How I Bonded With My Surrogate

The founder of Girls Who Code on an unexpected friendship

In a moving essay for Vogue, Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani opens up about the pain of enduring multiple miscarriages and fertility issues — and the incredible and unexpected love she found through the surrogacy process. We were so moved by Reshma’s words, and her close relationship with Amber, the gestational surrogate who carried her newborn son. Wake-Up Call’s editor Lisa Ryan chatted with Reshma about their powerful bond, and the importance of speaking out about her experience.

Lisa Ryan: I want to touch on something really powerful that you wrote about: How in the midst of achieving incredible professional success — introducing the president at an event, publishing a book — you were going through a difficult and isolating time. Can you take us through that time?

Reshma Saujani: Since the Vogue article came out, I’ve been inundated with stories from women. There’s this collective feeling that when you’re going through miscarriage or infertility that there’s something wrong with you and your body. We present pregnancy and motherhood as something that’s very easy, so when your body isn’t working the way that you want it to work, you feel very alone. When I had my first miscarriage — and then my second, and then pretty much I had six — I never felt like I could tell anybody. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, or I didn’t want them to make them feel uncomfortable. It was this private pain that I was suffering through by myself. And it was incredibly isolating.

You welcomed your first son, Shaan, a few years ago, and for your second son, you went through a gestational surrogate. Can you tell us how you met Amber?

There’s not a lot of information out there about recurrent miscarriages. In our culture right now, doctors have a tendency to just say, “You know what, you’re too old,” or “Just do IVF a hundred times.” There wasn’t a lot of data — so I would get pregnant very easily, and then I would miscarry. Finally my sister, who’s an OB/GYN, said, “Listen, send me some of your records.” She told me she saw something in my results, and to see this incredible doctor. He had me do a lot of tests and told me I have something called APS, which is essentially a condition where you have a rotating antibody and these killer T cells. Every time you get pregnant, your body thinks that there’s something invading it, so it attacks it. That’s why you’re miscarrying, essentially, these very healthy embryos. So I followed a protocol.

That was a really tough pregnancy. I was essentially in the hospital or on bedrest for a lot of it because everything was touch and go. What I’ve learned subsequently is that my body was just not built to carry a child. But I did it. My son was born and I thought, “Okay, well now I know what to do for my second.” I followed the same protocol — and it just didn’t work. I kept having miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage. By then, I was really appreciating the mental toll that it was having on me.

My doctors, my husband, my family, and my sister said, “Enough. If you want to have your own baby, you’re going to have to either adopt or have a surrogate.” It wasn’t something that I knew a lot about, or that I knew that people had done. But my doctor recommended this agency — and the agency introduced me to Amber.

We’re basically the same person: We’re super Type A, and we take care of things. We don’t always show our emotions, but we have a lot of them. When Amber and I met, we realized how similar we were, even though we were so different in every other way — in terms of where we lived, what we look, in our races, everything. But we just really connected. For me, the idea of surrogacy is really hard because I’m a control freak, and trusting someone is hard for me. But I did it becauseI knew I didn’t have a choice.

Did you expect to become so close with Amber? It must be such a unique bond.

No, I didn’t. For most of my life, I’ve had the same eight friends. It takes a lot for me to let someone in my life and to be close to them. With the two of us now, we are like sisters. She and her family will be in our lives forever. I didn’t expect that, but I don’t think it could have been any other way either.

Now, your life seems to be full of such love — not only for your husband and older son, but also for Amber, her family, and your new son. Can you tell us how it feels to have gotten to this point, after enduring such a difficult path?

Our son was just born. It was an almost spiritual experience, sharing that with her and her family. I’ll never forget it; it’s forever changed me. It’s funny: Sometimes I meet people, and they’re really skeptical about surrogacy. But until you go through it, you don’t understand. You realize how broken we are. We don’t believe that humans can do that for one another — that they can actually give someone another gift almost selflessly. And she did that for me.

What do you hope other people take away from your story?

Once I started talking about it, I started healing. Sharing my story was a release for me. Like the [Vogue] essay was a release for me. Anytime you try to hide something or you try to pretend it doesn’t bother you or you don’t talk about it, it’s more painful. What I wanted to accomplish was to tell other people that it’s okay. The second thing is that surrogacy is illegal in New York — and it shouldn’t be. The governor is supporting bills and we have some people to convince. I am committed to making that happen.

This all makes me think about the phrase of yours: “Brave, not perfect.” Anytime anyone is vulnerable about anything personal, it’s so brave — and you’re that you don’t have to be perfect.

Maybe that’s why this all happened — for me to heal others and help others.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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