A Surrogate’s Journey: Her Body Of Work: Creating New Families

By Jill Cowan
Daily Pilot, Costa Mesa, Calif.

By many measures, Laura Davis is an ordinary Southern California mom.

With straight chestnut hair that falls just above her shoulders and round brown eyes that widen when she talks about her two kids, she endures a daily crawl down the 405 to her office in Irvine, then hustles home for dinners and school plays.

She runs the egg-donation program at West Coast Surrogacy, while her husband, Beau, sells wine for a distribution company.

They live in a jacaranda-lined neighborhood of tidy houses in Long Beach, where their golden Lab, Wilson, noses up to visitors at the screen door.

When she is pregnant, she misses yellowtail sushi and crisp Chardonnay.

She favors stretchy maxi dresses or long skirts, often in basic black, with a jean jacket — stylish, but not aggressively trendy.

In other ways, Davis is highly unusual — the distillation of decades of ethical debate and medical progress. On and off since 2009, Davis has given her time and body to help other parents have children.

Phrased more clinically, Davis has served as a gestational carrier — meaning that the babies she carried in her womb bore none of her genetic material.

Embryos — formed from a mother’s eggs in one case and egg donors’ in the others, with sperm from the infants’ respective fathers — were carefully transferred to Davis’ uterus following the in vitro fertilization process.

For the most part, Davis takes misconceptions about surrogacy in stride.

She’ll watch her own kids patiently explain to women who congratulate them on a new sibling that their mom is helping someone who can’t carry a baby on her own. She’ll listen to mothers who say they can’t imagine being pregnant again.

“I’ve gotten reactions like, ‘Oh, how could you give your baby away?'” she said. “I use that to educate them on the fact that it’s not my baby.”

In an odd way, it was Davis’ sense of detachment from her own children while they were in the womb that prepared her for surrogacy — though initially, it terrified her when her bond with her first child felt abstract, more intellectual than instinctive.

“I actually cried to my [obstetrician] about it,” Davis said.

That distance evaporated the moment she took the warm bundle that was her son, Jackson, in 2004 — the first time she looked at a child and knew the tiny fingers, the blinking eyes, were of her own making.

She had a similar feeling when she first held her daughter, Campbell, about a year later.

Knowing she was done having her own children, Davis channeled her longing to feel that again into her resolve to help other parents experience it for themselves.

Online research had led her in 2008 to West Coast Surrogacy and founder Amy Stewart Kaplan, who was essentially a one-woman operation at the time.

The following year, Davis delivered twins for a couple.

While most twins are delivered by caesarean section, Davis and the twins’ parents both hoped for a natural birth. They got one.
Watching as the couple met their children, she said, was gratifying in a way she hadn’t experienced before.

“It’s this family I created — with the help of a million other people,” Davis said recently, “but I helped them have this moment.”

It wasn’t until afterward that the problems arose.

Davis hemorrhaged and was forced to undergo a routine procedure known as dilation and curettage, in which the inside of her uterus was scraped. She contracted a severe infection. Because of the blood loss, she became anemic and required a blood transfusion.

“So all of that led to a really long recovery,” she said of the eight-week process.

Afterward, Beau Davis said, “It seemed like kind of a no-brainer: ‘Oh, we’re never doing this again,’ kind of like when she was an egg donor.”

Soon, though, Davis yearned for a chance to make things right.

“I didn’t want the end of my surrogacy journey to be a bad ending,” she said. “I was convinced, but my family thought I was crazy.”

Once she got the medical green light from a perinatologist, Beau got on board.

“She has this desire to help people in everything she’s done, be it in her career or whatever,” he said, “and this is no different.”

It is May 2011. A little more than a year after the birth of the twins, Davis underwent another embryo transfer process. Now she is about 31 weeks pregnant with one child, a girl, for a different couple.

Things have been going as smoothly as possible, though the baby has a hole in her heart. Nevertheless, doctors have said that will heal on its own.

But Davis’ water breaks. She drives herself to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.

There, her obstetrician tells her that she’s not in labor yet, which isn’t good news. Davis will have to stay at the hospital until the baby is ready to be born.

You’re going to be here for the long haul, he tells her. It could be a month or two.

A short time later, though, the baby’s heart rate decelerates. A crush of nurses and doctors whisks Davis toward an operating room. She panics — the baby’s parents aren’t there. Neither is Beau.

But he and the baby’s mother arrive at the hospital just as a doctor prepares to cut into Davis’ flesh for an emergency C-section.

The premature infant will stay in the intensive care unit for two months.

Though the girl will recover, and Davis will be happy about that, something is missing.

She won’t witness the parents holding their child for the first time. And joy for the new family will be muted by anxious attention to the baby’s health.

Still, Davis will think, her career as a surrogate is over. She is 35. She will assume that because her most recent pregnancy ended in complications, she won’t be qualified to carry again.

Plus, few women ever attempt a third embryo transfer.

“I was retired,” she’ll say later.

And then she will meet “the guys.”

David McMurray and Daniel Fincher have known for as long as they’ve been together, about 12 years, that they wanted kids. And if they wanted children who were biologically theirs, they would need to find a surrogate.

McMurray, a soft-spoken former Boeing Co. engineer with a boyish face and a stealthy sense of humor, sat in the sun-drenched living room of the old Craftsman bungalow the couple share in Long Beach.

