Local surrogates help friends – and in some cases, strangers – grow their families, Tracey Tong writes
Christine Crook had never met the couple, but she gave them an incredible gift that would change the course of their lives – a chance to become a complete family.
When her firstborn was only a few months old, Crook read a story online by a woman who, despite desperately wanting to be a mother, could not get pregnant. “I remember looking at my baby and feeling so very sad for this woman who could not have a baby,” says the 46-year-old Ottawa birth and postpartum doula and photographer. “I thought, how horrible it would be to be faced with that – to never be a mother. My heart broke for her. It was that day, I decided that one year out of my life to give someone a baby would be something that I would like to do. I would carry a baby for someone.”
Her own children, now 16 and 18, and her husband, Ewen, were very supportive of her decision. “They thought that I was amazing and generous for wanting to help another family in this way,” she says. Once she decided that the time was right, word got out. One day, Crook’s friend began chatting with a friend of a couple that had just started their search for a surrogate. Information was exchanged, and the couple emailed Crook.
“They were incredibly grateful and enthusiastic to meet me, and I think a little in shock too,” Crook says.
Jessica Dawn Séguin also acted as a surrogate, but for a friend.
The 42-year-old Ottawa-based intuitive life, business and success coach already had a vague knowledge about surrogacy, but learned about it more in depth after taking on the position of executive director of Fertile Future, a national charity that helps young people at risk of losing their fertility due to cancer treatments.
“The more I learned about it, the more compassion and understanding I had for families facing infertility,” Séguin says.
That compassion soon turned into action. “I decided to become a surrogate after my friend had experienced multiple miscarriages due to Asherman’s Syndrome,” says Séguin, who has a son, 20, and a daughter, 15. “When she told me she was going to move forward with a search for a gestational surrogate, I felt that this was something I could offer her.”
Séguin quickly found out that being pregnant in her 40s was more challenging than being pregnant in her 20s.
“I was followed by midwives with my own pregnancies and also much younger,” she says. “This pregnancy progressed with enough complications that put me in the high-risk category, meaning I couldn’t be treated by midwives. And as an independent person and single parent, I wasn’t as good at asking for help as I should have been. I also think there was some level of feeling responsible for managing the biological parents’ emotions and expectations because of how many miscarriages they’d already had,” she says.
Crook also had a difficult pregnancy; she was 43 when the couple’s baby, Clara, was born. “Being pregnant at 43 was a little harder on the body than when I carried my own children,” she says. “The last trimester was difficult. I was very tired and relied on my husband to do much of what I wasn’t able to.”
What wasn’t hard was giving the baby to her parents after the birth. It’s the “number 1 question I get asked,” says Crook. “No – this was never my baby to begin with. I went into this journey with full intention of growing (her) for her mom and dad. So, giving this baby to (her) parents was the easiest thing I have ever done. That is what this was all about.”
The generosity of people like Crook and Séguin helps families like Stephanie Kelly and her husband, Ian, of Ottawa.
Married for five years, Kelly says she “can’t remember a day that either of us haven’t wanted to have a big family.”
At 30, Kelly was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis and adenomyosis.
“This has severely compromised my egg quality and ability to carry a pregnancy to term,” says the 34-year-old. “We did a few rounds of IVF using my own eggs and uterus, and all were unsuccessful. We tried three doctors, two clinics, three different protocols, two abdominal surgeries, and one experimental procedure in an effort to make it work. Once we felt we had left no stone unturned, it was time to seek out alternative options,” she says.
Kelly says they’ve been lucky. They had a friend offer her eggs, and another offer to carry the child as a gestational surrogate. She realizes that it is a huge sacrifice on the part of the surrogate, as it not only means carrying a child, but often, months of injections, time off work, confusion for the surrogate’s young children, and explaining this very personal choice to friends and family.
She’s dealt with her own share of questions. “At first, it was an awkward topic,” she says. “It’s complicated. People have pretty consistent questions: what will you do about the baby shower, will she be there? What if she wants to keep the baby? What will you tell your child? Will you be there for the birth? Eventually, after a lot of education, people wrapped their heads around the idea.”
The couple has an “unbelievable” support system, Kelly says. “I think after watching us tear our lives apart trying to have a family, they all just want us to be happy, however that happens.”
But before the Kellys get their happy ending, they’ve had their share of disappointment.
“It is imperative to remember that nothing is promised here, and IVF at best is a 50:50 proposition,” Kelly says. Still, she remains positive. “I cannot wait for weekends,” she says. “All of the amazing things that happen in our city for families seem so fun… we are excited for all of it.”
Public awareness around surrogacy is growing, says Crook. “I think it is getting better. Social media helps,” she says. Still, there is a lot of misinformation. “Most people think that surrogates get paid in Canada – they don’t,” says Seguin. “And they don’t understand the science of it.”
The ethics surrounding surrogacy and gamete donation are a big topic and should be required reading for anyone who is going down this road, says Kelly. “It’s up to intended parents to educate themselves for the sake of their children. Surrogacy is an incredible gift, but it also comes with some responsibility to ensure your child grows up understanding how they came to be.”
“Surrogacy takes so much commitment, time, money and love. The gift of surrogacy is one of my life’s greatest accomplishments, right after being a mom to my own children.”
- Christine Crook, surrogate
“Words do not exist for this type of gratitude. There is no way to accurately thank someone for this kind of gift.”
- Stephanie Kelly, intended parent