Leading up to National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), we were thrilled to welcome on our Instagram Live two incredible women: Alex Kornswiet from @mybeautifulsurprise and her gestational carrier, Madison Williams for a discussion on the surrogacy journey.
Alex is an infertility advocate and mom of three through IVF, surrogacy and her most ‘beautiful surprise’ pregnancy. Madison helped Alex and her husband bring their second son, Dylan, into the world and is now on her second surrogacy journey for another amazing family. We loved hearing how they were both led to surrogacy, how the screening process went, how they matched, and what their relationship was like throughout the pregnancy and beyond. Watch our Instagram Live above or read on for the recap of the conversation – including lot of great insight on the surrogacy process and the intended parent – gestational carrier relationship!
Alex recounts how both she and her gestational carrier went through different experiences which then led to the point where they met each other. Alex and her husband were about to undergo their 6th IVF cycle when their doctor suggested they should consider surrogacy if that final round didn’t work. As she says, they never imagined they’d have to go down that route after welcoming their first son through IVF a few years prior. She and her husband agreed that they’d try one more cycle and, if it didn’t work, they’d start researching agencies.
At around 8 weeks pregnant, Alex experienced a missed miscarriage. She had already started researching agencies just in case and when it happened, they were ready to sign up with one. They matched with Madison in only three weeks. As Alex says, ‘it was meant to be’ as they thought it would take much longer. As she notes though, once you match, there’s still a lot to go through before the embryo is transferred.
We were able to do one last transfer and, unfortunately, at around eight weeks I had a missed miscarriage. I remember sitting in the office when [the doctor] told us that I wasn’t really pregnant anymore and my husband and I looked at each other and we just knew that surrogacy was going to be the option for us. So we signed up with an agency at that point because we knew it could take a while to match but we actually matched with Madison in three weeks. That’s unheard of, for intended parents waiting times can be years so we just felt like it was completely meant to be”. Alex Kornsweit
A friend of Madison’s was a gestational carrier and she watched her journey. At first, she couldn’t believe it was an option but she found the idea intriguing. A few years down the line, she started coming across surrogacy ads. At that point in her life, surrogacy was something she felt she could do. As a stay at home mom and military wife, surrogacy seemed like a ‘milestone [she] could achieve’, both for herself and for someone else. Madison started researching agencies to find the right one for her – in the beginning she knew nothing about what surrogacy entails. She wanted to find an agency that she’d be comfortable with, that is supportive and would have her back through everything. She actually signed up with a few but it didn’t work out and eventually she signed up with the agency that Alex and her husband had also picked.
In terms of the process, she says she first inquired on the agency website, filled out all the information and then waited to hear back from them. The agency provided her with a list of instructions, informed her of the next steps, and asked for her medical history to ensure that she had had successful pregnancies. She and her husband both underwent a screening process. Once they passed the screening and were entered into the agency’s system, they started preparing for the match.
Alex recounts that the agency showed them Madison’s profile and they were interested in meeting. Madison also saw the intended parents’ profile and agreed to meet. A two-hour in-person meeting with the agency owner and coordinator was organized to ensure all parties were fully informed of what will happen. All this took place before any contracts were signed.
Alex notes that before they matched with a gestational carrier, she and her husband had to fill out a very long document where the intended parents can point out what is important to them. For Alex it was important that the gestational carrier understood that they already had one son, and that they really wanted another child. She also wanted to have a relationship with the carrier and to be able to talk to her directly. More specifically, they didn’t want to have to go through the agency every time they wanted to talk to the carrier. Alex also wanted to make sure that the gestational carrier would be comfortable with her joining all appointments (although the pandemic ended up making that impossible). They also wanted to ideally stay in touch after the baby was born and wanted the carrier to be comfortable with them being open with their son about how he was born while maintaining a relationship with her as their carrier.
It was a great match as Madison also wanted to keep in contact with the intended parents, wanted them to join for appointments and preferred they’d be local. It was important for her to see who she was helping, to know their story, and to be able to get pictures of the baby. She smiles fondly as she talks about how Alex sends her pictures of Dylan’s milestones. She says all these elements are included in the profile she filled out when signing up with the agency.
