When a pregnancy ends in miscarriage or loss, the grief can be heartbreaking. Surrogacy loss is particularly devastating for intended parents, who may have already experienced difficulties with pregnancy and conception. Of course, it’s not just parents who grieve the loss of a child. Surrogates are also deeply affected. While many organizations are dedicated to helping parents after a loss, few exist for surrogates. When Camila Vintimilla, a first-time surrogate, experienced a pregnancy loss, she decided to create an organization to support surrogates. She partnered with Kristin McQuaid, intended mother of the child Camila was carrying, and together, the two women founded London is the Reason, named in honor of London Quinn Dixon, who was born on July 14th, 2021 at 7:42 a.m. and was stillborn. We interviewed Camila about the organization’s goals and her own surrogacy journey. While Newborn Advantage was not the surrogacy agency that worked with Camila, we do support London is the Reason and the mission they represent.
Why did you choose to become a surrogate?
I had a friend who had been unable to conceive, and I began researching surrogacy to help her find resources. I located a surrogacy agency and filled out an application—not intending to actually become a surrogate myself, but just to get more information. As I read about surrogacy, I was so impressed by the generosity of the women who become surrogates, and I wondered if it was something I could ever do. Miraculously, my friend got pregnant. Meanwhile, I got a call from the surrogacy agency, who wanted me to meet a couple. I talked about it with my husband and we decided to at least have a conversation with them. What would be the harm? We ended up having the couple for dinner, and we knew right away that it was the right family for us. We just clicked.
In the beginning, how did the surrogacy journey go?
At first, everything seemed perfect. The medical testing and transfer were successful, and I became pregnant in four days. Everything went smoothly the first trimester, and I never had a day of morning sickness. The rest of the pregnancy went as expected. Throughout the process, I communicated regularly with the intended parents, and we had a great relationship.
What happened leading up to the loss?
Since I already have two children who were born via C-section, we scheduled a C-section for July 14th, at 39 weeks. That morning, I went in for the operation, and when they went to put the heart monitor on the baby, they couldn’t find a heartbeat. Everyone and everything became silent. I had just listened to her heartbeat the day before on my home doppler, and everything seemed fine. Just five days prior, I had visited my OB, and all had been well. We were all devasted. London was stillborn. We proceeded with the C-section with broken hearts and left the hospital the next day with zero answers. Zero explanations to anything. It was at that moment that I realized something had to change.
How did the medical staff respond? Did you feel supported?
The doctors and nurses were very upset and told us they cried for days. The hospital dressed the baby in a white gown donated by an organization that supports parents after the loss of a child, and they had some resources for Kristen, but there was nothing for me. I went home empty-handed. It seemed like no one knew what to say for a surrogate who loses a baby, because it’s not our baby. But for most surrogates, we still love that baby as if it was our own, and we are just as devastated by the loss.
What advice would you have for doctors, nurses, and hospitals about how to better support surrogates after a loss?
I would recommend that they consider the surrogate’s feelings, and show compassion. In my case, the doctors and nurses were clearly emotionally affected by what happened, and while their empathy was touching, it is the person closest to the grief who needs the most support. When I came in for my follow-up visit, I was so upset and anxious about the appointment, I had to talk myself through what I was going to say, practice it out loud, and coach myself not to cry. When I came in, the first thing my doctor said was, “I was so nervous about this appointment today, and worried that I was going to cry.” I was sad that she felt that way, but I was the one who had lost a child. It doesn’t seem fair to ask a grieving person to comfort you; it means they have to suppress their own grief. It would have been nice to have been asked how I felt, or referred to a grief counselor.
Did a counselor or therapist come to see you at the hospital at all?
No. No one from the hospital came to comfort me. Fortunately, my intended parents were there and were very kind and supportive. The surrogacy agency did refer me to a therapist, and she was helpful, but she admitted that she did not have any experience working with surrogates. Providing an on-demand counselor for surrogates who experience loss is a goal that we hope to accomplish with London is the Reason in the future. We are actually working on that now.
What else could hospitals, caregivers, and surrogacy agencies do to better support surrogates through loss?
It would be helpful to let surrogates know that the loss is not their fault and to share with them that they are not alone. I asked my doctor, “Does this happen often?” and she replied, “No, this almost never happens.” Thankfully, the intended father, who is a doctor himself, was there, and he shared with me that miscarriages and pregnancy losses are actually very common—and they are even more common with IVF. About 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the Mayo Clinic. Stillbirth affects about 1 in 160 births, according to the CDC, and each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States.
Information like this is helpful after losing a pregnancy. If you hear that losses are rare, you begin to blame yourself. When you look at the actual numbers, you know that you’re not the only one.
It sounds like your intended parents were very supportive. How did they help you get through the grief?
They were amazing. Kristin and I talked on the phone for hours, and we text each other all the time. We comforted each other. Steve, the intended father, was very supportive, too. Right after it happened, he sat with me, looked me in the eyes, and told me he knew that this was not my fault, and there was nothing I did that caused this to happen. It was so encouraging to know that he did not blame me because I did feel so guilty about what had happened.
