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All in the Family: Today’s Surrogate Mothers Inspired by Their Own Mothers

CSP’s Second-Generation Surrogate Mothers Making Their Mark

CSP surrogate mothers often refer their friends and family members to become surrogate mothers at our agency. But several of our current surrogate mothers were referred to CSP in a much more personal way. Their mothers were surrogate mothers in the early days of CSP. It is not usual to find that generosity and compassion are passed down through the generations. Parents are their children’s first role models, so it stands to reason that having a mother who was a surrogate would make a lasting impression.

Bonnie Downing, Kristen Pentz and Christine Ruiz are three CSP surrogates whose mothers were surrogates for CSP in the 1980s and early 1990’s. Bonnie Downing is a 36-year-old mother of three children and a four-time surrogate who is part of the first CSP mother daughter surrogate duo. Kristen Pentz is a 33-year-old mom of three sons and involved with her third surrogacy. Christine Ruiz is a 39 year old stay-at-home mother with three children and has given birth twice via surrogacy. Though each surrogate mother’s journey is uniquely her own, nonetheless, there are several characteristics that bind each of their stories.

Lasting Impressions

Christine Ruiz and her mother

Christine was eight years old the first time she heard about surrogacy. In 1983 her mother, Yvette, explained to Christine and her then six-year-old sister that she wanted to help a childless couple by having their baby. The entire experience was one of Christine’s most vivid childhood memories, including remembering all the details about getting Barbie dolls from the couple when she met them for the first time at a local restaurant.

Though Christine remembers the excitement, she also recalls that the family kept her mom’s surrogacy a secret compared to today’s openness about it. Her family did not share the news with anyone but her grandparents.

Kristen Pentz and her mother

At 12, Kristen already was a preteen when she watched her mother experience surrogacy. She remembers thinking she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and help a couple make their dream of parenthood come true. Whereas her mother’s couple actually stayed in their home during the pregnancy, Kristen has worked with local couples with whom she was able to have close contact and frequent interaction.

Bonnie Downing and her mother

Bonnie, who was in elementary school at the time, also has lasting recollections of her mother Glenda Barr’s two journeys. “I remember how happy the families were when their babies were born and I wanted to give others that same feeling,” recalls Bonnie.

The Hilary Hanafin Connection

In addition to having indelible memories of a significant milestone in their lives, both Christine and Bonnie credit CSP chief psychologist Hilary Hanafin with having a positive influence on how they viewed surrogacy. In the late 1980s, Hilary was a doctoral student writing her thesis with CSP. Hilary was able to put two and two together about Christine and her mom when the women reconnected during Christine’s application process. Hilary realized she already had met Christine when she was an eight- year old girl. Ms. Hanafin also was the common thread that united Christine to Bonnie, who also had met the therapist through her mother. Says Bonnie: “When my husband and I decided to start the process, I contacted Hilary because she had been my mom’s counselor. There was not a question in my mind about working with another agency. It was a slam dunk decision to choose CSP.”

Advice from Surrogate Mother Pioneers

So what advice did their mothers, truly surrogate mother pioneers, give them? Kristen Pentz’s mother, Susan Ulry, relayed to her daughter how important it was to make her journey her own and not try to mimic the experiences of other women. Glenda Barr, Bonnie Downing’s mom, gave her daughter a simple piece of advice: contact Hilary Hanafin and CSP. Fortunately, all three women did.

From a medical perspective, surrogacy was less complicated for the first group of women who became CSP surrogates. So even though Christine thought she was prepared emotionally and logistically after watching her mother’s journey, she was pleasantly surprised to learn how much the medical technology had advanced from her mother’s day. It was gratifying to be able to learn how embryos develop and what she needed to know to ensure that her intended parents’ journeys were as successful as possible.

New Traditions Arise from the Old

Supporting surrogate mothers through discussion and creating sisterhood has been a part of the CSP experience since its inception. Communication methods have changed, however. The first group of CSP surrogates – only about six at the time – met at the psychologist’s house in southern California to talk about their feelings. Today CSP surrogate mothers gather from all over the country at various regional locations to bond with each other. Plus they also can take advantage of modern technological tools to communicate remotely, including the use of social media like Facebook.

The surrogate’s family support also has been an important feature of a successful journey. Bonnie, Christine and Kristen had built- in support from their mothers, with Bonnie’s mother taking some extra special steps. All four of Bonnie’s surrogate babies have been lucky to receive their own monogrammed cross-stitch creation Glenda Barr made for them, connecting two generations of generous women who have a passion for helping others create a family.

Thank you to all six women, each part of the rich legacy of the surrogacy sisterhood at the Center for Surrogate Parenting.