pregnancy

Surrogate Shannon Garner: "It was one of the best moments of my life."

If you’re looking for advice about options surrounding fertility, pregnancy or counselling, always consult your doctor.

Shannon Garner always knew she wanted to be a surrogate.

“I noticed couples around me that were unable to fall pregnant. They had unexplained infertility and I was able to go on and have two healthy babies in a few years and it really started to hit home how easy it was for me and how hard it was for the friends around me.”

So Shannon, 36, from Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, began an important search for the perfect couple to help.

“I started to look into the idea of maybe being able to help them. One couple had tried for six years and it was really just unexplained infertility and that’s a really hard thing to go through.

“I just thought okay, well maybe I can help them so I offered to be a surrogate for them.”

That couple decided not to go ahead due to the cost, only to fall pregnant naturally soon after.

She began the process again and was in the middle of sorting through hundreds of couples when a friend mentioned a same-sex couple from the Blue Mountains in Sydney who were in need of a surrogate.

Their names were Jon Cole and Justin Worthy and they were the couple Shannon was destined to meet.

Shannon wanted to give their daughter a sibling. Image: Provided
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"I emailed them out of the blue and we went from there."

18 months after that initial email, Elsie, now two, was born and now Shannon is 28-weeks pregnant with a second child for the couple she refers to as "the boys".

It wasn't all smooth sailing. Shannon's husband Andrew, 39, was initially hesitant about his wife's plan.

"He was concerned at first about my health and how things would turn out because with pregnancy you never really know how it's going to turn out, and with birth."

But the mother-of-two says after she explained to her husband that here were two men who wanted to be dads. "Imagine if you couldn't be a father to Jaxon and Keira?"

"The more we looked at that and how grateful we were for our children, the more we realised we could actually change a couple's lives."

Then there were her family and friends to deal with.

"Everyone who was really important, I sat down and I said I've decided to be a surrogate and I've met two lovely men that need some help. At first my mum was very concerned about how things would play out. She didn't want me to be used or anything like that but I think they all just thought okay, this is generally a very nice thing that you're doing and once they met the boys they could see why Andrew and I had chosen them.

"Now with the second baby they're all just very complacent."

She does admit she was concerned she'd find it difficult to hand the baby over during her first experience as a surrogate.

"Yes I was a little bit concerned, obviously because it was my first time round being a surrogate. I really wasn't sure what kind of connection I would have with the child. I could only go off my own connection with my own children. But Elsie wasn't genetically mine and I think that helped me a little bit."

Jon and Justin used an egg donated by a close female friend.

It was during detailed counselling sessions that Shannon and the boys sorted out all the finer details, discussing the legalities of the arrangement, how often they would see each other and who would care for the baby if by chance both Jon and Justin were killed in a car accident.

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As the biological father Jon said his parents would be first choice, followed by Shannon and Andrew.

The birth experience was beautiful, with Shannon's husband Andrew in the birthing suite as well as Jon and Justin and her girlfriend as well.

"It was one of the best moments of my life."

Have you ever wondered who donates sperm? And why? We ask comedian Toby Halligan, on the This Glorious Mess podcast (post continues after audio...)

Shannon says when it came time to be a surrogate again, she could have chosen another couple and even thought about it, but when she saw Elsie she couldn't go past giving her a sibling.

"I could even normalise her life even further by giving her a sibling and I knew the boys were hoping for a second child. They did say they felt greedy. I just said look, I'm pretty sure I can help you."

The second-time surrogate thinks the reason there is still a lingering stigma surrounding surrogacy in Australia is due to our media's habit of only reporting the horror stories, and ignoring the many more beautiful stories that exist. That's one of the reasons she wrote the book, and also for other women thinking about becoming surrogates. While she wants to encourage them she also wants them to be fully prepared for the experience, both the good and the not so good.

The book is called Labour of Love.

"And I think just to show women that are considering being surrogates what I went through, that it wasn't just plain sailing and easy. There were a lot of ups and downs and surrogacy is a rollercoaster, it really is, because anything can happen just like in pregnancy and birth."

Shannon at 26 weeks. Image: Provided

To be a surrogate in NSW you need to be over 25 and have had your own children. Not necessarily finished your family but that does help. There is no cut off with a grandmother on Shannon's Facebook page pregnant with her daughter's child.

Shannon has advice for some couples thinking about using a surrogate.

"There is a lot of trust involved in surrogacy, a lot of communication needed and a lot of respect needed and I think if they started to investigate the cost, the legalities and the counselling and get a picture of surrogacy in Australia, then they could start looking at joining groups like the Facebook page Australian Surrogacy Community and actually meeting and speaking with surrogates who could possibly help them."

The mother-of-two helps run the page and gives advice to both intending parents and women considering being surrogates.

Shannon says it's hard for intending parents to find a surrogate because there are only a handful to choose from in Australia.

"The actual process once you span it out over months, it's actually quite straight forward, but I'm in New South Wales, so other states can be very different because it differs from state-to-state."

However the blanket rule across the country is that it's illegal to be paid for surrogacy, except for expenses such as medical bills, maternity bras, multivitamins, maternity clothes and legal bills.

Still, Shannon says women considering acting as surrogates shouldn't let that disuade them.

She also recommends a website called Families Through Surrogacy, a not-for-profit organisation run by Australian man Sam Everingham who had two children using an overseas surrogate.

Celebrities who have used surrogates. Click through the Gallery.

Mamamia's Infertility Week shines a light on the joy, the pain and everything in between when it comes to creating families. To read more from Infertility Week, click here.

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