Our surrogacy contracts are signed!

An incredibly important part of any surrogacy contract are the contracts, sometimes referred to as the surrogacy agreement, signed between IPs and surrogates. This contract can look substantially different based on each journey, jurisdiction, and the personal preferences of everyone involved. What’s important to note is that much of the elements of a surrogacy agreement should be talked out between IPs and surrogates beforehand. It helps to make sure everyone is on the same page. Open communication makes for a very smooth legal process!

What does a surrogacy contract do?

In Canada, a surrogacy agreement is required in order to proceed with an embryo transfer. It outlines the responsibilities of us as intended parents as well as our surrogate and her partner. While the relationship between IPs and surrogates is much deeper than what is outlined in the contract, the contract ensures that everyone feels represented and protected from the get-go.

What kinds of things might a surrogacy contract include?

Surrogacy agreements can include a number of different elements including the IPs wishes on contact after the pregnancy, expectations about diet and exercise, delivery preferences and more. Similarly, the surrogate can include her own wishes, as the document is meant to represent the wishes of both parties.

Can’t I draft the agreement myself?

A surrogacy agreements requires a lawyer – it isn’t something you can write on the back of a napkin. Intended Parents and surrogates both must have separate legal representation. A fertility lawyer provides important added value beyond simply writing/reviewing the contract. They walk their clients through all laws and situations that can arise point by point and ensure everyone is moving forward with eyes wide open and fully aware of their obligations throughout the pregnancy and beyond.

Who needs to sign it?

Surrogacy agreements are signed by a few people; the Intended Parents, the surrogate, her partner (if there is one), witnesses, and the lawyers representing all parties.

Who pays the lawyers?

Much like other costs in surrogacy, the IPs cover the costs for both their own lawyer and the surrogate’s counsel. She is free to choose her own lawyer, however, and payment can either be arranged directly, or through your agency (if you have one).

We’re so excited to have completed this step in our journey, and honestly can’t wait for what’s next! Now that the contract our completed and sent over to our clinic, big things are ahead.

Baden and Zane

We’re medically cleared for transfer!

Tuesday morning we got a call from our surrogate Ashley with the news we’ve been waiting months for – she’s been medically cleared by our clinic! When she texted our group chat I sat and happy cried for a few minutes while I was processing it all. This is it. Medically speaking, we’re ready to go. Our first embryo transfer is now on the horizon.

I have so much optimism going into this next phase, and Ashley’s enthusiasm and excitement is helping me keep any of my anxiety at bay. There are still a number of steps between now and a transfer, plus we have to hope that her body will respond well to the medication she’s prescribed before the transfer. There’s a ton of the unknown in this process, but I’m just so overjoyed that we’re finally at that point where there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

The next step is finalizing our legal contracts, which is a big step in formalizing the journey on paper, but this milestone just feels like a huge one and I’m in the mood to celebrate.

Baden

Surrogacy psychological evaluations

In an earlier blog post (over a year ago!) we mentioned that ‘building our team’ involved five key players: a lawyer, a doctor (clinic), an agency, a counselor, and of course, a surrogate. Over the past year, we have been working to build our team and are finally able to say that it is complete. While our surrogate Ashley was undergoing medical screening, we took the opportunity to meet with a psychotherapist that specializes in infertility. This is not only recommended, but a requirement by our clinic before proceeding to transfer.

We are very fortunate that our agency, 4U Surrogacy Canada, has a relationship with Erica Berman, a Toronto-based counsellor. Erica’s screening fees were included in our payment to 4U, so we didn’t have to pay any out-of-pocket expense.

Our appointment with Erica was thorough. She began by asking us about our families and what our childhoods were like. We spoke about the support system that we have developed and how open we are about our journey. We spoke about our expectations for our surrogacy journey with Ashley and her family, and what our strategies may be if something doesn’t go quite right. We told her honestly, that we couldn’t be closer with Ashley and her husband if we tried, and we are confident that everything can be worked out with honest and open communication. As a therapist, I presume she was listening for how we answered her questions as much as she was listening for what the answers were themselves. Her role is to give her clinical opinion as to whether we comprehend what is involved in a surrogacy journey and if we are prepared for the outcome, whatever it may be.

As a male partner in this journey, it was refreshing to hear my input so valued. My upbringing, hopes, and expectations for this journey are just as valid as Baden’s, and I was encouraged to share my feelings honestly. I imagine for many male partners this may be difficult, as it takes a fair amount of introspection to be able to articulate your feelings to a counselor, and it shouldn’t be. Baden and I have spoken at length in the blog about the importance of regular mental health check-ups on fertility journeys and this is just another key touchpoint.

