"One is biologically related to me, but I am not his mom, and the other is not, but I am."

Five years ago, I interviewed a woman about her surrogacy. Recently, I caught up with her and one of the dads.

6 minute read

I write a lot about reproductive arrangements that go wrong, and I will continue to do so. But sometimes they go right. And I will continue to write about those too.

Here is such a case. 

This was one of three interviews I did with surrogates for a story that appeared in the Globe and Mail in 2016. All the women's stories were interesting, but this one was especially so, perhaps because it exemplified so perfectly the idea that families really can come in all shapes and sizes. 

Recently I caught up with the surrogate, Shannon, and one of the dads, Rick, to see how things were going. Below, an update five years on, following the original interview.

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Name: Shannon Kozak

Age at time of surrogacy: 33

Occupation: Full-time mom

Location: Calgary

When I was a surrogate: 2015

Why I chose to be a surrogate: It was something I’d always considered doing. I had had four easy pregnancies.  

How the parents and I connected: One day I just clicked on a website and set up an online profile. I didn’t feel great about meeting people on the internet. But the two dads lived in Calgary at the time, so I contacted them. We met online in March 2013, emailed for a few weeks, then met in person. The contract was signed in October 2013. When I first told my husband, he said, 'You did what?' I didn’t mention it until after I’d already been in touch with them by email. He’s pretty easy-going.

What the experience was like: It wasn’t my intention to give them my egg as well, but they needed an egg donor and I had eggs. This was so much easier. It also meant no fertility drugs, which had been my biggest concern about being a surrogate. But because I was a “traditional surrogate” — meaning using my own eggs — the clinic wouldn’t take us. So we used the at-home turkey-baster method. 

By this time, the dads had moved to Nova Scotia, so I had to text Trevor [one of the dads] when I thought I was ovulating. The first three times we tried sending the sperm by mail but that didn’t work. After that, he decided to fly out to Calgary. I don’t have predictable cycles, so I used ovulation predictor kits and general guesswork. He flew out twice. That second time, the time I conceived, he left after work, arrived in Calgary at 10:30pm, and literally got to to our place at midnight!

All my kids had been born at home, but at first Rick and Trevor weren’t comfortable with that. I was okay with a hospital or birth centre, but I have quick labours and we live outside the city. The baby was due in January. The midwives felt I’d be safer at home than giving birth by the side of the road. They helped the dads come around. Baby Hudson was born quickly and the dads didn’t manage to get there in time. My husband actually delivered their baby for them!

The most difficult part: Remembering to share things with Rick and Trevor. It was my fifth pregnancy, so it wasn’t new or exciting for me — but it was for them. They’d email and ask how things were going. Or ask me to send a picture of my belly. 

The best part: It’s now — seeing that he’s with them, exactly where he’s supposed to be.

How I think about the child: Handing him over was way easier than I thought it would be. He was conceived with the intent of being someone else’s baby. It’s different from giving a baby up for adoption. I like seeing photos. I feel a little more pride than when I look at pictures of my friend’s kids. 

Our family has six kids — four biological, one foster child, and a foster child we’ve now adopted. The biology of it is not an issue for me. We told the kids from the beginning that we were growing a baby for someone else and the baby would go live with them. They have a very broad view of things.

What I wish people understood about surrogacy: You don’t get paid. People kept asking me that. You can’t pay people in Canada. You are allowed to be reimbursed for pregnancy-related things. I got reimbursed for maternity clothes, mileage to doctor’s appointments, home birth supplies, legal fees, a will. Some people charge for food, but I figured I was going to eat anyway! Some people charge for their telephone, but I already had a phone; it wasn’t costing me anything extra to call them. 

Update from Rick, five years on: It's turned out exactly as we wanted it to. Shannon is like an auntie to Hudson. We're connected on social media, we message here and there, and whenever we're out west, we always go for a visit.

Hudson's in primary school now. Kids will have conversations. One of the kids said, 'You must have a mom, because babies come from a mom.' He said, 'No, not every family has a mom. I have a surrogate.' The other kids were like, 'Oh, cool.'

He calls me 'Pops' and he calls Trevor 'Dad.' We were at a meet-and-greet in the playground and someone said, 'Oh that's Hudson's dad,' and Hudson said, 'Oh, no, that's my Pops. My Dad's over there.'

We feel so lucky and honoured to have met Shannon and her husband and for them to have given us this gift. Shannon and her family will always be an extended part of our family. She was a traditional surrogate, so there is a genetic connection to Shannon and her other children. Hudson will always know who she is. And he knows his story.

Update from Shannon, five years on: Given the distance, we don't see each other often, but we keep connected through Facebook and occasional emails. They stop by for a visit whenever they are out this way. I love seeing pictures of Hudson and being able to watch him grow up from afar. As he grows, if he ever has any questions, I'm happy to answer what I can. But for now he's just a happy, well-adjusted five-year-old.

Four months after Hudson was born, a baby girl came into our lives through foster care. As I mentioned above, we adopted her. She and Hudson are the same age, and it is surreal to see them together when he visits: one is biologically related to me, but I am not his mom, and the other is not, but I am. We have since added two more children to our family through foster care who are now ages two and three. It just illustrates how many different ways there are to make a family.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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Alison Motluk. "Why I carried a baby for someone else: three surrogates share their stories." Globe and Mail. 2016. 

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