pregnancy

My birth story: Michelle rented her womb to strangers. She ended up in intensive care.

Three years ago, Michelle Griffin posted a photo of herself on social media holding up a sign saying “womb for rent”. She was serious. The Perth mother-of-two was willing to have a baby for another couple, for free.

In March this year, Michelle gave birth and immediately handed the tiny boy to his new parents.

“It’s just about being able to spread that kindness,” she tells Mamamia.

No Filter: Mia Freedman talks to Shannon Garner about her decision to be a surrogate for two gay men. Post continues after video. 

Michelle had wanted to be a surrogate ever since she saw Phoebe have her brother’s triplets on Friends. Having two great pregnancies and births for her children, Leilani and Isaac, just made her more determined. Her husband Trent was supportive.

“I was like, ‘I’m done parenting, but I could totally do pregnancy and birth again, so why not help another couple?’” she explains.

Michelle’s original social media post attracted a lot of attention. She says she got “tons and tons” of “heartbreaking” messages from people around the world. But none of the people were from Perth, and she was looking for a local couple. So, in 2017, she went along to a surrogacy seminar. It was there that she met Kate Ranger, who couldn’t carry a baby because she didn’t have a uterus, and her partner Kris Barlow. They didn’t realise she was at the seminar as a surrogate.

“I think that’s what really resonated with me because they were kind to me purely because they’re kind people, not because they wanted something out of me,” she says. “I didn’t want it to be transactional. I wanted to have that relationship.”

they were kind to me purely because they’re kind people
"They were kind to me purely because they’re kind people." Image: Fliss & Co - Photos by Chelsea.
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When Michelle found herself getting along well with Kate and Kris, she made the offer.

“They were just in shock. They were expecting it to be a long and hard road to find a surrogate, so they were super-grateful.”

The couple went through IVF. It took three embryo transfers for Michelle to fall pregnant.

“I felt quite guilty when the first two transfers didn’t take,” she remembers, “but luckily it did on the third.”

She experienced a bit of morning sickness early on – “Trent was able to pick up the slack with our kids” – but after that, the pregnancy went smoothly.

surrogacy australia
"The pregnancy went smoothly." Image: Supplied.

“I got to enjoy the pregnancy in its entirety, not stress about getting the nursery ready and the car seats and all that sort of stuff,” she explains.

“It just sounds so clichéd and so up myself, but it’s so empowering and liberating being pregnant, and I feel so beautiful.”

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"It’s so empowering and liberating being pregnant, and I feel so beautiful.” Image: Milk Bath Photography.
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She admits there were some “awkward conversations” with other mums at school.

“But everyone was super-supportive and loved hearing about it.”

Michelle, who is a trained doula, had a “great” birth. She says the moment where she handed over baby Jack to Kate and Kris was “incredible”.

“There’s a video of us. She says, ‘I’m your mummy,’ and I’m just losing it, like, ‘Oh my God, you actually are, you’ve waited so long for this,’ and I’m so happy for Kate.”

surrogacy australia
Image: Belle Verdiglione Photography.

But then things turned scary. Michelle started to bleed heavily.

“My placenta wouldn’t detach so I was rushed off to theatre. During that surgery I lost quite a bit of blood and I ended up spending two days in intensive care. It was full-on.

“It was a strange experience to go from a great birth to waking up the next day being like, ‘What happened?’ It was quite scary for Trent because he had to see me in that state, being rushed off. I think in that moment he was quite resentful.”

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“It was a strange experience to go from a great birth to waking up the next day being like, ‘What happened?’" Image: Belle Verdiglione Photography.

Michelle says the experience has put her husband off surrogacy.

“He’s asked me not to do it again, in case something really terrible did happen to me and he lost his wife for somebody else.”

But she says if it wasn’t for the post-birth complications, she “totally” would have done it another time.

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"But she says if it wasn’t for the post-birth complications, she “totally” would have done it another time." Image: Supplied.

“It was such an incredible experience, and I love being pregnant.”

Michelle now sees Kate, Kris and Jack once or twice a week, to drop off breast milk she’s expressed and to catch up.

surrogacy australia
"Michelle now sees Kate, Kris and Jack once or twice a week, to drop off breast milk she’s expressed and to catch up." Image: Supplied.
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“It’s just like seeing any of my other friends’ babies,” she explains. “I don’t feel any sort of strange connection with him. I don’t feel any strong urge to hold him or cuddle him. I just like seeing Kate and Kris do their thing with him.

“They’re so cute and they’re so doting and loving and they just treasure him so much.”

Michelle imagines she’ll always be friends with Kate and Kris.

surrogacy australia
"Michelle imagines she’ll always be friends with Kate and Kris." Image: Supplied.

“We’ve got this special connection and this story. There’s this super friendship that we’ve built and we’re super-close now. We’ll always have that.”

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