Surrogacy strengthens their bond of friendship

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Childhood friends Jennifer Kobylka and Michelle Heinhuis share a bond that will only grow stronger in the years to come.

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Kobylka has become a first-time surrogate and is carrying a baby conceived by Heinhuis and her partner Brandon Babkirk.

Although the child is not expected to arrive until the third week of August, it has already been a long journey to get there.

Chatham residents are sharing their story as part of Fertility Awareness Month, helping to shine a light on the fact that one in six Canadian couples are struggling with fertility, said Jocelyn Van Herk, registered social worker with the Thamesview Family Health Team.

“The journey to parenthood can disrupt all aspects of life, including the constant struggle between feelings of hope and grief, the impact on self-esteem, and the complication of the relationship with your partner, your friends and family members, all of whom may feel isolated,” she says.

“Everyone’s experience is unique to them, and the social work team at the Thamesview Family Health Team are there to offer psychological support to those who feel there would be benefit in talking to someone.

Heinhuis, who has an eldest son but has since lost his ability to conceive, said the couple knew they would need to seek fertility services, including a surrogate, as she still had her eggs and ovaries.

Heinhuis and Babkirk created a closed Facebook group as they reached out to family and friends for help while sharing details of their search for a surrogate.

Kobylka, a member of this group, said she keeps visiting their social media page to see if they have found anyone.

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“I felt like my heart was drawn to it,” she said.

Kobylka continued to post on the page that Heinhuis and Babkirk would soon find their special angel while realizing, “I think that’s me.”

Heinhuis and Babkirk had already come a long way, which started with long talks and advice to make sure they were well prepared.

The couple started the process at a fertility clinic in London before registering with a surrogacy agency in Exeter.

Babkirk compared the process of finding a surrogate to online dating.

“Technically, you can’t choose your surrogate…but surrogates choose your profile,” he said.

As they connected with five potential substitutes, “None of them picked us, so those were heartbreaking times,” Ross said.

Meanwhile, Kobylka continued to visit the couple’s Facebook group.

Babkirk, who plays in a band, was performing at Kobylka’s office Christmas party when they began discussing the situation.

When Kobylka mentioned that she was at a time in her life where she would be ready to be a surrogate, “It totally caught me off guard and I immediately texted Michelle to tell her,” Babkirk said.

While the two were deciding who to call to see if Kobylka was serious, she called them.

Heinhuis said surrogacy doesn’t often happen between friends. Some surrogates are ready to carry the baby but don’t want a close relationship, while others want to be involved, she added.

“Jen was like, ‘Anything you want,'” Heinhuis said.

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The couple accompanied Kobylka to her ultrasounds and other major appointments. Heinhuis is also able to attend almost all examinations.

Although everyone was happy with the arrangement, there were still a few practical issues outstanding, including signing a contract.

Kobylka said some tough questions came up during this process that she hadn’t considered.

It was also clarified during this process that the surrogate could no longer want any more children of her own. Kobylka said it has been 10 years since the last of her two children was born and she has no interest in another child.

Kobylka, a nurse with the Thamesview Family Health Team, also had to get her doctor and the fertility specialist to both agree that she was healthy enough to be a surrogate.

Since the approvals were given, they have kept the lines of communication open and have worked well together.

“Our story is great. I love to say it and Jen loves to say it,” Heinhuis said. .

“We couldn’t have asked for a better person.”

Still, there were challenges to overcome.

Embryos were created from Heinhuis’ eggs and Babkirk’s sperm, which were then transferred into Kobylka’s womb, but the first two transfers did not work.

The first transfer was made to a fertility clinic in Toronto at the start of the pandemic. While driving there together, they learned that Heinhuis and Babkirk could not be present when the transfer took place due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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“Even though it was a really cool thing to be part of, it didn’t feel good to me because they weren’t there,” Kobylka said. “It was my memory, not theirs.”

After that failed transfer, they moved to a fertility clinic in Windsor for a second unsuccessful attempt. The third attempt, however, was successful.

“We were very happy there was one because it was our last shot,” Heinhuis said.

She said the process had financial, physical, mental and emotional tolls.

Kobylka also admitted that she wasn’t sure if she could have tried another embryo transfer.

Going through this journey, Babkirk said he discovered how common infertility is. He recently met three former classmates who all have fertility issues, Babkirk said.

“I think it’s a good thing that you’re open about it and telling people about it,” he said.

Now that the surrogate and baby are well, there are the usual questions, like the baby’s gender.

Babkirk said he was on the fence until he spoke to a friend who recently experienced the birth of their second child.

“It’s one of the most natural surprises you can enjoy in life. Don’t take it away,” his friend told him.

Another person the couple possibly plan to share their story with is their soon-to-be-born child.

“We want it to be normal,” Heinhuis said. “We want them to know that a beautiful angel helped us bring you here.”

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