Bonus Ep 3 | Michelle

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Bonus Ep 3 | Michelle

In “Episode 3: Where does the love start and end?”, Dalia played clips for Mohsin of calls she'd had made to Michelle – who had been a surrogate for her sister-in-law. This bonus episode is an extended cut of that interview. Michelle talks about her motivations and her experiences during and after the pregnancy, and gives some useful advice to Dalia.

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RUTH (HOST): Hi, it’s Ruth here, this is bonus episode 3 of Tiny Huge Decisions. As part of her research into surrogacy, Dalia spoke to several different women who have been surrogates. In this episode, you’ll hear an extended cut of Dalia’s chat with Michelle that was featured in the series.

Michelle carried a baby for her sister-in-law and friend, Ashley. Ashley has cystic fibrosis, and was struggling to get pregnant with her husband, Allister. When Michelle and her husband Dom had their first child, Maddie, it sparked the first inklings of an idea in Michelle’s mind. What if she could do this for her in-laws?

Michelle answered Dalia’s questions about the experience of actually carrying a baby for someone else. It’s a journey of ups and downs, that ended up with a baby boy named Emerson. But it all began one Christmas, when Ashley and Allister first told Michelle and Dom they were trying to start a family.

MICHELLE: We were so excited for them and, you know, basically it was years, you know? And then it evolved into having to do IVF and, you know, those were obviously unsuccessful and just seeing… The pain that they were experiencing. It was just so hard. I know for me, just as a woman and at that point in my life, not being ready to have a family, um, and Dom as a brother, you know, just seeing their pain, we were like, oh my gosh, it’s just devastating. You know? 

And then, so fast forward to-- so it's like a couple years later, um, Dom and I got pregnant and it was not… we were not trying to get pregnant. In fact, I was on the pill. Like it was…yeah, it was a, like a, I don't like to call it an “oopsie”, but it was like a, oh my gosh situation. We, you know, funnily enough, I remember Don being like, oh my God, what am I going to tell my parents? I was like, well, what do you mean? Like, we're married! [LAUGHTER]

Like, that's not like we're going to be in trouble, but it was not ideal timing. But I remember one of my first thoughts being like, oh my gosh, how are we going to tell Ashley and Alistair! You know, like, how are we gonna tell them? This is going to be devastating to them. It's not that we wouldn't have eventually had a family, but I knew the timing was just going to be... Hurtful to them. 

And I ended up having a very easy pregnancy, but a very difficult birth. So I was in labor forever. And then ended up having to have an emergency C-section and, um, you know, it was like a million hours later in my mind. And finally, you know, we had Maddie, she was healthy, she was safe and we did like a, a Skype or a zoom. And I was bleary-eyed and, um, they were congratulating us, you know, with like a champagne toast.

And I, I'm never going to forget it as-- I could see Ashley and just the pain. I even remember what she was wearing. I could just see how painful this was for her, even though she… of course she was happy for us and, you know, excited for our new adventure. But it's like one of those memories, you know, that stuck in my mind. And I remember being like, in that, even in that moment, just like, I wish I could make her feel better, you know? 

And like, it was just like, so, and even Dom noticed, you know, like he was like, oh, this is just so hard. So yeah. So it was like that memory, even then, of course, I just had a baby, you know, I was like totally out of my mind, but like… I even remember being like, well, if, if, if like it just like a little whisper in the back of my mind, I'm like, “I could do this again.” Even though my practical brain was like, “I'm never doing this again!” [LAUGHTER] 

DALIA: Yeah, yeah. 

MICHELLE: Because after that labor, it was just so awful. But, um, yeah. So I guess really that was kind of the first inkling in my mind about… You know, of course it was not in any way, like, oh, I'm going to be a surrogate, but that was like, kind of the first like flash of like, oh, we could do this.

Eventually fast forward to like another holiday we were there. And I remember it was in Provence. We were in France and we were, it was just, it was very rare that Ashley and I had time to kind of sneak away ourselves, but it was a time, um, where we did.

