From South Africa to Surrogacy – Meet the Remarkable Corinne Smelker
Interview by Lynda Schab
FWM: Cori, what an honor to interview a FaithWriters legend like you! There's so much I want to ask…so let's get started!
You became a member of FaithWriters in December 2003, the very same month the infamous Writing Challenge was introduced. I'm interested to know what attracted you to the site back then, before the Challenge was as huge a draw to new members as it is today.
CORI: I had become interested in writing again in September 2003 and had helped a friend develop one of her books. I mentioned that I had written a few short stories and I was looking for a site to place them. She, herself a member of FaithWriters (although now inactive), mentioned the site and also told me there had been an informal writing challenge of sorts but it was becoming more formal and might be something I would be interested in joining. I actually started checking out the site in November 2003, but didn’t join until the Challenge started. I didn’t even know about the Message Boards back then! I think it took me until February 2004 to find and join the Boards.
So, I was attracted initially by the thought of a writing challenge, but what kept me at the site was reading the articles. I read with two purposes in mind: one, to learn more about the craft of writing, and with the broad spectrum of talent on the site, I certainly learnt a lot. Two, I read with the purpose of helping novice writers develop their craft. I spent a lot of time in the beginning commenting on people’s material.
FWM: You have written for various publications and your writing resume includes devotionals, articles, fictional stories, as well as editing. Fill us in on what your writing life consists of and the types of writing you enjoy most.
CORI: I work from home as a freelance writer and editor so a lot of my paid writing consists of what the client needs. I write quarterly newsletters for some credit unions, so I have to research the latest banking technologies and find new and exciting ways to advertise ongoing sales and specials. I also research communities throughout the USA. So far I have researched close to 2,000 cities and towns throughout all 48 states.
Editing is also my bread and butter. I just finished editing two books for a local author, and am getting ready to help another local author finesse his book. I enjoy editing because it allows me to see someone else at work, and see what style of writing they tend to favor.
For fun I do write devotionals, short Bible teachings, and fictional stories. I think my favorites are the short Bible teachings and the devotionals. I love to study the Word of God, and I am fortunate enough to be in a church where the pastor has an incredible knowledge and deep insight into the Bible, so I am able to apply what I learn there. Teaching is a part of who I am, and if, through a devotional, or an explanation of a scripture, I am able to teach something new, then I am thrilled.
C.S. Lewis is one of my all time favorite Christian writers and philosophers – he is, in my opinion, one of the pre-eminent writers of the 20th Century. I love his Screwtape letters, and I have written my own Screwtape-type letters that have done very well in the Challenges.
Fiction is a little harder for me to write, strangely enough. I personally don’t think I am terribly imaginative (my husband will probably disagree!) and so when I sit down to write fiction I have a hard time coming up with ideas. I like to write humor, but it is definitely a British type of humor and I would love to write like Terry Pratchett (a British Science Fantasy writer) or Steve Martin in terms of humor.
FWM: Is it true you grew up in South Africa? Tell us more!
CORI: My parents hated the cold damp weather of the United Kingdom so they emigrated to South Africa when I was 7 years old. We arrived in 1975 and it was weird being a minority! (Whites make up only 10% of the population in South Africa.) In many ways I grew up in a bubble, apartheid was still going strong, and I lived in a white community, went to a white school, and rode a bus surrounded only by whites. I remember thinking there was something wrong with this picture because in England I was surrounded by Indians, Africans and Asians, but I was too young realize there was something amiss. By the time I was a teenager I became politically active, left my white-only school and went to the only multi-cultural school (that was not church run) in South Africa. It was an ‘illegal’ school, closely monitored by the government and the police and many of my Indian and African friends were arrested during my years there. I was even considered a security risk, and was threatened with deportation! The only reason the sc
hool was not closed down was the Canadian and the American ambassadors sent their kids there, and the American government made it clear that if there was trouble, all American companies, and therefore American money would leave South Africa.
The physical country of South Africa is absolutely beautiful, and because I grew up on smallholdings and farms, I have a great appreciation for nature. You get used to shaking your shoes before putting them on to dislodge any scorpions, and standing a safe distance from the bathroom taps when you turn them on in case a snake has crawled up the pipe looking for a cool place.
Like America, South Africa has hot humid areas, and hot dry areas, but the winters are mild and short, lasting between 6 and 8 weeks, July is generally the coldest month with daytime temperatures reaching the mid 60’s (higher down on the coast) and lowering to the 40’s at night. One of South Africa’s mottoes is, "It’s sunny today!" and with over 300 sunny days, it is a cheerful place to live.
I was privileged enough to travel all over South Africa, from Cape Town to the most Northern tip and South Africa is a country of great contrasts from the wine route of the Cape to the desert on the west, and the mountains of the north. The beaches, and the surfing are amongst the best in the world, and I spent many months down on the beaches.
The people of South Africa are unique too. Many non-South Africans assume that all whites are racists, but like most places, there is a vocal minority that garner media attention. In 1992 a referendum was held to determine whether the white minority was ready to relinquish control of the government and bring in "One Man One Vote". On that day over 90% of the white population voted, and of that group, 86% voted for change. They voted knowing their lives would never be the same again, knowing that in many cases they were signing a death warrant on their way of life, knowing their property might be seized, their income level change, and the future of their children unsure. Yet they voted their conscience because they knew that what the government had done to other races in South Africa was unconscionable, and had to be redressed.
FWM: You are also administrator for Prophetic Life Ministry. What exactly is that ministry all about and what is your involvement?
