Laney with baby Ani immediately after birth
Get ready to shed a tear, Laney Sweet, doula and mama to two girls Natalie and Emery as well as surrogate mama to baby Ani. When Laney was 6 months pregnant with Ginger and Sanjit’s baby girl Laney lost her husband in a tragic shooting. Here Laney chats to us about her journey as a surrogate mama and carrying on when the unthinkable happened.
How did you decide to be Ginger’s surrogate?
I learned about surrogacy back when I was in high school and I always had an open heart to it. My dream was to always be a mother– and knowing that other women had those same desires but couldn’t fulfill those desires crushed me. After I had my own two daughters I knew that there were families out there that deserved the gift of a completed family. I was healthy, had easy pregnancies and births and wanted to start the process. I researched agencies and created a profile. The agency sent me 8 profiles back, I felt that I matched best with two of them. One family was in the US and the other was in another country. They set my profile to the couple in the US and they immediately responded. We set up a phone call to “meet” each other and get to know each other. It was an instant match! They were without a doubt the perfect couple.
Laney (left) with new parents Sanjit and Ginger and baby Ani
When did you bring it up with your husband?
We talked over the years about it off and on but I wasn’t in a place in my life where I could commit to starting a journey. He initially didn’t understand why I, his wife, had to be the one to do it. It wasn’t that he didn’t want those families to have a baby, he just couldn’t wrap his head around me carrying another man’s baby. A lot changed after we had our second daughter’s homebirth. He caught his baby girl as she came earthside in the comfort of a warm pool in our bedroom. After my experience, I became a doula and started supporting 4-6 women a month as they welcomed their children into the world. He saw my passion for helping families grow over the years and eventually realized surrogacy was just another “birth thing” I knew I *had* to do. He had become the biggest support system for my journey. He went to my appointments with me and flew across the country to be there for the medical screening (which he had to do, too). He grew to love the family as much as I did and we all became really great friends.
We cannot imagine the pain you felt loosing your husband, what gave you the strength to carry on?
The morning of January 19th was undoubtedly one of the hardest days of my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think my husband would be murdered by a police officer. I think that had his death been in some other way, I wouldn’t be able to carry on. The senselessness and injustice surrounding his death has ignited a fire within me to demand change. I’m currently battling a corrupt police department and making sure the (former) officer is convicted of the second degree murder charge. I was six months pregnant with their baby at the time he was killed. My intended parents, friends and family and the birth community in DFW rallied around my family and went above and beyond to support us through our loss. Ultimately, not being strong wasn’t an option. I was 6 months pregnant with another couple’s baby and I had two young daughters that needed me to be there for them during their loss, too. I will begin my healing only when I see that those responsible for his death are held accountable.
We know you are a doula – how do you think being a doula played a role in your experience?
Being a doula played a very influential role in my surrogacy journey. Natural birth is the surrogacy community isn’t common so I started as the black sheep of the family amongst other surrogates. I created a group called ‘Surrogates Birthing Naturally’ and it’s so refreshing to surround yourself with other women who know and trust birth, too. It was very important to me to find a match that would not only support but embrace an out of hospital birth– but most of all, I wanted them to want that for their daughter. Ginger fell in love with our birth center and midwifery team. We agreed it was a very peaceful and safe atmosphere to bring their daughter into the world in. My role of a birth and bereavement doula, who has witnessed many different births, gave me insight into how to also empathize with my intended parents through the process. We miscarried their first daughter at nearly 10 weeks in May of 2015. We all mourned her loss together. We took the summer off to regroup and transferred another little girl in August which was successful.
Laney breastfeeding Ani
How did you feel during the pregnancy? Especially emotionally? And how did these feelings differ to how you felt when you were pregnant with your girls?
