Robynne Friedman (45) and her husband, Rael, live in Johannesburg with their three children – girls aged 10 and eight and a boy of six. Life is hectic: kids’ activities are juggled around demanding jobs, mealtimes are noisy, mornings are frantic and time is scarce. But Robynne wouldn’t have it any other way.
There was a time she despaired of ever having a child. “It took 10 years before I became a mother,” she tells Parent24. “It was a terribly traumatic time. Being an infertile couple among fertile groups of family and friends is daunting and distressing. You feel marginalised by society, you’re constantly depressed.”
After years of trying to conceive Robynne was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and was told she would be at risk if she fell pregnant. So she embarked on the surrogacy route and had numerous failed IVF attempts with two independent surrogate mothers. Battered and bruised by the experience, she and Rael opted to adopt.
“We adopted two girls at birth, 18 months apart,” she says. “When I started on my journey to become a mom surrogacy was very rare and I felt very alone in the process. After all the failed IVF attempts with the two surrogates, I felt we didn’t really have any choice other than to adopt. But it was quite a process. Adoption wasn’t easy then and it’s even harder now. The red tape is ridiculous.”
Delighted though they were with their daughters, Robynne and Rael wanted to add to their family. Reluctant to go the laborious adoption route again, they decided to try surrogacy a third time.
Their first two attempts ended in disappointment. “We spent so much time at the clinic without getting anywhere medically,” Robynne recalls. Potential surrogates also weren’t ideal.
Then they met an “amazing” woman and decided to give it one last chance. “It was just too good an opportunity to turn down. She was very giving, extremely responsible and not needy at all. We tried to use my eggs in the IVF process but there were just too many problems with them, so we moved onto donor eggs and my husband’s sperm. The IVF worked first time – it was incredible.”
Everything about the experience was positive, she adds. The surrogacy process was smooth, the pregnancy easy and the birth uncomplicated.
“We were hoping for a boy after two girls and we were thrilled when Samuel was born. He completed our family.”
Robynne, a volunteer for the Surrogacy Advisory Group and an attorney specialising in surrogacy law, sees people from all walks of life seeking to become parents.
And those clients will be thrown a lifeline if the Constitutional Court upholds the recent Pretoria High Court ruling that recommends scrapping the law that dictates the genetic material of either the mother or the father be used in surrogacy.
“In my practice many of the cases I see are sad,” Robynne says. “Today I saw a woman who is a quadriplegic, others have had organ transplants or they’re undergoing chemotherapy. For these women, pregnancy would be too much of a risk to them and their baby. But with non-genetic link surrogacy, a whole new world could be opened to them.”
Robynne points out she and her husband had their son via a surrogate before changes were made to the Children’s Act in 2010 that specified no identifying information be published about parents who entered a surrogacy agreement.