And, um… like we'd had a few glasses of wine and I remember being like, “I'll have your baby, I can’t take it anymore!” you know? [LAUGHTER] She's like, no, no, you know. And, um, but then it was like, I was like, no, I mean, I really mean it, you know? And so that was kind of the first real conversation we had about, like, I might actually do this for you, you know?

DALIA: Yeah. It’s so interesting to hear you talk. Cause I feel like it parallels the situation I'm in, even though it's totally different circumstances for both people, but yeah, it was definitely having my own child that then prompted me to, even though I was like, simultaneously, like I never want to do this again.


DALIA: Like I know, but I can't, like, I can't be next to a person who I'm really close to and for them not to have the same thing. 

MICHELLE: Exactly. Cause it is, it's like, you can't put into words what it is like, parenthood, until you are actually a parent, you know? And so yeah, it's, it's, you know… it's gut wrenching, especially if it's somebody you really deeply care about.

DALIA: Um yeah. I think the other kind of weird dynamic for me is that I didn't have a particularly like, traumatic pregnancy or birth, but it wasn't easy. And I just found the whole thing really difficult. And so the other kind of dimension is that I really have this ambivalence in my own life, and for me, about wanting to be pregnant again.

MICHELLE: Gotcha. 

DALIA: I really don't think I do. 


DALIA: So that is a like…complicating factor. And when I've been talking to other surrogates, like they've just had a really different experience because they've really wanted to be pregnant again, regardless. 


DALIA: So that's the point of difference. So that's kind of what I'm working through at the moment, but I would love to kind of then hear about your actual experience. Um, the surrogacy, like what happened. 

MICHELLE: So, well, I would say I wasn't necessarily looking forward to being pregnant again. [LAUGHTER] Like I would not have done this for anybody else, you know, or, or anybody other than like someone I truly cared about.

So like pregnancy, my pregnancy--and again, I had nothing to compare it to, so, I mean, I say it was easy, but again, you know, I don't know--like I didn't have any, I had morning sickness for sure. And you know, all that happened and, um…I'm not going to lie, I like to go out and have a drink, so that kind of stunk, you know? [LAUGHTER]

And so, um, there were definitely parts of that I was not looking forward to, so, um…but even the, I was like, it's also just, it's nine months. It's nine months. It's a school year. I can do this, you know? And so I was like for a lifetime of somebody’s joy and love, I can, I can do this. So, um, that was kind of.

And when I make up my mind, I'm pretty determined. And like, of course, everyone, my parents, Dom's parents, Ashley's parents were like, what are you doing? You have not thought this through. And like, again…you can't kind of explain this to people. You're like, I know what I'm doing. I know. I promise you, I can do this. You know? Cause people thought, oh, it's going to go, it's going to end badly. And you know, but when you know--

DALIA: Was anyone like against it or just not sure-- 

MICHELLE: No, no, they were just like, yeah, no, they were just super apprehensive. I would say probably Dom’s mom, was probably the one that was least excited about it. Like my mother was-- who has sadly has passed away a couple of years ago--my mother was thrilled to bits. She was like, oh, let's do it. This is a great idea! 

But she could, she could kind of, um, we were very similar people and I think she out of anyone kind of could get it, you know? She was like, yeah, I understand why you're doing this. Um, so, and of course my dad was like, you are out of your mind.

DALIA: But were you worried about how you would feel about the baby and the separation?

MICHELLE: I'm very good at compartmentalizing my feelings, so I knew that I could, that I could mentally and emotionally withstand the challenge. So I was like, I can do this, I know I can do this, but then it's like, what if. You know, there's always going to be that, what if. And then I was like, but what-- And so I had to do the pros and cons and be like, but let's, let's say I don't do this. What would that be like too, you know? 

DALIA: Yeah, yeah.