“I wanted that relationship with them, I wanted to see who I was helping and just see their story and being able to get pictures of Dylan now that he’s born is just so special and Alex always does that she always sends me pictures of these little milestones and I keep all of them because there’s a special place in my heart for Alex and Dylan and her family.” Madison Wiliams
For Alex, having a local gestational carrier made a big difference. First of all, California has a lot of laws that support surrogacy so they wanted to match with someone who was close to them. They didn’t want to leave their son for a long period of time once the new baby was born. Alex could also easily join in for all appointments – although she had to wait outside because of Covid-19 regulations. Instead of FaceTime, Madison recorded each visit as they both felt more comfortable this way. She says that overall, the agency knew what was important for the both of them, and they focused on those things when matching them.
Alex and her husband met with Madison and her husband. As Alex says, it was important that all of them were there, including Madison’s husband as the whole family is involved in surrogacy, including the kids. They spoke about how they each got to the point of surrogacy, their experiences, their ‘why’, and for Alex and her husband, also about their loss. Alex felt understood by Madison, she was empathetic and both of them felt a connection from that very first meeting:
“It was instant for me, I felt such a connection with Madison the first time we met. I felt she was so empathetic. I couldn’t understand how someone who had had their kids so easily could understand my situation so well because I think a lot of people have a hard time with that if they haven’t gone through it. So to meet someone that not only is empathetic when she hasn’t experienced it herself but also wants to actually help us have a child is… We just felt connected to her immediately.” Alex Kornswiet
Madison explains how she saw her aunt struggling with infertility and her heart always went out to her. When Alex told her her story, Madison felt more connected to her and wanted to help them out. It touched her heart and as soon as the meeting ended she knew she wanted to be their gestational carrier. She texted them right after.
Alex explains how a lot of the process is ‘hurry up and wait’. They underwent psychological and medical screenings and all went smoothly. They received news that they both signed their contracts on December 18th, Alex’s birthday. The MOST fun fact here is that December 18th of the next year ended up being their son Dylan’s birthday! Back to the beginning though, from then, it took a couple of months to get started as the doctors wanted to do a mock transfer which, in hindsight, Alex felt was the right thing to do. The first transfer didn’t work and they both decided to try one more time. It took six months from the first time they met until the embryo transfer that led to Dylan.
Madison also thought that the process would be quicker – additionally, their transfer almost got canceled because of the pandemic but Alex advocated for the both of them and managed to get the go-ahead from the doctors. She was initially told they could proceed if she was carrying her own pregnancy and she felt it was discrimination not to let her proceed with pregnancy via surrogacy. So, by standing up for what she believed was right, she received a positive outcome. On this point, Alex says that they learned a valuable lesson: find a doctor that treats a surrogate pregnancy just like a regular pregnancy. A doctor, OB and a hospital that are surrogacy friendly makes the process move more smoothly.
Moving along with the journey, the appointments Alex could attend did feel different to her of course. She was used to being the patient, but when she attended with Madison, her presence sometimes was barely acknowledged. This is something she now helps other intended parents feel more prepared for emotionally by sharing her experience. She recounts how she got to experience this pregnancy the same way her husband did ‘from the sidelines’ and that they could understand each other more because of this. Once Alex could no longer attend appointments, Madison recorded them so that they could watch later.
For Madison, the surrogate pregnancy was different but also similar to her own. She wasn’t treated any differently as a gestational carrier than she was when pregnant with her own children.
Alex says they learned how best to communicate as they went along. Neither of them knew what to expect when the journey started, but she does encourage intended parents and gestational carriers to talk about communication in more depth, in advance. She and Madison worked it out but didn’t involve the agency every time they spoke as that didn’t always work for them. Alex notes how important boundaries are – as an example, they never spoke about nutrition (ie. Alex asking or requesting to know what Madison ate) or finances as that’s something the agency talks about. Alex trusted Madison to be healthy and didn’t want to ask about things that may feel disrespectful – all of which helped to build such a strong relationship throughout. They learned which topics were better to handle on their own and which to involve the agency in. Madison agrees that it’s important for both parties to talk about what they expect of their relationship. In their case, there was mutual respect and trust. As Alex notes, some decisions, such as whether or not to get an epidural for the birth, wasn’t hers to make but Madison’s. They both believe that mutual respect was the reason why their relationship worked.