Ani’s pregnancy was by far my hardest. Like I mentioned previously, I had been almost 10 weeks along when we lost her sister. My body and heart had the summer to heal and then we started up the process to do our second IVF transfer. I’m a pretty natural minded person so my body wasn’t used to all the medications that I had to take. The injections (I did over 150 of them!) in your side build up daily and become very sore. My nausea was so bad at first that I thought I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Once that subsided, the pregnancy became pretty uneventful and normal. Everything about my journey is referenced to me in “before” and “after” terms. Daniel’s death changed everything. Before his death, I’d say emotionally I had a pretty good understanding of my role as a surrogate and felt very confident in the decision to do this for their family. Afterwards, it was very hard. I had a baby that I had to be healthy for in the midst of mourning his loss. I started going into preterm labor right after he died due to shock and stress. I wasn’t even contractually allowed to enter the state of Arizona to go see his body and pick up his remains because AZ doesn’t recognize surrogacy laws. Ginger and her husband suffered so much during this time, too. They were so worried about what effects the stress would have on her, if she was growing on track, eat. As much as I loved carrying for them, at that point I just wanted to send her home so they could have their daughter and I could mourn.
New parents and their babe
Did you bond with the baby when you were carrying her?
I nurtured her the same as I did for my girls. Her health was always a priority. I talked to her and told her about her parents that she would soon meet. After his death, I had become numb for the first few weeks in shock. Once that started to wear off I had become so wrapped up in seeking justice for Daniel’s death that it really pulled me away mentally from the journey. To prepare for her birth, I had to get back in the headspace of a pregnant woman and surrogate. I took the last few weeks of the pregnancy off from being consumed by my husband’s case and focused on the pending labor. I spent time with her parents who came into town early and we went to the birth center appointment together. I had to remind myself that Ani knew exactly what to do and that she was strong. She had stuck with me through the hardest thing that had ever happened to me and I knew we’d always have a very unique and special bond because of it.
A family affair – Laney pregnant with Ani and her parents feeling the kicks
I know you had a inclusive water birth with both Anri’s parents present – how did this effect the birth for you?
I always wanted them to be there for their daughter’s birth because it’s such a life changing moment for a couple. It was also a way to make it feel more “real” to them, since they weren’t actually the ones laboring together and delivering her. Being a doula, I know that early labor is best for the laboring woman to rest. I had let Ginger’s husband know that I had started having some contractions one night. I was hoping that he wouldn’t wake Ginger up because nothing was imminent and I knew they needed sleep. But, like the typical adorable first time parents they were eagerly excited that something, anything was finally happening. They wanted to come to my side right away but I was afraid that’d stall labor. I met them the next morning in town for us to have breakfast together so they would be near their baby girl. We met back up later that day at the hotel they had got near the birth center. I labored there and finally decided I felt more comfortable leaving to the birth center. Once my team got there, contractions slowed down. My midwife felt it was best to send everyone back home and let me sleep. My concern was that Ginger and her husband would feel alienated but in reality, we just weren’t going to make progress if I didn’t get some rest. She later told me that she went back to the hotel and cried. My heart hurt for them, I know they just wanted to be involved as much as possible but we hadn’t gotten to that part of labor yet. The contractions picked back up once I got a few hours of sleep and we called everyone back the following morning. It was challenging in a lot of ways. A laboring woman does best when she can check out mentally and just be… but here I was, laboring for the first time without my husband, worrying about how my intended parents were doing and also what my birth team was thinking because I was also not able to step out of the mentality of being a doula. Finally things were kicking into gear! She felt my belly through contractions and when I got in the pool she got ready to get in after catching her. Ginger and I caught Ani together and then she hopped in the pool and snuggled her baby. I can’t describe the relief and joy that moment finally brought us. I’d do this a thousand more times for THAT moment.
Laney in labour
We know you stayed in a hotel with Anri and her parents, feeding on demand for the first week. This is unusual for a surrogate. How did you and Ginger decide on this arrangement?
