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Rachelle Friedman Headshot

The Road From Paralysis to Motherhood

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Rachelle Friedman

I was lying motionless on the side of the pool, wondering what the rest of my life was going to be like. My lower legs were dangling in the water but I couldn't move them or feel the wetness. The EMTs were working diligently to stabilize my neck as thoughts raced through my head. I remember looking at one of them and asking, "Will I still be able to have children?" She said yes and something in me breathed a sigh of relief even in that moment. I have been working hard these past four years to get stronger and have since then married the love of my life. We are happy, but something's missing. It's time to fulfill my dream of motherhood. We are ready to have a baby!

The main question I think many people have is: "Can someone with paralysis have sex, conceive, and have a healthy pregnancy?" The answer is yes to all of the above. But, over the past four years, I have come to learn more about my unique circumstances as a result of my injury. Like most quadriplegics, my blood pressure dropped significantly, but unfortunately, my body never got acclimated. I often passed out from dizziness and now require medication to keep my blood pressure stable. Sadly, because of this, I am unable to safely carry a child.

Accepting this reality was devastating. I just had it in my head that I wad going to be the one carrying my child. I'd take adorable maternity photos, feel what it was like to get an ultrasound, to feel my baby kick, to go through the hormones, the pain, and the sacrifice. Even before my injury I might pass through the maternity clothing section, and a part of me would get excited about my future wardrobe.

I was in denial for a while. I thought I'd find a natural way of keeping my blood pressure from dropping, stay in bed for nine months, or wait for a cure for my paralysis. My doctors told me it would be a nightmare and I had to accept that harsh reality. So much had been taken away from me and this was just one more thing.

So after some tears, serious discussions and a lot of sleepless nights, my husband and I decided to move forward with surrogacy. We came to the conclusion that pregnancy wasn't our ultimate goal, but having a child that we created was. We were just going to have to go about it a different way.

I started the research and my plans came to a screeching halt. $120,000!? Agency costs, lawyer fees, travel, life insurance, medical costs, and surrogate fees were all things that had to be covered.

There are many non-profits out there who help dreams come true and one of these is Surrogacy Together. I traveled to Thousand Oaks, Calif. to see Dr. Kumar and The foundation helped significantly with the doctors visits. They also set you up with an agency called Expecting Miracles and the agency fees were waived. Though still very expensive, this process was becoming possible.

Then another amazing thing happened. An old friend from college had been following my story. She contacted me online and offered to be my surrogate out of the kindness of her heart! What a way to rekindle an old friendship!

The news caught on and, as I'd experienced before in the media, people have some serious misconceptions. The comments came rolling in.

"She's being selfish. Why won't she adopt?" "If she can't afford surrogacy then how can she support a child financially?" "If she is in a wheelchair, how can she be a mom? It's unfair to the child!" People still wonder why I get defensive because I shouldn't have to defend myself. Those people are absolutely right but there is a bigger picture here that goes way beyond me. I'm defending the ability of all parents with disabilities. I'm defending the world of surrogacy and those who have chosen that route.

Adoption is not this super easy process that everyone thinks it is. There aren't a bunch of healthy new born babies available and couples are often put on a waiting list. It costs tens of thousands of dollars and there are some serious criteria that a couple must meet. Regardless, Chris and I, and every other couple in America have the right to try for their own biological child. Those couples aren't any more selfish than other couples in the world just because they must go about creating their child a different way.

When it comes to the cost, surrogacy is most definitely an expensive choice. Even with a surrogate willing to do it for free and with help from grants, surrogacy can cost upwards of $20,000. I'm beyond thankful for friends, family and people in my corner who wanted to make this happen for us. Will we be able to support a child? Absolutely.

I need a wheelchair to get around, but that does not mean I can't be an awesome mom. With my function I can carry the baby, feed, bathe, dress, and change their diapers. But most importantly, this child will be loved like crazy. We, as a couple, are fully aware that it may not always be 50/50. Realistically, I can't do everything, but we will have a system that works for us and our family. Unfortunately, I think people see a person in a wheelchair and underestimate that persons ability. I've been lucky to know many parents who use a wheelchair that are amazing at what they do. Many of them are quadriplegics like myself. You'd be surprised what someone with no finger function can do with their hands.

This week, I will travel back to California with Chris and our surrogate for the transfer . This is really about to happen and I'm nervous, excited, scared, worried and pumped!! We will know mid august if it worked! Next time you hear from me, hopefully I'll be an expectant mother.

Learn more about Surrogacy Together, whose mission is sharing positive, uplifting stories about surrogacy with the world.