On September 25, my surro bub, my womb mate, Baker, turned 1. I am finally in a good place (mentally and physically) to be able to absorb the joy from this amazing journey.
I’ve been to Matt and Brendan’s house over the year of course, and so have my kids (Emily 7 and Ewan 5), but his 1st birthday was the first time going with my husband Glen and the kids since the Sip and See party we had when Baker was 7 weeks old (come and Sip champagne and See the baby). On that day last November, as I walked down the driveway to their house, I had a panic attack and stopped twice with Glen and wasn’t sure if I could, or should, attend the party in the state I was in. I was a crying mess and was spiralling into post natal depression (PND). This time – it was joyful. I was able to greet their family and friends with big smiles and thank them all for their love and care of me last November when I was in a very different state.
I no longer feel like I’m a burden to Matt and Brendan, and I feel our friendship has balanced out to a lovely place. They have been true to their word all along about what our long term friendship would look like and I am so grateful to them for standing by me as I took this year to recover from the darkest pit I went to with my PND.
I will have one more (I’ve had many!) counselling sessions with Katrina Hale in a week and I look forward to sharing with her my joy and a sense of ‘we did it’. We did what we set out to do as 4 adults, and although it had ups and downs, we came out the other end and are still friends. I think navigating that first year post birth is just as hard as all the other parts of surrogacy, as we navigate our lives out of the project of surrogacy and into a new normal of what catch ups and contact looks like after birth.
They also gifted me a beautiful, huge bunch of flowers and a beautiful photo book with a quote on the front. In our busy lives, I deeply appreciate the time and effort that they have gone to to gather the photos, and plan and upload them. It’s these gifts of time and care in surrogacy that mean the world to us I think. I have carried it everywhere with me these last few days as a sort of Brag Book, and all the other people in my life who have seen it marvel over the photos they chose and the amazing adventure that was our surrogacy journey.
I look forward to the future and building a connection with Baker as he comes to understand how Aunty Anna and my kids are connected to his life. Thank you to you all for riding this journey with me and for letting me have this reflection and celebration.
I feel a deep peace and warm joy knowing that I have done something unique, something life changing. I feel proud and settled.
Happy birthday little man, and well done Dad and Pa for surviving the first year of parenting 🎉
My name is Anna McKie and I had Postnatal Depression (PND) after I birthed my surrogate baby.
Read on, for about (20 minutes), or listen to me read this reflection out (40 minutes)
Gosh even getting to the point of saying that out loud has been a long time coming as it’s a hard thing to come to terms with. I’m writing this 7 months after the birth of Baker, the surro bub I birthed for his two Dads, Matt and Brendan, who are also in Adelaide with me.
This is a long read. Come with me down the rabbit hole if you have time. It’s a chapter in a book, and a reflection piece for me.
Why am I even writing this? This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a while. Is it presumptuous to assume anyone would want to read about it? Why would I want to go back to the bottom of the pit and relive my experiences, why not just move on? I have decided to put my thoughts down for these reasons:
To publicly thank those who helped me through the worst of it.
To collate my thoughts so I can compartmentalise them and therefore move forward
To bring an idea for different language to this topic
To hope that it might help one future surrogate to speak up when she is struggling
To take a leaf from Brené Brown and show my vulnerability. I have shame around this topic, but in trying to unpack that, I realise that the shame comes from a place where I fear it will disconnect me with people. But I need to flip that around, because to truly connect with people, I need to be authentic, vulnerable, and tell my story with my whole heart. So here goes.
Some background on me – I basically had PND after the birth of my own two children but I never officially got diagnosed. My own kids were 4 and 6 at the time of Baker’s birth. I put lots of strategies in place leading up to the birth of my son, as I didn’t want to go back to the place of struggling after the birth of my daughter. I breastfed both children for 12 months, and had a positive year of maternity leave the second time. In the mandatory surrogacy counselling, we talked about my previous struggles…..but we didn’t create an action plan for how to ‘check in with Anna’ after Baker’s birth. Why? I put it down to me (or surrogates in general) being determined women, and we’re confident that we can handle whatever surrogacy throws at us. The counsellor we used for our mandatory counselling did a fine job, but due to my articulation about what strategies we had in place to combat potential PND, we never fully unpacked my previous struggles. Nor did the counsellor have a breadth of experience for being able to recognise and probe previous PND, whereas I shifted to Katrina Hale for ongoing counselling once pregnant and after birth, and she has much more experience with the full spectrum of surrogacy. We went for the cheaper and convenient option for mandatory counselling. I wish we had paid for Katrina for our mandatory counselling, but as a team we all decided not to. Ultimately I would love to see the surrogacy counsellors in Australia have the opportunity to share their experiences with each other more often, so they can learn from each other and strengthen their craft. Suggestion for teams – ticking the box with a cheaper, convenient option with mandatory counselling with a less experienced counsellor is a risk. It might be ok, but surrogacy is all about relationships and connections, so if any team member is struggling (and we never know when these struggles will crop up) it will make things quicker and smoother later if you have a history with an experienced surrogacy counsellor.
The birth of Baker was amazing – have a read of my birth story or watch the photo slideshow. The week after birth was a once in a lifetime week for our team. We then started to ease into life after surrogacy and we had a plan in place for how to do that. We saw each other every day for a week, then moved to every second day, and continued to ease off as was comfortable for everyone.
So where did it all start to unravel? Those first 3 months post birth are really a blur for me – as I know they are for the Dads too as they were adjusting to life with a newborn. On a side note, it’s worth teams discussing the possibility of PND for the IPs as well. These surro babies are very wanted children, they have been dreamt of for years, but they bring monotony, sleep deprivation and cries that are hard to decipher, so it’s inevitable that there will be times that IPs are challenged and quite frankly, hate. All team members need to make sure they have support and reach out for it. Easier said than done though. And this is where we all need people who are tasked to check in on us, and to ask both the surrogate and the now parents – are you ok?
I was expressing breastmilk (EBM) for Baker and did eventually make it to the 2 month mark for that. I had an app that kept track of this and I pumped 21 Litres over 191 pumps for the little man. EBM is a mammoth amount of work, and one that I’m proud of doing for Baker but also for my own physical recovery. For those new to the benefits of breastmilk, for the birth mother, expressing milk releases the happy hormone oxytocin. Looking back with my own 2 kids, breastfeeding for a year produced oxytocin many times a day, which probably helped to keep my PND at bay while my body created its own reserves again. However with Baker, as I weaned from expressing milk, the little hits of happy hormones reduced, and my big crash came at that 2 month post birth mark. Katrina Hale helped me to unpack this, and we then felt that my 4th trimester really started at that point, and therefore lasted 3 months, until I was 5 months post birth. I definitely felt like the fog lifted at 5 months post birth somewhat. Suggestion for teams – if the surrogate is planning on expressing milk, take note of when she starts to reduce the number of times a day, or when she completely weans, as there will be a natural drop in oxytocin, which will mean her body needs to adjust to life without that happy hormone hit. Some women will cope better than others, but checking in with each other, and being on the front foot for all team members with this conversation will help.
But I’m treading water here with everything I’ve written so far, because diving down into how it really went is hard. Perhaps those reading have had their own struggles in life and can relate. Maybe you too have struggles with PND, or anxiety, or mental health challenges. Or maybe you’ve had fertility struggles, or cancer, or other life challenges where you spiralled down into a pit. This experience has taken me to my deepest pit, and I wish I could sit alongside that Anna, put my arm around her, let her cry and reassure her that she will climb out of the pit eventually.
At the 6 week post birth mark, I wrote the following message to a small group of surrogates and it was my first moment of reaching out for help. This is my first thanks to those with whom I felt safe. Amanda, Charmaine and Madeline – thank you for your friendship and kindness, your warmth and security, for listening and gently suggesting.
