I was fourteen the first time a doctor told me I may never have children.
Sitting in a pediatric neurologist’s office, the doctor rattled off a list of things I would never be able to do following my recent diagnosis with epilepsy. The words felt like a punch to the gut, and they were made worse by the fact that they were spoken about me, but not to me – I was in the room, but my doctor spoke directly to my parents instead, not finding it necessary to empathize or include me in the conversation.
I remember feeling blindsided and confused.
At that age, I hadn’t given much thought to family planning, outside of the abstract thought that my future included kids. I felt like a normal teenager and I couldn’t understand why this doctor seemed to be delivering this life sentence of childlessness without so much as looking me in the eye. I determined in that moment that I would prove him wrong. I didn’t know it then, but that day was the beginning of my surrogacy journey.
Fast-forward 14 years: I’m happily engaged (I would have been married if not for the pandemic) and ready to take the next steps in building a family. From the outside looking in, my partner and I look like any other normal couple in our late twenties; we work stable 9-5 jobs downtown, we enjoy long walks with our dog, and we just bought our first home with little bedrooms to accommodate an expanding family. Nobody would look at us and think we could be facing infertility and yet here we are.
Infertility can look very different from person to person. While the clinical definition of infertility in women under 35 is one year of trying to conceive without success, my infertility starts before that point. For me, it’s not that I can’t conceive – our baseline fertility testing is incredible – but being off medication poses a significant risk to my health and being on medication poses such a risk to a growing baby – that every doctor we’ve encountered has strongly recommended against it.
Deciding to build a family with the knowledge that my body can’t carry a pregnancy left my fiancé and I with two options:
gestational surrogacy or adoption. For us, this was a fairly simple choice. We’ve always wanted biological children, so we set about researching surrogacy in Canada to find out whether it was a feasible option for us.
The first thing we discovered was just how different surrogacy in Canada is from other countries. Canada’s defining surrogacy theme is altruism, something we love. While surrogates can be reimbursed for their pregnancy and post-natal care (as they should be!), they cannot be paid. This means there isn’t an industry of individuals acting as surrogates, but rather a small community of women who feel it is their calling to help people build their families. Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act clearly defines which types of reimbursements are permissible, offering surrogates and Intended Parents (IPs) peace of mind in structuring their agreements, as well as giving IPs the ability to financially prepare ahead of their surrogacy journeys.
The second thing we learned is just how meaningful of a connection IPs and surrogates create. As I joined online support groups (I would recommend joining these if you are interested in learning more about surrogacy), I noticed the deep, enduring bonds that surrogates, parents, and ‘surrobabies’ all form. This isn’t just a nine month contract – some parents I have spoken to tell me they speak to their former surrogates on a weekly basis just to catch up. They send TikToks to each other, do FaceTime check-ins, and eagerly await the end of stay-at-home orders so they can reunite for ‘family’ barbeques.
The third thing I’ve learned is just how much misunderstanding and mystery exists in the public perception of surrogacy. Every surrogate I have had the privilege to speak to is empowered, strong and wise beyond measure. These are women with hearts of gold and they and their families make a major sacrifice to help someone who can’t build a family themselves. Prior to deciding to pursue surrogacy, I knew of only one person who had a child through surrogacy. As I have begun to open up about my story, I have been connected to dozens of families through my network who have been in similar situations. If you are struggling with infertility and considering surrogacy with an option, you are not alone. In fact, it is estimated that there has been an increase in Canadian surrogacy journeys by 400% in the past decade.
With the support of my fiancé, I started the blog Not My Tummy (But I’m Still Mummy!) to chronicle our journey to parenthood. There is already enough stigma and limited understanding around family planning and we believe our research and lived experience is not proprietary. We are pleased to share it with anyone who needs.
Know that if you’re file at the clinic is as thick as a book and you’re at your wits end with treatments that are not proving successful, there is always another option.
Remember that your wits end, was my very beginning.