Liubov was unusual among women working as surrogate mothers – he was an educated person from western kyiv. She favors a glam-rock look, with jet black hair and red lipstick; in photos taken before the war, she wore a black leather jacket, choosing a slightly domed aesthetic that projected an air of invulnerability. For some women in Ukraine, being a surrogate offers a fast track to financial stability; but Liubov, who lived with his 13-year-old son and father, previously worked in a government job and already had a home. They even had a car, albeit the one her partner always used. What she wanted was her own business, a storefront where she hoped to sell shashlik, a version of shish kebab. What she wanted was a second car. What she wanted was not to have to supplement her government work, which paid the equivalent of $300 to $400 a month, with side hustles; she wanted to move on, instead of fending for herself. Nine months pregnant seemed like a small price to pay in exchange for a nest egg that would support the next phase of her career. Surrogacy, for Liubov, was not an act of desperation, but an affirmative act of self-improvement, even independence. But now she felt she was moved mostly against her will.
It had been months since she had seen her son, even though they often talked on the phone. She told him she was going on a business trip, but left the details vague. Surrogacy was seen as a step backwards for someone like her and a shameful choice for many Ukrainians, even the most desperate women. She couldn’t bear to tell her son why she was away and what she was doing. The son of Liubov, a football fan who always posted TikTok videos of his flexing muscles and dancing routines, attended a sports class with the kids of doctors and lawyers, and she didn’t want to either let them know how she earned money for the advancement of the family. His partner’s work sometimes took him to kyiv, so his son stayed with Liubov’s sister, who adored him, in a calm and quiet village.
The intended parents she corresponded with daily were among those advocating that she be taken to Poland, which Liubov knew (she had seen the text, courtesy of a colleague) even though they introduced her to the idea like the judgment of Kersch-Kibler and Hrytsiv.
Liubov understood why the parents wanted her to move out – and to some extent she felt they had the right to decide. She had signed up for a job, which was to carry a baby to term, and while her employers thought the safest place to do it was Krakow, in the end, she felt she had to get away. surrender to their wishes. “This child is my constant concern,” she said, rubbing her stomach slowly from time to time, as if trying to discern the shape of the living thing inside. She cared about the safety of the child she was carrying, but she desperately wanted to go home, to fight for Ukraine. “I have a shotgun and I know how to use it,” she said.
Generally, the text exchanges between her and her parents-to-be were affectionate, with floods of heart emojis and prayer hands and questions about each other’s health and the weather. As a rule, the exchanges between the surrogate mothers and the intended parents were quite superficial. The surrogate mother and the intended parents were not allowed, by contract, to communicate without a member of the agency also being present during the exchange of texts or the Zoom call, a measure, has indicated the agency, intended to avoid misunderstandings or requests outside the contract of either party. . Once Russia was attacked, Kersch-Kibler strongly urged expectant parents to keep things light, for the well-being of their surrogate, and therefore their own future child — not to ask upsetting questions about the war or the safety of the surrogate’s own children. Liubov happily shared monthly updates in the form of photos of her belly.
But when the decision was made that she would leave for Krakow, Liubov wrote to the expectant parents with a red-faced crying emoji and said exactly what she was thinking. “It’s a terrible thing when an adult person doesn’t belong,” she wrote to them. “And has no opinion.” She recognized that there was no one right decision for anyone to make – but because the decision was made for she felt, as she put it, “like a hostage to the situation.”
Among the many the future parents who wrote to Kersch-Kibler almost daily were Marilyn and Antonio Hanchard, a couple in Florida. When the war broke out, their surrogate mother was still in Ukraine, a situation that caused them great stress. Occasionally, Marilyn, a nurse, wrote emails to Kersch-Kibler who were openly angry, but Antonio, a sales manager who often played the role of peacemaker in his large extended family, usually stepped in to tone them down with an edit. . Kersch-Kibler was grateful that the emails she received from the couple were respectful, albeit pushy.