"It was rewarding to see that instant love they have," the two-time surrogate tells PEOPLE
As Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West consider a surrogate pregnancy, a woman who has been a surrogate twice over says the journey to match any parent or parents with a woman who will carry a child and then give it up to them is filled with emotion on both sides.
“I hoped for everything I got,” two-time surrogate Dayna tells PEOPLE, which is withholding her last name. “I didn’t want it to be a business transaction. I didn’t want it to feel like that.”
“It was never about money,” says the 37-year-old stay-at-home Pennsylvania mom. “I wanted it to be personal. I wanted to get enjoyment like I did out of it. I was giving someone something that potentially they couldn’t get without someone like us.”
In April, Dayna delivered the second of two children that she carried for parents Jonathan Rollo and Joey Gonzalez, through a match overseen by the California-based agency Growing Generations. The couple welcomed a daughter, Francesca, now 18 months old, in December 2015; their son, Jake, is 11 weeks old. Both were conceived using anonymous donor eggs selected from a catalogue listing and then fertilized by the men and implanted in Dayna’s uterus.
“I personally didn’t feel any separation process,” Dayna says of the time after Francesca was born. “There was no grief, there was no mourning, there was no sadness. It was a pretty amazing feeling, just to see Jon’s and Joey’s faces when she was born, and them holding her for the first time. They were literally just glowing.”
Kardashian West and her husband are already parents to 4-year-old daughter North and 18-month-old son Saint. But in planning for a third child, they recently hired a surrogate, PEOPLE confirms. Doctors had cautioned Kardashian West that another pregnancy would be risky because she suffers from a condition, placenta accreta, that causes the placenta to grow into the wall of the womb, thus making it hard to detach at the time of birth.
The 36-year-old reality star underwent a procedure to try and correct the condition. But she told her mother, Kris Jenner, on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, “I’ve come to the conclusion in my mind that I can’t carry another one. So now I want to explore surrogacy.”
Dayna, a mother of five children ages 7 to 20, decided to become a surrogate after a long consideration that involved her husband and their family; the couple welcomed two biological children and parented several foster children, adopting three, before choosing not to have any more.
But after seeing “so many people out there in need and just having that want and desire for their own biological children,” Dayna says she viewed surrogacy as her way to contribute further. “My pregnancies have always been easy,” she says. “After doing tons of research, it just felt right. It felt like something I wanted to do.”
Before going forward, she also allowed her kids a vote. “Is this going to be okay?” she asked. “This is not going to be your sibling at all. I’m just going to carry a baby for someone who can’t carry a baby.”
Their response? “They were all on board.”
A friend of hers had been a surrogate through Growing Generations, and Dayna reached out to the company, which does not advertise for surrogates but accepts online applications. Just 10 percent meet initial qualifications; only 1 or 2 percent of those advance for final consideration in a review that includes background checks, medical tests, and psychological evaluations. Among questions posed: Are you willing to work with single parents? Gay parents? Interracial couples?
“It was multiple applications,” says Dayna. “At that point, they pretty much interviewed you: Why do you want to become a surrogate? What do you hope to get out of it? Have you talked to your family about it? They do have a lot of requirements, which I feel are necessary.”
Founded in 1996, Growing Generations has overseen more than 1,500 births delivered via 1,200 surrogates, says Stuart Bell, the agency’s co-founder. Its client base is divided evenly between U.S. and international parents. Ninety percent of them are couples, and 60 percent of them are gay. (The agency is not working with Kardashian West.)
“Twenty years ago, infertility was such a cross to bear,” Bell told PEOPLE in 2015. “There was this shame around, ‘I can’t have a baby.'” Although surrogacy and surrogate contracts still generate legal and political debate in parts of the country, “they’re starting to understand that it’s not harming anyone involved,” Bell says. “This is something that’s building families in a positive way.”
It’s also costly. For a person or couple opting to use their own egg, Growing Generations tells them to budget $120,000 to $140,000 for the process; if a donor egg is used, the expense can climb to $150,000 to $200,000.