We learned a few days later that we were psychologically cleared and that Erica would be sending a letter to our clinic to confirm. We are glad to have this milestone behind us as we await Ashley’s final medical clearance and we move on to contracts.

Zane

P.S. Erica is available for counseling services for everyone, not just those on surrogacy journeys. She can be reached at: erica@healthcounsellingtoronto.com. If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health challenges, please feel free to reach out or seek support from a mental health professional.

Our surrogate’s medical screening appointment!

Last week our surrogate Ashley and her husband drove into Toronto for her medical screening appointment at Create Fertility Centre. This was the first of many exciting moments for us together as an IP/surrogate team – even though she’s already received pre-clearance from her family doctor and our surrogacy agency, it is ultimately up to our clinic to determine whether she is ready for a transfer or if there are any things she’ll need to address beforehand.

Her screening appointment included several tests, including a full physical, a pelvic ultrasound, as well as urine and blood tests. Her husband also did blood tests to ensure that Baby Colt will be 100% safe for the duration of his or her stay in Ashley’s womb. The final results can take a few weeks to come in, so (like many points in a surrogacy journey) we’re once again in waiting mode until we hear back from the clinic.

After Ashley’s appointment, the four of us went out for lunch near the clinic. Seeing each other is special, because even though we don’t live that far from each other (about two hours) most of our conversations are on FaceTime or by text. Like usual we spent the time laughing and generally enjoying each other’s company. Afterwards Ashley and I decided to make some Instagram/TikTok videos in the parking lot while our husbands stood by and chatted. Dancing/lip syncing to Justin Bieber in a public place isn’t normally how either of us spends our time, but it was fun! As silly as it is, it’s little things like this that serve as a fun opportunity for us to bond. One day maybe Baby Colt will look at these videos and say we’re embarrassing them!

So, what’s next?

Obviously we’re still very early in our journey. The next big step after receiving the medical clearance from the clinic will be signing contracts. Zane and I already have our lawyer (Sara Cohen), and Ashley will find a different lawyer to represent her. We will draft a contract for Ashley and her lawyer to review, and once we all feel comfortable with the document we’ll sign and be ready for transfer!

I’ve long since abandoned the idea of timelines (I’ve learned my lesson by every time estimate I’ve had being wrong). For now we are excited and celebrating each step and each new day in the journey. We can’t wait to share each new update as it happens though!

Baden

We felt the spark, and now we’re (re)matched! 

In January when our previous match fell through, we took it hard. Sarah, our former surrogate, had already become a great friend, and we’d really invested the time to build an important bond. Coming to terms with moving forward in our surrogacy journey without her, and having to begin our search all over again, was incredibly hard. Like all pieces of difficult news within our infertility experience, we took time to be sad and then we dusted ourselves off and kept going. What choice did we have?

I sat for a week, wondering how we could begin again. I wondered how we could tell our story and what the next steps might look like. Instagram had helped us find Sarah, so I figured maybe Instagram could help us again? From there, a video idea was born. Like most Instagram Reels, it felt a little awkward to film, but we had to trust that it was worth a shot and we pressed publish. 

The next day, a message popped into our Instagram DMs from a woman named Ashley. After some back and forth we learned we had quite a bit in common, and we were really enjoying the conversation. She reached out to our agency, 4U Surrogacy, who began doing pre-screening for us while we continued to text and get to know each other better. A few weeks later, 4U let us know that she’d formally cleared pre-screening, and with cautious optimism we set up a video chat with her and her husband.

It was the easiest conversation I’ve had in a long time. After discussing surrogacy and making sure we were all on the same page about all aspects of a potential journey together, the conversation naturally flowed into basically everything else – jobs, home life, favourite restaurants and even Zane and her husband’s shared love of BBQing. 

Two days later we were driving out to meet her family in person. The spark was immediate. It felt like we were old friends, and any nerves I had disappeared. Sometimes in life things just feel right, and there isn’t a way to capture that feeling in words. After grabbing all you can eat sushi together for dinner, we made the official ask and got an enthusiastic yes! So there it is – we’re matched!

I still don’t know if I have the words to describe that feeling – joy, peace, trust, and an enormous amount of gratitude all wrapped together. This is the one thing in life that Zane and I so desperately wish for and we can’t do for ourselves. The fact that someone could see our potential as parents and as friends, and would so selflessly help us to make Baby Colt happen… it’s just the most incredible feeling in the world. 

Now that our adventure is back on, and we have the most amazing family on this journey with us, my heart feels really full.