“I’m not ok. But I also don’t have the emotional capacity or the time to explain it all in detail. Or the time to do a post and then reply to all of the comments…Could you direct me to some posts I could search for where other surrogates have said they are struggling and the elders have shared their support, so I could read those posts? In a nutshell I’m teary. Cry every day. Bloody hormones. I want more time in my day to do the things on my list but never enough time. I want to see the boys and people but I also don’t want to carve that time out. I feel a bit lonely in this journey. I’m not alone, but I feel lonely. I miss Matt and Brendan and being so important to them. I’m taking lots of packets of breastmilk down tomorrow morning so that will be good to see them all I guess.” The girls pointed me in the direction of posts that other surrogates had done when they were postnatal, and reading about the experience of others was helpful, as I realised that all of my feelings were normal. If you’re in the Australia Surrogates Support group, use the search function and type in “Amanda Meehan post birth” and find a post from 18 March 2018.
I had had one counselling with Katrina Hale at the 5 week post birth mark and that was a positive and helpful session at the end of October. In that week, we had 2 other debriefs – one with our midwife team as a final session with the Group Practice, and one with our HypnoBirthing educator Lauren. After these catch ups I remember this deep sense of peace that in the long term, the Dads were not going to abandon me. That they had been the steady same the whole way through our Surrodating, pregnancy and beyond, and they weren’t going anywhere. But assimilating this knowledge with a postnatal brain is another thing. I was wobbly but not all the time. I was muddled but then also going into a month of exam marking (I marked external Year 12 math exams in November). It was good to use my brain for the marking, as it helped to remind me of who I was and what my brain was capable of, but in hindsight, maybe it was too much. Adelaide also went into a short 6 day lockdown (thanks Woodville Pizza Shop 🍕) and this threw me into a spin too. My brain didn’t handle that uncertainty well at all.
At 7 weeks post birth, mid November, the Dads hosted an event called a Sip and See. Where people come to Sip champagne and See the baby. Baker had had his 6 week immunisations by this point, and it was a chance for Brendan’s interstate family to meet Baker. I wrote about this in a message to another friend from the surrogacy community, Zoe Stefan, who is a mum through surrogacy.
“On the whole it was a good day but it was a hard day for me, very emotional with lots of tears. And as we say, feel the feels. Don’t fight them, so I didn’t. Looking back, that weekend almost felt like an out of body experience. Now I’m through it, I feel like those hormones took over my body and brain. Loading the esky of breastmilk was such a challenge. 40 packets of about 200mL each was a once in a lifetime delivery. I’ve started to wean now, so although there will be a bit more breast milk, it will never be an esky like that. As I put each packet into the esky, and I know this sounds dramatic but it was how my brain was thinking, it felt like I was lowering a coffin. I could barely see what I was doing from the tears, and my fingers were burning from the freezer cold of the packets. I asked husband Glen to take a photo because I wanted to remember the hard times of surrogacy.
When we arrived, Glen and Matt loaded it into the freezer and I stood there and cried and cried, sobbing and probably wailing like a bereaved woman. I couldn’t help it. Brendan came up to me, put his arm around me and asked what’s wrong. I couldn’t answer. So he hugged me. I asked for a second hug after and I still couldn’t articulate what was wrong, because it wasn’t a quick answer. So I walked away after the hugging was done and the freezer full.
One of their gay mum friends, Katherine, helped to facilitate cuddles with Baker a bit later and I am deeply grateful to her for that. I gathered up my kids, Emily and Ewan, and Katherine suggested we go into the lounge where it was quiet. As I sat on the couch, ready for her to pass Baker to me, my heart broke/exploded. Crying now as I write this. She hugged me as I cried, and the cry was a deep, sobbing thing. My body collapsed into her shoulder as I let it all out. I think she understood and recognised that I needed that time. Baker then started to cry so I picked him up (Katherine had put him on the couch while she hugged me), and then my focus was on him. Glen was there too and he helped to navigate Emily and Ewan to either side of me to see Baker. I decided to sing to Baker. There’s a special song I’ve been singing to my kids, usually at bedtime, since they were born, and so Baker has heard it in my tummy. I have been looking forward to the day that I sang it to Baker, and Sunday was that day. I sang it through tears as I held him in my arms. That’s what is happening in the photos I’ve shared. When I started, I swear his eyes changed as though it was accessing some memory in his brain. And even if that’s not true, I’m telling myself that is what happened! I also noticed his dummy sucking paused and then the pattern of sucking changed. It was a very special moment for me.
He’s not my child, but he is the baby from my body. The baby I grew. After these cuddles that day, I think I felt a deep peace in my body. Those hormones eased and although there are still tears, they come with less anxiety.
One analogy I found myself creating relevant to any mental health is that if I arrived on Sunday with a broken arm, people would be able to see that cast and understand why I might be upset – from the physical recovery and also emotionally. But when it’s hormonal and inside your body, and people can’t see it, they struggle to understand why we might be struggling. I happened to chat lots with Matt and Brendan’s family on Sunday and they were so, so supportive. We have spent time together over the last 2.5 years and I’m so pleased we have, because they were my village on Sunday.”
A week and a half after the Sip and See, I had an opportunity to meet with Matt and Brendan at their house one evening and unpack that event. I had brought a lot of anxiety to that event, and it was very visibly emotional and hormonal. And although people understood why I was upset, seeing as I was a postpartum woman, the focus of that day shifted to me when it should have been a celebration of their passage to parenthood and celebrating the extended village meeting Baker. I had weighed up if I should even attend or not, and even when walking towards their house I paused with Glen twice as I wasn’t sure I should go in the state that I was in. If I wasn’t there, then I wasn’t celebrating my friends who were now parents, but being there in the state I was in, unfortunately didn’t allow the day to be properly celebrated. Matt and Brendan and I unpacked all of this that Thursday night and it was hard. So very hard. As a team, we have gotten really good at conflict resolution, and I think I knew in my heart that if we were to move past that, we had to discuss it. The guys were amazing. They were trying to read me as to whether or not we should talk about it or not, because they knew the fragile state I was in. They had been up and down with their thoughts about that Sunday, and they brought their honesty and truth to our unpacking discussion. It was hard….but I think we all agree it needed to happen at some point if we were to move forward. I didn’t get it right that Sunday, and I apologised, and I apologise here again. Not many friendships have the strength to be able to work through conflict like that, but we did.
So, after that Thursday night discussion, Friday dawned and I was tired from a late night and……I guess I had a Shame Hangover. I dropped my kids off at school and went into my workplace (my school) to just be around some colleagues. My work colleagues have been amazing as they have ridden this whole surrogacy journey with me – shout out here to Lauren, Anne and Kiri. So that Friday morning I bumbled into school but most people were busy or absent, so feeling lost, I went back home again.
Cue crash number #1 I remember lying on my bed, crying and crying, with a mountain of wet tissues piling up on the floor next to my bed. My brain was analysing the lengthy conversation with Matt and Brendan from the night before and I was feeling overwhelmed with shame. My brain was going in circles, analysing, crying, just wanting the thinking to stop. I wanted to sleep. I wanted my brain to stop. I wanted to get off the spinning hamster wheel that was in my head. I wanted to sleep and stay asleep so that I didn’t have to listen to my brain. I was lost. And although plenty of people in our lives say “reach out if you need help, gimme a call”, I felt like a burden. I didn’t want to contact anyone because I’m sure they were busy with their lives and it’s not their job to help me. So who could I burden? Was there anyone where it was part of their job to help people? Yes. Then I remembered fellow surrogate and GP in Tasmania, Anna Chilcott. A beautiful woman with whom I’d had the pleasure of meeting in person a year before. So I sent her this message, and I have her permission to share our conversations.
“Anna. I think I need help. I think I need to start a conversation about medication/anti depressants. Is the first step to make a time with my GP? I’m 9 weeks post birth today. I’m lying in bed, balling my eyes out, running through all the people I could lean on and tell them this and although I know I have support if I need it, I don’t want to burden people. I guess I feel I could burden a GP which then made me think of you, as a friend, as a surrogate, as a doctor, and maybe I would ask you what the first step would be. Don’t want to hit send on this message but I need to I think.”
