When you give birth to a baby that’s not your own.

Picture a mother: For nine months, a baby grows inside her body. After the new little person is born, the doctor cradles the newborn and carefully places it in the arms of…the woman standing next to her.

That was the case for Crystal Henry. She’s a surrogate who bore a child for a woman unable to conceive a baby of her own.

Crystal is a writer with two daughters of her own, though her journey to motherhood wasn’t easy. Thirteen weeks into her first pregnancy, Crystal discovered her twin babies no longer had heartbeats.

Six months later, she discovered she was pregnant again and brought a baby girl to term. Nearly three years later, she gave birth to her second daughter. At that point, she knew her family was complete, but she missed being pregnant.

“I think it’s totally magical that I can grow a human being by doing nothing,” she says. So, when a friend struggled with infertility, Crystal offered to be her surrogate.

Her friend ultimately decided to explore in vitro fertilization (IVF) on her own, but the notion of surrogacy planted a yearning within Crystal. Soon she was scouring the internet for information on what it took to carry another person’s child. The heartbreak of her first pregnancy had given her a new perspective. Losing her twins made her realize how fortunate she’d been to deliver two healthy babies. And she wanted to help people have that same experience.

Finding a family

After some trial and error, Crystal found a surrogate agency. The next step was to find the right intended parents (IPs), a process Crystal likens to dating. During the matching procedure, surrogates and IPs detail their expectations, family, lifestyle and beliefs.

It only took her a month to match with a couple from Texas. We’ll call them Eric and Hannah. Hannah was a cancer survivor who underwent a radical hysterectomy. Like Crystal, they were first-timers to the surrogacy experience.

“They were the first profile I received and I was the first profile they received,” Crystal says. “We were both kind of like, ‘Should we shop around?’” But the strangers decided that the first match was the right one.

Prepping for pregnancy

Before jumping into eggs, embryos and fetuses, surrogates and their IPs must prove their mental stability. Crystal, Eric and Hannah all underwent psychological evaluations and attended counseling together. The surrogate’s partner is required to pass a psych evaluation, too.

Unsurprisingly, surrogate moms must meet rigorous physical requirements which vary depending on the agency and the RE (reproductive endocrinologist). Often times, surrogate can’t have delivered a child vaginally in the previous three months, or via C-section in the previous six. Doctors carefully review any previous pregnancy complications.

Crystal was a gestational carrier. Her first transfer included Hannah and Eric’s one surviving embryo, made with Hannah’s egg. Crystal gave herself Lupron injections for several weeks leading up to the embryo transfer. The shots shut down her ovulation cycle so she wouldn’t produce an egg and have a baby of her own. The hormonal change can spur menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and fatigue, both of which Crystal experienced.

Crystal also injected progesterone through a 22-gauge needle (a seriously HUGE mama-jama) in her butt cheek for about six weeks. Though the shots cause emotional side effects in some surrogates, for Crystal, the most significant discomfort was the numbness in her butt (which persisted for a year)!

After the embryo took, Crystal miscarried at seven weeks. So she began the process anew, this time using a donor’s egg. Three days after the second embryo transfer, Crystal found she was pregnant. The clinic notified Hannah and Eric, who were cautiously optimistic.

And baby makes four

Even though Hannah and Eric lived two hours away, they made it to every one of Crystal’s doctor appointments. When they were apart, Crystal sent text and video updates of the baby moving in her belly. She even bought a doppler to record the heartbeat.

Crystal was mindfully unattached from the baby throughout the pregnancy. Sometimes she even forgot she was pregnant. She carried on with her day-to-day routine?—?she just did it with a little extra belly.

“When I was pregnant with my kids, I’d talk or read to my belly like a weirdo,” Crystal says. “I was picking out baby names and toys, but [as a surrogate] there was none of that, because I knew that wasn’t my role in this pregnancy.”

The big day

Nine months after that second embryo transfer, Crystal delivered a healthy baby girl, totally drug-free. Eric helped with delivery and Hannah laid beside her. As soon as the baby?—?we’ll call her Anna?—?was born, the doctor placed her directly on Hannah’s chest.

“It was so amazing and such a rush,” Crystal said.

After Anna was born, Crystal’s mental detachment held strong.

“As soon as she was out, I was like, ‘Not it?—?you’re [Hannah’s] it!’” Crystal said.

She left the newborn with her parents and didn’t hold her until the next day. Even then, she was struck by how unfamiliar the baby felt to her.

“I was kind of like, ‘Oh, your baby is really pretty. OH, THAT BABY CAME OUT OF ME!’” Crystal says.

Bringing up baby

The baby who grew inside Crystal is a year old now. Crystal stays in close contact with Eric and Hannah and visits frequently. Technically, her contract states that the parents must keep her updated for a year, but they’ve continued the relationship out of choice. Crystal thinks of herself as a fun aunt, fantasizing about secretly sneaking Anna cookies in the future.

“It [surrogacy] makes me really understand the love that an adoptive mother has for a child,” Crystal says. “I love my own children?—?not even because we’re genetically related, but because I choose to. That’s when you’re a mother: when you choose to love a child.”

A year later, Eric and Hannah wanted a sibling for baby Anna. They asked Crystal to be the carrier, but she feels done with surrogacy for now. “It just went so smoothly and meant so much to me,” Crystal says. She wants to savor the memories. Moreover, her experience with Hannah, Eric and their daughter is very precious to her. When asked how she feels about the whole experience, she sums it up in one word: “Lucky.”