Raquel’s Story: Finding her path to parenthood after cancer

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Written By: Hillary Redwine

Will I ever become a parent? This is a question most intended parents ask themselves at some point in their journey. For some, it’s repetitive as they endure years of infertility. For others, like Raquel Jenkins, it a question forced upon them when they least expect it.

Receiving her diagnosis
At age 23, parenthood was not something Raquel was focused on. She had just graduated from Ohio State University and moved from Columbus to Cincinnati to start her first job. She was embarking on what should have been one of the most exciting times for a young adult when her life suddenly took a drastic turn. At her annual check-up with a new doctor, a polyp was discovered on her cervix. Her OBGYN followed the standard protocol for testing, but nothing seemed to be alarming initially.

“I got a call two days later from the nurse (after the test results came back) saying that I needed to come in and bring someone with me,” Raquel says. Raquel’s boyfriend (now fiancé), Carl, accompanied her to the appointment where she learned she had cervical cancer. From there, things moved very quickly, and Raquel had to make important decisions regarding her treatment and fertility options.

“I had my first appointment with a gynecologic oncologist on my 24th birthday, and the recommendation was a complete hysterectomy,” she says. Raquel got a second opinion and opted for chemotherapy and radiation instead. “I went through an accelerated egg retrieval process before starting treatment,” she explains. “We ended up with seven embryos, which were cryopreserved at the University of Cincinnati.”

Finding the right agency
Raquel knew that she would need a surrogate to have a child (she’s unable to carry due to the radiation she received) but had no idea how to go about choosing an agency or what questions to ask. She reached out to a friend of a friend who worked at a surrogacy agency and received a 30-page document outlining the process and costs.

“It was overwhelming,” Raquel says. “I put the document away in my desk and got another puppy instead!”

While her plan to find a surrogate was put on hold for a while, things changed last year when the pandemic hit. “I started thinking about it more and more while I was working from home during COVID,” Raquel says. “I contacted an agency in Cincinnati and was told that I should look at other agencies because they were so backed up due to the pandemic.”

Raquel started researching agencies on her own and came across the Surrogate Solutions website. After learning that everyone on the Surrogate Solutions team has a personal connection to surrogacy and doing an initial consultation with Program Director Gayle Garrett, Raquel felt confident she had found the right agency.

“Gayle answered all of my questions and explained that I would have a coordinator who would work with me throughout the entire journey,” Raquel says. “With the other agencies I contacted, the response was basically ‘let us know when you’re ready and where to send the embryos.’”

Matching with her surrogate
Raquel and Carl began the process of filling out their profile with the understanding that it could take a while to match with a surrogate. They were pleasantly surprised when it happened rather quickly. Raquel says finding a gestational carrier (GC) who was on the same page about not doing selective reduction was at the top of their list, along with finding someone who she could connect with and who would be open to a friendship during the journey and afterwards.

“I was nervous I would have a GC who is a lot older than me, and I wouldn’t be able to relate to her,” Raquel says. “I ended up matching with Paige, and we are only two days apart in age. It just happened to work out that way.”

Paige is currently pregnant with Raquel and Carl’s son, who is due to arrive in November. Raquel says the bond with Paige and her family has developed naturally.

“Paige and I are both givers, always putting others first. We’re also worriers; we’ll get anxious over things our spouses don’t, so we’ve been able to relate to one another in that way, too,” she says. “Her husband, Nathan, is very funny and could get along with anyone. It helps to keep things light since this whole process brings a lot of serious discussions and decisions along with it.”

Raquel says that Paige’s children have also been supportive and involved. She and Carl finally got to meet them in person recently when they travelled to Illinois for their son’s 20-week anatomy scan. “It was an extra-special visit because not only had we not seen Paige and Nathan in a couple of months, but we got to meet their sweet kids,” Raquel says. “They were sharing stories and making us laugh; it was perfect. They’ve been excited to follow along with how big the baby is getting each week, which is very sweet.”

She added, “It was an amazing visit – from the anatomy scan and a second ultrasound at a boutique location so Carl could see the baby for the first time (only Raquel was allowed to go back during the anatomy scan due to COVID restrictions) to lots of food and lots of laughs! Paige and Nathan totally spoiled us, and we so appreciate it!”

What she’s learned
As Raquel reflects on her journey – from her cancer diagnosis seven years ago to expecting a baby in just a few short months – she says the biggest lesson she’s learned is that life is always going to throw you curveballs, and you have to be prepared to change direction.

“I try to accept that I can’t know what the future holds, no matter how much I plan,” Raquel says. “I knew I wanted to be a mom, but I didn’t know surrogacy would be my path to getting here. It’s important to never give up hope for what you want but understand that the path to getting there may be unexpected.”

Raquel has also learned to accept help along the way and that she is not alone in her journey. “I’m not someone who likes to ask for help, and this experience has been the ultimate ‘can you do me a favor situation,’” she explains. “I’ve been surprised to learn that not only are there a lot of other people who are in our same situation of needing a surrogate but just how many women are willing to be surrogates and help others create their family. It’s very moving to know there are so many selfless people out there.”

Raquel shares her story in hopes that it will help other intended parents. “When I started this process, I didn’t know anyone who had used a surrogate or where to start with finding one,” she says. “I had no idea how big of a community there is and how many resources are available. My coordinator, Angela, walked me through the entire process, answering all my questions and helping me prepare for each next step. I would have been lost without her.”

Raquel’s advice to other intended parents is to not wait to get started. “You’re never going to feel like it’s 100% the right time to do this, but take the first step,” Raquel says. “Don’t let the fear of the process being uncomfortable or not having all the information keep you from moving forward. You are going to need help, and that’s what an agency like Surrogate Solutions is for. You can read as much as you want online but having someone coach you through the process is very different. I absolutely think it’s needed. I cannot say enough how thankful I am for Paige and Nathan, and Surrogate Solutions for helping us find each other.”

Are you an intended parent in need of a surrogate to create your happy family? We would be honored to guide and support you along your journey to parenthood and to answer any questions you have about the process. For more information, please visit our website and feel free reach out to us directly. A member of our team will be in touch.

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