Canadian Intended Parents Searching for a Gestational Surrogate
Location: Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Clinic: Anova Fertility Clinic
Embryo Status: 12 frozen, genetically tested grade A embryos
Occupations: Grade 2 Teacher (Esi) Grade 3 and P.E. Teacher (Mark)
Please click this link to see our Prezi Presentation: https://prezi.com/view/QpYPYk8NfLPyX3LumHo8/
Growing up in Toronto, I (Esi) always knew I wanted to become a teacher and thought I had figured out my life plan. At the age of 22, while in teacher's college, a friend suggested I go teach for a year or two in London, England because of the shortage of teaching job opportunities. Up until that point, I had only been on a plane once at the age of 2 to visit my extended family in Ghana. As an adult, I had not traveled further than downtown Toronto. As I applied for my first passport, I began a journey that would lead me in unexpected directions. While living in London, a family member that had taken the same path convinced me that I should look into applying for a school in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I hesitated at first because my plan was to teach in London and go back to the comfort of Toronto, find a job and settle down to have the family I always wanted. Life happens when you least expect it! There were many bumps in the road before my journey to the Middle East began. The biggest one was that as a Canadian, my visa was being held up, and the grade three job I was promised was taken and the start of my school year would be delayed. Upon arriving in the UAE, I thought I would be living in the big glamorous city of Abu Dhabi, the one I saw in a recent Hollywood movie, but it turned out to be a 2 hour drive from the city on my own into the desert of a foreign country I knew nothing about! Within days of getting to the community compound where I had agreed to live and teach for the next three years, I met Mark, the teacher who had taken my job because of my visa issues! After a random encounter straight out of a rom-com where Mark had to pretend to be my husband, we developed a friendship that turned into a relationship. 11 years after our serendipitous meeting, we have taught and lived in 3 countries, traveled to 14 countries and share 1 beautiful little boy named Kwame.
Esi: My parents emigrated from Ghana in West Africa to Toronto in the 1970s. My brother and I, as first generation Canadians, were raised in what you could describe as a bubble of 'Ghanaian-ness'. On the weekends we attended Ghanaian events, hung out with Ghanaian extended family members and celebrated Ghanaian holidays. At the same time, our parents wanted us to be able to fit in and feel Canadian, so they tried their best to expose us to all things Canadian. We watched fireworks by Lake Ontario on July 1st, went to the CNE every year, had thanksgiving dinners with turkeys, dressed up for Halloween and shouted "Nooooobody" when Mel Lastman's furniture commercial came on. Of course, there was always a twist, turkey was had at every major holiday because... that's what Canadians do, right? And for Halloween I went as Minnie Mouse (in the same costume) from kindergarten to about 3rd grade. My parents always placed a big emphasis on education, and perhaps that's why in kindergarten I decided I was going to be a teacher. As a young teenager, my parents separated, and my dad moved back to Ghana. My mom became a superhero! She worked multiple jobs during various health issues and always made sure we had more than enough to eat and clothes to wear. Seeing her work so hard during those years shaped my idea of what it means to be a mother. My mother, brother and I are extremely close and have a bond that I treasure. When my brother had his family, my mother moved in with him and his wife to help take care of his children. Once I was established enough in Saudi Arabia, Mark and I had her retire and come over to live with us. She had worked so hard her whole life, we wanted to be able to take care of her. Mark: My parents were teachers in Saudi from 1978-1990. They moved back to Connecticut when I was two years old. Having teachers as parents, education always came first. I remember our packing lists for vacations would always have to include math textbooks or Spanish workbooks. My parents loved traveling, and having the summers off from school made it easy for us to take off on a road trip. My dad can drive straight for an unhealthy amount of time! Somehow, my brother and I always found ways to keep ourselves busy during the car rides. I would have to say my favorite trip was when we drove all the way from Connecticut to Mexico!
My family is also a huge sports family. We would tailgate New York Mets’ games during the summer and watch Uconn Huskies’ basketball games by a fire during the winter. My parents always share the story of my dad cheering so loudly after Uconn hit a game-winning shot that I started to cry! I have countless memories of playing in Little League baseball games and playing basketball and baseball throughout high school. When I was in 9th grade, my grandma moved in with us when her Alzheimer’s disease made it impossible for her to live independently. It was sad to see her decline but nice to know there were so many people around to care for her. She ended up living to be 99!
After high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. After a year of business school, I decided to switch my major to education and enter the ‘Family Business’ of education. When I graduated, my brother and sister-in-law where teaching in Abu Dhabi, and I took a job straight out of university to join them. My parents never pushed us to become international teachers, but I think they are happy we did. They have enjoyed coming to visit us in Abu Dhabi, Myanmar, and now back where they spent a bulk of their teaching career in Saudi Arabia, where my brother and his family also live 1 kilometer down the road. I love that they can come visit us and spend time with their 3 grandchildren!