Costs include the egg donor fee of $15,000 to $16,000; the surrogate fee of around $35,000; the expense to create and implant embryos; allowances for the surrogate’s maternity clothing, travel and medical monitoring; and legal and insurance fees, all on top of the agency’s matching fees.
“When you say you’re going to be a surrogate, the first thing anybody asks is, ‘How much money are you making?'” says Dayna. Growing Generations ensures that surrogates are financially secure before taking on the responsibility, she adds. “The money is not worth what you’re putting your body through. You really need to be honest with yourself. This is something that you want to do for the right reasons.”
Once approved, Dayna received a packet with information about Gonzalez and Rollo — not detailed, but with photos, ages, how long they’d been together, and images showing them with family and friends.
Then she and her husband had a preliminary meeting over lunch with Gonzalez, the CEO of Barry’s Bootcamp, an international fitness boutique concept, and Rollo, a chef, owner and founder of Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop, a chain of organic restaurants.
“We wanted somebody who has been through childbirth,” Gonzalez tells PEOPLE, which earlier profiled the couple and their surrogacy process. “Our preference was for someone who has been through it more than once, psychologically secure, who could go through this process of separating from a child. That’s obviously not an easy thing to do. We both wanted somebody incredibly maternal, somebody that we thought respected the process.”
“When they presented Dayna,” he says, “it was the best-case scenario. She’s the most maternal person I’ve ever met. She’s just an exceptionally sweet, loving person. You can tell that family is a huge priority for her.”
Twenty-four hours after that meeting, each side sent word to the other through the agency: They agreed it was a match.
The two men and Dayna kept in constant touch through that first pregnancy via texts, calls and occasional in-person visits. Gonzalez and Rollo always talked of having more than one child. As they gathered for the first induced delivery and drove with Dayna to the hospital, “We were actually talking about the second one already,” Dayna recalls with a laugh. “I remember Joey’s mom saying, ‘Can we just have this one first?'”
“I planned on the first time being only a one-and-done thing, but the relationship I had with the guys, I knew instantly I would never be a surrogate for multiple families,” she says. After three months of pumping breast milk for Francesca, then freezing and shipping it overnight to Gonzalez and Rollo in California, she allowed her body to rest for a few months before starting the process for the second child. The dads were present at both births.
Today, “[Dayna] loves seeing pictures of our babies, as much as we love hearing stories about her kids,” Gonzalez writes in an email. “Even if weeks go by without hearing from her, it’s easy to pick up where we left off. Sharing something this deep bonds people for life.”
“Honestly, there is no way to have assurance the surrogate will do things your way,” he says. “Which is why the process is so important. Be honest with each other about what matters most, and have trust that she will honor and respect that.”
He adds: “Don’t stress out if the first few meetings are awkward — it’s not the most natural relationship on earth and takes time to develop.”
But even as she values that relationship, Dayna says she’s not decided whether to be a surrogate again.
“I’m not getting any younger,” she jokes. “This one just really took a lot out of me. And I’ve got to think about my own kids. We hike a lot, we camp a lot; it’s hard to do those things when you’re pregnant.”
She does know, however, she has lifelong friends in the men whose family she helped to grow.
“I think the more you’re involved, the more you know what’s going on with the pregnancy, the more you can relate,” she advises those who may be considering using a surrogate. “You hope there are check-in points that they’re interested in, like, ‘What was the baby’s heart rate at the doctor’s today?’ because that just builds the excitement.”
“They don’t have to keep in touch,” she says of the two sides of the transaction. “Once they have that child, that can potentially be the end of the relationship, and I don’t think a lot of people prepare themselves for that. You need to prepare.”
She heard all throughout her process about how awful things can be between parents and their surrogates. But she, Gonzalez and Rollo all praise their match.
“I’m told all the time that we have a special relationship,” she says. “So I’m thankful very much for that.”
“I got everything that I wanted, and possibly more, when I went into this. To see the pictures of the guys with Jake and Francesca, and them living their lives, and all their pictures that they share, it’s amazing,” she says. “I helped create that.”