If people look back on their life, there are likely a few thankful moments that stand out.
For Trevor and Tricia Affleck of Milton, about 10 km northwest of Charlottetown, one of those was the long-awaited arrival of their second daughter, Sophie, who is now 18 months old.
Tricia remembers that birthing day from a perspective that few biological mothers get because she was standing by her husband’s side the whole time as their surrogate, or gestational carrier, gave birth to their second baby.
It is a moment both had hoped and prayed for but in the back of their minds thought would never happen.
That’s because a little more than five years ago, when Tricia was pregnant with their first child, Chelsey, now five, she developed a rare condition called placenta accreta, which affects one in 5,000 women.
Women who have placenta accreta, which is an abnormally firm attachment of the placenta to the uterine wall, are at great risk of hemorrhage during its removal during childbirth.
In Tricia’s case it remained undetected until after she’d given birth.
“I had to have a hysterectomy immediately after I delivered Chelsey. The doctor basically had a two-minute window to make the final decision,” she says of that surgery that saved her life.
The bad news was that Tricia would not be able to carry any more children. However, she still had her ovaries so the door to having another biological child was not completely closed. But this would mean she and Trevor would have to go the route of surrogacy for which they would need a surrogate mother.
“We knew we wanted at least two. That was our intention but after Chelsey was born it didn’t look like that was going to happen,” Trevor says.
About a year later, Tricia started to research options.
“(Adoption) is a great system, but after looking into the time span of waiting for four or five years and all that we just didn’t know if that was what we wanted,” Trevor remembers.
Then a friend told Tricia of a local woman who was the gestational carrier for a couple. This led her to Canadian Surrogacy Options Inc., a surrogate consulting service in Toronto.
“We sat on the idea for a long time, plus we talked to a counsellor (with the agency) that deals with (surrogacy) and the surrogates as well. Surrogates have to go through a lot of processes to be accepted, one is to go through a counsellor to make sure they’re suitable to do this,” Tricia says.
Because the gestational carrier makes the choice of who she wishes to be matched with, once their profile was completed all the Afflecks could do was wait.
They were chosen by a woman from New Brunswick who had five children of her own, who loved being pregnant and for whom being part of the surrogacy process was something she always wanted to do.
“Once you’re chosen then you start communicating, of course, trying to feel each other out to say ‘here’s my wishes, here’s what I’m looking for during the nine months (and vice versa). Do we think we can make this work?”’ Tricia says.
“You decide how much contact you want, during, after. What kind of relationship do you want? You come to an agreement. You iron all that out before you enter into a legal binding contract.”
The agency is paid a fee for matching the surrogate with the prospective parent(s). The surrogate receives no payment but her legal and medical costs associated with the pregnancy and also accommodation and travel costs to, in this case Toronto, for the in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure.
“Getting it organized, unfortunately, is the tough part. You have to be ready to be your own project manager,” Tricia says.
Fortunately for her, Dr. Bev Brodie, who is a fertility specialist in Stratford, P.E.I., had just returned to the Island from California where she had been working in the field since 2004.
“Even though there was nothing wrong with my eggs I too had to go on fertility (drugs) and all that because they wanted the best chance in order for us to conceive,” Tricia says.
“So I went though all the same medication, as did our gestational carrier to get her body ready to accept (embryos). Plus I had ultrasounds along the way that she did herself to (check the eggs’ status).”
Brodie also acted as a liaison for the Afflecks with ReproMed — The Toronto Institute for Reproductive Medicine in their lead-up to the IVF.
The Afflecks travelled to Toronto in May 2007 to harvest Tricia’s eggs, which would be fertilized with Trevor’s sperm and then a few days later transferred to their gestational carrier.
Tricia produced four eggs. Out of those, two were considered very viable and one was weak, so in all, three were transferred.
Ten days later they were told the news. None of the three embryos transferred had resulted in a pregnancy.
“That was hard,” Trevor remembers.
“We didn’t know if we were going to proceed,” Tricia adds.
After much thought, they and their surrogate started from scratch again.
Things didn’t look good. Tricia had only produced three eggs this time and only one was viable enough for transfer.
“It didn’t look promising and we were ready to close the door,” she says.
“This was going to be our last time. That was our agreement,” Trevor says. “If it worked, it worked. If not we were going to move forward with our family the way it was and be happy and grateful for what we have.”
“But that one little egg was the winner,” Tricia says with a big smile.
They were in constant contact with their gestational carrier, who kept them informed of all the little details, such as doctor’s appointments and other pregnancy milestones that add up to big memories for parents-to-be.
Sophie was born April 3, 2008, in New Brunswick. Proud mom and dad were, of course, there for the labour and birth.
“We were allowed into the delivery room along with her husband, which was great,” Tricia says.
Once Sophie was weighed and cleaned she was placed in her parents’ arms, according to the birth plan that had been made up by their gestational carrier beforehand.
After cooing over her for a bit the ecstatic new parents handed her to their surrogate for some loving and lots of photos.
Now 18 months after that momentous day the Afflecks are still in monthly contact with the woman who volunteered to help bring their child into the world.
“We’re very happy. We’re very fortunate to have what we have — not only Sophie but Chelsey too. They both didn’t come easy, but they’re here and we love them and we’ve very grateful to have what we have,” Trevor says.
Both admit that the surrogacy route was not easy and although worth every penny, it was an expensive process.
“This procedure is not for the faint of heart,” says Tricia.
“We had a roller-coaster ride. We had a lot of dips, probably more dips than peaks until the end. But I just kept saying that ‘All I need is a little bit of hope. Just give me a little bit of hope and I can keep on going.”’
“And guess what Sophie’s full name is?” Trevor adds with a huge smile.
“Sophia Marjorie Hope.”