Callum Fincher-McMurray, his newborn, lay in McMurray’s lap, contentedly chugging from a bottle of breast milk that Davis had pumped. The family cat mewed jealously as he patrolled a field of toys scattered over the floor.

Rowan, Callum’s 1 1/2-year-old sister, was with a nanny for the afternoon.

McMurray said he and his partner weighed their options. In 2006, a friend of theirs agreed to carry their child. The embryos would be formed with Fincher’s sister’s eggs and McMurray’s sperm.

Though it wasn’t a perfect solution, McMurray said, “we thought we could get through it, because it’d be all in the family.” But for Fincher’s sister, reservations about her relationship to the child won out.

It slowed the couple down for a time, as they cast around for other arrangements. After finding the more conventional anonymous-egg-donor search too much like “online dating,” McMurray said, they approached another longtime friend about providing eggs.
She agreed.

With that part of the equation settled, all that was left was to find a surrogate.

“I think the biggest thing was we really wanted to have the child in California,” McMurray said. “At the time, we didn’t really consider a lot of overseas options, just because of that, and just because it seemed too out of our hands … especially being a gay couple.”

Having a relationship with the woman was also important, he said.

“It was obvious we wouldn’t be able to carry the child, so at some point in our children’s future, they’re going to want to know more,” he said. “[This way], they already know the people involved.”

McMurray and Fincher tried to connect with possible candidates through online message boards, without success. Finally, they posted a message on Facebook asking for help. A mutual friend pointed them to Davis.

They met mostly to discuss contractual issues, at first — what to look for in an airtight pre-birth order or surrogacy contract.
As the three continued to talk, they grew closer, bonding over their experiences in the surrogacy world.

The couple were energized by the prospect of finally starting a family, and seeing their anticipation, Davis began to reconsider her “retirement.”

When a deal with a surrogate that McMurray and Fincher met through a website aimed at matching surrogates with parents fell through, it seemed almost fated: Davis would carry their child.

It is November 2012. After 32 hours of labor, Davis gives birth to Rowan Fincher-McMurray.

The little girl will become a tawny-haired charmer of a toddler, who will grin and giggle and plop down on the carpet to play with Davis’ kids when they come to visit.

The men want two children, though.

And by the time Davis recovers, she will have made up her mind to carry Rowan’s younger brother or sister.

“Obviously, I could have said no, if I was scared for my health,” Davis will remember later. “But it’s like being part of the family — it’s like, how could I let somebody else do it?”

As she edged toward 40, the recommended cut-off age for surrogates, Davis said this baby would have to be her last.

The experience of carrying a child for two men, Davis said, is “completely different” from carrying for a heterosexual couple.

Often, women seeking a surrogate collect wells of disappointment through years of failed fertility treatments. Though surrogacy is a source of hope for an intended mother, Davis said, it’s also a poignant reminder of something she cannot do.
Not so with a pair of men.

“For them it was all brand new and ‘woo-hoo!’ exciting,” Davis said.

Of course, the relationship any surrogate has with the parents of the children she carries varies as widely as people themselves.
“There’s parents who are very hands-off, there’s parents who are very hands-on,” Davis said. “There are some who, no matter how hard they try to let the surrogate lead her life and be trusting, it’s very difficult.”

While she was close to the parents of the twins and friendly with the parents of the second little girl while she was pregnant, Davis said, they’ve since drifted apart.

Now, the occasional photograph or update will appear in her inbox, like a Christmas letter from faraway friends.

They make her smile, but it’s clear that her work there is done.

In McMurray and Fincher she found allies.

It is Friday, May 9. Earlier this week, Davis was nesting for a baby who wouldn’t be coming home with her.

She grabbed groceries, picked up around the house.

By Wednesday afternoon, she’d started to feel the contractions.

She knuckled her way through her son’s science fair, making a beeline for the nearest place to sit once she’d seen his project — something about solar power. Her parents took the kids for the night.

Davis and her husband had a quiet dinner, even as the contractions became more frequent. When she and Beau settled in at Hoag at about 10:30 that night, she was already 5 centimeters dilated — a sign that things would move fast from there to the 10 centimeters that typically mean it’s time for the birth.

“You’re doing a great job,” Beau whispered, as Davis squeezed her eyes shut and focused on her breathing.

McMurray had arrived in time to capture on video for Fincher the 3 1/2 expert pushes it took to birth the baby boy. Fincher was on a flight back from Australia, where he had attended his father’s funeral.

McMurray and Davis spent the rest of the night each holding the small boy to their chests — McMurray for skin-to-skin bonding, Davis to nurse the infant. She wanted to ensure that he got his fill of nutrient-rich colostrum, or as she calls it, “liquid gold.”

Fincher got there on Thursday morning to find that he had a son.

Though each couple had their own hospital room, McMurray and Fincher spent the next day with Davis, relaxing and cooing over Callum.

Now, Davis and the men are getting ready to leave Hoag’s fifth-floor maternity ward, with its ocean views and pristine amenities.

A few happy tears had escaped yesterday, but as she rolls into the Newport Beach sunshine alongside the couple and their child, a wave of emotion crests. It is her last experience bringing a life into the world. She sobs.

They pose for a family photo — on either side of Davis are her husband and the two grinning fathers, palm trees blowing in the breeze behind them. In the middle, Davis holds the rosy newborn boy.

She’s grinning too.

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