It’s been eighteen months since I gave birth to a baby girl for a gay male couple as an altruistic, gestational surrogate and hindsight is a wonderful thing; somewhat comforting and even a little annoying. I recently attended the annual surrogacy conference in Brisbane and was asked: ‘What would you change if you were to embark on another surrogacy? What has hindsight taught you?’ I sat for a moment pondering the questions, but the answer summoned inside me as my gaze moved over the expectant audience was . . . nothing, or very little. Of course there are factors out of my control, as there are in any pregnancy, but as a whole my surrogacy experience was challenging, beautiful and life-changing.
Examining how my family has since adopted Jon and Justin and their daughter, Elsie, makes me stop whatever I’m doing and smile – an effervescent smile that takes a while to fade. My two children, Jaxon (six) and Keira (five), don’t view Elsie as their sister. She’s more like a cousin. Mummy was just helping two men (that love each other very much) to have a baby because only a woman’s body is designed to do such a thing. When my children interact with her on our visits: taking Elsie’s small hands to guide her over uneven ground, or patting the mop of soft curls on her head – heavy-handed the way a child does – or when they sit together and gather her favourite toys – Keira lifting Elsie’s stuffed pony to gallop through the air whilst singing a song – it warms my heart, lifts my soul and I know the decision my husband, Andrew, and I made was right.
Now, back to hindsight. I wish I’d had it throughout the pregnancy when I worried about the future, Elsie’s health and growth, especially about how things would really pan out for all of us. I wish I could’ve soothed myself when my mind raced, running wild after reading or hearing yet another horror surrogacy story in the news. To know that my children would be no worse off, that in fact their lives were enriched and they’d eventually realise the lesson in our decision – showing kindness and acceptance to others. Were there sacrifices? Yes, of course. Busy with pre-natal appointments I struggled to care for Jaxon and Keira as I ordinarily would, especially when morning sickness hit, or the last trimester when I was too big to run, wrestle and play with my own children. Housework also went by the wayside. And at times my husband felt left out and while he never expressed it in those words I’d sensed it in the fuzzy blur of my own raging hormones, tiredness and thoughts of the looming birth. But these were small sacrifices that as a family we learned to deal with; each of us, in our own special way, shared the common goal of giving Jon and Justin the gift of a child.
People still ask me: ‘Have you seen them again… since the birth?’ and in those moments my heartbeat quickens, hand stamped to my chest. ‘Of course we see them,’ I’d reply.
I couldn’t have offered to be a gestational surrogate, allowing a couple to join my family so intimately for eighteen months or more, grow a child for them, to have that couple walk away after the birth and never look back. A shared desire for maintaining a connection was paramount, not only for my family, but for my emotional well-being. Any other way would have broken my heart.
While pregnant with Jon and Justin’s child I had a picture of what the future would look like in my mind. Moments pulled together like fine threads, woven into a rich and colourful tapestry I could feel as if it existed under my fingertips and I’ve got to say the end result is very close. Knowing that fills me with a sense of joy I didn’t think was possible. Jon and Justin have not only enhanced our lives but Elsie is the epitome of hope, courage and love for us all. My family now looks forward to hearing every detail of Elsie’s development: her first six, tottering steps across the lounge room floor, the cutting of her first tooth, the new words she’s trying to form with her open mouth, or the shrieks of laughter she gives as she claps her hands to her favourite song and performs a wobbly dance. Our exchange of photographs, emails and messages is so precious, keeping our bond alive and pulsing with life.
In hindsight, I didn’t truly understand how our lives would change for the better. As much as my family has given Jon and Justin the gift of a beautiful, healthy daughter, we have received a gift that I simply cannot measure, and as I think of our ‘adopted’ family (Jon, Justin and Elsie) and all that comes with them – extended family, friends, and new experiences – again I smile brightly. It’s a smile that reflects the intense and growing love inside me, one that is born from knowing them and having shared the journey.
Read more about Shannon’s incredible journey in Labour of Love out now.