Coworker turned friend turned surrogate
Approximately a 6-minute read
“My husband (Greg) and I did six years of fertility treatments and it got to the point where physically and mentally my body was just done,” said Elizabeth (Liz) Fink, a nightshift nursing supervisor in Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital. “I had three miscarriages during that time and the last one was very hard on us.”
Liz and Greg had wanted to have children for as long as they could remember, but felt their options were becoming limited.
“We had some embryos still frozen and the thought of surrogacy had started to come up and I thought ‘ok, maybe this is something I should look into,’” Liz said. “Unfortunately, I had no female relatives that were candidates, and I just thought, how do you ask someone to carry your child?”
Liz, a nurse in the Birth Center at the time, turned to what she felt like was a last resort: the Von Voigtlander nurses Facebook group.
“One day I just typed up this long post and said most of you know my story, this is the deal, we’re looking into surrogacy, and if anyone has any leads on who might be a good fit,” Liz said.
There are no surrogacy agencies in Michigan and compensating the surrogate is illegal in the state, meaning only medical bills/expenses for the pregnancy can be covered by the family using the surrogate. Otherwise, it’s more of a personal ask that requires attorneys and legal plans in place.
“I listed what we were looking for in a candidate, guidelines and just went into the nitty gritty details,” Liz said. “I said contact me if you’re interested or have a lead, but I honestly didn’t think anyone would respond.”
“It was a very serendipitous moment for me seeing Liz’s post,” said Heather Beaman, also now a nightshift supervisor in the Birth Center and fellow nurse at the time.
“Just that morning, my friend whom I had been talking to about being her surrogate, got back to me and said she couldn’t do it. Because of that friend, I had already looked into everything about surrogacy, guidelines, insurance, etc.,” Heather said. “And then that afternoon I saw Liz’s post.”
Heather and her husband, Ben, knew they were content with their two children and were done expanding their family.
“This was going to be a healing process for me,” Heather said. “Working as a nurse in the Birth Center you watch this story (women trying to conceive or having complications during birth) happen over and over again and you know you can only do so much to help them.”
She felt compelled to reach out to Liz.
“Literally within 15 minutes of my post being up there, Heather texted me, ‘I’d like to be your surrogate,’” Liz said.
“To the credit of everyone who works here, I had three other offers, in addition to Heather’s,” Liz said. “But what’s weird is when I put up that post, in my mind I had thought of Heather. She’s a beautiful pregnant woman and she makes it look easy!”
“Even though we weren’t friends outside of work, Liz is the very first person I saw when I shadowed here seven years ago. It was a really cool moment when I texted her, but then she didn’t answer me and I had built up all this energy,” Heather added laughing.
Liz called her the next day after sleeping on it.
“I was just very emotional when I called her back and kept saying ‘are you sure? Like really sure?’” Liz said. “An IVF transfer is not an easy undertaking for anyone. I had done it so many times and I didn’t want anyone to suffer or feel stuck. I wanted her to be very clear of what she was getting into.”
Liz and Heather half laugh, but are very serious on what they knew had to be a next step: a couples meet and greet.
“Our husbands had to know each other,” Liz said. “IVF is something you can’t do alone, so we had to make sure the husbands were completely onboard with the other couple and all the process entails.”
Heather said her husband was a bit apprehensive.
“Even though I have had easy pregnancies and deliveries up to this point, he was still very nervous,” Heather said. “We have a 4-year-old and 7-year-old and we had talked about maybe adopting in the future, but in my mind this surrogacy was a nice closure for me. I’m good at this (being pregnant); I can do this.”
It wasn’t just the husbands who needed to be involved, Heather’s kids needed to understand what this meant, too.
“We had my kids meet Liz’s extended family and did some horseback riding and had some get-to-know each other time,” she said.
After getting all of the legal work in order, being set up at a fertility clinic, and spelling out insurance coverage, it was go time.
“Greg and I just kept saying, since we can’t pay you, we will do whatever,” Liz joked. “Want us to come paint your house?”
After giving herself fertility shots, it was time for the transfer. “The whole crew was amazing during the transfer process,” Heather said.
Liz added, “Just Heather’s husband went with her because I couldn’t be there for the transfer. It was too much.”
But Heather had a feeling it had all gone according to plan.
“I knew I was pregnant within three days of the transfer,” Heather said.
“She texted me three days after the transfer and said ‘I don’t want to get your hopes up, but I’m pretty sure I’m pregnant,’” Liz said.
“I didn’t want her to be disappointed, but I just knew like I had in my previous pregnancies,” Heather said.
Two weeks later they had the first official blood test.
“We could hear and see the heartbeat immediately and that was healing,” Liz said.
Liz went to all the prenatal, anatomy scans and other appointments with Heather, and while both husbands were a huge support, Heather’s kids brought the biggest smiles throughout the pregnancy.
“They would say ‘we’re growing this baby for Miss Liz’ or ‘we’re helping Miss Liz’s baby,’” Heather said.
Three months prior to delivery, both Liz and Heather, as they say, ‘randomly applied’ for supervisor night positions in the Birth Center. When they both got the promotions, they were training and working together side-by-side.
“It was fun because Liz got to feel the baby moving all the time then,” Heather said.
While all her earlier pregnancies had been easy, Heather said this one was not, and at 41 weeks and 3 days, she was induced.
Because it happened to be a “slower day” in the Birth Center, Heather was able to have her own room where she could deliver in a tub, and Liz and her husband could have their own room for bonding.
