By Jesse Marx
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Nestled away in Minnesota farm country, Mazeppa resident Stacey Suess sits on her back porch in a red plaid blouse and denim capris and recalls the heartbreak of infertility. After giving birth to her first son, Devin, doctors informed her that there were tumors in her uterus; her womb had to be removed.
The then-26-year-old had a house and two jobs and was trying to break free from an abusive marriage. "I really didn't have time to think about the fact that I wasn't going to have any more children," she says. "I had all this going on and suddenly, I had this baby to worry about."
Eight years later, much had changed in Suess's life. She had gotten divorced and taken a job in online research at the Mayo Clinic. She had fallen in love with a man named Gary, an agriculture specialist in Goodhue County, and made plans to remarry; she couldn't wait to start a family with him.
"Gary always considered Devin his son, but I think if it is at all possible, it's important to have your own little man running around, or your own little girl," Suess explains.
She turned to doctors for help, but there was nothing they could do. "It was very emotional," she says. "I couldn't be the wife I wanted to be. I couldn't give him a child." The only way for Stacey and Gary to have a child together was to find a surrogate to host their embryo.
At first, surrogacy was a strange solution for Suess, something the small-town gal had thought very little about before. She spent hours trying to convince her 90-year-old grandmother that surrogacy didn't mean her husband was going to have sex with someone else. She even lost friends over her decision. "They said we were playing God," she remembers. "They said that it was wrong."
For Suess, a woman of faith, none of that mattered. "I look at it this way," she says, rocking back in her chair as the morning sun pours down. "The only judge that we should have in this world is God, and if he didn't feel this was right, or that it should happen, he wouldn't have given us the knowledge and medical ability to do this."
To find their surrogate, Stacey and Gary turned to the internet. They found websites where they could email potential carriers and view their profiles. Within a few months, Suess found the woman she wanted to carry her baby. "She was very nice, in her mid-20s. She was married and had a child and loved being pregnant and just thought this was something she could do for others," Suess remembers.
A contract was drawn up. Everyone, even eight-year-old Devin, couldn't wait for the baby.
Suess and the surrogate immediately started the grueling medical process required to make the pregnancy work. Both women took hormones to synchronize their cycles. Seuss went through in vitro fertilization. "Every single morning I'd give myself shots—two, sometimes three times a day. It was hell.... It's hormones. It messes with you."
When the timing was right, Stacey's eggs were matched with Gary's sperm in a lab, and two pre-embryos were implanted in the surrogate's womb. "We thought we had done it," Suess remembers. "We thought this was it, all our hard work was paying off. We were going to have a baby."
Weeks later, Suess was devastated to learn that the pre-embryos were lost. The surrogate had not followed medical protocol. She admitted she had been too busy with her own kids.
Six thousand dollars and nine months later, Suess was ready to give up. She called her lawyer crying.
"We can't afford to do this. Emotionally this is very hard and financially it's quite a step," she told him.
He convinced her to try again. He told her to find another surrogate, this time using an agency.
"It will work," he said. "You and your husband will have a child of your own."
So Suess gave it one last try. After going through several portfolios of surrogates at the International Assisted Reproductive Center, a Twin Cities-based surrogacy agency, she and Gary found a new carrier. For the second time, they had a contract drawn up, and Suess headed to the clinic for in vitro fertilization. She prayed this would be it.
Months later, when the surrogate called to say she was pregnant, Suess was reluctant to believe her. It had been traumatizing to lose the last embryos; psychologically, she wasn't ready to deal with that again. If the surrogate was pregnant, she wanted to hear it from a clinic.
A week later, the phone rang. It was a nurse calling to tell Suess that she was going to bring a baby into this world. The embryo had taken; Suess was going to have a child. As soon as she hung up, she called Gary at work, "Congratulations, Daddy," she wept into the receiver.
For the next nine months, Suess experienced pregnancy side by side with her surrogate. The two became close friends. Suess went to the hospital for the ultrasound that revealed they were having a boy. She cooed over her surrogate's swelling belly, watching nervously every time the surrogate felt an uncomfortable kick. Every pregnancy nuisance was a victory for Suess and her husband. "She got morning sickness, like puking in the shower, and we were like, 'Yes!' It was kind of funny now that we celebrated at that; she couldn't eat; she couldn't sleep."