I then managed to have a nap, and as always, I felt a little better after sleep.
Anna’s reply “Don’t underestimate the physiological hugeness of pregnancy-labour-birth-breastfeeding/expressing then stopping … this hugeness has the power to unearth deeply buried stuff from the caverns of your brain…. and the hormones render you super vulnerable. Get thee to the GP. Just tell them: I have pnd, I have a past history of pnd, I would like medication and maybe to see a psychologist.
A good GP will take over from there, ask the appropriate questions, prescribe appropriately, and set the wheels in motion for helping you move through this.
(The other thing I almost always do as a GP in this situation is check some basic bloods for reversible aggravating factors eg iron deficiency / thyroid dysfunction, which are both overrepresented in postnatal women.)”
So I did. I booked in for my GP on the following Tuesday morning, the 1st of December, and Katrina Hale also managed to fit me in for that same Tuesday. Both the doc and Katrina basically said the same thing, that my brain is used to the ‘social volume/noise’ that surrogacy brings with appointments etc. Now that that social noise has disappeared, it’s quiet, and my brain is searching for noise that isn’t there. It perceives the silence as a threat – perhaps imagine we’re a tribe of animals and the noise of the tribe disappears, that might mean there’s a predator. But no, no predator for me, just my brain adjusting to less noise and back to my own family of four. He prescribed Mirtazapine (Axit) and a blood test to check iron and thyroid levels. So the start of December was the beginning of the change for me in terms of seeking help. However it probably got worse before it got better.
Perhaps overkill here with sharing these messages, but I want to document for myself to look back on all of the insights that helped me move forward little bits at a time.
Another amazing woman, friend and surrogate who touched base with me at just the right moment, is CJ (Crystal). I explained to her that I was now on antidepressants for the first time in my life and was feeling a bit resentful that, in my head at the time, surrogacy had broken me to the point of finally needing meds. Her reply was this: “So I feel like the first thing I need to say to you is that needing antidepressant medication is not a failure. It’s not resultant from anything you have done.
What if things had happened in this order:
You give birth and your hormones change
Your body does not regulate those hormones as it should and you develop a chemical imbalance of hormones in your body.
As a result of the chemical imbalance you feel sad and emotional and anxious
Because you feel anxious you think “why could I be anxious” and of course your mind goes to the thing bothering you at the time. And it’s videos/photos/contact…
Thing is people don’t just become depressed. There are things that happen which prompt a physical and chemical irregularity in the body which heightens sadness and worry into depression and anxiety.
So medication is not a failure. Please remove that from your mind. If you had a kidney infection you’d take medication, if you had diabetes, you’d take medication, so maybe don’t attach the stigma here?”
CJ really helped me to start to understand that it wasn’t my fault.
My second crash was the following Thursday 10th December. Again I had wandered into the school I teach at and was chatting to colleagues. There were two little things that happened in quick succession and it rattled me. Looking back now, I can see that I was fragile and not resilient in my ability to brush things aside. That ability to sort of roll my eyes at someone, or to banter back, was gone for the time being. As I write this 7 months post birth, and after 5 months on antidepressants, I can feel the change. I can feel that I don’t bottom out anymore when something unexpected happens. I have this ability to take a breath, probably swear under my breath too!, then move on to finding solutions.
Now for the ugliest part. My third crash was Christmas Eve. My husband Glen had gone back to singing in the Cathedral Choir in 2020, so he was out singing the 7:00pm service and then Midnight Mass. We had had his family gathering during the day, and I was left with my own two kids to put to bed on Christmas Eve. I was struggling. I’ve contemplated whether or not I share this next fact because it is covered in a giant blanket of shame. I’d had some wine at lunch but now I continued to drink. I wanted to numb the world and numb my brain. I wonder if my own kids, or even Baker, might read this in years to come, and that’s a confronting feeling. But I guess I’m here to be honest and tell my story openly. Our whole street does Christmas lights so the kids and I walked the street for that. I was weirdly able to ‘turn on’ social pleasantries to say Merry Christmas to all the neighbours, but once home, I was an ugly mum that night. Grumpy and just wanting them to get to bed so I could be alone. Once they were in bed, my only memory is of being huddled up on the floor in the corner of the kitchen, crying, drinking more wine and wanting my brain to stop. I remember pulling at my hair as a physical means of telling my brain to stop spiralling. I wasn’t sure if I was suicidal or not, or what that even meant. I didn’t want to sound dramatic by saying that, because I didn’t want to undermine those that are really struggling. Katrina has since helped me to see that I was really struggling. I was one of those people. These were suicidal thoughts but they weren’t plans or actions. Nonetheless, I was not in a good place. Glen called me between services while I was sitting in the corner of the kitchen on the floor. He asked if I wanted him to stay home the next morning instead of singing – I said yes. I’m so glad I did. I couldn’t have managed our small family christmas gathering without him there. In the meantime, before Glen got home, I had two friends check in on me. Zoe and Merindah. Merindah gave birth as a surrogate 5 weeks after me, so we have ridden the wave of life after surrogacy together. I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, especially on Christmas Eve. My memory of these messages is sketchy, and perhaps my brain has blocked out a lot of the details as a means of surviving. What I have taken a snapshot of, is that Zoe and Merindah saved me that night. Through messages, they talked me up off the floor. They got me moving. If anyone has ever experienced a similar situation, you will understand the depth of gratitude I have for these two women that night. It feels like a gift that I can never repay.
We managed Christmas with just my mum and dad over for the day. They were super helpful and knew, to some level, that I was struggling. Glen and I worked well as a team and I cooked us all a roast. In the evening, I turned on my phone, because prior to that I didn’t have the capacity for any happy Christmas messages. Matt and Brendan had tried to call a few times and wrote to check in. I began a message back to them and it just poured out. I had enough sense in me (surprisingly!) to not send it straight away. I have learnt to sleep on these things. It was an ugly message. They were celebrating their first Christmas as a family of 3, and interstate with Brendan’s family so although I wanted to share my word vomit, I didn’t want to disturb their special time together. As I re-read over that lengthy message now, I feel such shame. It’s ugly to read over because the Anna that wrote that was in the middle of a storm. I was lashing out at them and perhaps trying to push them away so it was easy for them to say “gosh we’ve had enough of Anna and her madness” and to walk away. But they didn’t. True to their word, they stayed with me. They acknowledged my hurt, they wanted to make sure I was safe and make sure I was prioritising my own mental health. They could see that I wasn’t well but they didn’t run away.
Just sharing a few snippets of that message… “….how frequent my crashes are. How often I’ve wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there. The tears. The not thinking straight or ability to sequence tasks….. I understand why you might read this message and say F*** it. And delete me. I’d like to delete myself from life too quite often recently….So many times have I been in tears, contemplating calling LifeLine, running through the list of people I could reach out to for help but not wanting to be a burden to anyone, contemplating wanting to go to sleep and not wake up, wishing I’d never done surrogacy for this mental turmoil I’ve been in for 3 months. Feeling like it’s not worth it……this has been my reality for these last few months. I’ve hated it and hate myself and hate the grumpy mother I’ve become…..I feel like a shell of a human being most days and it’s dragging me down and down.”
They are some snippets from that message to Matt and Brendan on Boxing Day. It would have been a horrible message for the Dads to receive at Christmas. Why do I share this? I guess for my own reminder of how messy my brain was and to see how far I’ve come within a few months and with the help of medication and regular counselling. To shine some light into the dark corners of those memories, and to stop running from the shadows. And only just now, as I write this, while googling the background to that concept of light in the darkness, am I reminded of the meaning of Christmas. A time of rebirth and to welcome the light into our world again. I’m struck that my turning point happened at Christmas and am thankful to those who brought light to me at that time. Thank you Matt, Brendan, Glen, Merindah, Warwick and Zoe.
