One in six couples struggle with infertility.
That’s according to fertility specialist Meggan Zunckel. Despite how common it is, it’s not something that’s spoken about often. Couples who struggle with infertility are often told to adopt, but another solution exists. For those wanting to their own genetic children, surrogacy is also a viable option.
Author of the Goddess blog, Susann Deysel always wanted to have her own biological children. But that dream of hers almost came to an end in December 2013 when her doctor told her she was infertile. A day that will forever be etched into her mind. “The doctor was quite blasé in sharing the news and outright suggested adoption or egg donation,” she says. Susann has endometriosis, which made it impossible for her to undergo fertility treatments and still carry a child full-term. Susann, however, was determined to have her own genetic child, and so she turned to surrogacy.
Finding a surrogate was no easy process. South Africa has strict laws governing the process and surrogates may only enter into the agreement for altruistic reasons. Susann asked everyone she knew, as well as doctors, lawyers and case-workers. Several women offered to be her surrogate, but this often fell through leaving Susann with nothing but disappointment. “Once we got as far as doing all the necessary tests and psychological evaluations and then the woman got cold feet,” Susann explains.
Eventually the lawyer Susann wanted to use called and told her that a surrogate had just become available. The woman had entered into an agreement with another couple, but the couple had given up on the process. The woman, however, was still interested in helping a different family. Susann and her husband made contact with the woman and immediately started with all the necessary medical, legal and psych evaluations.
As if finding a surrogate wasn’t hard enough, finding a viable embryo was ten times worse. Susann met with three fertility specialists, all of whom told her, that it would be impossible for them to find an egg. But she refused to accept this. She eventually met Dr Clark at Medfem, whom she describes as a miracle worker. “I would not be able to have gone through four years of this without Dr Clark,” she confesses.
Susann describes the process of finding an egg as excruciatingly painful. “We had to go to Dr Clark’s every time my period came around. I got the injections with a new treatment plan and hoped for the best. Every morning thereafter I would get stabbed in the stomach with hormones. I hate needles so much, but there I was… stuck with another needle in my stomach,” she says. “Some of the injections burned and others just left little holes and big red welts.”
After two years of trying and refusing to give up, a viable egg was finally found. Implantation via IVF was successful the first time, but Susann tried not to become too excited. “She could still have a miscarriage and something could still go wrong before or during delivery,” Susann explains. But nine months later, on 3 October 2016, a healthy baby girl was born. Susann says that even though the baby was genetically hers, it took her some time to bond with her. “It was very scary because when you aren’t actually carrying a child in your womb you don’t get used to the idea of a baby – and then you just get handed a baby that is yours, but you never bonded with,” she says. ”Now that she is older and has some personality and not just crying all the time, I see her as ours.”
Susann admits that the process was expensive. “I am an extreme case who refused to accept that they will never find an egg. We spent almost R500 000 to date.” This cost includes an application to the High Court to have a baby via surrogacy, which can set you back between R25 000 and R45 000. Added to that are medical for costs which include IVF, the freezing of the embryos, fertility treatments, as well all the medical costs once the surrogate is pregnant. It also includes the criminal checks for everyone involved as well as a psych evaluation for each person. The surrogate is also entitled to a monthly allowance, life insurance and medical aid.
Despite all these costs Susann still believes this is the best solution for someone who doesn’t have a usable womb. “Surrogates are not the birth parents on the birth certificate – you will be. They have no claim to your baby.” You therefore don’t have to worry about some claiming your baby later in life.
Susann says her friend circle shrunk throughout this process. “You quickly learn that people that have kids don’t have a concept of what you are going through,” she says. “If you said something that hurt me – you were out. I was ruthless in my efforts to protect myself from hurtful remarks or additional emotional distress.”
She’s however immensely grateful for all the people who stuck around to her support her, whether it was just by being there or checking in on her to make sure she was still okay. And she’ll need them again as she goes through the process a second time. “My journey isn’t over. I still have one frozen embryo and we’ve already had our new High Court application approved with the same surrogate.”
Susann also came across people who were morally opposed to surrogacy. “The doctor in KZN said to my surrogate that 'surrogacy is not right',” she says. But she advises potential parents to ignore these remarks. “Don’t let anyone make you feel any less of a parent because you didn’t birth your own child. You are brave and strong.”
If you don’t know anyone that needs a surrogate and you would really like to help someone become parents – contact your nearest fertility clinic. They will be able to put you in touch with potential parents.
Worried about your fertility? Here’s 17 weird things that can mess with your fertility, plus six really common things that can cause a miscarriage.