Alex wishes she had more support along the way. As she notes, she and her husband were so focused on having a healthy child that they didn’t think about the emotions they’d have to deal with. The agency provided some support to the gestational carrier but not so much to the intended parents. In hindsight, she believes if she had been able to find an outside source of support, then she wouldn’t have had to experience the anxiety she did once her son was born. She found it helpful to speak to other intended parents – in a way they shared a bond. Once her son was born, she started therapy, but more for the loss they experienced before his birth, rather than because of the surrogacy process. In her own words, “I hadn’t processed what we’d gone through… you can’t really ignore those feelings because they’re eventually going to catch up with you even when you’re not expecting them to”.
As for Madison, she notes how the agency provided a support group for gestational carriers but it stayed at surface level – the group never went deeper into feelings. Instead, she reached out to other gestational carriers and they could talk about what they were experiencing. This helped her much more. Though she felt supported throughout, it would have been nice if people asked her how she was feeling. She says that since it was a surrogate pregnancy not many people around her simply asked how she was doing the way they did when she was pregnant with her own child.
“Talking to other women that have specifically experienced what you are experiencing really makes a huge difference… They can understand in a way that no one else can but I think needing to talk about [infertility] after is just as important as well because [there’s] this misconception that once you have the child you should just be so happy and grateful which of course you are but that doesn’t just eliminate everything that you went through in the past.” Alex Kornswiet
Dylan was due right on Christmas day, but at 36 weeks, the doctor told Madison they could induce on the 18th. She asked Alex if they’d be comfortable with an induction. It was much easier for Alex and her husband to plan childcare with a specific date in mind and, knowing that Madison’s body responded well to an induction (having had one prior), they went forward with that date. Alex stayed in the delivery room with Madison and her husband. Alex’s husband stayed in the waiting room until it was time for Madison to push. He cut the cord, Madison got to hold him and then he went to his parents. Alex and her husband stayed in the room with Madison for the first hour, soaking it all. “I got to see them together and it just helped set things in stone,” says Madison. They were then transferred to their own room and Madison was able to go home to her family on the same day!
The entire labor went smoothly and Madison recalls how respectful Alex was through it all. Alex is grateful that the hospital was very surrogacy-friendly. They referred to her and her husband as parents, asking all the important questions about the baby to them. As California is a very surrogacy friendly state, they had all paperwork ready prior to the birth so that when Dylan was born, Alex and her husband were the ones listed on the birth certificate – and the hospital’s role in supporting all went smoothly. Madison recalls the hug she received from Alex before they left the room: “it was the tightest hugs I’ve ever gotten”, to which Alex replies, “we obviously could never thank you enough for everything… having Dylan, like he was real and in our arms and we had waited so long for this moment, that we obviously… yeah… I don’t think I’ve ever hugged anyone tighter, we were just so happy”.
“They asked us if we wanted to immediately be moved into another room to have the golden hour with just the three of us or if we wanted to be in the room with Madison and her husband and we felt like we’d gone through this entire journey with them she was giving birth to him and we wanted to include them in that first hour because […] it kind of gave closure to the experience.” Alex Kornswiet
Alex and Madison are still in each other’s lives. Alex sends Madison photos of Dylan’s milestones which is really meaningful to both of them. Madison is now on her second surrogacy journey for another family, something she knew she wanted to do as soon as she arrived home from giving birth to Dylan! And on her end, Alex had a surprise pregnancy four months after Dylan’s birth, in her own words, “a whirlwind from having one child to having three within a year”. Madison will be moving soon, but they know they’ll always be in touch.
Alex has this advice for other intended parents considering surrogacy:
Thank you to Madison and Alex for sharing their story with us! Follow Alex on Instagram at @ourbeautifulsurprise for helpful tips and advice on navigating infertility and parenting after infertility, and Madison @mtinfow1990 for updates from her latest journey.
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