I’m going to use this opportunity to also thank those people. One of the many keepsake messages from Merindah. “That’s surrogacy to me! Riding the wave. The gnarly wave. And we need to do what we can to reach the shore and make it safely back home. I am out paddling in the ocean with you Anna and I’ll help any way I can to see you get back home 💫 “
Warwick Scott. He’s a gay dad-to-be in Sydney and he and his husband Jason have become friends over the years from the surrogacy community. Warwick has checked in on me regularly and he did so again on Boxing Day before I sent the message to the Dads. He helped to delay my sending of it and helped me to see it from a different angle. Having friends in surrogacy is so important, because we need both surrogates and IPs as friends to help us navigate through. I encourage surrogates to make friends with other IPs, and IPs to make friends with other surrogates. You need these friendships built up over time so you can lean on them in times of need.
Warwick would regularly send me messages, sometimes to share photos of cooking, and to remind me that I am awesome. To which I asked one day while feeling flat “But whyyyyy am I awesome?” His reply “You are just Anna McKie. An awesome person! With an amazing heart That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it!!!”
And from Zoe “Oh Anna. I know exactly what that burnt out, tired and at capacity feeling is like. Sending you a huge hug. You probably don’t want to hear this, but they’re probably at capacity too. This part of the journey is so hard to navigate and I don’t know any team that has done it seamlessly…It takes huge energy to get through each day and week at this stage for all involved…..You can’t build relationships when your brain is in chaos. You also can’t hear their side when your brain is in chaos.”
Altruistic surrogacy is one heck of a rollercoaster. Although I guess all versions of surrogacy (altruistic and commercial) have relationships at their heart, the payment for surrogates in Australia is not money, rather it’s time and love. Since it’s the only version of surrogacy available to us in Australia, Intended Parents and surrogates often don’t consciously choose this model. There is a level of responsibility each party has to the other in terms of relationships, for the interests of the child born from it, and it is challenging. Matt and Brendan have navigated these murky waters with me and I am deeply grateful to them that they didn’t walk away from me. I’m sure they were sick of me at times, heck, I was sick of myself many times.
So starting to tie things up. Dr Anna touched base with me in early January and I wrote the following to her: “Well….things probably got worse before they got better. Around Christmas I hit some pretty dark patches. Now I’m feeling a bit better, I can see that I really wasn’t in a good spot. Oh if only hormones and chemical imbalances could be seen and measured! I went back to my GP between Christmas and New Year and increased the antidepressant dose up one notch. The blood test results also showed slightly below the range for thyroid levels so we have started on meds for that. Katrina Hale also kindly saw me over the Christmas break and when she suggested another session the following week, and I asked if that was too soon, she said “you’re not in a good place Anna, I’ll see you next week”. I’ve now got a mental health care plan and get the rebates so less for the dads to pay for those sessions. I’m engaging with my employee assistance program again and starting up counselling with the lady I chatted to last year. So lots of supports in place. Still a bit moody and up and down, but hopefully moving forward. I think part of the reason I hesitated to consider what I had as postnatal depression was because of the word “depression”. I didn’t necessarily feel depressed. I felt muddled, not able to sequence tasks like I normally could, slightly sad, slightly anxious but I didn’t click with the word depressed. Made me wonder if other women have ever felt the same and made me think PND might be better worded as postnatal unsettled Or Confusion Or ‘Out of sorts’ Or struggling
For me, if I ever chat to women in the future who are postnatal, I might share this analogy of mine as it describes what I was experiencing better I think, but then it still helps me to accept that the medication that helps me to be less muddled falls under the category of PND (or ssri etc)”
Dr Anna’s reply – and again I share this, with her permission, to get the insights from a GP who has also been a surrogate. “The word “depression” is a societally loaded label indeed. It makes people feel very uncomfortable.. But it is just a word, a label. Depression can present in SOO many different ways, and with such a broad variety of symptoms. The bottom line of this diagnosis is that your brain isn’t working properly – so that can manifest in such a wide variety of ways. Certainly feeling muddled, uncertain, indecisive, ruminative, with impaired concentration … these presentations are very very common in my experience. Irritability and lowered thresholds for general distress are SUPER common, without someone necessarily feeling “sad” or “depressed”, or having suicidal / self-harm thoughts. The bottom line is: the drugs work. For the vast majority of people….Never forget that (sex/pituitary) hormones affect Every Single Cell in your body, including your brain. Estrogen soars in pregnancy, and drops rapidly afterwards. Prolactin can also be a feel good hormone… you stop BF / expressing, and some people will absolutely crash. SSRIs/SNRIs totally put a chock in that spinning / spiralling wheel, and give your brain space to stabilise, to reset. You will get there.”
I hope reading that helps at least one other person to know that it’s not your fault if your brain is struggling, if your brain isn’t coping. If you had a broken arm, you would seek help. If you’re feeling muddled, seek help. Or at least start a conversation to put it on peoples’ radar.
We can’t underestimate the impact, from a mother nature point of view, of birthing a baby and then not raising that baby. Our brains know that the baby is with its parents, and we are glad that it is. That’s what we signed up for in surrogacy and it brings us joy to know we helped our friends become parents. But this is what Katrina talks about when she calls it “Head, Heart, Hormones”. Our head and our heart know that the baby is safe and loved, but our body is missing a baby. Our body probably thinks the baby has died. Our bodies are grieving a lost baby. Our bodies aren’t joyful. They are navigating a postpartum period in opposition to our brain. The postpartum period for our body is confusing – sometimes happy if we express milk, but trying to adjust to not having daily cuddles with the baby it grew and birthed.
So there you have it. This is my story. My name is Anna McKie and I am surviving postnatal depression after the birth of my surrogate baby. It sucked. I got help. And now 7 months later, I can say I’m doing ok. Thank you for coming on this safari with me.
Sharing my email address in case anyone needs to reach out for support – email@example.com
It has been 5 weeks post birth and I’m finally getting around to writing my birth story. Our team has had some lovely opportunities to debrief and relive this story, with midwives, our HypnoBirthing teacher and friends and family, so I feel ready to summarise. This will be a long post, and the main reason for writing this is for my own future reflection, so no offence taken if you don’t read it all!
Baker Luke Campbell-Davies
Friday 25th September, 2020
Weight: 9.1lbs (4.11kg)
Gestation: 39 weeks, 5 days
I have collected birthdays for over 20 years as I want to have met enough people who are born on every day of the year. I didn’t have anyone in my birthday book on September 25 (our due date was the 27th) so I sent my wish to the Universe and went out walking on Thursday to try and bring labour on. It worked! Or maybe my body was ready.
I was messaging fellow surrogates Madeline with updates about walking every aisle of the supermarket when I had 20 minutes to pass while I had a script in at the chemist and also messaging Amanda to discuss other home style techniques for inducing labour. My oh my the things you end up sharing with other surrogates 😂 At 4:30pm, I wanted to walk again and do curb walking, but due to the pouring rain, I improvised in the shed with some bricks for an uneven surface. We were definitely on after that, if only mildly.
5-7pm is the normal madness of a household with a 4 and 6 year old, so Glen and I pushed on with dinner and bedtime. I then called my IFs, soon to be just Fs, Matt and Brendan at 7:00pm and filmed myself making that phone call. One of the best phone calls I’ve made in my life!
At 7:30 I then called the midwives to let them know of my early labour. We went through the Midwifery Group Practice at our local public Lyell McEwin hospital as we prepared for our planned home birth. The team leader for the night, Zoe, was new to the practice (but not new to midwifery) so she had to eventually decide later that night when to call the accredited home birthing midwife on shift that night, Jo, to accompany her to our birth.
8:30 the boys arrive and start setting up the pool for the water birth. There was lots of excitement and then I got them cracking on my jobs list. Having a home birth, I wanted things done like taking out the rubbish! Our 6 year old Emily was still awake and cheekily popping in and out, and Glen was helping with the pool set up as he’d done that for our previous home, water birth of 4 year old Ewan. Glen eventually had some sleep from 10-12 as he was on ‘kid duty’ while M&B were my support people during labour and birth.
