Instagram friend becomes surrogate
Offering to be a surrogate for someone you hardly know might seem unthinkable to some. For Rebecca Keil, 29, it was a no-brainer.
‘‘As someone coming from a large family and having two children myself, I couldn’t imagine having only one child and that not being by choice,’’ she says.
‘‘The thought of carrying someone’s baby . . . wasn’t a hard decision.’’
Keil, a social media influencer from Christchurch, got to know Tess Dunford and her partner, Dan Stemp, through Instagram. Dunford and Stemp live in Wellington and have their own home decor company, Dontbeadoormat.
Dunford shared the story of the traumatic birth of their daughter on social media. Due to complications during the birth, Dunford had to have multiple blood transfusions and ultimately an emergency hysterectomy to save her life.
She woke up from surgery to their beautiful baby girl, Indi, and the devastating news that she would never be able to carry another child.
‘‘I’ve got two half-sisters who are a lot older than me, so I kind of grew up as an only child,’’ the 33-year-old says.
‘‘I always longed for a sibling who was close in age to me, and it was something I definitely always wanted to give my child.’’
Indi was five months old when they decided to try for another baby using a surrogate. Doctors had managed to keep Dunford’s ovaries intact, so the couple could have another child who had their DNA through surrogacy.
Keil decided she wanted to help after Dunford published a story on Instagram saying they were going to start looking for a surrogate.
Her husband was fine with the idea, as long as they didn’t keep the baby, she says.
Both couples underwent medical tests and months of counselling through Fertility Associates to ensure they knew what they were in for.
‘‘We’ve gotten to know each other super well, which is a big part of [the surrogacy process],’’ Keil says.
In November, Dunford and Stemp travelled to Christchurch where Dunford’s eggs were retrieved, fertilised and frozen. One of the embryos was transferred to Keil in March, and her pregnancy was confirmed less than two weeks later.
Dunford and Stemp were excited to get the first glimpse of their unborn child at Keil’s six-week ultrasound, but then New Zealand went into Covid-19 lockdown.
‘‘It is a really difficult situation to deal with. It is already hard not being the one protecting and nurturing your child and then you add the pandemic in, and it is like a double whammy of just feeling really helpless,’’
They were able to be at the ultrasound virtually though, a moment she described as incredible.
Despite the distance between them, they are sharing the journey as much as possible.
‘‘I knew my first trimester was going to be hard,’’ Keil says. ‘‘I knew I was going to be tired and going to be nauseous, because that’s how I felt with my own two children. I just thought I would be able to drop them off at school, go get a hashbrown and go back to bed. And I haven’t been able to do that, so it has been really hard.’’
Keil’s husband worked throughout the lockdown as he is an essential worker, so had not been able to help out during the day.
The challenges are all worth it though, she says.
‘‘It is just such an amazing, incredible, exciting thing. I can’t wait for them to get this child.’’
Fertility Associates medical director Dr Sarah Wakeman says infertility is much more common than generally thought. ‘‘About one in five couples will have difficulty becoming pregnant at some point.’’
While Dunford’s medical history meant surrogacy was their only option, there are a range of treatments available for couple’s struggling with infertility. ‘‘There’s research going on all the time and immense improvement in infertility treatment has been made,’’ Wakeman says.
For Dunford and Stemp, their family journey has been very different from what they had expected, but it was undoubtedly worth all the ups and downs.
‘‘We wanted to share our story to normalise the different ways of having a baby and make people see that this is wonderful’’ Dunford says.
‘‘There are just so many ways to make families and this is our beautiful silver lining.’’