From the beginning, we had planned to stay together as one big family. We had become like family after everything we went through. We had all stayed together during the IVF transfer in California at a hotel for a weekend and really enjoyed that time together. We all felt it was really important to watch the fruits of our efforts unfold. Seeing Ginger and her husband with their daughter was beautiful. Our birth center does a 24-48 hour newborn exam so we initially planned to stay near the birth center together until that was done. Afterwards, we all planned to go back to my house and finish our visit. When Daniel died, Ginger told me that we would stay together for two weeks. She didn’t want me to be left alone postpartum without any help. I felt like two weeks, as much as I would have loved to spend it with them, wasn’t fair to them. I wanted them to get back home with the daughter they longed to meet for so long and finally just be together as a family. I nursed Ani on demand for 6 days. It was my favorite part of the entire journey! There’s something really healing about snuggling a fresh newborn and it was the happiest I had been since Daniel passed away. Ani was able to get a healthy start and it was the prefect way for our journey to come to an end. At 6 days postpartum we all went to the airport. I hugged them goodbye as they boarded their plane home and then I caught my flight to Phoenix an hour later to attend court for my husband’s case the next day. I was pumping and shipping milk to her for until last week. Ginger is saving the last bag of my frozen milk so I can feed it to her when I see them next.
Saying goodbye at the airport
What were the hardest parts of being a surrogate?
My journey was obviously very different than it should have been, so lots of things factored into it. I think the most important part of being a surrogate is understanding and empathizing where the family is coming from. For instance, you have to understand that all these families know about is loss, heartbreak and let down. They weren’t able to conceive on their own and they are having to open up their hearts to allow someone else to step into that role. Opening up your own heart, empathizing and really understanding where they are coming from is important to maintain a good relationship. The hardest part, or most heartbreaking part, is knowing that this family has made sacrifice time and time again to simply become parents– something that most healthy women take for granted. No family should have to spend $150,000 on IVF and all the fees associated to complete their family. Losing the first pregnancy and knowing we were all back at square one was also devastating. In our blog, I compared the loss to having to tell your best friend whose child you agreed to babysit, that while you were watching her in your care, she passed away. Can you imagine the guilt you’d feel for failing to protect life for someone who entrusted you to protect the thing they love most?
How did you explain the situation to your daughters, Natalie and Emery?
In short and simplified terms, “Mommy is going to help her friend carry a baby. Mommy’s friend has a broken tummy– and since mommy’s tummy isn’t broken we are going to do a nice thing and help them have a baby of their own!” The girls always had a good understanding of exactly what I was doing. They knew she wasn’t ours and she’d never stay with us. They grew to love Ginger, her husband and their entire family. My oldest daughter was swooning over Ani pretty hard after she was born. She’s got a very nurturing personality like her mama! (Finger’s crossed she’ll grow up to be a doula!) Natalie cuddled her a lot. She’s all of our healing little therapy baby, i’m tellin’ ya. 😉 My youngest, Emery, says, “Ginger’s baby is SO cute!” They were there for the birth and very much involved. They provided a lot of comfort to me in labor by rubbing my belly during contractions and giving me hugs and kisses.
Laney with her daughters Emery and Natalie and baby Ani
How has your relationship with Ginger changed from he start of this experience to now?
Reading this questions brings tears to my eyes. We went through so much together: The first miscarriage. Daniel passing. Ginger lost her grandmother. Her husband lost his dad. She became one of my best friends and someone I could talk to openly and honestly about everything. I am so thankful that we came into each others lives. We will always have a relationship and be there for each other, to celebrate in the joyous times and to hold each other up in times of grief. What do you think looking back on the experience now? -Overall, I feel very fortunate for my experience. Most surrogates do not have the relationship that I did with my intended parents. I couldn’t imagine doing another journey any other way. I do not regret for one second ever deciding to do it. It’s something I am quite proud of. A family is now complete and through that, it brought our two families together. I love them all dearly. Ani was truly the rainbow after the storm for all of us.
Ginger (Ani’s mom) comforting Laney – an intimate moment between two mamas.