An Interview with Mary Kennerly and Cat Dobbs, the founders of Delivering Hope.
Like so many women today, Mary Kennerly launched her career in finance and investor relations before starting a family. When she met Wes and got married, they wanted to spend a few years enjoying life as a couple before having children. When they did start trying, however, they discovered that Mary’s egg count was low. She also had the autoimmune disease Lupus, which contributed to multiple miscarriages after going through IVF. I finally told them that surrogacy would be their best option to have biological children. I reassured Mary that even if she couldn’t carry a pregnancy, the minute she held her baby in her arms; she would feel the same deep bond of any new mother.
“We want to honor the mountain that the family has climbed, and if they are tired and don’t have as much hope as they did in the beginning, we want to be that hope for them because we know exactly where they’ve been.” — Mary Kennerly, Founder of Delivering Hope.
She met Cat Dobbs, her surrogate, through an agency, and within a few months, Cat became pregnant with Wes and Mary’s twins. Cat and Mary, and their husbands, formed a strong emotional bond throughout the pregnancy rooted in trust, vulnerability and empathy. After Vivian and Reed were born, they remained close family friends. This life-changing connection inspired both Mary and Cat to want to help women who had endured infertility and give surrogates the same level of emotional support they had shared. Delivering Hope, a first of its kind agency, is the result of their dedication to shifting the thinking about what the surrogacy process can be, and what the relationship between a surrogate and an intended mother can be.
Most surrogacy agencies provide matching, medical support and necessary legal resources. Cat and Mary recognized that a surrogacy agency could better support the surrogate and intended family members to stayed connected and support one another throughout the pregnancy. Delivering Hope focuses on matching as well as facilitating a strong heart-centered by creating clear, open lines of communication, fostering group support and community-building. The agency also provides access to psychological resources for both the surrogate and the intended mother, as well as practical resources — e.g., lactation consulting, and coaching and support for partners and spouses.
“There’s so much that we can learn from each other if we share ourselves,” says Kennerly. “It facilitates that bond.”
A strong bond can also contribute to a healthier pregnancy. Cat and Mary recently joined me on The Egg Whisperer Show to tell their story.
Dr. A: Cat, how did you decide to become a surrogate?
CD (Surrogate): I watched my sister go through infertility for a couple of years, and it was heartbreaking. Every month she would call me and say “I started my period, I’m not pregnant this month.” It was tough to watch that, so I decided that if she couldn’t get pregnant, I would carry her babies for her. She ended up getting pregnant, but I still had this burden on my heart for other couples who had struggled. It felt like an injustice that I was able to get pregnant by looking at my husband, and other people weren’t. I decided I wanted to share this gift with other couples. I mentioned this wish to a friend, and she happened to know somebody, and that’s how I found an agency.
Dr. A: Mary, tell us more about how you came to surrogacy?
MK (Intended Mother): We had an uphill battle. After our third pregnancy loss, you suggested that we check into surrogacy in Idaho where it can be a little less expensive. I got to work and started Googling. I reached out to a couple of agencies, and the person who ended up calling me back presented Cat, and that was that.
Dr. A: What was it like meeting each other for the first time?
MK (Intended Mother): We did a Skype call. I knew within 3 minutes. I just felt calm, and I know when I feel that way, I ’m breathing into my instinct. Our connection felt real. It just flowed and seemed natural.
Dr. A: What advice do you have for people who are considering surrogacy as their path to pregnancy?
MK (Intended Mother): My biggest piece of advice is to be open, honest and real about everything. Put everything on the table. So many people want to be polite and think, “maybe I shouldn’t say that.” I shared my struggle to get pregnant with Cat. That’s where we bonded, so I think building an honest rapport with your surrogate allows you to strengthen that bond. It gave Cat a bigger picture of my experience with infertility. I was so flattered that someone would want to do this for me, but then once I knew her, it made complete sense.
CD (Surrogate): I felt flattered that somebody would allow me to do something like this for them. I wanted to help somebody, and I thought to trust somebody with something like this is enormous. When I met Mary, I just felt very comfortable. I would say in the matching process, you want to make sure that your personalities fit regarding your values and ideas you have about everything. Pregnancy is a long intimate journey, and you don’t want to be with someone who you don’t fit with or get along with. Mary was very vulnerable and open from the beginning. I wouldn’t have had an idea of what she had been through if she hadn’t been so accessible. Knowing the story helped me to empathize with her. We both helped each other. When I was pregnant and not feeling good, she was able to support me, and when she was going through a lot of emotions, I was able to be there for her. There’s a lot of stigma around infertility, so understanding her feelings helped me to support her in the ways she needed.
Dr. A: Cat was Idaho and Mary was in California. How did you stay connected during the pregnancy?
MK (Intended Mother): One of the most critical parts of the relationship is setting expectations about communication with your surrogate. That should be figured out from the beginning. If it changes through out pregnancy, be honest about it. Maybe you as the intended mother decide you need five texts a day to make sure she’s doing okay. Maybe your surrogate thinks five texts is too much because she’s also focusing on her own family. Being genuinely open about the dialogue is super important. Because I went through so much loss, I did have moments when I would get really anxious. Cat would be at a doctor’s appointment, and I would text and not hear back from her for a few hours because it turned out that she didn’t have cell phone service. It was vital for us to be real about our feelings.
CD (Surrogate): It was fun being pregnant. It was Mary’s pregnancy too, so I wanted to share every moment of that. Every time the baby would kick, I would call her. She and Wes made recordings of them telling stories, singing and joking and sent them to me so I could play them to the babies at night.
MK (Intended Mother): The pregnancy was fantastic. I honestly think my kids have a better relationship with sugar because Cat had them and didn’t eat any sugar throughout the pregnancy. I would have been eating it all the time. We were very fortunate. Cat kept the twins baking until 36- and- half weeks, which is remarkable. They were both over six pounds. The birth was amazing. We had the whole hospital staff cheering for us.
Dr. A: What about breastfeeding?
MK (Intended Mother): I decided I wanted to try to induce lactation, so I gave it a try, and I was fortunate that it worked just by pumping. At first, Cat pumped for us, and we would make shipments every week. Pumping also allowed Cat’s body to heal from the pregnancy. Probably, the most memorable moment of my life was feeding my children for the first time.
Dr. A: Now you’ve started a surrogacy agency? Tell us about Delivering Hope.
MK (Intended Mother): Our journey was incredible. Delivering Hope was born from our experience. We opened up and connected like sisters. Having that bond with Cat helped me to heal from all the losses that I had endured until that point. Cat’s father-in-law ended up christening my twins, and my husband and her husband are now terrific friends. It was a fate connection, and we feel like we are now able to help facilitate other couples going through this journey with a surrogate. We want to help surrogates and intended mothers to develop a bond with each other. We also offer counseling services to families who have endured pregnancy loss. We want to honor the mountain that the family has already climbed, and if they are tired and don’t have as much hope as they did in the beginning, we want to be that hope for them because we know exactly where they’ve been.
CD (Surrogate): We offer both perspectives so that the intended parents can get the surrogates perspective and vice versa. Going into our journey, I would not have what Mary was thinking or where she had come had she not opened up and been vulnerable with me. We’re hoping to facilitate the same sort of relationship with the parents and the surrogates with whom we work. Hope IS everything.