Our Journey to Finding a Surrogate

Baden Russell-Petigrow
Photo of Zane Colt and Baden Russell-Petigrow/Wilson Szeto, Mango Studios

A few years ago, I learned that I won’t be able to carry my own pregnancies. I have epilepsy, and I take daily medication which controls my seizures. While my medication has allowed me to thrive in other aspects of my life, I was advised by neurologists, fertility specialists, family physicians, and pharmacists alike not to become pregnant as it would be at a high-risk to my health and the health of a baby.

Ultimately, my partner and I have opted to begin seeking out a gestational surrogate to assist us in building our family Gestational surrogacy is a topic not often talked about in Canada and even less so in the Jewish community. When it is mentioned, the process is typically shrouded with stigma, mystery and misinformation. Allow me to break the silence. We are a young couple in Toronto who are looking to science to help us realize our lifelong dream of parenthood.  

This process, we have learned, is not an easy one. One in six Canadian couples face infertility and I can assure you that the Jewish community is not immune to that statistic. For every one time that Jewish men are commanded to “be fruitful and multiply”, women are told of the infertility that plagued our foremothers, Sarah, Rachel and Rebecca tenfold. This dichotomy of his halakhic commandments and her biological limitations is inherently a Jewish struggle. 

However, of the one in six Canadian couples facing infertility, only a small percentage utilize surrogacy. The process is at times convoluted and it is only thanks to extensive research and cold-calls to kind strangers who have been in our shoes that we were able to piece together the information we needed to start. 

Community resources were of little help here, as Jewish interpretation of halakha regarding third-party reproduction (donor sperm, egg, embryo, or in our case, gestational carrier) has at best lagged behind scientific advancements and at worst appears exclusionary or homophobic.

Gestational surrogacy is one of two types of surrogacy meaning that while I won’t carry our babies, they will be genetically ours. It also means we’re now searching for a someone to help us realize our dreams of becoming parents. This is not an easy ask. 

In Canada, surrogacy is governed by the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, as well as provincial regulations around parentage. One of the most important parts of the act outlines reimbursements and compensations – plainly put, a surrogate may be reimbursed for her costs associated with the pregnancy, but she cannot profit. 

Commercial surrogacy is subject to jail time of up to 10 years and/or a fine of $500,000. This stands in stark contrast to many other countries in the world. To act as a surrogate in Canada, your intentions must be entirely altruistic.

While this limits the number of Canadian women willing to act as surrogates, it also brings me a sense of peace. Letting another person carry your child means giving up a lot of control along the way. Knowing that her motivations are pure will help me build the trust and love for her that is required for this amazing journey together. 

The next step on our journey is finding a surrogate and creating embryos to transfer to her. Each of these steps will challenge us in different ways. IVF, I am told, can be an arduous process – one that I’m sure will test my limits physically. Finding a surrogate, on the other hand, will be a deeply emotional path. While I know she’s out there, it can be overwhelming knowing where to begin searching for her. 

My partner and I have also made the decision to go public with our story, creating a blog called Not My Tummy (But I’m Still Mummy) to chronicle the entire journey. 

There will likely be difficult days ahead when we wish we hadn’t made that choice, but to us it feels like a calling. We could not be starting to build our family if not for the openness of strangers sharing their experiences, resources, and time with us. 

Returning the favour for other couples facing infertility in the future is the best way we can repay that kindness. 

Baden Russell-Petigrow is a marketing and communications professional living in Toronto. She can be reached via her blog at www.notmytummy.ca or on Instagram @notmytummy.

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