9:00 the birth photographer, Beck, arrived while I was having a chance to take stock for what was to come. In that time I did one last video of my pregnant body and most importantly 😉 ….went live in the surrogates’ facebook group! Didn’t end up live streaming the birth 😉 but going live for a little bit was the next best thing. I felt the love from my surro sisters and I think that happiness helped to have a smooth time in early labour.
9:30 I called Zoe again as I felt things were ramping up a little. We were both hesitant when to make the final decision for the midwives to come over because if you haven’t progressed too far in labour, they might go home and come back. Based on last labour, once I got in the pool that time, it was about 3 hours until birth as I felt the contractions slowed down. So we came up with a plan to let it ramp up a little more, then as I got in the pool, I’d call them to come. Upon debriefing with our main pregnancy midwife (Kelly) weeks later, being a second time home birther, and having done HypnoBirthing, she probably would have come at that first call. But hey, all part of the fun of the night, and we loved that the Universe sent us Zoe on the night. After that phone call I gathered the 3 amazing members of my support team and did a mission debrief. I love that photo in the slideshow.
Over the next hour I continued to breathe through contractions, or as we call them in HypnoBirthing, surges. There was still lots of laughter and chatting and ultimately trying to stay relaxed during labour. We used the fit ball, pressure points, rebozo and I’ll say it again, lots of general chat and laughter.
10:30pm Matt (shorter of the two dads and with the darker hair) called midwife Zoe this time as I decided I wanted them to come regardless. Zoe told us later that she still wasn’t sure I was in established labour at this point as she could still hear me in the background – talking and laughing. Some great photos of Matt on the phone to Zoe with some of the surges getting more intense….but then me laughing again! I don’t remember being in pain as such ever during labour, more a sense of very hard work. I’ve learnt a lot about the Natural Expulsive Reflexes of the body so I didn’t fear labour and birth. There was certainly a lot of pressure and stretching just before birth but I don’t register it as pain.
11:00pm the midwives arrive and one of my favourite photos of my labour story is me standing with my hands on my hips, smiling, while head midwife Jo asks how I’m going, what’s been going on etc. I remember being a bit cheeky and asking them how far back in the story they wanted me to go, “so I was born….” No wonder they didn’t think I was really in labour!
I had planned for no internal examinations to tell me how many centimetres along I was because like last home birth, I wanted my body to tell me when it was ready. However due to the change of midwives late in pregnancy, I decided to allow this initial examination as a baseline for how far along I was…..except I asked them not to tell me how many centimetres dilated I was. Us girls went up to the bedroom for this and student midwife, Lucy, arrived during this time. This left M&B in the lounge room with birth photographer Beck, and the boys were slightly worried that the midwives might go home. Not a chance as it turned out. The midwives told me after birth that I was 5cm dilated and fully effaced at that examination and, from memory, to stay at a home birth they like the woman to be between 3-5cm dilated. For some context, this was about 11:30pm and Baker was born 80 minutes later at 12:49am. Needless to say, I’m glad they stayed!
12:00 midnight – I made it to the 25th! I did a dab at the clock 👊🏼👍🏼
12:10 For some unknown reason I felt like I needed permission to get in the pool, so I was waiting for the midwives to come back to the kitchen/dining room. They were in the bedroom calling the hospital to say they were staying, so that meant they couldn’t attend another birth that night. Another favourite photo of me near the coffee machine breathing through a tough surge, and then I decided F**k it, it’s my house, my pool, my birth…..I’m getting in the pool. I whip off my dress and dive…..ok not quite…..slide into my nice warm, 37 degree, pool. The temperature needs to be about 37 degrees so it matches body temperature. This way, when the baby is born, the temperature of the water matches that of our bodies, so the baby doesn’t notice the difference. They don’t drown from the water as they have been in water for 9 months. I believe it’s once they start reacting (air temperature, other stimuli etc) that sends the message to their brain to start breathing.
Matt then starts to read me the Rainbow Relaxation from HypnoBirthing to help me relax, and stay relaxed, between surges. I had been listening to this nearly daily in the last month (or more) of pregnancy before I went to sleep each night. My body remembers it and associates it with being relaxed and sleepy. This worked for a while…..until an almighty HISSSSSSSSSSSing sound comes from the lounge room. The oxygen tank, which is supplied for home births in case the baby needs some oxygen, began to piss out air while Jo was demonstrating to the other middies how to attach the apparatus. The sound was so loud, I was shaken from my state of relaxation and actually thought I had punctured the pool and air was escaping. Lots of laughter (and apologies!) followed and jokes about scaring this baby out of me.
12:30pm I remember everything starting to get more intense and my groaning increased. By this point I wanted to make sure Glen was up and asked Brendan multiple times to make sure he was. I guess this was a sign of impatience from me…..which was a sign to the others that birth wasn’t far away. Jo said at one point “and here I was settling in for the night”.
Our daughter Emily had said during pregnancy that she wanted to be there for the birth, but since she was asleep, she sleepily changed her mind when asked. Although she did come out for a bit shortly after birth. Our son Ewan had said “I don’t want to see the baby naked”. Oh kids!
When I eventually get a chance to edit the video footage, at the 12:30 mark I look at the clock, and jokingly say, “we’ll have this baby by 1”. Our student midwife Lucy also had a plane to catch at 7am, so had to leave by 5am. So we decided that Baker would have to be born after midnight, to satisfy my birthday book, but before 5am so the birth could count for Lucy as one of her continuity births. Thank you Universe.
These last 20 minutes are a bit of a blur for me. I remember lots of pressure, lots of groaning. Light touch massage on my back from Brendan and then Matt being my captain towards the end. Steering me through the rocky waters of slow breaths, hands on my shoulders so I would release tension, and encouragement. At some point I said to myself “slow, slow, slow” which I’m proud of as this was my aim. Middy Jo said some words of encouragement at the right moment and there was never any coaching to push. The building of pressure was definitely intense and let’s not beat around the bush here, pressure like the biggest poo you’re ever going to do. There is no doubt that your body knows what to do, just like big #2s, but by god it’s hard work. Speaking of #2s……ok maybe I won’t divulge all of the details…..let’s just say my friendship with Brendan in particular reached a new level…..as his duty was Pool Cleaner 💩.
12:45am (approx) Just writing about birthing the head is transporting me back to that moment! I had a mirror this time which helped. Once Baker was born I thought he was a little babe, but no, my biggest yet with a head of 37cm, no wonder I felt that ring of fire this time around 🔥. So I grunted and breathed his head out and then it just sat there for minutes. The relief was amazing. I remember saying to everyone “there’s a head between my legs”. More laughs! There is a photo where you can see my waters break, and turns out this happened after his head had been born. It’s a pretty cool photo where there is a cloud in the water. With the next surge, I breathe him into this world and bring him up from between my legs.
12:49 Happy Birth Day 🎉 Baker is born with a veil on his head which is part of the membranes which hadn’t washed away. So not quite en caul but pretty special nonetheless. I lifted him out of the water and wow, he was here. Life. A baby. A son for my friends. Not my child, but my third birth and baby. Everyone clapped me which was so lovely 👏🏼
We then stayed in the water for at least 10 minutes just enjoying that moment. Matt and Brendan were next to my shoulders and a mixture of every emotion. Amazed at how quickly and smoothly it had happened, nervous that their part was about to kick in, proud of me on a calm birth and overwhelmed that Baker was here after everything we had been through over 2.5 years. If ever you’re wondering if a birth photographer is worth it or not, our slideshow should convince you. For surrogates, it is a priceless way to remember what everyone else was doing and feeling in those moments. Matt and Brendan did say that birth photography was something that they originally didn’t value but agreed to it because it was important to me. Now they are overwhelmingly pleased we had Beck present as our photographer.