Baden

Ten common misconceptions people have about surrogacy

It’s been over a year since beginning our surrogacy journey, and we’ve learned a lot. By going public with our story, we’ve heard a lot of assumptions about surrogacy. To celebrate one year of blogging, I’m sharing the 10 most common misconceptions about surrogacy that I’ve heard and what the reality truly is.

Myth #1: Surrogates are in it for the money.

Reality: This couldn’t be further from the truth. In Canada it is illegal to profit from acting as a surrogate. Surrogates can be reimbursed for pregnancy-related expenses (as they should be!) as agreed upon in a contract prior to transfer. Intended Parents and surrogates retain separate legal counsel to ensure the contract is fair and that neither side is being taken advantage of. Even in countries where compensation for surrogates is legal, surrogates are motivated by love and compassion.

Myth #2: Women seek out surrogates for convenience or to preserve their bodies.

Reality: In the past year I have spoken to hundreds of women seeking out surrogates, and every single person sought surrogacy due to infertility or underlying health conditions. There is a lot of stigma related to infertility, and many women are shy about disclosing their personal health conditions with strangers. Just because you don’t know the reason someone didn’t carry doesn’t mean it was for convenience or to avoid pregnancy weight gain. My verdict? This is a MYTH.

Myth #3: When the baby is born, the parents and surrogate conclude their relationship.

Reality: Surrogacy creates a bond that is different than a regular friendship. While every relationship can look different, many surrogates remain close with the individuals they carry for and maintain an extended family-like relationship.

Myth #4: All surrogates are related to the baby they carry.

Reality: There are two types of surrogates – gestational surrogates and traditional surrogates. A gestational surrogate carries the baby, but her egg is not used. In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate not only carries the baby but also provides the egg as an egg donor. Even though she is donating her egg, she is not the mother to the child.

Myth #5: Fathers and surrogates have intercourse to conceive the baby.

Reality: Absolutely not! The law is very clear on this: conception in surrogacy cannot involve sex.

Myth #6: Surrogates want to keep the baby.

Reality: I’ve spoken to a LOT of surrogates and here’s what they’ve told me – surrogacy is like extreme babysitting. Surrogates love helping people and they love babies. They’ll gladly accept baby snuggles and visits, but they’re done building their own families and know this baby isn’t theirs. Don’t want to take my word for it? Check out @carried.with.love or @hello_kayde on Instagram who have covered this topic extensively.

Myth #7: If you’re a woman who can’t carry, your husband will resent you.

Reality: Marriage is about supporting each other, and that’s exactly what I’ve found in mine. If anything, our infertility journey has brought us closer together. Sure, I can’t carry our baby, but guess what? Neither can he and I’m not holding that against him. 🙂 If your husband is upset with you about an inability to carry, or any health condition you might be facing, throw that whole man away.

Myth #8: If your child was carried by someone else, they won’t feel a bond with you.

Reality: In my entire life, I have never spent time reflecting on my days in my mother’s womb. I have zero memory of that time, and chances are neither do you. When I think of the many reasons I cherish my mother, it is the time I’ve spent with her, the memories I have with her, and the knowledge I have of her sacrifices as a parent that make me respect and love her. Her carrying me was not and is not a factor in what makes her a mother to me. (Also – if gestating a pregnancy was essential for the child and parent to feel a bond, where would that leave fathers and their children?)

Myth #9: If your child has questions about their origin story that means they don’t see you as their parent.

Reality: It is normal for kids to be curious about their history, and healthy, age-appropriate discussions about how they came to be are totally fine! There are plenty of resources out there (including some stellar children’s books) to help you explain surrogacy to your child. There is no shame in building your family through surrogacy, and by introducing their unique start to them from a young age you can help them to see just how loved and wanted they were from the very start.

Myth #10: Religions don’t see surrogacy as permissible.

Reality: While there may be individuals who use their interpretation of religion to take an anti-surrogacy stance, there are many mentions of infertility and of alternative family building being encouraged in scripture. Religion is deeply personal, and your relationship with G-d doesn’t involve anybody else.

These are just a few of the misconceptions I’ve heard. Feel free to share other common myths that you think need busting and I may put out a part 2!

Baden

Our match fell through

When we began our surrogacy journey, we dreamt up what our perfect surrogate might be like. We hoped she’d be kind, funny, a loving and attentive mother, warm, and spirited. We looked forward to creating a friendship and building the kind of trust you can only imagine you’d need before letting someone carry your baby. When we met Sarah, all of those dreams were realized and then some. We matched in October, I swiftly began IVF, and all of the anxiety over ‘will we ever meet our perfect match?’ washed away.

