Ottawa surrogate delivers 5th baby to foreign parents
Agencies see a surge in interest from foreign parents looking for Canadian surrogates
After carrying a baby for nine months, Ottawa mom Amy Cameron handed the child over to another woman — Norwegian Hilde Reva — forever.
"I don't see it as giving up," explained Cameron. "I see it as giving back."
It's Cameron's 11th delivery. Six of the children are her own, while the other five have gone to parents in Norway, where surrogacy of unrelated family members remains illegal.
"I just see their struggles," Cameron told CBC News. "They are being told they can't [have kids] and that drew me to them."
'This is actually happening'
At just 22 years of age, Reva was diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer. She was treated but was left unable to carry a child.
Eight years later, Reva and her husband Christian were in the room at the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre when baby Julie arrived.
"It was such an emotional moment, I was so overwhelmed by getting Julie in my arms," said Reva, the elation coming back.
"We had longed for this for so many years. And I remember I was thinking: 'This is actually happening, this is the point where I'm becoming a mom.' And I was thinking through the eight years of struggling and I just couldn't believe we were here, I had to squeeze my arm just to make sure it wasn't a dream."
Cameron said that magic is what motivated her to carry and deliver Julie.
"This mom waited so long," Cameron said. "And I know what she's waiting for, and just to give her that and soak in the first moments ... it's really magic."
Surrogacy — the Canadian advantage
Cameron doesn't receive any payment for surrogacy beyond having her expenses covered.
In fact, Canadian rules make it clear surrogacy must be done for "altruistic" reasons. That was part of the appeal for Reva.
"It's more comfortable for us to know that the women are doing it for the right reasons, that they do it because they really want to help us," she said, adding she has read that women can be pressured or even forced into surrogacy when money is part of the transaction.
And there is something else driving a boom in interest from families around the globe. The decision last year by a number of countries, including Nepal, Thailand, India and Mexico, to shut down foreign surrogacy or restrict it to heterosexual families has led many people to take a closer look at Canada.
The handful of Canadian agencies that connect international families with surrogate mothers suddenly found themselves overwhelmed with inquiries.
"We were absolutely flooded," said Sally Rhoads-Heinrich, owner of one of the largest agencies, Surrogates in Canada Online, adding she had to stop accepting applications in the spring, at least for the time being.
"All the intended parents that have contacted us since April have gone on the waiting list, and we now have over 500 families on there," she said.
Canada also has the advantage of a cheap dollar, sophisticated reproductive health care services and a public system that, so far, does not expect foreign families to reimburse the costs of prenatal care or unemployment insurance covering surrogate mothers.
Applied online for Canadian surrogate
A friend in Norway who had just had twins through a Canadian surrogate referred Reva to Canadian Surrogacy Options, an agency that leaves it up to surrogates to choose the family or families they wish to help.
Reva applied online and waited.
Six months later she received an email from the agency about Cameron — who, in fact, was the same surrogate who delivered twins for her friend.
"I think I was sitting there crying and trying to read [her] profile through tears," Reva said.
CSO tells parents to bank between $30,000 and $75,000 to pay for things like IVF appointments, legal fees and the surrogate mother's costs such as travel and babysitting.
An embryo fertilized by Reva's husband's sperm was shipped to Toronto, where it was implanted into Cameron. Cameron said carrying someone else's baby is different but still wonderful, and she doesn't have a problem thinking about handing the baby over after carrying it for nine months.
'I'm a kangaroo'
What does she tell her own kids?
"I'm a kangaroo carrying it in my pouch."
Cameron said she tries to share the experience with the intended moms.
Reva travelled to Ottawa for one of Cameron's ultrasound appointments after Christmas, and then she and her husband returned four weeks before the due date, hanging tight to a cellphone, waiting for the call.
It rang while the couple was shopping for Canada T-shirts a few days before Canada Day. And they didn't have to wait long after that: Cameron delivered within an hour of their arrival at the birthing centre.
Also in attendance were two midwives, several of Cameron's own children and Ottawa photographer Genevieve Georget, who was invited to try to capture the event in images.
"I've had two children, but I wasn't prepared for that experience," said Georget.
Immediately after she gave birth, Cameron was looking for Reva.
"And Hilde came over and held the baby and I was bawling my eyes out," Georget said.
'The world needs more of this'
Georget said she has been inundated with comments and requests to use her photos of the event after she posted them online.
"I feel like [these images] showed people from different parts of the world who came together and decided that no one had to do this alone," she said.
"They walked this incredible road together and made this beautiful little girl who is so loved. I remember thinking the world needs more of this."
Cameron has also received new requests to be a surrogate. She turns 40 next month.
"I have no intentions of stopping," said Cameron.
"If you ask family and friends, they'd say that was it. But I know there's way more to my story. I'm sure there will be more."
Part 2 on Friday: Regulatory limbo leaves surrogates and foreign parents vulnerable, and taxpayers are liable for surrogate medical costs.
- A previous version of this story stated that baby Julie was born at Montfort Hospital. In fact, she was born at the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre.Aug 25, 2016 7:48 AM ET