After birth, due to a short umbilical cord, Brendan cuts the cord in the pool. We then make our way up to the bedroom to birth the placenta while I’m on the bed. I had a physiological third stage which means I birthed the placenta without the syntocinon injection. The injection was in my house if I did have a postpartum bleed, or needed help to birth the placenta, but I wanted to try first without it as I have done with my other two (first baby in a private hospital too). It was only about 15 minutes after birth. And what a placenta! Can one have too much placenta?!?! Am I an overachiever? 😉 I later got it encapsulated as I have done with my other two. We then initiated a breast crawl which is where Baker tries to crawl to the breast for his first feed of colostrum. He was a bit sleepy/relaxed, which promoted another laugh as Brendan said “he’s just like his Dads – doesn’t like boobs”. He eventually had his first feed and then I was ready for his Dads to have cuddles, which was by now about one and a half hours after birth.
Matt had first cuddles and there is a video of this hand over moment. Wow. I actually got a chance to soak up this moment and the enormity of what that meant. Sitting next to me was my friend, Matt, and he had his son in his arms. I had pictured this moment where the baby was in their arms, not mine, and suddenly it was here. Matt, who used to be awkward around babies with their heavy, newborn, wobbly head, was holding his child. I did that. I created that moment.
I made him a Dad, a Pa. Me.
He had this little (not so little 4.11kg, 9lb 1oz) bundle in his arms and we were all healthy. We had dreamed of this moment and now it was here. I hand my hand on his knee, as I sat there naked under towels on the bed, he sat there with his shirt off, so much vulnerability between us all, and it was all good in the world. Brendan was at the other end of the bed filming this moment and just an arms length away. Our team. Our Surrogacy Safari. In the warmth of my bedroom in the wee hours of a rainy morning, a new little person had gone from inside baby to outside baby. The gift of life. I did that. The swell in my heart consumed me. It still does as I recall this moment.
Other beautiful moments were when my own children came into the room to see what was happening. Looking at my boy Ewan, as he looked at their boy, was delightful. Ewan remarked that he “liked his wiggly fingers and toes” and also “Mum, you still have a big tummy”. From the mouth of babes!
The support crew (Glen and M&B) packed up the pool and wet/dirty towels, while I recovered and was checked by the middies. Only the slightest tear which didn’t require any stitches – phew. The dads then took him to the lounge where Baker was weighed, measured and dressed in his first outfit.
The midwives stay for about 4 hours after birth, so there was time for them to complete their paperwork and to chat and debrief. One extra special moment for us all was when Zoe was left, waiting until that 5am mark when she could leave (although she stayed after that for a bit!), and she was sitting on my couch, holding Baker and just chatting. A beautiful first home birth experience for her, and for us to have her present on the night.
Welcome to the world Baker Luke. It takes a village to raise a child, and sometimes it takes a village to make a child. Welcome to the Village.
Thank you for reading and for sharing in this journey with me. 4 years in the making for me, definitely a marathon not a sprint.
Unfortunately it’s sad news for the team today. We received blood results this afternoon which confirmed a negative result from our recent embryo transfer.
It has definitely been an emotional couple of weeks to get to this point and not the outcome that we were all hoping for, but something that will only make us stronger as a team overall.
We do still have one little embryo tucked away in the freezer and have decided that there is no better time than now to wake that little blip up and give it a chance at sticking (it’s been a fighter up until this point! – the one embryo that had the biggest turnaround in development in just one night and the last to jump in to the freezer). I’m now in the position where I can ‘book on’ to the Repromed system again as of tomorrow morning and the team will be able to kick off a brand new cycle for transfer.
As a team we are off to Melbourne this weekend to attend the Surrogacy conference. This is one of the highlights of my year where I get to see many of my surrogacy friends. A once a year catch up and this year with a whole day with my fellow surrogates in the Surrogacy Sisterhood Day organised by Sarah Jefford.
I was hoping to head to this conference in the early stages of pregnancy, but alas, it’s not meant to be. The world of IVF is a bumpy one, and now I have a better understanding for what people go through who endure many of these 2WW (2 week waits).
This is a delayed blog post from May 2019….and I’ve stolen some of the wording from Matt in a post he did. That’s what teams/friends are for right??
🌟Embryo Transfer Day🌟
Saturday May 18, 2019.
So, it’s done! Now we all cross our fingers and hope for the best 🤞🏻
13 months ago we were complete strangers and today we all sat side by side in the Repromed clinic (some of us half naked!) to transfer the ‘BrenJen’ embryo into me.
Such a surreal experience, to watch that tiny little embryo move into its new home (its third in just 3 months!) 😮
I know I’ve been planning to have an embryo transfer for this team for over a year, and I’ve been planning it as a concept since I first started investigating surrogacy in August 2016, so 2.5 years ago. But it really hit home today as I drove to Repromed and my heart rate went through the roof.
I was about to have life implanted into me.
A tiny little embryo was going to be entrusted to me to grow it.
I was about to share my body so my two friends could be Dads.
Today was the day that I truly became a surrogate.
Amazing how we can be planning for something for so long, but we’re still floored from time to time with the enormity of it all.
I rocked up with a ‘Sticky Bouquet’ for the boys and also for our Fertility Specialist, Hilary. The bouquet was filled with all things sticky – tape, glue, post it notes, and even sticky date pudding and lint rollers!! Oh and of course a bundle of sticks. ALL credit must go to Marian for this idea.
Quick bloods were complete to check my progesterone levels, then I had to pee and chug back 500ml of water and we were good to go!
The embryologist told us that our embryo had thawed out nicely (8 minutes on high in the microwave – not really, that’s a joke people) and had been behaving itself, continuing to grow from the place it had last stopped growing 3 months ago, when it was frozen 👍🏻
I’m getting quite used to taking my pants off in front of everyone now, so it was off with the jeans, up in to the stirrups and within a matter of minutes we were all watching the embryo be transferred into my uterus.
It’s amazing that for all of the time and processes and steps we’ve taken as a team to get here, this moment was over in the blink of an eye!
During today’s appointment I was given the news of my progesterone levels being on target, which means I may be able to experience a completely natural transfer with no hormone support (yay!!) Some bloods early next week will confirm this – but it was some fantastic news that none of us were really anticipating to hear today.
We also managed to get a quick selfie with Hilary on our way out the door 📸 and here’s hoping that the next time we see her will be for a pregnancy scan! 🤰
It’s an 11 day wait for us now. So we will be busy gardening, cleaning, cooking, kid wrangling, working, eating, sleeping….doing anything really that will keep us distracted while we wait for confirmation at the end of the month! 😂
I originally write this post for the facebook group the Australian Surrogacy Community in March 2017. I was a fairly new surrogate at the time and had no idea that surrogacy would become such a part of my life, writing this as a 26 week pregnant surrogate, even now having work with the not-for-profit, registered charity Surrogacy Australia and running SASS, Surrogacy Australia’s Support Service.
Hopefully there are elements of this post that are educational and timeless.
This surrogacy village is very important to me as you will be the village that helps us all to make babies. So I want to do my bit to share ideas so that it can be a strong, supportive, successful village.
1. Don’t find us, we’ll find you.
2. Your surrogate can’t find you if they can’t see you. So how does a surrogate find you? Be active on this page. Comment on the posts of other people by supporting their highs and lows. By doing this, surrogates see how you interact with other people and what type of person you might be. With more recipients than surrogates, you need to stand out. This might suck and you might wish it worked differently, but unfortunately it’s the way this works. Let us get to know you and fall in love with you!
3. Read the pinned posts and ask questions. Not only will it give others a chance to interact with you, it allows surrogates to get a glimpse into your way of thinking.
As a potential surrogate myself, this is how I struck up conversations with others. I liked how certain people interacted on this page so I sent them a private message to say “Hey! I liked your post/comment. Where are you up to on your journey, how’s your day going etc” And things started from there, always with the intention of a friendship as I didn’t want an interstate journey. After having struck up conversations with all sorts of people, I’m expanding my horizons and I know now that an interstate journey can work. Especially if you have the right team. A good team is built on friendship and from there love will blossom.
