Through surrogacy, two pregnant Alberta women are helping friends start a family
Adelle Stelmashuk and Shanyn Wertz sharing special moments with each other
When they went to school together in Edmonton more than 20 years ago, Adelle Stelmaschuk and Shanyn Wertz weren't especially close.
But a twist of fate has brought them together as surrogate mothers for a childhood friend and his partner who want two babies. Both women are 32 weeks pregnant.
The babies, a boy and a girl, will grow up in Taiwan with their dads Jeffrey Ngan and Kevin Tsai.
"Our friendship has exploded," Wertz, 40, says of her relationship with Stelmaschuk, also 40.
"It's kind of like, 'What did we miss out on? We could have been solid.'"
During the early days of the pandemic, Ngan reconnected with Stelmaschuk, whom he hadn't seen since university nearly a decade ago.
Although the two occasionally stayed in touch through social media, Ngan had no reason to believe his school friend would offer to help him fulfil his dream of building a family.
But she did – and not long after, Wertz heard about it through a mutual friend.
She reached out to Ngan, offering to be a second surrogate.
Ngan and Tsai have been together for six years, and before the pandemic, the two decided they would start a family through surrogacy.
"Both of us have always known that we wanted kids," Ngan said.
The couple knew they wanted to have biological children and ideally raise them at the same time, which made it difficult because they would need to find two surrogates.
This situation – with two pregnancies for one family at once – may be unusual, but gestational surrogacy is not uncommon in Canada. The advocacy group Surrogacy in Canada Online estimates that more than 400 surrogacy arrangements are made each year.
Over the years, with the increase in celebrities opting for surrogacy and online rhetoric about the fertility method, it has become an option for more couples facing infertility.
Lorraine Smith, CEO of ANU Fertility, a B.C.-based surrogacy consultant firm, says there is growing demand for surrogacy in Canada, especially since the start of the pandemic.
"Now we're seeing these great different shades and more definitions of family. The word is getting out and you're seeing people searching for information," Smith said.
Smith said most surrogacies in Canada are gestational, meaning the surrogate has no biological connection to the baby.
Under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, it is illegal in Canada to pay a surrogate mother for her services, but she may be repaid for out-of-pocket costs directly related to the pregnancy.
For Ngan and Tsai, reconnecting with women they knew who were willing to be their surrogates was more than a perfect solution to starting a family.
"It was just so surreal, and to this day we still think about it," Ngan said.
He accompanied the women to a Toronto fertility clinic where they both had appointments on the same day. He held their hands as embryos – one fertilized by each father – were implanted.
Wertz is due to give birth at the end of April. Stelmaschuk's due date is in early May. The fathers are set to fly to Edmonton from Taiwan at the beginning of April so they can be there at the births of their babies.
Meanwhile, the women are sharing every moment of their pregnancies with each other.
When they were due to be tested at the same time for gestational diabetes, Wertz texted Stelmaschuk.
"I messaged Adelle and I'm like, 'Hey, you know, do you want to go do the diabetic tea party together, drink the Kool-Aid?'" she said.
Both women have children of their own, and said being pregnant and helping their friends build a family were the driving motives for wanting to be surrogates.
"I knew I didn't want to have any more children but I really enjoyed the journey of being pregnant," Stelmashcuk said.
"I feel like I'm pretty built to be pregnant," Wertz said.
Smith said when parents and surrogates are matched up they undergo consultations where details of the birth plan and the following relationships between the two parties are worked out before the pregnancies.
The soon-to-be fathers and surrogates plan to keep in contact and tell the children how they were born.
"As soon as the kids will be old enough to understand, they will know that these two incredibly generous women were the ones that carried them," Ngan told CBC.
"They're not their moms, but I think there's a great term for it: tummy mummy."