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(Image: The Hepton Family)

A Surrogacy Journey During a Pandemic: The Hepton Family

Originally, the idea was to write up one article about welcoming a baby during the pandemic. We put the call out on social media hoping for two or three responses, and waaaaaaay more flooded in! We realized people were feeling alone, wanted to tell their stories, and that this may be a good weekly outlet for others going through similar circumstances, and to give hope and power (even if it's through the screen) that you're not alone! Whether you're expecting, already welcomed a little one, or had to put your fertility treatment or adoption proceedings on hold due to COVID-19, we'd love to hear from you and share your story in this weekly feature on Seattle Refined. Email or reach out on Instagram @June.In.January to be featured.

Jennifer and Nic Hepton live in Seattle and enjoy picnics, outdoor dinners, wine and laughs with great friends. The couple are HUGE foodies and love to find new places to eat and new PNW recipes to create. They are also the proud parents of a 16-month-old baby boy named Milo, who was brought into this world via surrogate. Jennifer and her husband have been on a fertility journey for 10 years, including TFMR (terminating for medical reasons), several miscarriages and the stillbirth of their daughter Loey in 2017. In fact, after their daughter died Jennifer became a grief coach, working with families who have experienced pregnancy loss and are trying to make sense of their world. "As soon as Milo was born and I became a parent, I quickly realized that I still had PTSD and needed to continue healing which had challenging moments during self isolation," she said. Jennifer and Nic know that they want a sibling for Milo, and here is where their story continues, with COVID-19 now adding to the mix.

Seattle Refined: Ok - let’s set the stage. It’s March 23, 2020 - and the Governor just issued the Stay Home Stay Healthy Order. Where are you in your journey at that point?
Jennifer Hepton: We JUST put our second surrogacy journey on hold because of all the uncertainty and fear that was increasing in Seattle. We thought it would be best to wait ....we thought we could wait a month or two. Milo was about to turn one and we were incredibly excited to organize his first birthday but we had to put all our plans on hold after we told him to self-isolate. We created our own decorations and I made him a cake. We had a virtual first birthday party.

Take us forward from there. Expecting moms/dad - what were you thinking/feeling? What kind of prep/worries did you have that you either didn’t have with other kids, or you didn’t anticipate having?
As we were on our Stay Home Stay Healthy order our minds were spinning because we had dreamed of having Milo's first birthday party at our new home with my parents and friends visiting and celebrating with us - so we were grieving this. Honestly, we were comfortable with our decision to put our surrogacy on hold thinking that we would start again in the summer. Summer came and went, and that's when we started to get worried. We were surrendering to the fact that COVID-19 was becoming a part of our lives and that we needed to make the decision to move forward with our surrogacy journey or to hold on till next year. We had already put it on hold twice and as 'older' parents we didn't want to leave it for much longer. So, after a lot of discussions, researching and overthinking - we decided to move ahead in August for a November transfe, but that is now proving more challenging than we thought. After speaking to our Fertility Doctor we realized that this pregnancy will be a VERY different experience. We would not be allowed to visit our surrogate, and all her appointments will be in Idaho where she is living. When she comes up to Seattle for the transfer, I will not be able to be there nor will I be able to see her during ultrasounds and appointments. Yes we can Facetime, but for Milo it was amazing to be there for every scan and to speak to the doctors myself. As I am not pregnant, it's the only way I truly felt close to our unborn baby, so I am grieving as well. I feel that I am not able to support or be as involved as I want to be - need to be. I also feel a sense of anxiety around my surrogate being pregnant and her safety. I know several friends who are pregnant now and are able to control who they see and what they do, however when someone else is carrying your precious baby you don't really have any control and you need a lot of trust.

What have been your biggest joys during this time?
The joys I have is that we are able to move forward with a sibling for our son and that we are able to work with the same people as before which is comforting. I don't know how I would feel if I had to do this as my first time during COVID-19. I have a dear friend who is moving forward with surrogacy and everything is delayed in finding a surrogate because of COVID-19 and hence why I feel fortunate that we are using our surrogate again.

What are your biggest fears/worries during this time?
As I mentioned before, my biggest fear is that our surrogate gets sick with COVID-19 and something happens to our baby and her. The odd thing about grief is that you know what to expect if it does happen, but it doesn't' make it easier. I know I will be more anxious than before but at the same time I can't control everything and I can't tell her to stay home in a Plexiglas cube.

When your future child asks you about what it was like going trough your fertility journey during the Pandemic of 2020, what are you going to tell them?
We have a name for our little girl and this helps us connect, be hopeful and move forward with our dreams regardless of what is happening in our world of isolation and uncertainty. I will share with our baby how we prayed for her safe arrival and how we all worked together to bring her safely into our world. Having Milo during the Pandemic of 2020 has been a healing experience and gave me the strength to move forward with our fertility journey one more time. It has taught me to look inside, feel grateful for our freedom and our health. What will I tell Milo and his sister about the 2020 Pandemic is a great question. I would share how the world was asked to stop, to pause and to reflect. We were told to stay home and be with our families so that we could be safe and others. It was a time of uncertainty, fear and anxiety with this glimmer of hope and a larger sense of community. We weren't able to visit family in Canada nor England and we weren't able to have friends over for visits. There were hard times and there were other times of growth and appreciation. Everyone felt something different but I truly believe that everyone felt the collective energy of grief of how the world was before and in this we learn to adapt and live. It was scary but it was also a time of creating memories and not being busy.

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Final Update: Where do things stand now? How is the entire family?
As of now, we are moving forward with a sibling for Milo, signing paperwork, asking a lot of questions about safety, procedures and processes. We are reading more about COVID-19 and pregnancy and reaching out to our surrogate to support her. We hope that we will be able to transfer in November but of course we don't know because of the 'second wave' that may be coming. We have to take it day by day.

And to other families reading this, going through something like this themselves - any words of encourage, support or advice?
If you are going through infertility, surrogacy or you are pregnant after loss and you are feeling anxious know that all the feelings that you are feeling are totally normal. AND - It's okay not to be okay. What I have learned is that our mind hates uncertainty and when we are on our fertility journey after loss we can't help but fear the worst because we have been there and we have the memories. Not to get too geeky here on neuroscience but this helped me a lot, our memories don't have time stamps and our fears might seem real but they aren't because today is a different day. What worked for me was the consistent need to check in with myself and listen to my intuition about whether to move forward or not. I also had to trust, and trust doesn't come easy for me - so slowing down and creating space gave me the opportunity to create awareness and hope. Know that what you have is this moment and what you have control of is this moment, so what do you want to feel or do ? Fertility to most women isn't the easiest and COVID-19 doesn't help but know that you are strong, brave and you have your inner mentor to support you - slow down and listen. Find your community because connection during uncertainty is the best vitamin for our soul.