It has been a controversial alternative for prospective parents, and in Canada, it’s illegal for surrogates to receive financial compensation. So what would motivate an Ottawa mother to carry a child for someone else? Sophie Desrosiers discovers.
“Isn’t it hard to give up a baby you’ve carried for nine months?”
As she watches her two and four-year-old boys, Hunter and Logan, destroy their playroom for the umpteenth time, Jennifer Brown can’t help but chuckle when she’s asked that question.
“I have two boys at home that are like wild animals,” said the 30-year-old Ottawa mom. “So I just have to come home after and be with these guys and I’ll remember I don’t want anymore babies.”
Brown is a first-time gestational surrogate, which means she is carrying a baby that has no biological relation to her.
It also means she has no legal rights over the child.
For many, a woman’s decision to become a surrogate can be confusing. Why would she want to carry someone else’s child? Especially in Canada, where financial compensation for surrogates is illegal.
It wasn’t something Brown had considered until shortly before her youngest child, Hunter, was born.
Her friend Amanda had decided to become a surrogate, but after becoming pregnant, tragedy struck and Amanda miscarried. Brown saw the devastation it caused her friend and the intended parents.
“We talk almost daily, so I got to see how it was affecting her and how it was affecting her IPs,” said Brown. “She was really sad that there was a possibility, after everything they went through, she wouldn’t be able to provide a baby for them.”
After having Hunter in 2011, Brown and her husband Mike Couturier knew their family was complete.
But Amanda’s struggles were still on Brown’s mind.
She started researching surrogacy to see if she could help Amanda and her IPs by carrying the baby herself. And she discovered an abundance of IPs who needed help.
“Once I realized they were just so desperate for surrogates and they needed them, I thought ‘I have to do this’,” she said.
Brown decided to become a surrogate for someone else while Amanda and her IPs continued trying.
Through an agency that matches surrogates and IPs, Brown underwent multiple assessments to make sure she could handle surrogacy, physically and mentally.
She was then matched with an Australian couple and began hormone treatment in preparation for the first embryo transfer. Brown, Couturier and their two boys quickly formed an online bond with their IPs.
In October 2013, the first transfer attempt was made. It failed. Brown was heartbroken when she discovered she wasn’t pregnant.
Three more attempts were made in the spring of 2014. By the last one, Brown was physically and emotionally drained and ready to quit. But her journey was far from over.
While on a family fishing trip shortly after the fourth attempt, Brown received an email informing her she was pregnant.
“I had convinced myself that I was not pregnant because I’d just been spotting two days previously, so it was a really pleasant shock,” she said. “I was more excited than I thought I would be.”
Just a month later, Amanda also became pregnant, and the friends have been support systems for each other.
While many women might struggle with the idea of giving up a child they’ve carried for nine months, Brown said she isn’t nervous about it. She is just happy to be able to help another couple.
What concerns her more is the pressure of carrying someone else’s child and the realization that if something happens, they will suffer a great loss.
What isn’t helping those fears is that this pregnancy has been more complicated than Brown’s own two, which were easy. This time, she has experienced spotting throughout.
Not wanting to take any risks with another couple’s child, Brown and her husband made the decision not to be intimate for the duration of the pregnancy. Couturier said this has been a challenge, but he admires and supports his wife’s choices.
And as she enters the final days of her pregnancy, Brown said she’s growing more nervous.
“I’m at risk for earlier labour. I have tons of extra fluid.”
Her main concern is giving birth to a healthy baby boy for her IPs.
Brown and her IPs made a plan for her labour and delivery well ahead of time and the nurses and doctors will be informed.
Their plan was that the IPs would be in the room with her (as long as the delivery wasn’t a caesarean section), and they would be handed the baby immediately after birth.
The intended parents were to arrive in Ottawa about three weeks before Brown’s due date, which was Jan. 27.
And despite the complications, the anxiety, and the impact on her relationship, Brown still feels she made the right decision.
“It’s a lot of sacrifice,” she said. “But I don’t regret it at all.”
For Brown, complications and sacrifices are minor details.
The bigger picture is what’s most important.
“Once you have children and you get that feeling of holding your newborn for the first time ever, it’s a love like you’ll never feel in your entire life,” she said.
“You want to be able to let someone else have that, too.”
Read about Jennifer’s delivery and her recovery in the weeks after the baby’s birth in the second part of this story.
You’ll find it in the April/May issue of Ottawa Parenting Times Magazine.
Photo: Sophie Desrosiers