MICHELLE: And so to me, the pros totally outweighed the cons and, um, I just-- I don't know. I just had to just make a decision and just be tough, you know, and be like, oh, okay. I am mentally strong and I have a great support system. And I knew I too, I knew I would have postpartum no matter what, because I had it with Maddie.

Um, and so I was like, I just have to be proactive. And, I’m, you know, a huge proponent of mental health care, and I've never been shy about saying I need help. So I knew that there would be some element of that throughout and after. And I was just very honest and I think that's super important. 

So I would just say surround yourself, if you do choose to do this, surround yourself with a really strong support system, people like your inner circle, you know, people who you can lean on when you need to. Um, and be honest when you're not okay. Cause it's going to happen. And um, if you need some extra like medical, you know, actual professional help, get it! Because there's no shame in it. You know, you're doing an amazing thing. And, and I found that, and that was rare. I only had to do it a couple of times, but like, um, the, the few times I did it, I was really pleased I did, so.


DALIA: I guess now I’m just like being nosy, but I'm just really interested in also what your relationship was like with them, with Allister and Ashley, like while you were pregnant, like, how did you navigate their relationship with the baby, and, and then also like, after he was born?

MICHELLE: I was very open. Allister, I think, was a little apprehensive. I think he found the whole thing a bit weird, especially cause I'm his sister-in-law, you know? Like I remember one time, um, Emerson was like moving and I was like, oh, do you want to feel him? And he was like, yes, but no. And Dom was like, it’s fine, because he was like, this is so weird. [LAUGHTER] 

Um, and then of course Ashley was just really, you know, I think Ashley was just over the moon that it was happening and of course nervous. Cause I will say the first implantation didn't work. And that was, that was devastating. And I remember being like, oh my gosh, I have failed them. You know? And just-- it just was so sad and having that, having to have that conversation of it didn't work, you know? And then I remember saying I can do this one more time. Like mentally, I can't like, lose another one and then do this again.

So I kind of, and I was honest with her and I was like, I will try one more time, but if this one doesn't work out, I'm sorry, I'm out. And so she got that and then obviously, thankfully it worked, but then of course I think there was this level… more on her part, less on mine. Cause I was very much like, okay, well, is it kind of out of my hands, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that this is successful. But if, you know, if nature doesn't want it to happen, it's not going to happen. 

DALIA: And so it sounds like they, like, were they involved in all your appointments? 

MICHELLE: Yeah, they were even, even the first several appointments that were here. Because once, once I was pregnant, then my, my regular OBGYN took over. Um, and so I remember… cause they had implanted more than one embryo. And that was, yeah. And that, and they were like, it is so unlikely that this will happen, and of course they left that decision up to me cause I was like, “Can I carry twins? Oh my Gosh.”

And so when we, that first appointment, you know, when you go and you find out like they were on video with us, and I remember we were all holding our breath and thankfully it was just one. Um, and so yeah, they were there for all the appointments. And I remember-- I think Alistair, he wasn't there for a couple, like just, you know, towards the end you're there like every week. So, but Ashley was at--

DALIA: Yeah, you have to get your like, urine checked every week! [LAUGHTER]

MICHELLE: All of it. Yeah. Oh my gosh. You're like, I don't have time for this. I'm busy! [LAUGHTER] But, um, Ashley was there for every single one of them. But I remember he was there for the appointment where they found out-- Cause they did want to know if they were having a boy or a girl. And that was an amazing moment. And I remember looking, I remember just looking at Alistair because of course I was the size of a whale at that point, I was like, don't judge me!

But then of course they're like, you're having a boy, you know, it was, it was a pretty incredible moment. So there's, it's challenging for sure. But there are a lot of wonderful things to, you know, that, um, take place and you’re like-- 

DALIA: I'm just wondering, was there anything like, awkward as well? Like as in, I mean, I'm quite a private person. And so I find like this idea of going through this with my friends, I'm just like, but under no circumstances would you be part of like me being revealing my body or like-- 

MICHELLE: Yeah, no. And of course, with that I, I ended up having a voluntary C-section knowing that I was probably going to end up in that situation anyway. I, I, it was more about the stress factor for them and for me, and, um, cause trust me, the C-section was still like I'm flat out on a table.

