These moms want to normalize surrogacy by documenting their journey online
1 in 6 Canadian couples experience infertility, a number that's doubled since the 1980s
A cervical cancer diagnosis in 2018 shattered Marissa Smith's dream to give birth to her own child. Surgeries to treat the cancer damaged her uterus and any chance of a pregnancy could be life-threatening for Smith and the fetus.
Procedures to correct the damage went unsuccessful, leading Smith and her husband to look for a gestational surrogate to carry their baby.
"It was devastating because I always wanted to be a mom," she said. "I would've done anything to carry my own baby but when I found out I had no choice, I had to embark on this journey."
The search connected her to Ariel Taylor, a London, Ont., fertility therapist, who has been a five-time surrogate herself. Taylor has long documented her surrogacy journey to her nearly 80,000 followers on Instagram to educate others about the process and debunk myths around it.
Taylor became a surrogate for Smith's family after the two women realized how much they had in common and developed a close friendship. The two have been making videos about how the process is experienced by both a surrogate and an intended parent.
"We're really trying to show people what surrogacy can be like and how it can be collaborative and a positive experience to help people with infertility get their babies here," said Taylor.
'Closest I could get to being pregnant myself'
Three weeks ago, Taylor gave birth to the couple's baby boy, and Smith said she's been involved every step of the way from appointments, to prenatal care and witnessing her son's birth.
"It was the closest I could get to being pregnant myself," Smith said. "It was very important for me to have this experience since I wasn't carrying on my own. It's a very big loss and I grieved a lot, I still do because there's a huge part of it that was missing for myself."
In 2021, Taylor started her practice, Carried with Love, to provide virtual therapy and support to pregnant patients, intended parents, surrogates, mom's struggling with postpartum depression, and those who experience pregnancy loss.
She was motivated after her first pregnancy as a surrogate ended in a miscarriage. Taylor felt there was very little accessible counselling for people dealing with infertility and loss.
"I didn't have that support so it was really important for me to create that space for other people and it's really about reaching this population that typically goes unserviced," she said.
In Canada, one in six couples experience infertility. That number has doubled since the 1980s.
"If you want to have a child and grow your family, then infertility shouldn't be the reason you can't do that. We have the technology and people willing to collaborate with these parents to bring their baby here," Taylor added.
Taylor believes infertility rates will continue to rise and more people will use non-traditional methods to grow their families, which is why it's important to address misconceptions about surrogacy, that mainly come from a lack of education, she said.
Common fallacies Taylor encounters stereotype surrogates as poor and easily exploitable people getting paid thousands to carry a baby. Others infer that a surrogate is the baby's biological mother or that they're selling a baby, all of which are false notions, Taylor said, adding that surrogates only get reimbursed around $25,00 to $35,000 in medical, travel, and grocery expenses incurred during the pregnancy.
Smith said sharing their journey has opened up space for other parents to not feel alone. The experience has taught her that surrogacy doesn't need to be a taboo or shameful process.
"It was really scary when a doctor told me I'd need surrogacy. I thought 'How is somebody else gong to carry my baby?' but if I looked at other intended parents who were documenting, I would've felt better," she said.
"Knowing that all these people worked together to bring this baby here is really special," said Taylor. "It just might not be the traditional way but it doesn't make it wrong."