Phillipa thought any chance of becoming a mum was gone after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at just 33. But through the incredible generosity of a surrogate, she’s not only become a mum but has successfully breastfed her little miracle.
A member of the Mum’s Grapevine closed Due Date Groups, Phillipa says her precious boy has filled a hole in her heart.
The journey to surrogacy
Phillipa, 41, says her cancer treatment triggered her body into menopause while she was in her 30s, but she was able to complete an IVF egg freeze cycle and ovarian tissue. A few years down the track, Phillipa decided to take the motherhood journey on her own, by choice and began the long surrogacy process.
“Surrogacy in Australia is complex,” Phillipa explained to Mum’s Grapevine. “It is altruistic, which means the surrogate does not receive financial compensation – that is illegal. However, all pregnancy costs and expenses are covered by the intended parent/s.
“There are no uniform laws around the country with each state and territory having their own legislation. NT has no legislation at all. In some states, it is still illegal for single people or same-sex couples to engage in surrogacy. In surrogacy, you follow the legislation of the state the intended parent/s live in. I was bound by Victorian legislation. Part of this states that it is illegal to advertise for a surrogate, so if you don’t have a member of your own family who is willing to carry a baby for you, it can be very difficult to find a surrogate.
“There is a vibrant surrogacy community online in Australia and this can be accessed via the ‘Fertility Connections’ website or the ‘Australian Surrogacy Community’ (ASC) Facebook page. Through these communities Intended Parents (IPs) and surrogates get to know each other, share their stories, attend conferences coordinated by ‘Families Through Surrogacy’, participate in local catch ups and establish relationships which may lead to a surrogacy team forming.”
Phillipa, who lives in Victoria, met her surrogate Fleur, from Townsville, through the ASC. She says the pair spent a vast amount of time getting to know each other and understanding each other’s values. But that was just the start of the process.
“Victoria has a lengthy approval process – you need to obtain permission from a state government appointed ‘Patient Review Panel’ (PRP) which is like an ethics review board. To satisfy PRP you and your surrogate (and partners if applicable) must; obtain police and child welfare checks, complete full blood screening – testing for HIV, Hep A,B,C etc, attend multiple counselling appointments with both a fertility clinic counsellor and an independent surrogacy counsellor, complete psychological testing and assessment, obtain independent legal advice and demonstrate the arrangement is not commercial.
“The intended parent/s are responsible for all medical and out of pocket costs for the surrogate but depending on which state you live in, may or may not be able to reimburse loss of wages for time off work for appointments, sick leave etc – this reimbursement is not allowed under Victorian legislation. Medicare does not apply for surrogacy. Any treatment and medication must be paid in full with no rebates – this is a constant bone of contention within the surrogacy community and is being actively challenged. Applying for Centrelink Paid Parental Leave can also be tricky as Centrelink operates off a federal system and requests documentation that is not necessarily applicable in all states.”
The journey to motherhood
After jumping through every legal hoop, Phillipa was finally ready to begin the journey to motherhood. An embryo was created using her egg and anonymous donor sperm, and Fleur became pregnant with Phillipa’s longed-for child.
“I travelled to Townsville monthly to visit with Fleur and attend appointments such as scans and hospital midwife and obstetrician appointments. I stayed in regular contact with Fleur for updates but really felt the distance between Victoria and Queensland.”
In between visits and the long nine-month wait for her baby’s birth, Phillipa prepared her body for breastfeeding using Induced Lactation via the Newman Goldfarb protocol.
“Inducing lactation was a very long process and can be quite difficult, but again, is possible. I felt that this was something I wanted to do for myself and the baby not just because breastfeeding is good for babies, but because I felt this would really help to establish and strengthen our bond. It was also very healing for me as I had long considered my body ‘broken’ by not being able to carry a pregnancy and this was a tangible way of using my body the way nature intended in order to nurture my baby.
“I started a hormone protocol when Fleur was about 12 weeks pregnant. Then, 10 weeks out from the due date, I began pumping every three hours. At first only during the day, but as we got closer, I picked it up during the night as well. I knew I was never going to be able to exclusively breastfeed but just wanted to establish the best supply I could.”
By the time her baby was born, Phillipa was expressing 100mls a day, and had several litres of breastmilk stockpiled in the freezer.
Becoming a mum
In June this year, Fleur went into labour, and Phillipa flew to Townsville to watch her baby boy, Jeremy or ‘Jem’, be born.
“Watching Jem come into the world was like nothing else. I was exploding with emotions and my heart tripled in size the moment I heard his first cry. I was overcome with all of the feels from years of grief, uncertainty, hope, love, anticipation and the actual reality of the moment I was finally meeting MY baby. The one I was told I was not likely to be able to have. Labour was quick, he arrived just over an hour after Fleur’s waters broke. He was placed immediately into my arms and we did skin to skin and started breastfeeding.
“It was divine feeling his warm body and heartbeat against mine. I had read a lot about baby led attachment so was keen to create the environment for this to happen. It felt so primal and beautiful when he started searching around and with only the smallest of assistance, he latched on. It was right then that I could feel my heart healing.
“My greatest breastfeeding achievement was being able to exclusively feed Jem for his first week. He was also receiving colostrum that Fleur had expressed for him. In his second week I was topping him up with expressed breast milk and it wasn’t til his third week that I needed to introduce formula. At eight weeks old, he is still breastfeeding, however receiving most of his milk from formula now.”
Phillipa says she loves being a mum, helped by the support of her loved ones.
“If it wasn’t for my friends and family support, I would never be able to embark on this journey as a solo parent. The old saying says that it takes a village to raise a child – well, it takes a village to create a child too, and my village has been incredibly supportive. True cheerleaders who have been with me every step no matter how high or low.
“I absolutely love being a mother and feel like I am right at home. I am incredibly lucky that Jem is a pretty easy going baby and makes the experience fairly smooth. I had prepared for something that was going to be so much harder than what I am experiencing so I feel very blessed it’s not this way. From where a hole developed in my heart after my cancer diagnosis and fertility loss, I can definitely say it has been filled with my beautiful boy.”
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