And I remember Alastiar telling, uh, looking at Alastair like you will not pass this sheet! And he's like, I don't want to, you know? But of course Ashley… and I don't know why, but I was like, but if you want to see everything, actually I don't care.

DALIA: Well that is the thing, because it’s also-- the people I'm thinking of doing this for are two guys. So I'm just a bit like, I don't, I'm not sure they would really want to be like-- 

MICHELLE: I'm sure. No, they offer the craziest things. They offer-- I remember with Maddie, they offered a mirror and they're like, do you want to see this? I was like, no, I don't! I really don’t! [LAUGHTER] So, uh, I, I don't know. I think that that, that part to me was-- I just never really worried too much about that. I think too, after you'd been pregnant, everybody, and, and all these strangers have already seen it. So you're like, oh, I don't care. You know, I'm doing-- it's just for a moment in time. Um, so that didn't really bother me. 

And so Ashley. And I'm sure again, she could tell you everything she said, but she ended up getting us a private room, um, because our situation was so unique. Um, and so we were all three-- and of course I was again, completely out of it. And I remember being like, that was actually the, kind of the nice part, because I was like, I am not your mother. So you can do-- like, I'm just going to lay here and heal and you are going to, you know. 

And that's exactly what it was. She and Emerson were with me for two days and the hospital. Cause they were checking and making sure he was okay. And then, and then they left! And I still had to stay because they're like, we're not sending you home until you can be off pain medication. I will say that, too, was like really lonely. And I kind of wished I was on a ward at that point.

DALIA: Did you feel quite emotional after it, like, did it feel like a kind of come down, almost?

MICHELLE: Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. And I was expecting that for sure. Um, cause I definitely had postpartum with Maddie, but the difference was with Maddie, I was too busy to notice as much or pay any attention to it. So I kind of prepared for that, and I was definitely… it took a little while because I also pumped.

I wanted him to have the best start I could give him. But at the same time with that comes a lot of hormonal shifts and changes, which, which are designed for you to bond with your baby. So of course I'm sitting here... I remember sitting there like pumping and watching orange is the new black, like crying! [LAUGHTER] And I remember being like, well, at least I'm not in prison, you know? [LAUGHTER] 

And it kinda got me through, but then again, that's when I was like, “Okay, Michelle, you need to rely on your resources here.” And I did pick up the phone and I was like, I need some help. And so I did take a mild antidepressant for like, I want to say, like, maybe a month. And that just kind of got me through that gap and then, you know, got back to my life and everything was cool. Um, but I didn't ever feel like… I didn't ever like, you know, the thing everyone was worried about, like, am I going to be so jealous or am I going to want this kid? I never did. I never felt that way. 

DALIA: Yeah. And it's not that, I just think like, it's just like how you said that there's just so much emotion and love it's hormonal. And like, you just don't know what's going on after you have a child that I just… it's not like a really, like, I'm not worried about it, but I just feel like I need to be prepared for it because I know what that feels like. To have your own child, and like all of the stuff that goes around it. And I can just only imagine the extra complicating factor of like literally no baby there, or, yeah--

MICHELLE: And preparation is key. Preparation is key, I think, because it will, it will happen, you know? I mean, it's natural. It's going to happen, but I think just being prepared and knowing yourself and, um, just kind of like, like you would prepare for a storm or like being like, okay, here it is, we're in the storm and this is like, this is a temporary thing.

And, um, in the grander scheme, you know, you always have to kind of-- like for me, I always back up and look at the bigger picture. And be like, okay, this is worth-- this is worth my temporary suffering, you know?

DALIA: What's it like now? Cause presumably… like what’s the relationship now?

MICHELLE: It's great! Now I will say he doesn't know. Um, and I don't like I never-- and the funny thing is, is we have to tell Maddie, cause Maddie obviously knows. And like she remembers it all and we had to tell her, um, you know, this isn't going to be your brother. This is-- mommy's just an oven.

