OB-GYN Andrea Miller had a unique opportunity in 2011 — to deliver her own baby. That's because Miller's baby was being born to a surrogate mother, LaDonna Woodmansee, who carried the Miller's baby for nine months.
Instead, Miller chose stand on the sidelines of the birth experience while a close colleague delivered little Addison Miller in August of 2011. The moment the baby was born, she was swaddled and placed into the waiting arms of her mother, Andrea Miller.
There wasn't a dry eye in the delivery room as the Millers finally saw their baby. The tears were also in gratitude to Woodmansee for making the couple's dream of parenthood a reality.
“She's the real star of this story,” Steve Miller said. Woodmansee has also been a star for two other families for whom she served as a surrogate.
Andrea and Steve Miller had done everything a couple can do to try to carry their own child: five years during which Andrea Miller underwent four cycles of in vitro fertilization, four intrauterine insemination procedures, a miscarriage and thousands of dollars trying for a successful pregnancy.
Finally the Millers learned why they were having such a hard time. Andrea Miller's uterus wasn't allowing the embryos to attach.
A new direction
That's when the couple decided to try surrogacy. Woodmansee was actually a patient of Andrea Miller's OB-GYN practice and had already been a surrogate parent several times. To date, she has three of her own children, two stepchildren and has carried four children (one set of twins) as a surrogate.
Woodmansee's journey into the realm of surrogacy began when she married David Woodmansee. She already had three children; he had two children followed by a vasectomy.
But the couple wanted to have a child together. After a seemingly unsuccessful vasectomy reversal, the couple still couldn't conceive.
“I was just like, wow, I can't imagine going through this and not already having a child,” she said, referring to the heartbreak of not being able to conceive. She loved being pregnant, and wished there was a way she could help other families struggling to have a child.
So, in 2006, she was matched with a family and gave birth to her first surrogate child.
“I think a lot of people think a surrogate must be in a financial bind and that's why she's going to do this to her body and go through nine months of hell. And that's not the case at all,” Woodmansee said. Most surrogates are in it for the right reasons, she said. Out of the hundreds of surrogacies she's heard about, she said only a few have had troublesome endings.
What's it like carrying a child that's not your own?
“I am baby-sitting for nine months,” Woodmansee said. She admitted that during a surrogate pregnancy, she's even more careful and vigilant than she was with her own pregnancies. “The child or children aren't mine and I will be giving them back. Everybody asks ‘How do you give them up?' I'm not giving them up, I'm giving them back.”
In fact, the biggest moment of joy for Woodmansee in any surrogate pregnancy is the moment of giving the child back to his or her parents. “It's just like ‘Oh wow, I just did that.' All that pain is totally worth it.”
Into the spotlight
Surrogacy is gaining acceptance as a means to an end, especially as high profile cases of surrogacy bring awareness.
Jimmy Fallon recently surprised his viewers with news that he and his wife Nancy Juvonen have a new baby girl, Winnie, thanks to the service of a surrogate. The couple had kept the surrogacy a secret until their bundle of joy was born.
Plenty of other celebrities also have had surrogate mothers to carry their babies: Giuliana and Bill Rancic; Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick; Ricky Martin; Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban and many others.
“It seems like every time you hear anything about surrogacy it's always the bad stuff but there are so many good stories,” Woodmansee said. She wants to share the story of her experiences to underline that fact. “The thing is surrogacy is not always a horror story where the surrogate tries to keep the baby or where the sperm gets mixed up in the hospital. These people just want a baby like anyone else.”
But it's not for everyone. Doctors who perform embryo transfers into surrogate mothers usually are quite selective about whom they approve for the procedure. The Millers had to prove that their case was medically indicated — that they had no other natural means for having a baby. It was clear that the Millers qualified.
“Adoption was definitely not off the table,” Steve Miller said. But the couple wanted their own child. Had the surrogacy not been successful, the couple likely would have begun investigating adoption in earnest.
The surrogacy was successful and now the Millers have a beautiful 2-year-old daughter and are considering adding one more child to their family.
Laws concerning surrogacy
Woodmansee said that at age 36, she might consider one last surrogacy, but knows that any more than that could be too hard on her body. But she said if the Millers do decide to give Addison a sister or brother, she hopes to carry the baby.
“Besides having my own kids, surrogacy is the best thing I've ever done,” she said. It's not about money — in Oklahoma, laws are vague on surrogacy.
An Oklahoma attorney general's opinion in 1983 that predated the rise of gestational surrogacy declared that compensated surrogacy contracts violated the state's child trafficking prohibition, according to thesurrogacyexperience.com.
So payments to a surrogate mother beyond basic medical support during the pregnancy could be considered child trafficking by one judge or considered pre-birth child support by another.
Only one Oklahoma clinic will perform the transfer of an embryo to a surrogate mother. The Millers had their procedure done in Texas, a state they said is more surrogacy friendly (as is California) than Oklahoma.
Woodmansee stays in contact with all her surrogate babies. Their parents send pictures, invite her to birthday parties and come for visits.
When she considers what she's doing for these families, Woodmansee is humble.
“I don't know if there are any words,” she said. “It's just amazing.”
The Millers have a word for Woodmansee. She's their hero.