In FC you create your own thread and share your story about what brought you to the surrogacy world. It can double up as a sort of journal whenever you have updates and allows your fellow villagers to support you. It also allows potential surrogates to read your introduction and to possibly strike up a conversation. Surrogates are also welcome to create a thread in ‘My Story’.
5. Attend local seminars and group events. Growing Families host seminars in most capital cities once or twice a year and host an annual Surrogacy Conference, usually in June each year.
6. Pick up the phone and make a friend. Chat to people from this group in messages and at some point suggest to chat on the phone. I found that it lessened my nerves by chatting to ‘real life’ people who are a part of the same village. Before long, you’ll be paying it forward and you’ll be the one suggesting a phone call with a newbie. Each experienced member was new once and we received time and help from others when we started. We all like to pay it forward and to help others.
7. Consider some pre-surrogacy counselling. This suggestion is for IPs and surrogates. There are specialised surrogacy counsellors that you can have Skype sessions with if you don’t have access to someone in your city. Use the search function in this group or ask the group for recommendations. Some great options are Katrina Hale (NSW) and Narelle Dickinson (QLD).
For surrogates, this can be valuable to do to check you’re in the right frame of mind, and perhaps even to have a session with your husband/partner.
For IPs, to have arrived at the path of surrogacy often means that you’ve been faced with many challenges and heart breaks prior to joining. This grief needs to be addressed so that you can embrace surrogacy when you’re ready, regardless of whether you engage in domestic or overseas surrogacy. Counselling might also help you to decide on the type of surrogacy you investigate (altruistic/commercial).
8. If you’d like to hear me expand on these ideas, make a cuppa and have a listen (or see the YouTube clip) to Sarah and me.
9. As of January 2019, join SASS (Surrogacy Australia’s Support Service). This service is based on best practice models and research from within this community. It is designed to support both surrogates and intended parents in forming well-suited teams and to support those teams over their surrogacy journeys with inbuilt counselling, mentoring and expenses management support.
In conclusion, come in here (and FC) with the aim of building FRIENDSHIPS, not to find a surrogate. Build them with IPs and surrogates alike and you never know how your match will come to be, it might not be by you finding a surrogate directly.
Today, just over 12 months since we started planning for what has become known as SASS (Surrogacy Australia’s Support Service), I reached a milestone.
After the June conference in 2018, and another proud moment after delivering a talk with Sarah Jefford, with fire in my belly, I announced to Sam Everingham that I wanted to collaborate with him and the Surrogacy Australia team to make some positive changes to how Intended Parents and surrogates connect in Australia. I had been a full time high school maths teacher up to that point and made a leap of faith to step back a day a week to have time to invest into developing the SASS model. I was blessed to step into a one day a week paid position with Surrogacy Australia – what is possibly a first within our community, that a community member has drawn a wage from Australian surrogacy funds.
With a team including Sam, Karen M, Sarah J, Felicity K, Katrina Hale, the volunteer Surrogacy Australian committee, GPs and OBGYNs who are also surrogates, community members, IVF clinics, being guided by what agencies do overseas to how we could adapt to an altruistic model, and with the guidance of members of Surrogacy UK who have an established altruistic model, SASS started to take shape.
In January 2019, after months of preparing google forms with the help of my husband on the coding and scripting, a video to promote the service, mountains of emails, we launched the service and accepted enrolments from surrogates and IPs from across Australia. This is the first time that IPs have had to pay for a service like this in Australia, so we were taking a risk as to whether or not people would pay. They did.
I have begun to coordinate Mentor IPs and Surrogates from across the country, with the aim of having a hetero IM/IF, a gay IF, and a surrogate in every state that have engaged with surrogacy with strangers. The next six months I’d like to expand that to have a set of Mentors who have engaged with friends/family who were previously known to them, as the issues that these two types of teams face can sometimes be different.
The Mentors are paid for these sessions. That in itself is a first for Australia as far as I’m aware. Our wonderful Mentors have previously given so much time, effort, energy and love to this community and had previously been meeting up with new comers to help guide them. It is nice to be able to compensate them a little. Thank you to you all, Hayley, Charmaine, Simone, Amanda, Marnie B, Marian, Lisa and Henry, Mike and Glenn, Mahesh and Phil, Juan and Christian, Kristy, Ben and Terry.
We have also had 3 teams self match up to this point, with a few more in the pipeline. This means that the IPs and the surrogate joined SASS independently, and through meeting at local catch ups, or striking up a friendship through this facebook group or the Fertility Connections forum, they have started chatting or as we like to call it – surro dating.
In terms of numbers, I’ve had nearly 40 IPs complete the initial application form with about 20 of those ‘in the pool’ ready for a surrogate to select their profile. That means 20 Mentor sessions have happened across the country, isn’t that alone amazing? So many new IPs are making friends with experienced IPs and we’re continuing to grow this community. Funnily enough, no IPs from WA, ACT or TAS yet and hardly any from SA. If you’re a potential IP and have read this length post this far, you might consider joining SASS or find out more here: https://www.surrogacyaustralia.org/register/
For surrogates, I’ve had about 20 complete the initial application form, with 7 getting close to being ready to receive profiles from IPs, and 1 who has.
All of those things alone I am proud of helping to facilitate. But there is something about today’s event that is particularly significant.
Today I got to ‘make the call’.
Today I called an IP couple to let them know that a surrogate had chosen their profile. The excitement, shock and wonder was audible. I think we were all smiling from ear to ear. I felt such joy and pride in being able to facilitate this introduction.
I hope to be able to make many more calls like that.
Surrogacy is a long road, a marathon not a sprint after all. Once this potential team have their first meet, they may decide that they’re not a potential team. And that is totally ok. It’s not just about finding ‘a’ surrogate, or finding ‘a’ set of IPs, it’s about finding the right match for you and your family. We owe it to the children born via surrogacy to try and get this right as this is their story.
Today, just over 12 months since we started planning for what has become known as SASS, I achieved a goal I had been aiming for. To facilitate an introduction between a surrogate and an IP couple, where they might be a good match on paper, and to allow them to now build a friendship in person and to see where that goes.
I feel proud of myself and this community.
Proud to be in this privileged position to take the torch, to play my small part for the next phase of surrogacy in Australia. I am forever grateful to the trail blazers who have gone before me who would have been in my position if the stars had aligned differently.
I am humbled, grateful, proud of my work and proud to be a part of this surrogacy community in Australia.
I’m feeling a bucket load of appreciation for Matt and Brendan today as I write this blog entry.
It’s Easter Monday and this morning I needed one last blood test for our tracking cycle. Despite being a Public Holiday, Repromed were open, so both boys and I met there about 8am. They used that opportunity to complete their final blood tests too which was checking for infectious diseases. We all had this done in January before Jen did her egg collection, now all members of our team get tested again after the 3 months of quarantine to make sure we don’t have any nasties that went undetected.
Matt doesn’t like having blood tests (despite having many tattoos so external needles aren’t the issues!) but he was a brave boy 😘 so the nurse gave him TWO lollies 🍭🍬. The three of us then went out for a quick breakfast and then back to my place.
The reason for this post is for what happened next. Matt and Brendan took our kids out for about 4 hours.
That might not seem significant to some people but I needed to let that sink in for a bit.
These two wonderful human beings shared most of their public holiday with me and my family. They took the kids out to play Mini Golf and then out for lunch. They did this so that Glen and I could have some child free time to catch up on house work, or school work, or SASS work for me, or even to just catch our breath without the rug rats. This is such a rare thing in our lives that anyone other than grandparents helps out in this way. They created kid free time in our day and that is the most precious gift in my life right now.
Anyone reading this who has (or remembers having) young children would probably appreciate how significant those 4 hours of child free time are in your own home. To get to the point of the kids being comfortable with others, you have to spend a lot of time together to allow that relationship to build, hence the previous post! Emily and Ewan adore the guys and were so excited about their day with them. They went in our car as they have the kids’ car seats in them. Would everyone else feel comfortable with other people driving your car and driving it with both your kids inside? There’s a lot of trust going on here. Another example of how surrogacy in Australia is all about trust. My IFs (Intended Fathers) are going to be trusting me with their child for 9 months, and trusting that I’ll do the right thing during the pregnancy. It seems only right that we should get to that place of trust the other way before we launch into pregnancy.
