother of two extraordinary boys. Check out her Instagram and LinkedIn.
All Things Conceivable is a blog dedicated to sharing the knowledge and expert opinions of the dedicated team at ConceiveAbilities, a Chicago-based egg donation and surrogacy agency.