NEWTON, Massachusetts — After giving birth to three children, Carrie Bornstein decided to take her “uterus sitting here collecting dust” and “put it to good use” for a couple she’d never met.
Until deciding to carry a child for Vivianne and David, a British-Jewish couple living in London, Bornstein had never known a surrogate mother personally. She had, however, enjoyed being pregnant with her two boys and little girl, Bornstein told The Times of Israel in an interview at her workplace outside Boston.
As the executive director of Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh, Bornstein has served hundreds of individuals and couples dealing with fertility issues. Since being founded by “The Red Tent” author Anita Diamant in 2004, Mayyim Hayyim’s mikveh guides have conducted 18,000 immersions in the spa-like setting.
“I’ve seen women and men in pain over repeated failed attempts to have children, more miscarriages than I could possibly count, and the loss of stillborn babies late in pregnancy,” wrote Bornstein in her surrogacy blog. “The sadness, isolation, and anger is intense.”
In helping people cope with these challenges for many years, Bornstein started to view surrogacy as not only “a logical decision,” but something she could be uniquely good at. Although she was raising her own family and working full-time at the mikveh, she sought an additional something “tangible” to challenge herself with.
“Surrogacy was not the most intuitive thing to do,” said Bornstein. “But the more I thought about it, the more it became something real for me, a way I could use what I was good at to help another couple,” said the 40 year old, a graduate of Skidmore College and Boston University.
After connecting with several surrogacy agencies and one Orthodox rabbi, Bornstein and her husband, Jamie, decided she would be the “gestational oracle” for Vivianne and David. The London-based couple had been trying to have a baby for seven years. For the Bornsteins, the opportunity to help another Jewish couple build their own family felt exciting, but there were also some doubts.
“Knowing that another man’s reproductive material — even if already in embryonic form — will become part of my wife is very emotionally jarring,” wrote Jamie in a guest entry on his wife’s blog, which is called, “THERE’S NO I IN UTERUS.”
“Notwithstanding the surgical reality of how it all happens, it feels like an unwelcome invasion of our intimacy, and that gnaws at me,” wrote Jamie, who serves as senior director at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.
Eventually, Jamie came to admire his wife’s “remarkable and selfless willingness to help two loving adults create the family they so desperately want,” he wrote. “I cannot object to creating more awareness around an issue that societally is so under-discussed and so over-stigmatized.”
Almost unanimously, the couple’s friends and family were surprised — and a bit confused — by Bornstein’s decision to become a surrogate mother, she said.
“People often ask, ‘How can you do this?’ Give the baby away,” said Bornstein. “It went from people saying to me, ‘How could you do this?’ to me asking myself, ‘Why wouldn’t I do this?”
‘Never mine to begin with’
“I’m celebrating whatever I can these days, and this seems like a big one,” wrote Bornstein on March 23, 2017. “Tomorrow night officially marks 12 weeks’ gestation, a.k.a. MY LAST NIGHT OF SHOTS.”
Three and a half months into the pregnancy, Bornstein had taken 129 injections and given six blood draws. At that point, her body was ready to take over from the shots, meaning, “no more ice packs, no more alcohol pads, no more syringes, needles, progesterone, estradiol valerate, gauze, or heating pads. Just me and my placenta, taking over from here,” she wrote.
Throughout the nine months, Bornstein wrote about some of the emotional aspects of surrogacy, including how she fielded the inevitable “giving the baby away” question.
“I usually respond with something to the effect of reminding them that I can’t give something away that was never mine to begin with,” wrote Bornstein. “It’s more that I’ll be returning the baby to its parents after this ‘extreme babysitting’ gig ends that I’m currently undertaking,” she wrote.
“The truth, which I sometimes add into the conversation, is that this is all brand new to me, so I can’t actually know how I’ll feel until I complete the journey,” wrote Bornstein. “But for what it’s worth, I’m not sure I got all that attached to my own kids while I carried them either. We never found out the gender beforehand, never decided on names, never set up a nursery in advance.”
Toward the middle of her pregnancy, Bornstein wrote about how her three children were responding to the experience, and what impact it might have on them.
“I wonder,” wrote Bornstein, “am I really making a difference in the world? Am I raising independent, determined, ambitious children… or will I become extremely well-known to their therapists later in life?”
‘I don’t plan to repeat it’
On the morning of September 28, baby Clara was welcomed into the world at a Boston hospital.
“I pushed for about ten minutes, and at 4:41am, a 6-pound, 10-ounce, 18-inch human came out into the world,” wrote Bornstein. “And she looked nothing like me. Bizarre. Vivianne cut the umbilical cord. David did skin-to-skin. The baby cried. Her parents beamed. She was perfect.”
During the days ahead, as Vivianne and David settled in with their new addition, Bornstein reflected on “giving back” Clara.
“Yes, I have gotten to spend time with her since, and yes, I have loved every moment,” wrote Bornstein. “But I don’t feel any greater claim to holding that baby that to any other newborn I see walking down the street. The only difference is that I feel like it’s more socially acceptable to ask her parents if I can.”
Having fulfilled her goal of helping a childless Jewish couple achieve their dream, Bornstein wrote an entry called “Closing Up Shop” in November. She recapped the “once-in-a-lifetime experience” of surrogacy, and urged readers to consider doing “the big thing” connected to their passion.
“Even more than wanting people to understand surrogacy, I want people to recognize their own unique talents and figure out how to use them to help other people,” wrote Bornstein.
In recent months, Bornstein has been preparing for the May 30 publication of Fertility Journeys: A Jewish Healing Guide. Written and compiled by Dalia Davis, the guide is “structured around the narratives of five biblical women and the contemporary issues they highlight,” according to Mayyim Hayyim’s Lisa Berman. “Each chapter explores various topics through personal stories, texts, prayers, guided imagery, rituals, and opportunities for personal reflection.”
As for the future, Bornstein is unlikely to entertain prospects of a fifth pregnancy, she said.
“I don’t plan to repeat it,” she wrote, “between staring 40 in the face, the potential risk to my body with a fifth pregnancy, and the added stress of it all. But I don’t regret any of it, and from the moment Clara was born, I could absolutely understand why many people do choose to do it again and again.”