“My friend couldn’t carry a baby": How Johnson & Johnson supported me when I became a surrogate
When Kelly McQuillan learned her friend was struggling to become a mom, she decided to help by carrying her friend’s biological child. McQuillan shares the story behind the very special Mother’s Day gift she gave her friend.
I met one of my best friends on the first day of my freshman year at Boston College 20 years ago. Since then, we’ve been in each others’ weddings and have stayed close—sharing all the ups and downs that life brings along the way.
Eight years ago, my marketing career path led me to Johnson & Johnson. I had a strong idea of what the company stood for and knew about the Credo—the company mission statement that serves as both a moral compass and a recipe for business success. My husband, Mike, and I also knew we wanted a family someday, and I loved the company’s emphasis on work/life balance and family values.
When I became pregnant with our son, Quinn, now 6, I enjoyed every minute of it. I didn’t have any morning sickness, and I worked right up until my delivery. Over the next four years, Mike and I had two more children—daughters Eilis, 3, and Norah, 22 months—and both pregnancies were as easy and enjoyable as the first.
Unfortunately, at the same time, my friend and her husband continued to struggle with fertility issues. Eventually, they were told their only viable option to have a biological child was through a surrogate.
Unbeknownst to her, Mike and I discussed the possibility of me having their baby, and he was super supportive. I knew how important this was to her and I was in the position of being able to give the gift of parenthood to two incredible and deserving people who I loved.
I talked to my friend one-on-one first. I was nervous because it was so sensitive and I wasn’t sure how she would react. She was speechless, then kept asking, “Are you sure?” I was adamant that we were 100% certain. She got choked up and said through tears of happiness that it was the greatest gift they could ever receive.
Our Beautiful Surrogacy Journey
I spent the next several months working with their fertility clinic in the U.S. and my doctors in Toronto, where I work for Janssen Canada, part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies, to make sure I would be a good candidate.
I shared my medical history, underwent tests and met with counselors to make sure my husband and I understood some of the more complex emotional and legal aspects that a surrogate pregnancy entailed. Eventually, I began taking medications to help my body prepare for the embryo transfer.
On July 6, 2017, I returned to their fertility clinic in Massachusetts, where a doctor took their embryo and implanted it in my uterus as we all watched on an ultrasound monitor. It was both fascinating from a medical perspective and mind-boggling that it was possible. The whole procedure took about 10 minutes ... and a few weeks later, we celebrated the good news that I was pregnant.
I loved that my children were being exposed at a young age to the fact that families are formed in many different ways. Their reaction was pure and beautiful and they were excited for our friends to have a baby.
Mike and I waited about 12 weeks to tell our children. We wanted to be up-front with them in simple terms: I explained that my friend’s tummy was broken, so their doctor put the baby in my tummy to keep it safe and healthy while it was growing.
I loved that they were being exposed at a young age to the fact that families are formed in many different ways. I also wanted to give them the message that when you have been fortunate and have the opportunity to do something to help someone else, you should do it. Their reaction was pure and beautiful and they were excited for our friends to have a baby.
During the pregnancy, we saw my friend and her husband several times. We were all together for the 20-week ultrasound and saw their perfectly healthy baby—a girl—at the same time. And, of course, we talked and video chatted often, and I sent them tons of pictures of my (their!) baby bump.
Although the pregnancy was otherwise normal, I inexplicably went into preterm labor at about 33 weeks. It was shocking because our three children had all been born after 40 weeks.
Fortunately, the doctor was able to stop the contractions and gave me a steroid to help the baby’s lungs mature, and I worked from home so I could stay off my feet as much as possible. My friend and her husband alternated coming to stay with us each week, so there would be someone here to stay with our kids if I went into early labor again.
Meeting Baby Maeve
The plan had been for my friend to be in the delivery room with Mike and me, but only her husband was able to be with us when the baby decided to make her debut three weeks later.
I ended up having a C-section, and as a result, Mike was the only person allowed in the operating room, but he kept them in the loop throughout the night and took plenty of pictures once she was born. I felt pure happiness and pride that I was able to do this for them and see their journey come to a happy ending.
My friend took the first flight available and arrived to meet her baby girl about seven hours after she was born. They named her Maeve, and she was very healthy even though she was born early.
The hospital staff was incredibly accommodating—the doctors and nurses were so moved by the experience that they went out of their way to make sure the parents had a room to themselves to bond with their new baby, holding her skin-to-skin and getting to know her. I held her later that day when my friend and I took pictures together with Maeve.
People ask me how it felt “giving up” a child who I had carried for so long, and the answer is: I never felt like she was “my” baby. Maeve will always be a special baby to us, and I felt a huge sense of responsibility and love for her while pregnant—but there has been a healthy sense of detachment with full clarity on what I was doing and why.
Somehow, it just seemed different than my own pregnancies in a positive and meaningful way. She’ll be like extended family to Mike and me and our children—special to us and always a big part of our life. I love that it feels exactly as I had hoped it would now that Maeve has arrived.
“Feeling Supported—and So Lucky”
Through my experiences of becoming a surrogate and working for a healthcare company, I have been humbled to witness what today’s medical technology affords in the way of deeply impacting people and families—and enabling human life.
Initially, I was nervous to share my news of becoming a surrogate at work, especially since I had just returned from maternity leave five months earlier. But the universal and unconditional support and celebration that I’ve seen extended to me by my incredible work team, my manager, human resources and everyone else at Johnson & Johnson has been nothing short of amazing—and after Maeve’s birth, I was also able to take some maternity leave to help me recover postdelivery.
The company’s generous maternity leave benefit also gave me the ability to spend precious time with my family after I gave birth to my children. My husband is a stay-at-home dad, which means all of our children have had both of us at home with them for a portion of their early years, for which we are so fortunate. It’s the really simple things that I’ll always appreciate having had the opportunity to do together—parent/child swim classes, trips to the library and spending time outside.
This entire journey has been amazing and I am so lucky to be supported and encouraged in taking on one of my greatest achievements yet—enabling close friends to experience the joys and love of parenthood. I felt a sense of passion and purpose in my role as surrogate. To me, supporting that individual passion and purpose is what the Credo is all about.