If you are experiencing infertility, you’ll know that having moments of total trust that things are going to be OK can be rare. Sarah reintroduced us to that kind of serenity that it would all work out. Well, today we were thrown a curveball. Sarah has been dealt some unexpected cards and after serious consideration she had to make the hard decision to step back from our surrogacy journey. Needless to say we’re incredibly sad not to be moving forward with her – she’s been a total angel to us these past few months and we’ve become fast friends.

I have a million emotions right now and I’m still trying to sort through them. I know we’re going to pull through this and that even though this wasn’t the news we wanted for our journey, we’ll keep rolling with the punches. I’m so humbled that Sarah wanted to be a part of our journey. She’s such a special person, and knowing that she saw something good in us makes this situation hurt a little less.

As for next steps – today we have a good cry and eat some takeout. Tomorrow, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin our search all over again.

Baden

Family traditions we’re excited to pass down

This time of year, aside from being incredibly busy, always brings me a childlike sense of joy. While I am not a big fan of cold weather (if you are, can you tell me your secret?), it warms my heart to take part in the many annual traditions I grew up with.

Zane and I are currently celebrating Hannukah, and I can tell you confidently that lighting candles and eating latkes for eight days straight does not get old. Any excuse for fried potatoes, especially in the name of family tradition, is a win in my books. A few years ago my Dad passed down a hand-crafted family menorah to me, originally owned by my paternal grandparents. Placing it on our table each night of Hannukah and watching the flames makes me reflect on how my late grandmother, how I never got to meet, must have felt as she lit the candles as a young bride and mother. Despite never knowing her, it’s in small moments like this that I can feel the connection between myself and generations past. Traditions, no matter how small, matter. I wonder how my own children or grandchildren might look at this menorah, and what memories of me might come to mind for them.

We’re also gearing up for Christmas with my Mom’s family. Yes, we are one of the lucky families who gets double the celebration! My maternal grandparents always made Christmas a magical experience, and I grew up leaving Coors Light and homemade chocolate chip cookies out for Santa. In case you were curious, my Papa told me Coors Light was Santa’s drink of choice. While I may tweak this tradition a little in the future (my Grandma’s cookies can stay, but perhaps we won’t encourage drinking and magical sledding), this is another fun tradition I can’t wait to watch our kids partake in.

Ultimately, my favourite part of the holidays is spending time with family. The idea that by as early as next year we could be celebrating as a family of three – well, there’s a whole new sense of wonder and magic in that. Giving the warmth of family, of tradition, and of culture to our future baby is something that brings me more joy than any present could.

Baden

Ontario IVF funding

We are so fortunate to live in Ontario, which is one of the few places in Canada that has partial coverage for fertility treatments including IVF. While healthcare in Ontario is publicly-funded, fertility treatments are usually not. Surrogacy demands IVF, and our IVF journey has not been an easy one. Here we share with you the ins and outs of using provincial funding for your fertility journey.

What program covers IVF in Ontario?

In Ontario, IVF coverage is offered through the Ontario Fertility Program (OFP), a public-private-partnership where a pool of funds is distributed to private fertility clinics. Unlike the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), which is universally accepted socialized medical care and accessible through your Ontario Health Card, the OFP funds are distributed only to women seeking coverage. Typically, the coverage is available for unlimited Intra-uterine inseminations (IUIs) as well as one round of IVF or fertility preservation (FP) for those in medical need. Every woman in Ontario is eligible for a funded cycle if she will be carrying the pregnancy herself, and an additional cycle if acting as a surrogate.

How do I access the funding?

Nearly 50 clinics in Ontario are able to distribute the funds to eligible patients in the method of their choice. Some clinics have a ranked waitlist, others use a lottery system. Our clinic, CReATe Fertility Centre, distributes funds on a first-come first-served basis each year. Funding arrives in April and can be accessed until it runs out, typically in late fall. While we were able to get a funded cycle of IVF in October, in a future year or at a different clinic, your experience might be different. It is best to confirm all of the details regarding that year’s funding with your clinic manager or finance office.

How does funded IVF differ in a surrogacy journey?

IVF offered through OFP funding is tracked through the person getting pregnant and not the Intended Mother of the child. In our case, Baden and I were listed at ‘secondary patients’, with the primary patient being our surrogate Sarah. The government looks at us as ‘egg and sperm donors’ on her funded cycle. Since we needed the name of our surrogate to access her funding, this was the reason we couldn’t begin IVF until after we had matched.

Being considered third-party egg and sperm donors on our surrogate’s funded cycle, we were required to undergo additional testing in accordance with Health Canada’s Suitability Assessment of Sperm and Ova Donors. These tests are only required when you are creating a new round of embryos with the intention of using them with a surrogate. These test were expensive (several thousand dollars) and not covered by OHIP, OFP, or any other provincial funding method.