CORI: Prophetic Life Ministry is headed up by Ed Traut, a fellow South African and now a fellow San Antonio resident. He started the ministry in the 1980’s after being a full time pastor for several years. He saw a need for teaching on the prophetic ministry in the church as many Christians have the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the prophetic. The prophetic ministry is here to build up, edify and equip the church for service, not to be a doom and gloom voice to the nations.
Ed is invited to travel all over the globe teaching the principles of the prophetic ministry, and helping local churches to identify those people within their ranks who have prophetic inclinations. He then mentors many of those people himself, teaching them how to hear the voice of God more clearly and how to prophesy in love, grace and mercy.
I run the day to day operations of his ministry. He handles all his own travel arrangements, and I manage the office while he is gone, taking all the phone calls and dealing with the emails that come in. I spend a fair amount of time answering people’s questions on the role of the New Testament prophet in the church, and also dealing with some counseling questions that might arise. Ed has given me a lot of freedom in that area, as it frees him up. However, let me hasten to add, he sees all the emails and in some cases gives me advice on what he wants a specific reply to say.
FWM: You recently gave birth to twins! But although you carried these two beautiful babies, they belonged to someone else. If you would, please share your story of the selfless decision to become a surrogate mother.
CORI: The twins were born on October 4th, and they are so cute!
Why did I want to become a surrogate? Well, the main driving force was seeing the heartache of couples who try, unsuccessfully in some cases, to become parents, and then there is me, mention the word ‘pregnant’ and I am! Some of these couples are unable to have children because of ill health, or a previous surgery that leaves the woman barren. Should they not have the same chance as the rest of us at having their own children? One statement I heard repeatedly when I told people of my desire to do this was, "Well, why doesn’t the couple just adopt?" And yet those same people would never think of adopting themselves just because they can have kids the old-fashioned way!
My decision to do this then was based on the desire to help another couple achieve their dream to become a family, but I would not have done it if I didn’t at least enjoy being pregnant, and have easy deliveries! My labor with the twins was 90 minutes long (from contractions to birth of both) and that was one of my longer labors. I bounce back immediately from birthing, and within an hour I was ready to come home.
I also would not have pursued the idea of surrogacy without the full support of my husband. He was with me every step of the way, even making some of the doctor’s appointments, along with the parents, and he was my biggest cheerleader and coach in the delivery room.
FWM: You have five children. Were they and your extended family as supportive of your decision as your husband was?
CORI: Everybody in my immediate family was supportive of our decision to help another couple. Our children got to know the parents during the course of the pregnancy and they understood the babies belonged to them, and that Mommy was only helping them. I was probably the most concerned about my teenager’s reaction to the whole idea, but he loves kids and he totally understood our desire.
Terry’s family (parents) was supportive of the decision. My parents, however, didn’t talk about it and still don’t talk to me about it as they think I have taken complete leave of my senses. But seeing they live in England, their non-support didn’t impact me at all.
FWM: It's obvious you are a very busy woman! How do you maintain a balance between family and career?
CORI: It can be a juggling act, although it is getting easier now that the children are all in school full time. When I had several kids at home, I would set aside a couple of hours in the morning to work, and then again during nap time.
Nowadays I try and get all my work done in the hours that my kids are in school, so that when they get home I can leave my computer and focus on them. Of course, that is an ideal world and when I have deadlines to meet, I rely on my family to accommodate me. Terry, who works a full time job, also freelances from home, and so he understands the need for keeping the client happy, thus he will pick up the slack for me if necessary. It comes down to team work and understanding that although we have set roles and jobs in and out of the house, we do need to cover for the other person sometimes. To that end when Terry has a rush job to do, I take all the kids out to give him peace and quiet, with the understanding that he will do the same for me.
When I take on a job and give a client a timeline, I take into account how many hours I can realistically give per day (I always mentally think about emergencies that might arise, like a sick kid, or volunteering at school). My family will always come first, and I will drop any project at any time to be with them if they need me.
Our family is very organized, from the youngest member all the way to my husband, and that certainly helps. We all seem to manage our time very well, and seldom, if ever, run late. If you are going to work from home, it is important to be able to mete out your time and decide how to use it wisely.
FWM: Any new writing projects in the works? What are your immediate plans for the future?
CORI: I have been working on a book about the Surrogacy journey, tentatively titled, "Answering Hannah’s Cry". I plan to finish it this month (better get cracking!) and then getting it published early next year.
Apart from that I am always working on something, whether it is my own writing or working on someone else’s. I always have a devotional or two going, generally have a Bible teaching that I work on, and generally have some paying project going at the same time.
My immediate plans for the future are pretty flexible as I was just hired by my church to start a nursery and a special needs class for 2 of the 3 services our church offers. (I guess I felt I wasn’t busy enough and needed another challenge in my life!)
Ultimately, I submit each day to the Lord and what He wants me to do. My future is in His hands. And although I think I can see it clearly, it does change somewhat as my walk with Him changes, and as He leads my husband and me. Terry and I are very open to what God wants with us, and although I can see us living in San Antonio for a very long time to come, I believe this next year, 2006, is going to bring some significant job changes for him, changes that will impact me and how much time I spend working from home.
One thing I can confidently say is this, I plan on being a surrogate one more time, and in fact we are in the process of looking for another couple to help!
FWM: Thanks so much, Cori, for sharing your heart and a portion of your life with us. You are a remarkable woman and I'm sure many prayers go with you as you search for another couple to help fulfill the desire to become parents. All the best to you in your future endeavors and much success with your book!
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