After her appointment with the doctor, Carolyn Zinn drives to work in Bradenton to wait for the results of the blood test.
She is a teller at an AmSouth branch. Through the opening in her teller window, customers can see photos of her teenage son and daughter — and of the five children she has brought into the world as a surrogate mother.
The call comes when she is in the lunchroom. Carolyn answers it, listens, then hangs up in silence. After the simple pregnancy test she took in the office, the result is not a surprise.
She punches in a phone number. "Diane, it's Carolyn. They called you, right?"
Tears fill Carolyn's eyes and her voice starts to shake.
"I'm so sorry, Diane. I'm so sorry," Carolyn says, her hand quivering as she fiddles with the core of her apple. "I just can't even imagine what you're feeling. And like you say, what is God trying to tell you?"
• • •
That evening, Carolyn and her daughter climb into Carolyn's Dodge Durango and head to the barn to see their horse.
Carolyn is still disappointed she's not pregnant, but mostly she just feels relieved. Kimberly, the new surrogate Diane hired to increase her chances of getting a baby, isn't pregnant either.
This feels good somehow. It's not that Carolyn wanted Kimberly to fail. She just didn't want her to be the only one who succeeded.
Carolyn shares these thoughts with Peggy Black, who owns the barn where the Zinns keep their horse, Cassie.
"You seem at peace," Peggy tells her as she leads Cassie out to the field.
"Everything happens for a reason," Carolyn says. "I don't know if it's a selfish thing or not. As badly as I wanted Kim to be pregnant for Diane, at least I know it wasn't my fault and I couldn't do anything about it. If she had been pregnant, I'd have known it was me all that time and they wasted all that money."
Kimberly's failure also means Carolyn doesn't have to confront the possibility that her days as a surrogate might be over. Having babies for people has given meaning to her life, made her special. It's hard to think she might never do it again.
Perhaps she can do this one more time. But she knows the clock is ticking. She'll be 41 soon, and the older she gets, the harder things will be.
• • •
Weeks pass and Carolyn doesn't hear from Diane. It's frustrating. Carolyn wants to be a surrogate again. If Diane doesn't want her, she needs to know so she can start offering herself to others.
In August, four months after the last failure, Diane calls. She has gathered up all of Carolyn's and Kimberly's records and presented them to a new fertility doctor in Orlando. His assessment is withering.
He believes Carolyn, who has had three C-sections, would have been at risk for uterine rupture if she had became pregnant. The doctor was incredulous that Diane used Carolyn at all.
Carolyn is surprised to hear this because her obstetrician had assured her she could carry a baby safely. He had double-stitched her uterus after her last C-section to make sure of it.
At the end of the conversation Diane says, "Let's keep in touch." But after two years, five embryo transfers, ceaseless prayer and dozens of hopeful conversations with Diane, Carolyn knows it's over.
• • •
But that disappointment doesn't dim her desire to be a surrogate again.
Carolyn's friend, Sita, puts her in contact with a couple from St. Petersburg, but they move on when they find out about the C-sections. Carolyn talks to a woman from Venezuela, a friend of a friend, but the woman decides not to go through with surrogacy.
Carolyn starts to believe her career really is over. She tries to reassure herself that it's okay to move on.
"There are five beautiful children that I helped bring into the world. If I can't do it again, I'll have to accept that. I still have them. But I'm still just praying for that one last time."
One day, Carolyn receives a card. It's from Donna, the mother of the last two children she delivered as a surrogate.
She wants an eighth child.
Last December, Carolyn heard from her friend, Sita, the surrogacy liaison who brought Diane and Carolyn together. The adoption Diane had initiated in the midst of all the transfers had gone through at last. Diane and her husband had just brought home a baby girl.
And Kimberly was pregnant with twin girls.
After years of longing for one more child, Diane would suddenly have three more. In all, she and her husband had spent $250,000 to expand their family.
Carolyn was happy for Diane, but she also felt sad.
"That should have been me," she said.
• • •
In April, Carolyn underwent an embryo transfer for Donna. It felt like old times, and Carolyn convinced herself that all the other failures had happened so she could do this.
Ten days later, Carolyn got a positive pregnancy test — her first in nearly two years of trying. But within days, she felt severe pain and started bleeding.
In June, she tried again for Donna. Two more fertilized eggs were transferred into her uterus, the 21st and 22nd embryos she had received since 2006. In July, she got the results. Negative.
In August, Carolyn turned 42.
The other day, she talked about what her life might be like after surrogacy. All the failures have given her a new perspective, she said. If she never becomes pregnant again, she will take pleasure in knowing that she did something extraordinary for people. Something awesome.
But for now, she's waiting to hear from Donna about a third embryo transfer.
Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8640. Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to the series.