When Esi was 22, she learned she had PCOS. She was told she could still have children, but it may be a little bit more difficult. In 2015, we hoped that it just meant it might take a little bit longer. We started off with a focus on a clean diet and supplements. Next, we moved on to ovulation induction medications. By the end of 2016, we looked towards IUI, but we were told that her PCOS was so severe that she would need to go straight to IVF. Typically, IVF is 'easier' for women with PCOS. Esi was lucky enough to always get lots of eggs (during her last retrieval she got 60!) but we quickly realized that PCOS wasn't the only issue. We experienced several issues with preparing her lining, even using the most extreme protocols. There were times when cycles had to be cancelled because it would take more than 6 weeks for her lining to grow. When it did, there was reoccurring implantation failure. We went through many good quality embryos. When we finally got pregnant in 2018, we had a loss at 19 weeks because of a congenital issue with her uterus and cervix that the doctor was aware of but did not disclose. We considered surrogacy then but wanted to make sure we had tried everything before opting for it. After a surgery In 2019, we tried again and after a few cycles got pregnant. This time Esi was put on medical leave and told to stay home. Mentally it was very stressful, and she struggled with high blood pressure throughout. At 22 weeks she was diagnosed with chronic hypertension which turned into pre-eclampsia. We had our son Kwame at 26 weeks. Today, Kwame is a happy, energetic 2 year old, and we are so grateful that the only lingering issue is struggles with feeding. Prior to her last pregnancy, we did a retrieval cycle at Anova in Toronto. This was the cycle where we retrieved 60 eggs (after only 7 days of the lowest dose of ovarian stimulation medicines possible). We were subsequently told that IVF egg retrievals would not be a good option for us in the future because of Esi's sensitivity to the medicines in the injections and the risks it posed to her health. In the back of our minds, we worried about the fact that in the past we had needed to use dozens of embryos just to receive the 2 positives because of the issues with Esi's lining and uterus. Despite the trauma of the pregnancies and aftermaths, we still considered trying again. At a preconception appointment with an expert in pre-eclampsia, we were told that Esi would have a 50 - 75% chance of having pre-eclampsia again because of her PCOS, race, history of having it, and blood pressure levels during pregnancy. She told us she wouldn't tell us what to do, but that she herself would not take the risk, and surrogacy would be a better option. This brings us to 2022, we have one angel baby, one rainbow baby and 12 grade A embryos ready to go!
Esi: I am a passionate teacher, whose goal in the classroom is to be a 'Miss Frizzle' type of teacher. I always tell my students' parents that my goal is to be the type of teacher I would want for my own child. I have taught art, first grade through fourth grade and spent one year as a supply teacher bouncing around London from school to school, working wherever I was needed. I love crafting and being creative! Whether I am decorating our house, my classroom or helping sometime plan a party, whenever I can use my creativity I'm happy and thriving. I like to cook but love to eat more! My co-workers describe me as easy-going, thoughtful and flexible. My friends would tell you I'm empathetic, easy to talk to, funny and a little bit silly. I would describe myself as a little shy and reserved at first, and then an open book, especially for people having any sort of fertility issue. My secret passion is candy crush...I started playing after the craze was over. I'm proud to say I recently passed level 10,000, although Mark always says this isn't something I should brag about.
Mark: I have taught 3rd and 4th grade and have coached basketball from k-12. I love working with my students and engaging in leadership experiences. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to plan professional development at international educators’ conferences and am working towards earning my administrative certificate. When I am not with Esi and/or Kwame, my hobbies include sports and TV. I love a relaxing evening watching a TV show (although I often take far too much time scrolling on Netflix only to land on Seinfeld) or catching up on highlights on ESPN. I play on our teachers’ softball and basketball teams, the Skoolerz, where we try to rack up as many trophies as we can to put in the front office of our school. Since moving to Saudi Arabia, I have taken an interest in golf, where we’re lucky enough to have a full grass golf course in the middle of the desert! I am terrible, but I enjoy the social aspect of the game. My co-workers would describe me as hard-working, patient, and caring. My friends would describe me as reliable and athletic, and I would describe myself as competitive when playing sports but laid back in general.
Without surrogates this process would not be possible. The surrogates are at the center of it all! If our surrogate and her family are happy, then our baby is happy, and we can feel comfortable and at peace. The main way we will support our surrogate is through communication. She will be able to reach us on the phone at all times. Esi's family in Brampton will also be available for support in the event the surrogate is not able to reach us or needs immediate help with something. If there is a major issue, Esi can travel to Canada. Having gone through the IVF process ourselves, we know how trying it can be. In the pre-pregnancy stage, we want our surrogate to know that she can reach out to us at any time to talk about her worries and concerns or even just to vent. We want her to know we are here for her and her family. When we are in Canada, we would be happy to go grocery and maternity shopping with our surrogate and spend time with her family so that they can develop a relationship with us. When we are not present in Canada, we want our surrogate to know we are thinking of her and the sacrifice she and her family are making for us. To show our appreciation, we want to do one special thing a month to show her how grateful we are. While we haven't been as lucky when it comes to fertility, we are fortunate enough to be in a place financially where we can easily cover expenses. We plan to provide our surrogate with a credit card so that she can directly pay for expenses without having to worry about paying first and waiting for reimbursement. In the post-partum period, it is important that our surrogate knows we can still be those people who she can talk to. We would like to continue to be present and a source of support for her and her family.
We want a relationship that is open, honest and built on trust. During pregnancy we would love to be present for important doctor visits if possible. We also want to be present at the birth. Living overseas we often have regular video calls with family and friends and would love to do this with our surrogate if she is comfortable. The level of communication would be based on the surrogate's comfort level. We hope to talk and check-in with her at least twice a week. It is important that she feels cared for, listened to and supported! When in Canada, Esi would love to do things that she does when visiting her other friends like spa days. During and after pregnancy we would love to have built a friendship with our surrogate where both sides feel comfortable enough to check in with each other and chat, share pictures and family milestones, and get together for visits when we are visiting Canada once or twice a year. We would love it if the surrogate, with Esi's help, would create a scrapbook of her pregnancy so that we could give it to our son/daughter. Throughout our journey, we have met people that have helped and supported us, whether it was sharing their stories of loss, IVF experience or guidance during Kwame's NICU time. Those people have become family to us. We do not take family for granted, whether they are our birth families or chosen families. Our surrogate would be joining this extended family. Overall, the type of relationship and contact we have with each other will be up to the surrogate.
Mark & Esi