Surrogacy During the Time of COVID
We had the birth plan mapped out perfectly. Our baby was due at the end of April, almost two years to the date of my double mastectomy. I was going to drive up a few weeks prior to the birth and spend some time with our spectacular surrogate, who lived about five hours away in Quebec (right over the Ottawa border). As we got closer to the due date my husband, Daniel, and three year old son would join me. I found this really great townhouse on Airbnb with a fantastic back yard, close to the water and playgrounds. The family pictures would be priceless. We would have a nice little nesting time together and then drive back with our little bundle of joy, relishing those early moments as a newly minted family of four. Then COVID descended upon the world and life as we knew it came to a halt.
We had to cancel the rental and there was no way our three year old would be coming with us. And then there was the provincial border issue. We lived in Ontario and the baby was going to be born right over the Ottawa border in Gatineau, Quebec. A few weeks before our surrogate’s due date Quebec shut down the border to people who didn’t live in Quebec and required documentation in order to pass over. They actually set up a checkpoint where you would have to present your case for crossing and provide the necessary proof before you could enter into the province. I called the fertility clinic as they had to provide us with a letter confirming we were indeed the biological parents of the baby being born in Quebec and had a right to be there. Our lawyer gave us some legal paperwork further verifying our parentage and, just in case, we printed a copy of our 40-page surrogacy contract. We also were advised to contact the Gatineau police and verify if there was anything they might additionally require. “Um, you should be fine. I mean I think, I’m pretty sure you are okay to cross,” the police officer iterated to us. However, not one person could confirm with any certainty we would be able to successfully cross the border and be there for the birth. Our lawyers were like “Honestly, this is all new territory for everyone so just be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.” I know, quite the pep talk.
This was in April during the beginning of the pandemic so the idea of going early wasn’t an option either. Hotels were closed, not that we would even feel safe in one and staying with our surrogate also wasn’t possible as she had three young kids of her own she was trying to keep safe. The new plan would be to wait for the call that she had gone into labour. This was the fifth time our surrogate had been pregnant (three of her own and one other via surrogacy) and she assured us she had never gone past her due date. Of course our kid had to be the exception. A week later and still no baby. The doctors felt it would be a good idea to induce, so my husband and I got into our already packed car and headed for Quebec, armed with inches worth of documents and endless adrenaline.
We stopped at a rest center on the way for gas and caffeine, neither of us had slept much in the past week. Mind you, in solidarity with my surrogate I had given up caffeine so my decaf Americano really needed to step it up. I also hadn’t eaten anything in hours so while my husband got the coffees I was in line for sustenance. And that’s when I got the call from my lawyer. “Hi Sarah, just wanted to let you know that we have spoken with the hospital and because of all this COVID stuff only Daniel will be permitted to actually enter the hospital. So sorry.” Daniel was the father and yes, I was the biological parent but I wasn’t the one actually giving birth so I wasn’t technically the birth mother and with COVID restrictions they had to limit who could go in. I lost it right there in front of Salads Plus. I get breast cancer and am unable to carry my own baby and now I’m being punished for it? Tears flooding, I got out of line and found my husband. He was devastated for me. “Listen, we will get you in. You can wear my hat and jacket and you will be me. There is no way in hell you are missing this.” I was the one who found the surrogate, connected with her, attended all the ultrasounds and doctor’s appointments. She was like a sister to me and I needed to be there for her. Well the universe must have picked up on our “f*ck no” vibe because not even five minutes later my surrogate called me. “Okay when the hospital said you wouldn’t be able to be in the hospital for the birth and be the first parent to hold the baby, I lost it, like started crying and the hospital social worker saw my face and she got permission from the hospital to let you in with Daniel.” And now we are both crying and I’m sending her all sorts of hugs through the phone, so thrilled this amazing woman is in my life.
We are back on track and back on the road. The only good thing about traveling during a global pandemic is the astonishing lack of traffic. I mean other than a transport truck or two we had the busiest highway in Ontario all to ourselves, making it to Quebec in record time. And by a sheer stroke of luck the barrier between provinces we had been so nervously anticipating at the border was not there. We looked at each other and were like, did we just enter Quebec? There was no sign of any checkpoint and we arrived at the hospital in disbelief. But that wasn’t the only pleasant surprise. At the entrance to the hospital we were greeted by a kind man who knew exactly who we were and why we were there. “Sarah and Daniel? Welcome. We are so excited to have you here. We are so thrilled for you.” A nurse took us into the hospital, “We are all so excited for you. Your story is just amazing,” her eyes getting teary as she spoke. She took us to our room where we would remain the entirety of our stay. “You can’t leave for any reason.” The stark room had a huge window and a not-too-creepy hospital bathroom with a shower. They brought us dinner, hospital food, which wasn’t very good, but we had some popcorn and Twizzler bites to tide us over. We couldn’t go into the room where our surrogate was but the nurses as well as our surrogate provided us with non-stop updates. And at 1:30am on May 2 our baby was born via c-section and as such had to be in the NICU for a few hours, standard practice for all c-sections. But everyone assured us our baby was perfect. Of course we believed them but wouldn’t be able to relax until we saw for ourselves. We also didn’t know the sex of the baby so those next few hours of waiting were especially exciting.
Around 6am we heard a piercing cry and my husband and I looked at each other and immediately knew, that troublemaker in the room next door had to be ours. As promised, I was the first one taken to see the baby. I felt nervous and excited entering the room, our surrogate sitting in her bed holding the most perfect and delicious little cutie in the universe. “So is it a boy or a girl?” I asked. “You are going to have to check for yourself.” I was too anxious to fumble with the perfect swaddle she had created “Just tell me already!” “A boy.” Holding him in my arms I could feel all the tension in my back and neck lessen. The hospital then broke the rules and let my husband and me into the room at the same time. A COVID miracle. Watching my husband reach for our son, whom we named George after my dad, I felt all the craziness fade away. And the nurse, upon finding out I had given up caffeine along with my surrogate, brought me a huge cup of fully caffeinated coffee to celebrate. Life was so good.
It’s been 10 months since George’s birth and we can count on one hand the family members who have actually met him in person. Most of my family lives in the United States so it’s still uncertain when they will actually get to hold our little miracle. I’m hopeful before he enters high school he will get to meet his super cool cousins and close family friends who have been following and supporting our journey to grow our crew. And while my surrogate and I speak almost every day, our dreams of spending some of our leave time together were completely dashed. Although thanks to Netflix, we did get to experience some of our downtime together. And when we baptize George in the next few weeks, a ceremony taking place via Zoom, she will be one of George’s godmothers. Sure it’s not how any of us imagined this first year playing out but we have a healthy baby, a brother for our tireless toddler.
Breast cancer may have shifted my life plans but I’m also so grateful for all it’s given me – an amazing network of fellow survivors, the best surrogate in the universe and limitless strength. And as I sit here in the same outfit I’ve worn and slept in for the past three days, my bed full of Hot Wheels and Lego’s, my son insists on carrying with him while we snuggle at night, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. – Sarah DiMuro
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