The midwife team delivered healthy baby girl Eve, but not without a complication.
“My abdomen muscles separated, and they thought the baby was stuck,” Heather said. “I had to stand up and maneuver my body to have her come out, but she came out just fine in the end.”
“She was born at 9 pounds, 4 ounces into my arms on January 11,” Liz said. “We were just surrounded by all our friends and women who supported us on this journey, and they kept saying ‘she’s ok! It’s going to be ok!’”
Once everyone was stable, Liz and Heather had already decided they wanted to go to their separate rooms to recover.
“I wanted to limit my postpartum depression, and the complication actually worked out just as it was supposed to because it really separated us and it really reinforced this is Liz’s baby,” Heather said. “And Eve looked just like Liz’s husband, so it was very clear, it’s their baby.”
Liz wanted to make sure Heather was emotionally and mentally ok with everything that had just happened.
“The care team actually said Heather could go home that night to her kids,” Liz said, and Heather jumped in, “That helped the most. Being able to go home and love on your own children. I didn’t have to just sit there in a hospital room and think about what happened.”
Heather added, “While I was the oven and this was all for them, Liz and Greg made me feel like I was in control, or not being used, if that makes sense. They made sure everything was such a good balance.”
As for Liz, she was already trying to do everything she could to support her new baby.
“About three months before Eve’s birth, I was still feeling a huge sense of loss that I can’t carry my own child, so I did a deep dive on the information about inducing lactation,” Liz said.
“I had started pumping during those three months before her birth with the help of a drug that’s side effect is producing milk. I breastfed her for a month exclusively and then used donated breast milk. It kind of cemented for me ‘I’m a mom and this is my baby,’” she said.
Eve’s extended family
“We wanted Heather and her family to know just how grateful we were,” Liz said.
A week after Eve’s birth, Heather’s family got to meet her.
“My kids weren’t confused, which I was most concerned about,” Heather said. “In fact, we watched Eve while Liz and Greg got out of the house for a post-baby date to Target.”
And Liz asked Heather if she’d be willing to have a more formal relationship with Eve.
“A couple of weeks ago, Eve was baptized and Heather is her godmother,” Liz said. “I mean they’re stuck with us. We’re an extended family!”
“This was such a huge moment for the Birth Center and throughout the entire way, they took very good care of both of us,” Heather said. “It was a really cool experience as a labor nurse to have this experience. I didn’t know what it was like to have an emergency or complication during delivery, or have a unique postpartum experience, and now I have so much more awareness for my patients.”
Heather said the whole time she was also keenly aware of Liz’s feelings.
“My nurse brain was on the whole time,” Heather said. “I felt very protective for Liz and the fact that this is Liz’s only time so I was like listen, you need to show her that nose on the ultrasound, you need to show her every single detail and let her soak in every moment.”
Liz said, “We really had to have hard conversations sometimes, even with each other. I had to make sure Heather knew there is absolutely no pressure on her if something goes wrong.”
“For example, at 17 weeks I was leaving after work and I walked into the bathroom to find blood,” Heather said. “It wasn’t even about me at that moment. My heart sank thinking I have to call Liz and tell her this and keep her calm. That really made it real and made you talk about everything, even the difficult things,” she said.
Heather will be celebrating this Mother’s Day with her family in Wyoming at her graduation.
“Oh yea, not only was she working full time and growing my child, but she was finishing her master’s degree!” Liz said. “Look how amazing she is!”
“You have to support each other,” Heather said.
She added, “Everything went so wonderfully with Eve and we do amazing things like that in the Birth Center all the time. Yes, we send moms home with babies, but we also see loss and despair. It hits harder when a patient comes back after something tragic happened and it’s a full circle moment of how you can play a part in their happiness now.”
Heather works on a loss committee that is working to close the large gap that exists for women going through or have experienced loss.
“The therapy and community options are very limited, and we want to change that,” she said.
In addition, she makes sure her team is supported.
“We encourage our team members to utilize the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience and we are working on our debrief process,”
Heather said. “We try to be an open door to help support and direct our team to resources.”
Liz and Eve
Spending this Mother’s Day with Eve is all Liz needs to have planned.
“It’s still surreal,” she said. “I can’t describe it. This overwhelming joy and relief. Even when she was eating every hour and not sleeping, we didn’t even care. We’re just so happy she’s here.”
Liz has learned so much throughout her experiences.
“From an infertility perspective my advice is to take control of your body and know what’s going on with your body,” she said. “Advocate for yourself. If you don’t think something is right, find a doctor that will work with you and your wishes. I wish I hadn’t lingered so long on non-invasive options because I could have skipped a lot of heartbreak there. But advocate for yourself and be assertive, and at the Birth Center, we push for that, and for patients to ask for what they want and what they want to do for their family.”
She said it’s also about having a goal but being flexible.
“You have to be flexible, and have a contingency plan, but always keep the end goal as your priority and in sight.”
Liz and Heather’s friendship and bond is palpable.
“How do you say thank you? We try to tell Heather and Ben all the time how thankful we are,” Liz said.
“It’s not a selfless act,” Heather said. “You get something from this experience. I feel good knowing I might make Liz feel better and it’s not a monetary compensation, it’s something deeper.”
Liz is very content and looking forward to her first Mother’s Day.
“I just feel very at peace and an ease with Eve and my life right now,” Liz said before Heather could jump in with a big smile, “Everybody can see Liz is happier and lighter.”