LaDonna Woodmansee remembers all she ever wanted to be growing up was a mom.
“I have videos of me when I was little singing ‘One’s On The Way’ with a pillow stuffed under my shirt,” she said. “I just love kids.”
And it’s a good thing she loves being pregnant, too, since she has spent many years in that state. After having three kids of her own and becoming a stepmom to two more, Woodmansee stumbled upon surrogacy.
She and her husband married in 2002. Although they both had children from previous marriages, the couple wanted to have a child together. But after no success in reversing her husband’s vasectomy, the couple realized they were really blessed to have five children and perhaps they didn’t need more. But then Woodmansee met a surrogate mom.
“I told my husband I thought that sounded like fun,” she said, “and he thought I was crazy.”
She wasn’t entirely sold on the idea, she said, until she met someone who really needed her.
“When you meet someone and you realize the gift you could give them,” she said, “it really touches you.”
Since 2006 she’s had four successful surrogate pregnancies, one of them with a set of twins. Alexis is 11, Kyla and Lucas are 8, Addison is 7 and Anna is 1. They play a special part in Woodmansee’s family, which consists of her own children: 20-year-old Kyrsten, 18-year-old Trenton, 16-year-old Sheridyn and step children 24-year-old Taylor and 21-year-old Brandon.
To Woodmansee, surrogacy was the ideal way to help other people and fulfill her dream of having a lot of children. But that doesn’t mean everyone else around her always understood it. Her unique pregnancies could be difficult to explain to coworkers, friends and strangers. But Woodmansee said she always got a kick out of listening to her kids explain the situation to other people.
“My kids always explained it better than I could,” she said. “People would ask them if they were having a brother or a sister and they’d jump in and tell them that their mom has a friend with a broken tummy and we’re helping them have a baby.”
Her husband got a kick out of it, too, she said, and enjoyed jokingly responding to congratulations from strangers with, “Thanks but it’s not mine.”
Woodmansee works in hotel management and said her job has always been understanding of her role as a surrogate. Still, she’s found it difficult at times to jump back into work and routines after delivery.
“You don’t have a baby at home, but you’re definitely still recovering,” she said. “It’s always a little bit of a transition.”
People have questioned her motives at times, she said, but she believes seeing the end result explains everything.
“My Mom and Dad were always worried about it because they were worried about my health,” she said. “I will never forget the first time my Dad saw the couple with their baby, though. He finally got it.”
Her parents were not totally off-base to worry about her health. Although every baby she delivered was healthy, she said delivering the twins was traumatizing and carried dangerous complications for her and she really thought she might be done with surrogacy after that.
But surprisingly, Dr. Andrea Miller, the OB-GYN who treated Woodmansee throughout her pregnancy with the twins, approached her after the delivery to see if she would be her surrogate.
Giving someone the gift of family is a great feeling, Woodmansee said, one that’s addictive, even. Before she even left the hospital after delivering her first surrogate baby, she recalled saying ‘Okay, when can I do this again?’”
Now that the 40-year-old is done with surrogacy, Woodmansee is looking for other ways to help people. She’s signed up to be a bone marrow donor, she said, and is still trying to convince her husband she needs to donate her liver.
“There’s just nothing like that feeling of giving someone such an amazing gift,” she said. “It’s a high I just can’t explain.”
The Other Side of Surrogacy
Two of the moms who used LaDonna as their surrogate discuss their experience.
Alyson Schultz is originally from Tulsa but now lives in New York. After having her son (who’s now 15), Alyson discovered she had an autoimmune disease that wouldn’t allow her to have more children. She set out on a search for a surrogate. She hired a lawyer to help connect her with potential moms but wasn’t having any luck, she said.
“Every woman we talked to seemed to have more health problems than I even had,” she said. “You really have to trust the person but none of these people were right.”
She and her husband decided to search online and found LaDonna’s Facebook group.
“She seemed perfect before I even talked to her,” Alyson said. “We had an instant connection. My husband and I flew out to meet her. She’d never even had a successful pregnancy for anyone else at the time. She had tried once and failed. But I liked her so much I decided to take the risk.”
LaDonna traveled to New York for the procedure to become pregnant with the Schultz’s baby and it worked.
Alyson said she was so busy being excited about having a daughter that she never thought much about any downside to surrogacy. Her daughter, Alexis, is 11 now. They waited until a couple years ago to tell her about LaDonna.
“I didn’t want her to be jealous that her brother was actually carried by me and that she was not,” Alyson said. “But when I told her she understood it. I felt like we took this chance and that was the big, interesting part of this story. We were her first one.”
Given her heart defects, Nicole Herron knew getting pregnant was a bad idea. But she and her husband Nathan wanted to be parents, so they started researching their options. She found a group online called TOSS (Texas and Oklahoma Surrogacy Support) and after meeting several local surrogates she decided surrogacy was the right route for their family. She met Woodmansee in the TOSS group and the two became friends.
“It’s difficult to hand over that kind of experience to someone else,” she said of selecting Woodmansee, who they used as their surrogate and much to their surprise the transfer resulted in twins. “I need to trust her like a sister. I didn’t want to go through this with someone I would never see again. I wanted her to stay a part of our lives.”
Woodmansee has indeed continued to be part of the Herron’s lives as well as all the families she’s helped. In fact, her dream of being a mom has come true in ways she never could have imagined before becoming a surrogate. She can’t wait to watch all her children—her own and those she carried for others—grow up.