Why do surrogates sometimes feel guilt after a pregnancy loss? What would you say to encourage a surrogate who is feeling this way?
Most surrogates have had successful pregnancies. We are “good” at pregnancy, and that is part of the reason why we chose to be surrogates. So it is very surprising and shocking to us when a pregnancy does not go well. Also, we understand how much intended parents go through, and we have formed a strong relationship with them prior to the baby being born. We know how much they want this baby, how much they love this baby, and how much they have invested into it. Because of that, we almost can’t help but feel guilty if we lose a pregnancy, knowing how much it is going to hurt the intended parents. We worry about the costs, and we worry that they are going to blame us. So, we may start to blame ourselves. I would tell anyone who loses a pregnancy that it is not your fault. Surrogates are such giving and selfless people, and you have already gone through so much to become pregnant, and given up so much to carry someone else’s baby. Some pregnancies do end in miscarriage or loss, and it is not always preventable. There is no reason to feel guilty—and you are definitely not alone.
Where can surrogates experiencing loss get support?
Our website, londonisthereason.org, has many resources for surrogates. We have stories from other surrogates who have experienced loss, we have a support group that meets monthly via Zoom, and we also have a list of websites, links, and resources for other organizations that can help. In the future, we hope to have a therapist available 24/7 via phone, text, or chat. We are also reaching out to surrogacy agencies across the U.S. to connect and share information. We would like to be able to provide more resources for surrogates, such as brochures and Boxes of Healing for intended parents.
Tell us more about the Box of Healing.
The Box of Healing is one of our most important projects. We donate boxes to hospitals for intended parents and gestational surrogates who experience infant loss. Each box contains a book, a devotional journal, letters from other surrogates or intended parents who have gone through a loss, a necklace or bracelet, and helpful information and resources. Surrogates’ boxes are a bit different from intended parents’ boxes, ensuring that each recipient receives items customized to their experience. So far, we have donated 500 boxes to Baylor Scott & White, which is where I delivered London. We have plans to donate boxes to hospitals across the country.
Have you met and connected with other surrogates who have been through similar experiences? Is it helpful?
Absolutely. I have met many surrogates who have experienced infant loss, and we help each other get through it. We talk on the phone, text each other, and encourage one another. Our website can be a good resource to help surrogates connect.
What advice would you have for intended parents who are wondering what to do after a surrogacy loss?
Intended parents need support and encouragement through their grief. A surrogacy loss is different from a normal pregnancy loss, and at London is the Reason, we believe that they deserve access to resources created just for them. Since the intended mother does not carry the baby herself, she will not experience the physical and hormonal changes that a surrogate will. However, intended parents have planned for their baby’s arrival, built up their hopes and expectations, and felt love for their child. Their grief is real, and they should take time to process it and heal.
I would also suggest that intended parents think about their surrogate’s feelings, and act with compassion. I was lucky to have amazing, supportive IPs, but I know that is not always the case. I have talked to surrogates who dealt with anger or blame from their IPs, and that was devastating for them. IPs should understand that surrogates connect with the babies they are carrying, and we love them, too. Please don’t blame the surrogate, or send hurtful texts or emails.
Of course, it is understandable for IPs to be concerned about expenses and legal matters, in addition to the loss. They have spent so much time and invested so much in preparing for the arrival of their baby. The surrogate understands and feels that loss, and it tends to add to the guilt of losing the baby. It is crushing. One surrogate shared with us that she was at the hospital, about to give birth to a stillborn child, and IPs were texting her legal documents and copies of the contract with highlighted portions. She just couldn’t deal with it at that time and referred them to the agency. Even though she was heartbroken for the IPs, they never spoke again. I would ask IPs to please remember that this is a loss for the surrogate too, and like you, she is grieving. The surrogacy agency is your point of contact for legal and financial matters.
What can surrogates and IPs do to prepare for the potential of pregnancy loss? Would it be helpful to have information on the topic prior to the surrogacy process?
Yes, I think it would be helpful for IPs and surrogates to have information on surrogacy loss — especially how to prevent it. Not all miscarriages and infant losses can be prevented, but a significant portion of these losses are preventable. For example, sleeping on your back instead of your side, especially during the last trimester, is connected with a higher rate of pregnancy success. With some pregnancies, there are problems with the placenta that can cause infant loss. Identifying these problems early could save a baby’s life. At London is the Reason, we are working with other organizations to create brochures, flyers, and other resources to share this information. We are also working with lawmakers to advocate for increased testing.
How can we support your organization and its good work?
To learn more about surrogacy loss, access resources, or donate to our organization, visit londonisthereason.org.
Newborn Advantage is proud to support London is the Reason.
We believe every surrogate is amazing, and every surrogacy journey is meaningful. We encourage you to visit londonisthereason.org to access resources, donate, and share the website with others.