I was so grateful to them both for spending quality time with my children and for keeping them fed and watered. Ewan is 3 and has pretty much mastered toileting, however they still had to help him with that every half an hour apparently. Mini Golf is thirsty work after all!
Today I got a sense of what it must feel like when people say ‘thank you just isn’t enough’. The gift of Time that I received today was priceless. It can’t be bought in a shop. Maybe this, I guess on a bigger scale, is what it feels like for Intended Parents when a surrogate brings their child into the world.
A gift that can’t be bought in a shop and when thank you isn’t enough.
I’m going to cheat a little bit for this blog post and share something that Matt wrote. We have a small group to keep close friends and some family updated as to where our team is up to. Matt wrote this beautiful post for that group so it makes sense to share it here as opposed to rewording it.
Last night (April 12th 2019) we all attended one of the Adelaide surrogacy support dinners. This is only the second dinner that Brendan and I have attended, but it’s crazy to think at our first dinner we had no idea what we were talking about (or doing!) and now we are the ones sharing our experiences with others, providing suggestions for lawyers, counselling and fertility specialists. One year can make a huge difference!
I love these dinners because you get to meet some truly wonderful people, all at varying stages of their surrogacy journey. The conversations are always very open and honest and it’s a safe environment to have some very personal discussions – with essentially complete strangers!
Last night was particularly special as there were lots of new faces to meet and it happened to mark one year to the day that Anna first reached out to make contact with Brendan and I on facebook!
By sheer coincidence we also happened to reach our 100 hour milestone yesterday….
It is suggested in the surrogacy world that to truly get to know one another and to build a strong relationship, teams should aim to spend 100 non surrogacy related (can’t count appointments, counselling etc) face to face hours together (no phone calls, Skype or sleeping in the same house to be included!) before moving forward with a transfer. Anna has been documenting every single catch up since our first meet on April 27 last year and slowly tracking our time together!
It has taken us exactly 12 months to reach this stage and looking back over the list, it highlights just how many wonderful memories we have made together already, with many more to come.
A nice couple of milestones to celebrate as we get closer to transfer. x
Here’s an update on all things surrogacy. A warning in advance that you might find out Too Much Information about me from this point on, so read at your own risk ⚠️
Today, Friday 5th April is the fourth day of my cycle with my period having arrived on Tuesday. I’ve never had so many other people, and men at that, excited about my period arriving! In theory we (we? this is a shared period clearly!), only have one more period left before I get up the duff and no more Aunty Flo for 12 months at least I hope! ‼️🚩🌹🦞🚨For our IVF clinic Repromed and our Fertility Specialist, Dr Hilary Whittle, we are doing a Tracking Cycle. Essentially we are tracking that my body does what it’s supposed to do during the month, so in May, we can implant a little embryo and feel fairly certain that we have done all that we could to make sure it’s home for the next 9 months is shipshape.
To give Matt and Brendan the full taste of pregnancy and pre-pregnancy, our aim is for at least one of them to be at every appointment. This might sound logical and easy, but there are a lot of logistics to juggle to make that happen. I guess if one of them was a woman they would have to attend every appointment because the baby is in their body. But hey, if one of them was a woman (I wonder which one it would be???), we probably wouldn’t be on this surrogacy journey together anyway! So for the scan at Repromed today at 10am, Matt met me there. He worked from home in the morning to make up some hours, and I had the morning where I didn’t need to be in front of a maths class. I made it back to work for Recess and ready to face some year 9s with a coffee.
But back to today’s info – the scan is to check that my body did indeed shed the lining of my uterus resulting in the period for that month. Sorry all, as I said, too much info. How does this scan happen you might ask? Well in this biz, we call it Dildo Cam! 🍆 That’s right. It’s an internal scan done with a phallic wand, with a condom put on it, and then lube, and then we have an internal ultrasound essentially. Leading up to this, I go to the toilet in the adjoining room and come out with a sheet around my waist. Matt and I laugh and realise our friendship must be pretty secure as I shuffle onto the bed, bringing my nether regions to the edge and then my legs rest up on stirrups – I’m covered up of course! This is the second time that Matt has been in that room with a woman naked from the waist down, and another woman, the Sonographer, with a pelvic probe – Jen was in the same room and position in January for her egg collection.
The lady doing the scan didn’t have much of a sense of humour but she was very professional. She checked the lining of my uterus, my ovaries (which had 8 follicles in them I was surprised to hear!), and checking for no cysts or polyps. We essentially got the all clear and were told Hilary would call me later in the day.
We all get on famously with Dr Hilary and have been in touch with her outside of appointment times. We feel a bit special that’s for sure! Being the first same sex couple in South Australia to go through an IVF clinic for surrogacy, I think Hilary is pretty invested in our team. I’ve been with her for 2 of my 3 egg donations so we have been working together for 2 years now. Anyway! I waffle on. When Hilary called there is one small issue that she would like me to get checked out. She’s nearly totally sure it’s a non-issue, however if the first embryo transfer doesn’t work, which we all know it’s going to work first time right?, then if we have ruled out this issue, we can look at other possible things. The issue is that I have a slightly ‘boggy fundus’ or ‘boggy uterus’. What words! Those who have had children know that your uterus never goes back to its tip top shape post birth, it’s always a little more relaxed or boggy in this case. In the IVF world, they have found that other women with more extreme cases of what I have and combined with other symptoms, may have Adenomyosis. In our surrogacy world, women with severe cases of Adenomyosis may need a surrogate to have a family.
So, what next?
Firstly we do a blood test on Wednesday in 5 days time. That’s at Mawson Lakes between 7:30-9:30am and is trying to track when I ovulate. My hubby Glen is away for the week so I juggle getting the morning routine done, Ewan off to childcare, Emily off to school, then meeting Matt at Mawson Lakes about 9ish for a quick blood test. Then both of us off to work. Surrogacy is so much about logistics.
On Tuesday the 16th at 11:30am at the Dulwich Repromed clinic, we will all meet for another blood test and a scan to check for the Adenomyosis. Apparently they used to do MRIs for these sorts of checks but the results have been great with the ultrasounds. I’m sure the results will be fine – we follow doctors orders right?
That will be Day 14 of my cycle, so the bloods help to check that ovulation occurred. The significance of that is that my body needs to be ovulating, because in May when we do the real thing, the embryo is implanted 5 days after ovulation.
I’ll spell that out here in case this is new for anyone. When Jen had the eggs harvested for her egg collection in January, that was at the point of ovulation when her googies were plump and ripe. They then fertilised those eggs in the lab with Daddy Brendan’s sperm and the cells multiplied and multiplied for 5 days. These 5 day old embryos are now resting in the freezer, next to the chops and snags! In May, when we pinpoint the day that I ovulate, 5 days later one of those embryos is transferred into me. So one little egg spent the first say 14 days of it’s life in Jen, then 5 days in a lab getting all groovy with Brendan’s swimmers, (fast forward some months of quarantine), and then the remaining 260 days of pregnancy inside my juicy womb! What a team effort this is ☺️
Today was so exciting for me as it finally got real. Having dildo cam, with one of your Baby Daddies sitting next to you, brings this Surrogacy Safari to the realm of realities. Counselling ✅. Lawyers ✅. IVF clinic approval ✅.
It’s a funny thing. Matt and Brendan are so appreciative of me and juggling my life to fit all of this in. I know how sincere that is and feel 100% supported in this with them. I also feel lucky that I get to fulfil my dream of being a surrogate, and that I have been blessed to find two lovely people to help my dream become a reality. Now enough gushy thanking of everyone. Let’s do these tests and then get pregnant next month!!!
A photo of the screen and the devices at the scan. The dildo cam is in the second photo, even though that photo was 2 years ago at one of my egg donations. You can see the probe in that one!