Although our round of IVF was funded, it by no means covered all our costs. The funded cycle covers the cycle monitoring, retrieval, fertilization (via ICSI), freezing, thawing, and transfer. It did not cover storage, biopsy, embryoscope, testing, or things like supplements, medications, or clinic parking, all of which add up quickly.

We’re incredibly grateful for the funding currently offered in Ontario, but have quickly learned that it is not a perfect or an equitable system. Women on surrogacy journeys already face immense emotional and financial strain, and to deny them access to a funded cycle of IVF as a primary patient can make their journeys even more challenging.

Each case is different, and this blog holds the most accurate and up-to-date information we’ve received as of November 2021. If you have any questions about the OFP, or funding for fertility treatments in your jurisdiction, feel free to reach out to us. We would be happy to help answer any questions we can or point you in the right direction.

Zane

The results are in: our embryo update!

Today is Day 7 post-retrieval and I just received the call from the clinic about our final number of frozen embryos. I won’t lie – the past 24 hours have been emotionally taxing. I’ve probably felt this way thanks to two things: unrealistic expectations I had for how many embryos we would end with and not preparing myself for the crushing feeling of losing embryos.

Let’s backtrack:

On Day 1 post-retrieval, a cheerful nurse called to let us know that a total of 40 eggs were retrieved, 30 of which were mature. Of those 30 eggs, 21 had fertilized. Needless to say, we were delighted.

On Day 3, I braced myself for the number to be lower. To my surprise, the nurse called and confirmed that all 21 of our fertilized eggs were growing and developing normally. She did mention that two were a little slower than the rest, but ultimately the fact that all 21 were still moving forward had me ecstatic. I finally started to breathe easy again.

Day 6 is where things took what felt like a turn. Like the other days, I was glued to my phone all morning. In fact, the only time I put my phone down was to prepare to take a photo to post about our exiting results so far. Of course it was in the 45 seconds that my phone was facing down at the table, on silent, that the call came through.

Trying to call back the busy clinic was futile, so we had to rely on the voicemail left for us by the nurse. In her voicemail, she shared that nine embryos had been biopsied and safely frozen. She also mentioned that this was not to be construed as a final number or final report, stating that they were watching ‘a couple’ more to see if they would make it by Day 7. The emotions that rushed in with this news were overwhelming.

I don’t think I was emotionally prepared for the feelings that would come with being told that we’d lost embryos. I knew ahead of time that it was an expected part of the process, but for whatever reason it just didn’t click. Knowing that 19 unfertilized eggs didn’t progress didn’t phase me. Being told that some embryos failed to progress… that hurt. It left me wondering what happened and why. Was there something I could have changed? Was this something predestined and out of everyone’s control? No amount of rationalizing it made me feel better. It served as a sobering reminder that this journey is going to be tough, and we will likely face hurdles far worse than knowing some of our embryos have arrested their development.

That brings us to today, Day 7. As I waited, the pit in my stomach grew and grew. Nine embryos, I told myself, was a great result. (Telling myself not to feel a sense of defeat was not very effective.) Then the call came in: the nurse told us we had a total of 13 frozen embryos! For reasons we’ll never know, four additional embryos heard the rally cry and got to blastocyst stage just in time. Unfortunately, upon discussion with our doctor, we found out that two of the 13 embryos had poor grading, and were unlikely to be viable. This left us with 11 embryos to move forward with. This is still wonderful news and leaves us incredibly hopeful!

The next step in our little embryos’ journey is to undergo preimplantation genetic testing. This testing will let us know about which embryos are healthiest to progress to a transfer. They will also be screened for a hereditary genetic mutation within our family, likely resulting in 50% of our embryos being deemed abnormal.

In the spring, we met an Intended Mother whose surrogate was due in just a few weeks. When I asked her how relieved she felt to be at the finish line, she said something that struck me as odd at the time. ‘I won’t feel the relief until my baby is in my arms.’ I think I understand what she meant now. I am so excited to know how far we’ve come, and before we had matched with our surrogate or had completed IVF, I thought that I would feel immense relief once we got to this stage. Instead, I feel more anxious than before.

I’m incredibly grateful for the 11 embryos we know have made it so far. I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about what they represent than I thought I would at this stage. Each one provides me with hope in our dreams of building a family, wonder at who they might become, and a newfound sense of fear, because I desperately want each one of them to be healthy. Is this a sneak-peek of what parenthood is going to feel like?

Baden