Infertility

“Would you let your daughter grow up to be a surrogate?”

In all my years of managing a surrogacy consultancy, this was the strangest question someone has ever asked me.

“How would you feel if in 20 years, someone wants to rent your daughter’s body to grow a human?”

As a single dad via surrogacy who blogs about my experience, and as the owner of a surrogacy consultancy practice, I’m no stranger to emails from people who are against surrogacy. But when I discovered the above one-liner in my inbox, I was angry, sad and overwhelmed, all at the same time.

First of all, my daughter is only two years old. A stranger asking about my toddler daughter’s womb, and what her reproductive choices may be in the future, is super weird and almost creepy. And second of all, as her father, what my daughter chooses to do with her body is going to be her decision—not mine.

Because I connect potential surrogates with parents-to-be, I probably do think about my own daughter’s body autonomy more than the average dad would. But ultimately, I think this type of email can only be described as surrogacy-shaming.

It breaks my heart that anyone could see surrogacy as a negative, but they do: I get at least twenty judgmental comments like this every month in my inbox and on social media. I have a regular caller, from a blocked number, who keeps telling me that I exploit women’s bodies. A pregnant surrogate mom recently shared with me that a close friend likened surrogacy to “giving the baby away to a baby farm.” Others are quick to suggest adoption, when they have no idea how difficult and lengthy the adoption process can be.

I think these types of hurtful comments come from a place where people feel embarrassed about infertility. There’s also shame, ignorance and simply an unwillingness to embrace that families are created in so many different ways. Sometimes it takes a village to raise a child, and for some families, it takes a village to grow a child.

I think I get targeted by critics who somehow, sadly, believe that single dads like me aren’t allowed to yearn for a child. As a single man who desperately wanted to become a father, I experienced negative judgement, even from some of my own friends and family members.

Photo of the author and his daughter posing for a selfie in front of Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

Photo: Courtesy of Nathan Chan

But families come in all forms. It is estimated that 650,000 Canadians of reproductive age (that’s one in six Canadians) are affected with some form of infertility. I’ve worked with cancer survivors, people experiencing secondary infertility and women who have had recurrent miscarriages. Some women try surrogacy after multiple failed IVF procedures. Some no longer produce eggs. Several women I worked with have uterine abnormalities; one was even born without a uterus. I’ve worked with gay couples, and people like me: those who are single, but want to be a parent. I empathize with the pain and heartache of wanting to be a parent when everything seems stacked against you. Having shame associated with this, on top of everything else, is just not acceptable or necessary.

Carrying a baby for someone who can’t conceive on their own is a beautiful act of kindness. I became the recipient of this incredible, heart-warming gift in 2018, when my daughter was born. And ever since then, my professional life has been dedicated to facilitating this type of happiness for others.

I want to make sure that the babies born from surrogacy, their intended families and the selfless surrogate mothers themselves don’t experience any type of stigma.

For starters, no one is “renting” anyone’s body in Canada. That’s not how surrogacy works—it’s not a financial transaction. It’s illegal to pay a fee or compensation for the act of carrying a baby, for either type of surrogate. (A traditional surrogate carries a baby that is her own biological child, and a gestational surrogate carries a child that is not her own child, after a fertilized embryo is transferred into the uterus through IVF.) Medical costs and expenses with receipts are covered by the intended parents, but egg donation and surrogacy in our country are altruistic—not commercialized. Canadian women become egg donors or surrogates on a voluntary basis, and do so out of the kindness of their hearts, because they genuinely want to help. They are not monetarily compensated. Anyone who breaks the law under the Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) Act is committing a crime, and could be fined up to $500,000, jailed for up to ten years, or both.

I’ve had the privilege of supporting more than 100 gestational surrogates during their journeys. In my opinion, they’re all angels. Each woman who comes to my consultancy wants to help someone else become parents. They share a similar motive: they want to pass along the gift of being a parent to someone who otherwise would never have a chance. Most loved being pregnant and birthing their own children, and only become surrogates after their own family is complete. Others become surrogates because they’re inspired to help the LGBTQ community, or were even inspired by their own experience with fertility treatments.

My job is to support surrogates, helping them with risk education, logistics and making referrals to fertility lawyers to facilitate agreements. I support them during their postpartum recovery. I’m there for them emotionally, taking calls and answering their messages at all hours. I coordinate professional counselling, a critical component of a healthy surrogacy journey. And even though my role is only to assist, I have learned so much from the extraordinary surrogates I’ve met. They truly have a calling.

It takes a special woman to help someone else—often a complete stranger—grow a family. When she makes the self-sacrificing decision to become a gestational surrogate, her choice affects her own family, too (her kids and her spouse included).

My own personal surrogacy journey took eight years. Before my daughter finally arrived, I was incredibly lucky to have the help of five other gestational surrogates, but ultimately all of those pregnancies or transfers were unsuccessful. One gestational carrier had a miscarriage, while another had to deliver a late-term stillborn, which broke both of our hearts. In the other cases, the embryo transfers were unsuccessful. The emotional lows were almost too hard to bear, but I wouldn’t even have been able to experience those lows without the noble efforts made by all of the surrogates to help me grow a family. To this day, I am in awe of their generous souls.

My sixth surrogate mom got pregnant with the very first embryo transfer. As the pregnancy progressed from weeks to months, I went from cautiously optimistic, to euphoric, to petrified of another tragedy. We communicated frequently, talking on the phone or texting. I treasured our ultrasound milestones, which we experienced together. At 20 weeks, we got to see the baby growing inside her belly—my first glimpse of my daughter. I was thrilled and terrified.

When my healthy baby daughter, Nanette, was born, I was overjoyed, and I knew how incredibly fortunate I was.

Photo of the author looking joyous while doing skin-to-skin with his newborn baby

Photo: Olive You Portraits

She’s now a typical toddler, and I’m just like any other busy single parent—more than a little frazzled and exhausted. But my gratitude keeps me going—the fact that Nanette is here, holding her Daddy’s hand, was made possible by a surrogate helping me fulfill my quest to have a family. My daughter is here because an extraordinary woman made the choice to give me the gift of surrogacy.

When Nanette becomes an adult, she may have the same calling to help someone in need. I’d encourage Nanette to complete her own family first. (And of course I’d be worried about how her choice would affect her family, because it definitely will affect them.) But if she chooses to help intended parents grow a family and bring them the same type of joy that I have experienced, I would support her. There’s nothing shameful about it—her journey as a surrogate would be something I’d be incredibly proud of.

Nathan Chan is the founder and director of Proud Fertility. He blogs at singledaddybychoice.com.