For most mothers, there is no event in life bigger than giving birth to a child. Charity Lovas has given birth to eight children, yet only three of those children are her own.
It all began in 2002, when she and her family were living in Indianapolis. She says she was reading the Sunday newspaper and spotted an ad for ovum donors. She had never heard about it. She was curious.
She called the number in the ad. A woman at the other end of the line explained the egg donor program, and said they had a surrogate program, too.
"I couldn't wrap my own brain around the idea," she says. "I remember hanging up and telling my husband, you're never going to believe this: There are people who carry babies for other people!"
The stay-at-home mother, then 26, started poking around, and the more she discovered, "the more fascinating surrogacy became," she says. She loved being pregnant, but her husband, Tom, like many others, was worried that Lovas would bond with a baby she carried.
Lovas and her husband planned to have more children of their own, but the timing wasn't yet right. She convinced her husband, and the two of them agreed that Lovas would be a gestational surrogate, someone who carries a child conceived outside the uterus, often using the intended parents' eggs and sperm — with absolutely no biological link to the surrogate.
Fully aware of the pull to bond, some surrogates develop a plan to avoid attachment to the baby in their womb. For instance, some create an emotional bond with the intended mother or deliberately think about the baby as someone else's.
But Lovas didn't. She says she knew that it wasn't going to be an issue.
"You know these aren't your kids. They were not conceived for your family," she says.
In 2006, Lovas signed her third surrogacy contract with a couple on the East Coast who had 11 frozen embryos, but none of them worked. After witnessing the pain the couple endured, Lovas and her husband decided to offer Lovas' eggs.
"It was far more important for us to be able to achieve their goal of building their family," she says.
Was money a factor in their decision? Surrogates typically get paid $20,000 plus expenses.
"If money drives you, you are looking at the wrong career," Lovas says. She says surrogacy is a big commitment, and it takes time, even beyond the nine months of pregnancy.
"My last surrogacy took two years from the time I signed the contract to birth," she says.
Lovas concedes that money shapes attitudes in society. "I feel guilty sometimes," she says, about getting paid for "something so simple for me."
After Lovas' third surrogacy, the couple had twins of their own, followed by a fourth and last surrogacy this spring. Four of her pregnancies required a C-section, but she says she wouldn't change her journey for anything.
"It's very powerful to give someone something that they can't have," she says, "to actually witness someone's dream happen right before their eyes and your eyes."