Surrogacy, a pandemic, and one epic roadtrip
As part of our Path to Parenthood series we recently sat down with Laura Kai Chen to learn more about her infertility struggles, experiences with surrogacy, and the unique challenges of traveling (road trip anyone?) in a pandemic with a newborn. Read more about Laura and her family's story below!
About Laura: Laura Kai Chen is a working actor and adjunct professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. A veteran of television and film, she’s best known as Melinda Trask on DAYS OF OUR LIVES and for the Academy Award-winning film HER, and has also recently appeared on stage at Lincoln Center in THE HEADLANDS. When she’s not acting or teaching, Laura enjoys yoga, hiking with the dogs, and cheering on her husband, the Broadway actor/musician Manu Narayan. They together run a three-ring circus at home featuring two rat terrier mixes and one 6-month-old baby.
Hi Laura! Thank you so much for sharing your path to parenthood story with us. Let’s start at the beginning. You and Manu got married in 2015. How did you two first meet?
We met in 2012 after Manu's performance at LaJolla Playhouse. He was playing Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross. I stayed after the show to say hello and introduce myself. I knew we had mutual friends and felt like we should know each other!
You welcomed your beautiful daughter, Zaelia, via a surrogate last October. Can you tell us more about the path that led you to surrogacy?
We tried for almost five years to have a baby; I have severe uterine fibroids and endured a total of 7 surgeries to try to correct them. We did one round of IVF, had two failed embryo transfers, and then we finally moved on to surrogacy when it became clear that I would not be able to carry a pregnancy.
What resources did you find helpful along the way?
I am a fan of Matt and Doree's Eggcellent Adventure (an infertility podcast) as well as the Beat Infertility podcast and community. I met someone who had the same situation on that site, and she was very helpful in navigating through the surrogacy journey. Infertility can be very isolating. It is great to have the support of others who have been through similar situations. And I could not have done it without Dr. Eliran Mor of California Center for Reproductive Health who is the BEST, and Danielle Hernandez of Central Coast Surrogacy. And of course our AMAZING surrogate Deidre who literally was a dream come true. She is the most wonderful person, so caring and considerate. She had already carried 3 surro babies so she had a lot of experience!
What advice would you give to other couples considering surrogacy?
It is extremely important to find a surrogate who is stable and has a supportive home environment.
I would encourage other couples who are seeking a surrogate (or gestational carrier) to be very choosey...take your time and really make sure the person is the right fit for your family.
Also, communication is key - you should all be on the same page about how much or how little communication you expect from each other.
You live in New Jersey. Your surrogate lives in Texas. We understand getting Zaelia home was quite the road trip. Tell us more.
Since we were traveling with a newborn during a pandemic, we didn't want to fly...so we decided to rent an RV so we could avoid staying in hotels during our road trip home. During the five days on the road, we stayed overnight in a Cracker Barrel parking lot, several KOA campsites (highly recommend), and a Walmart parking lot.
Our shower backed up, we lost heat in the middle of a freezing night, and we went viral in Ohio when we miscalculated the height of a bridge and got stuck underneath it. The baby, however, was fantastic and slept the whole time! The RV itself was kind of a nightmare. We would not recommend RV life to parents of newborns. We are very grateful and happy to have made it back home!
We’re intrigued. Walk us through a typical day in the RV.
We would feed the baby every three hours, so she'd usually feed at 6 am and then we'd have breakfast (on a good day, outside at a picnic table near our RV parking space in the campsite). Then we'd leave around 10am once the baby had finished her 9am feed. I planned it so we only had to drive about 200 miles per day...I had no idea how long the baby could go in her car seat, but as it turned out she was the consummate traveler! We would pull into the campsite (or parking lot) in the afternoon, get some food (or I would make something simple in the RV kitchen) and call it a night. It felt like being a snail...we were carrying our house around on our back!
Any crazy RV moments that particularly stand out?
The night we ran out of propane bc there was a broken control panel that did not notify us when we were running low...that night (which was right after the bridge collision) when we realized we had no heat and it was 18 degrees outside...that was a bad night. We ended up driving to Pittsburgh and arriving at 3am, with our AC unit strapped to the roof with twine. It was pretty stressful. All credit goes to my husband who kept a cool head and got us home in one piece.
So was this trip the start of a family tradition? Should we expect more RV trips in the near future?
I will never rent an RV again. I can promise you that.
You’re now a few months into this whole mom thing. What’s the one thing you would say to other new moms?
Give yourself grace. Even without a cross country trip, parenting is hard. It is a whole lifestyle change. We are still figuring it out, one day at a time. Our baby is so loved and we feel so grateful to have her...and it's still really challenging sometimes. Oh, and it's a team sport. Parenting is a team sport!!
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