By Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann
Though nothing we do compares to the love God showed by giving the world Jesus, opportunities abound to let Christian faith shine through the love shown to others, and when they arise, God asks us to take them.
That’s how Laura Cockerham felt nearly a decade ago when the idea of surrogacy first entered her mind.
Working as a labor and delivery nurse in Waco, Texas, where her husband, Jeff, was serving a local church, Laura had a colleague who was a surrogate mother.
“Everything about it fascinated me, and the idea never left my head after that,” says Laura.
Four kids of their own and a move to Knoxville, Tenn., gave the Cockerhams the opportunity to use Laura’s gift.
“I had wonderful, easy births and pregnancies, and I just felt like I wanted to be pregnant all the time,” she says. “I just absolutely love it.”
Now into the third trimester of her second surrogate pregnancy, Laura is convinced more than ever this is a ministry for her.
“God had given me this desire to be pregnant, a joy for the experience,” Laura says, looking back on her willing- ness to use this as a ministry. “I’m good at this, I love it, to waste it would be wrong.”
That was exactly how their church viewed the opportunity as well. At the time of Laura’s initial interest, Jeff was a relatively new associate pastor of spiritual formation at Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville. He had known his wife was considering surrogacy, but he urged her to let him talk with pastor Mike Smith before making any announcements.
The immediate response from Smith was that it was “wonderful,” which was what the couple had expected from their open-minded pastor.
“My personal reaction was that this sounds like a ministry,” Smith says, adding there was no “secret formula” to getting buy-in from the church. The two pastors simply shared it with the deacons as a modern ministry Laura was undertaking. “It is in this church’s DNA to want to help people who need help. That is true in how it does missions, and it is true in the freedom it gives its leaders to pursue their ministries.”
While Jeff suspected his new church was different, 20 years in the ministry would have told him otherwise, so his trigger reaction was that some wouldn’t go along with it.
After all, there is a faction in conservative evangelicalism that claims the Old Testament preaches against surrogacy and calls it a sin against God’s plan for the family. Smith quickly points out that while “those voices do exist,” he “simply dis- agrees.” Those voices also do not exist in the Central Baptist congregation.
“Was I surprised our church responded so positively? No,” Jeff says, adding he tends to be overly cautious to a fault. “But my prior experi- ences had told me some would react that we were playing God.”
The opposite was true, however.
“In fact, the main response from members was, ‘We can’t believe you think we wouldn’t be supportive,’” Jeff says.
But as with any spiritual gift, support of it and sharing it in ministry does not ensure an easy journey.
With just a month to go in her second surrogate pregnancy right now, Laura recalls some tough times during the first one.
It was the support of the church — and particularly a group of women in the church — who made looking out for Laura their ministry. And that turned out to be a much-needed gift for the entire Cockerham family.
Judy Weber, a grandmother who created what she called “Laura’s Team” soon after the couple came to the church in January 2012, remembers just wanting to do whatever she and the other team members could do to sup- port and “love on” the family — after a little “nudge from the Holy Spirit.”
Weber said she ignored the nudge at first because she thought she was too busy and because she believed Laura’s friends in their Sunday school class could step up. Then she realized those families had their own kids and it would be easier for her and some friends to be the support group.
So she called on Susanne Burnette, Sandra Barker, Nancy Hetherly, Grace Smith and Elaine Womack to be part of “Laura’s Team,” and the group immediately started helping the new associate pastor and wife with their four children long before the couple announced getting involved in surrogate motherhood.
“They’re just so precious,” Weber says. “When we found out about this gift they wanted to give this couple who couldn’t have children, I was just blown away.”
Though Laura had had really easy pregnancies and births of her own, this one threw both of them for a loop. Because of required hormones for her body to reject its own ovulation cycle and prepare to support an embryo, Laura’s mood was out of whack for several weeks. Having a husband in full-time ministry plus four kids between ages 4 and 8, this kind of additional stress for either parent is unwelcome.
“Without those ladies, I would have lost my ever-lovin’ mind,” Jeff says candidly of the first experience.
That first surrogacy was for a couple from Hong Kong, and it turned out to be twins. Laura was forced into one week of bed rest before giving birth prema- turely in September 2013.
This situation — combined with an emergency C-section — really blind-sided Jeff.
“Laura was a totally different woman, and her emotional roller coaster was horrific for me,” Jeff admits, calling that week the “worst” of his life.
But when he saw the surrogate parents hold their healthy babies in their arms, his emotions shifted to the other end of the spectrum.
For the parents — who needed a surrogate to have a child while the mother underwent chemotherapy— the birth was truly a gift to them.
“It meant a great deal to us that Laura was willing to help us,” said the mother, adding that waiting for her twins also gave her hope to fight cancer. “We are forever grateful to Laura’s kindness. Our family is complete because of her.”
“People ask if it is hard to carry for nine months and then give the baby away,” Laura says. “Honestly, that’s the easiest part — knowing I didn’t have to take care of a baby. But I mourned that the journey had come to an end.”
Though Jeff was not in favor of starting that journey again, he recognized what a blessing it was for his wife to be involved in bringing such happiness to another family.
With prayer, some heart-to-heart conversations and, as always, a lot of faith, the couple embarked on the journey a second time last year.
“We had to sit down and be brutally honest with each other,” Jeff says of the decision to do it again, which included having him be less emotionally involved with the process and the other family. “This one has been much more pleasant.”
With three of the four Cockerham children in school, plus the previous experience, both Jeff and Laura have been able to enjoy this surrogacy with a lot less stress.
And it has allowed both — but Jeff in particular — to really see this for the ministry it is. “I’m proud of Laura for giving herself in this way,” Jeff said. “It’s not just a gift to the couples; it’s a gift from God that she can give her- self for somebody else. It’s a neat gift.”
What others have come to realize was something Laura always really knew.“In my head I’ve thought God has given me this gift,” she says. “It only seemed natural to share it. Why wouldn’t God want me to help?”
And while her own children were relatively unaware of “what mommy was doing” the first time around, they’ve been more a part of the process this time.
In fact, Laura said 9-year-old Will even had a special request.
“He said to me, ‘Mommy, this time if you have two babies, can we keep one?”
This article was first published in the November/December 2015 issue of Herald, BNG’s magazine sent five times a year to donors to the Annual Fund. Bulk copies are also mailed to BNG’s Church Champion congregations.