And she, I mean, Maddie's pretty bright. And she just was like, “Okay. Cool.” And so, you know, she was, I guess she was four when he was born. And so… Um, yeah, she's always known. He does not know. Um, and I don't know, and I don't, I don't need him to know. I think Ashley wants him to know, but I was like that’ll be her decision--

DALIA: How old is he now? 

MICHELLE: He's seven, he's seven, yeah. 


MICHELLE: And he'll be eight, I guess, in June. Um, and so… Yeah, like he, we have a great-- he's a cheeky little guy, yeah, we have a good relationship, but it's definitely like an auntie-nephew relationship. Um, you know, but it's, it's great. And again, I think too, I don't think I could have done it for someone I would have never seen again, you know, like that would be weird. I can't imagine that, so.

DALIA: Yeah, I guess, yeah, that was like, my next question is, is there anything that you wish you had known or that you think, um-- 

MICHELLE: Yeah, I'm trying to think. 

DALIA: --I need to, I need to know?

MICHELLE: Yeah, I'm trying to think. One thing that bothered me and it sounds crazy, but everybody kind of like, put me on this pedestal. And I was like, yes, I'm a good person. You're right. But I'm not like, like-- cause people will, they’ll be like, oh my gosh, you are just like the best, most selfless person.

I'm like, no, actually I can be extremely selfish. Uh… and you want to kind of like go and tell them all the crappy things you've done in life. But like… you know what I mean? And you're like, I am more than this. And you, and you will find that people will do that. And you're like-- even now people I'm like, ugh, I did this great thing.

Um, you know, I am a good person for the most part, but I'm so, so-- and I remember being like, I think too, because that was the first people, you know, when people notice you're pregnant, they're like, oh, how's it going? And just so of course, then the followup would be like, this isn't my baby. And then it'd be like, this spiel

And so, and I think too, because I was just moving somewhere, that was like, all people knew about me and I was like, I'm so much more than this. And it just bothered me. And I wanted to like, go kick a puppy or something to show someone I was actually awful! [LAUGHTER] You know? But I just-- Does that make sense? Like it's not something you're prepared for.

DALIA: Totally, totally. But that's also something I'm kind of interested in. Cause I think my husband is still feeling quite ambivalent about the whole thing, but he, I think his, his line is essentially if it, if it is something that I really want to do, like he will just support me. But I don't think he's like, particularly like, yeah, wow, like you've got to go do this. Um, so again, I suppose that's a slightly different dynamic in the sense that like, Dom was invested in this more, if not equally to you. 

MICHELLE: Yeah, for sure he was. 

DALIA: I guess that's another relationship that I've got to think about. 

MICHELLE: It is, and it will-- 

DALIA: I think that's the other thing is like, I kind of want it to be okay that he like…that he isn't feeling like if I do do this, that he has to totally be like 100% on board, and like rub my feet every night and go out and be like, I feel like it's okay if he's just a bit like… You've decided to do this.

MICHELLE: Mhm! And Dom was that way. Dom was like, this isn't my kid!

DALIA: Even though it was his brother?

MICHELLE: Yeah! And he, like, I mean, he's a thoughtful person in general, but yeah. And I didn't, I think too, because I was like, well, this is-- I didn't expect those things anyway. I was just like, it's nine months, again, I was like, it's nine months. And I will say it was a very different pregnancy from Maddie's.

Um, like I think too, cause he was a boy, like I definitely had more morning sickness with him and just things were just-- I carried him higher than, you know, like it was just a different pregnancy. So you just have to be like, okay. I'm just going to set myself up for this, whatever this is going to be and just accept whatever happens, you know?

DALIA: Cause then, did you, even in those times that, did you, did you feel a bit resentful sometimes or a bit angry, or--? 

MICHELLE: No, not angry, I just-- 

DALIA: I suppose when it's your own baby, you're a bit like, well, I've got to do this, but I can imagine myself being like, oh, this isn't even my baby, and I have to do this! 

