Surrogacy in the Time of COVID

As I am writing this, Ontario is in another Covid lockdown and Canada is firmly in our third wave of the virus. It is impacting every facet of our lives and I do not want to diminish that impact. The story I am going to tell here is just one tiny snapshot of something so much bigger and I know that others have been affected in much greater and more profound ways than we have. My intention is to shine light into another corner of this global crisis and to add to the dialogue.

A few days after we spoke with Amber and Dan about surrogacy, Amber let me know that they were in. She would be meeting with her doctor as soon as possible, her parents were supportive, her kids were too. I thought for sure that we’d be swiftly on our way to the medical screenings and the mental health screenings and contracts…

It was January, and the soonest Amber could get an appointment with her doctor was April. In the meantime, I had a phone appointment with Dr M2, and I had intended to discuss our surrogacy with her then, but it was a pretty disorganized call and I forgot. I also had an appointment with Dr B the surgeon who will be doing my hysterectomy. That procedure requires six weeks of recovery time and I was unsure of when our 6-week placement for the third year of my behavioural psychology program would be. Usually it happens in March, which was when Dr B was talking about doing my operation. After placement we had another 7-week semester so I asked if we could schedule the surgery for the end of June or the start of July instead so that it did not interfere with my schooling.

What I didn’t know was that the school was going to switch the placement and the condensed semester. In March I was doing classes from home and I could have listened to the lectures from bed and continued my education while recovering from the hysterectomy. I would have been more than six-weeks post-op by the start of placement… But I didn’t know what I didn’t know and made a decision based on the information I had available to me at that time.

At the start if April, Amber had her appointment and her doctor approved of referring her to Dr M2 as our surrogate! I was so excited! I really thought that things would start moving now! If everything went to plan, I could be doing my egg retrieval as early as September…

Image of daily new Covid-19 cases for Canada showing three distinct waves with the first peak looking lower than 2k, the second and third peaks around 7 to 8k with several spikes above 10k

Canadian Covid cases image from Worldometer

But in mid-April, Ontario entered another lockdown, hospitals were told to ramp-down all elective procedures and a notice went out to the fertility clinics as well. Fertility clinics were left to decide on their own whether to stay open for all procedures or to stop treatments except in emergency cases (for example egg retrieval prior to starting chemo for a patient with cancer). While some clinics stayed open, the one Amber and I will be using for our journey was one of the ones to close their doors.

On the one hand, I was disappointed. I’m not getting any younger and it seems like every minute that ticks by is one less minute I will get to spend with my son or daughter. On the other hand I really get the responsibility of the clinics choosing to close. Our healthcare system is currently overburdened. There are not enough staff, beds, life saving devices and treatments, you name it, for everyone in need of help. Yes, ideally a patient at a fertility clinic won’t be going to the hospital, but every time you do a treatment you open the door to the possibility of the tragedy of the treatment. No treatment is without risks and some of the complications from fertility treatment can be life threatening and those people will need to go to a hospital. Even if nothing goes wrong with the treatment, you have now introduced new risks for that person in terms of Covid-19. With scientists’ current level of understanding, it seems that pregnancy increases the risks associated with contracting Covid-19 and that Covid-19 introduces more risks to the pregnancy. Also, even if nothing else goes wrong, a person seeking fertility treatments only stays a patient of the fertility clinic until 12 weeks gestation. At that time they graduate to a midwife or an OBGYN. Regardless of the care provider, most of those babies will be born in a hospital. I can also say from first-hand experience that making it to 12 weeks does not guarantee smooth sailing to 40 weeks.

In many cases pregnancy means hospitalization. So I understand our clinic’s decision to not add to the strain on our already taxed medical system. I also know that while I felt the sting of that decision, it in no way compared to how hard that news must have been to people further along in their journey than we are. Fertility meds are not cheap, and they are rarely covered by benefits, so most people in Ontario have to pay out of pocket for them which in a single cycle, depending on the meds, could be thousands of dollars. So cancelling what otherwise could have been a successful cycle because of the pandemic would definitely hurt financially. There’s also the physical side. These meds and treatments are not fun. They can make you gain (or lose) weight, cause mood swings, change your sleeping habits and your appetite, they can be painful, and exhausting physically and emotionally. You get through it by seeing the light of a healthy pregnancy at the end of the tunnel. To go through all of that “for nothing” is devastating. It must also be hard not knowing when they can start again, will they be able to afford (financially, mentally, physically) to start again?

So… Where are we at? Will I be having my hysterectomy at the end of June, start of July? I don’t know. When will Amber be called to start her medical screenings at the clinic? I don’t know. Will we be on track to start an egg retrieval cycle in September? I don’t know.

Are we going to be okay? Yes. Yes we are.

You can also follow our surrogacy journey on instagram @operation.babyspaceship

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