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A Surrogate Story

Photograph by Getty Images

The name Mary F. Magness sounds like the name of a saint but she isn't—not in the typical fashion. She does have saint-like qualities in that she offers the gift of parenthood to couples who are unable to conceive. Mary is a 31-year-old surrogate mother who lives in Santa Clarita, Calif., just north of Los Angeles.

Mary was 23 when she gave birth to her first child. After traveling and exploring, she was able to live out her dream of having her own family. She admits, "Although I was a bit younger than I planned on having them, I don't regret it in the slightest." By the time she considered becoming a surrogate mom, Mary had two daughters of her own.

"I was married with two young kids, just trying to keep everything together and balanced. I wasn't really sure what the next step in my life would be once the girls were old enough for me to gain some of my own time back," Mary shared.

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Mary says she was fortunate enough to become friends with a woman who had been a surrogate twice. This friend remarked that she thought Mary would be perfect for the job, which caused the wheels inside Mary's mind to turn: "I loved the idea of helping others and being able to do it from home. To be able to use a 'talent' I possessed was a cool thought."

Upon learning about the procedures that take place during a surrogacy, Mary admits she worried about the hormone injections, and there was also self doubt about not being able to conceive and disappointing the intended parents in some way.

Mary refers to herself as the baby's first babysitter.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is the most common method of conception for modern surrogate mothers. In the past, the surrogate mother used her own egg in combination with a donor's sperm to conceive the child. In recent times the fertilized egg is placed inside the surrogate mother's womb during a simple procedure that causes less pain than a pap smear. The surrogate mother is placed on bed rest for at least three days to allow the conception to take place. With this process, the child is in no way related biologically to the surrogate mother. Her womb is simply used as an incubator and first home for the baby.

Mary refers to herself as the baby's first babysitter as well as "the womb for rent." She adds, "I think people don't quite understand being able to be pregnant and not feeling too attached to the baby. This was never an issue for me. I just explain to them that it was never mine in the first place, and I know that. When you go through the whole IVF process it really confirms that it's completely different than having your own. I don't think people get that."

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This method of conception doesn't always prove successful. Mary admits she had to repeat the process many times before she saw a positive response. "It was super rocky at first because we had so many failed transfers and heartaches, but when it took it was absolutely amazing," she remembers. "When I went in and did the very first heartbeat ultrasound, that's the moment it all became real to me. That's the moment I really realized just what was happening and how it would affect the parents. It was mind-blowing. The joy on their faces when I told them is just indescribable."

To date, Mary has been a surrogate mother twice and is working on her third pregnancy. Her first surrogacy helped a German couple become parents, and her second pregnancy offered a gay couple the chance to add to the family they already had. This couple went with Mary to a couple of her doctor's visits, and their families even vacationed together. Each surrogacy nets Mary between $26,000 and $32,000, depending on how many times she has been a surrogate.

This month, Mary is trying again to help a different gay couple have their first child in her third surrogate pregnancy. She and her husband and children are all excited to be a part of what they call a special gift. Mary believes she is a lucky conduit for existing families to become complete: "I've been blessed with strong fertility and I have no desire for any more children of my own, so why shouldn't someone else who is in need benefit from my help?"

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