MICHELLE: Yes. The only time I ever-- Okay. And this, I don't even want to use the word resentful, but just like really kind of annoyed, was Ashley went on a babymoon. [LAUGHTER] Like, you know, when would they like, have a vacation before they, um, have a baby, which I get, because you are giving up your life in a minute. But I remember being like, what the fuck?

Like, I should be the one going on a babymoon right now, you know? And that's the only time. And I remember being like, well, it's not your baby. You're not going to have to get up at three in the morning and five in the morning, you know, you're not going to have to do any of that, that, and that's kind of the point of it. And so, that was the only time I felt that way.

DALIA: That’s so funny. I would, I think I'd actually actively be angry at my friends if they went off on a holiday! 

MICHELLE: Maybe just be like, I will do this, but you cannot-- [LAUGHTER]

DALIA: It's been really refreshing to talk to you and really helpful. And, um, it, it, was an amazing thing that you did, and you must be an amazing person! 

MICHELLE: But I will kick a puppy. Okay? [LAUGHTER]


MICHELLE: So just all the strange things, it's a strange-- That’s the best way to, just-- it's a bizarre-- it is a wonderful experience, but it's weird. I will say it is worth it. I think if you do choose-- And also don't let anybody guilt you into it, like, it's okay if you choose not to do it, you know? Cause it is not an easy thing.

Pregnancy is hard on a good day and it's hard when it's your kid. I would say know yourself and, and, and don't let-- don't feel guilty about anything because the fact that you're even considering it is amazing. And your, I know your friends will appreciate that. And I think too, things will work out the way they should.

DALIA: Thank you for saying that. I genuinely also just at right at this moment, I still don't know a hundred percent either way, but what I've definitely come to the conclusion is that I would like to keep going with the process. And I think there's just lots that we need to talk about and to discuss between us and then, but it's definitely not something that I'm like, no, no, no, actually I don't think I could do this. The more I'm thinking about it and finding out about it. I think I would like to at least kind of keep going with it.

MICHELLE: I think too, like open honesty is the best way. 

DALIA: So I feel like I’m committed to doing that, and keep on going and see and-- the thing that is always like in the back of my mind is because I'm not like, “Yes, I want to do this”... I'm feeling like, is that in itself a problem? Like, is that some kind of warning sign to be like, you shouldn't do this. But I don't know yet because I still feel like that's okay to feel like that because why would anyone be like, “yes, I absolutely know I want to do this!” 

MICHELLE: I know. I think there were certainly moments of hesitation I'm sure. But you don't remember those things, you know, like… cause it's all said and done. I, and um, I do, I do remember being more-- I mean, and again, you can never be a hundred percent sure. The unknown is the scariest part, you know? I think anything you choose to do is probably a little bit that way. 

DALIA: Yeah. Yeah. But I think I'm kind of similar in a sense. So I think once I have made the decision... I will like, go for it. I think I'm just still a bit like, I don't quite a hundred percent know.

MICHELLE: Yeah. I totally get that.

DALIA: I-- it still needs time.

MICHELLE: It does. And like I said, from the first inklings of thought to the point where Emerson was born was almost four years. So it was not a quick process--

DALIA: So we’re only like six, eight months in!

MICHELLE: And there you go. It just kind of, like I said, it just kind of all evolved in that way.  


RUTH: Tiny Huge Decisions is a Chalk and Blade production for APM Studios. At Chalk and Blade, the executive producer is Ruth Barnes, the showrunner and story editor is Louise Mountain, and the producer and sound designer is Matt Nielsen, with original music by Ian Chambers. Special thanks to Jason Phipps. At APM, the executive producer is Erica Kraus, the senior production manager is Nick Ryan, and the executives in charge are Joanne Griffith, Alex Schaffert, and Chandra Kavati. With thanks to Dahlia, Mohsin, and Matthew. And special thanks to Michelle.