‘I was fourteen the first time a doctor told me I may never have children.’: Woman battling epilepsy pursues surrogacy, ‘I’m on top of the world’

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“I was fourteen the first time a doctor told me I may never have children.

Sitting in a pediatric neurologist’s office, the doctor began rattling off a list of things I would never be able to do following my recent diagnosis of epilepsy. Attend college, move out, get married, have kids – in one cruel breath, the doctor began crushing each dream of mine one by one. His words felt like a punch to the gut, and they were made worse by the fact they were spoken about me, but not to me – I was in the room, but my doctor spoke instead to my parents directly, not finding it necessary to empathize or include me in the conversation.

I remember feeling blindsided and confused. At that age, I hadn’t given much thought to family planning, outside of the abstract thought my future included kids. I felt like a normal teenager and I couldn’t understand why this doctor seemed to be delivering me this life sentence without so much as looking me in the eye. I determined at that moment I would prove him wrong. I didn’t know it then, but that day was the beginning of my surrogacy journey.

husband and wife holding each other close while taking a photo against a white back drop
Courtesy of Wilson Szeto, Mango Studios

Fast forward to my life now: with medication, second opinions, and a whole lot of hard work, I have worked incredibly hard not to let my health define me. I’m happily married to my best friend, I hold a Master’s degree in Health Communication from Boston University, and my husband and I recently bought our first home – a charming renovated bungalow with little bedrooms ready to accommodate an expanding family. By all accounts, I feel extremely lucky. The last piece of our puzzle is growing our family.

As the years have progressed, my desire to have children has only grown. The once abstract idea of motherhood is now a detailed picture, with dreams of visits to the local park, dance recitals, and mommy-and-me swim classes consuming a little too much of my time. I’m absolutely sure my husband will make the best father, and more and more of our lives have centered around family, community, and our dream to raise children. Unfortunately, infertility is the one part of my story that sheer determination alone couldn’t help me push through.

Infertility can look very different from person to person. While the clinical definition of infertility in women under 35 is one year of trying to conceive without success, my infertility starts before this point. For me, it’s not that I can’t conceive, but rather being off of my specific medication poses a significant risk to my health and being on medication poses such a risk to a growing baby – every doctor we’ve encountered has strongly recommended against it.

Couple in white clothes posing against vivid green trees
Courtesy of Kim Eden Photography

When I was 24, I decided to try switching medications to see if carrying would be an option. I knew there would be serious risks, but in desperation to make parenthood happen I wanted to try. The results were disastrous – within a month, my epilepsy was totally uncontrolled, and I began having seizures. My mental health quickly deteriorated and I spent my days in a pretty dark place. To make matters worse, I knew the minute I admitted how badly both my mental health and epilepsy had gotten, my doctors and family would urge me to return to the medication that worked. I thought it would mean the end of my dream of parenthood, so I did my best to cover up it all up. It was easily the worst few months of my life.

When I finally had a seizure in front of my husband, I felt both crushed and a painful sense of relief. I knew I couldn’t keep up the charade anymore, but I also worried about how he was going to react. After all, he knew this was our only shot at me ever being able to be pregnant. His response was one of only love, compassion, and concern for me – we would figure out having a baby, he assured me, but nothing was more important to him than knowing I was okay. With his unconditional support, feeling like I had hit rock bottom, I had the closure I needed to begin exploring our next steps.

Knowing I couldn’t carry, we began to consider our remaining options to build a family: gestational surrogacy or adoption. We ultimately decided surrogacy felt right for us, and began letting our immediate family know this would be the route we would be pursuing. We were met with total support, as well as lots of questions. We began to research how surrogacy works in Canada to begin preparing ourselves and were fortunate to find surrogacy operates differently in Canada than in most other places in the world.

Couple sitting on their grey steps in front of their house while holding their adorable dog

The first thing we learned was Canada’s defining surrogacy theme is altruism. While surrogates can be reimbursed for their pregnancy and post-natal care, they cannot be paid. This felt like a more genuine and less transaction experience than what we’d seen sensationalized in the media and something that made me feel much warmed about the process. The second thing we discovered was the special bond Intended Parents and surrogates tend to form. As we began to connect with families who had been through surrogacy journeys, they would tell us details of the lifelong friendships they created. These are deep, enduring bonds that surrogates, parents, and ‘surrobabies’ all form.

It was with all of these things in mind we began to search for a surrogate. In Canada, there are ten sets of Intended Parents for every one surrogate, so the wait to match can be years. In an effort to stand out, and to demystify the surrogacy process for others battling infertility, we decided to go completely out of our comfort zone: we went public with everything. For months, we began chronicling our hopes, the surrogacy research we were doing, our nerves, and telling our story. It was scary. Imagine sharing the most vulnerable parts of your life online and opening yourself up to the mercy of strangers on the internet – and then actually reading the comment section!

There were days, and particular mean comments, that made me wonder if we’d made the right call. After six months of optimism, I broke down for the first time since our surrogacy journey began. I cried and told my husband it felt like we’d never meet the right person and everything felt really out of reach. The mixture of the pandemic stress and the surrogate search was taking its toll, and I felt mentally exhausted. It was this week that Sarah came into our lives.

couple dressed in black posing in front of green, yellow, pink, and purple balloons
Courtesy of Wilson Szeto, Mango Studios

After posting a silly Instagram Reel, we got a sweet message from someone wanting to talk. After some light conversation in direct messages, we scheduled a Zoom call to get to know her and her partner more. We clicked immediately – we had overlapping interests, had fun chatting and getting to know each other, and were laughing together right away. She is, to this day, one of the few people in my life who gave me an immediate sense I could trust her. She has a kind heart and is the kind of supportive and empathetic person you just know you want in your corner.

We made the match ‘official’ a week later and I started IVF to create embryos the very next day. Despite feeling sick from medication side effects, my IVF and egg retrieval went really well! A month and a half ago I felt helpless, and today I’m matched with an amazing surrogate and have 11 embryos being tested by my fertility clinic (a few more weeks until I get the results back!).

I wish I could go back in time and walk into my doctor’s office to hug my 14-year-old self and tell her everything would be okay. I wish I could reassure my 24-year-old self  it was alright to put my health first and motherhood wasn’t off the table. I hope by opening up about my experience I can help reduce the stigma and mystery around infertility and surrogacy. There are still so many hurdles to clear before I have a baby in my arms, but for now, I feel like I’m on top of the world.”

couple in a parking posing with their golden dog in their lap
Courtesy of Baden Colt

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Baden Colt from Toronto, Canada.  Follow her journey on her website, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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