Sara Richard is heading into 2021 with a baby bump, but she isn’t looking to grow her own family.
Richard is a surrogate.
Shortly after her daughter, now 5, was born Richard felt called to do something for someone else, but didn’t know what that was until 2019.
She said she stumbled across a post on Facebook by a surrogate and decided to pursue the process herself. Through an agency she matched with a couple from Ontario in late 2019.
Mom-to-be Ariela Berger said she struggled with infertility and tried multiple rounds of invitro fertilization, multiple doctors, “trying everything and anything over a decade.” She and her husband still had hope, but “our journey had left us extremely guarded.”
Speaking to Richard for the first time over video chat began to drop the walls they had put up, said Berger.
In February, Richard flew to Ontario to meet the couple and get screened at the fertility clinic the couple was using. Things were good to go.
Then the pandemic hit.
“In March, the clinic closed and the journey was put on pause,” said Richard.
Berger said, “The entire time we were probably talking almost daily. Sharing everything that was happening in our lives and praying for the lockdown to end.”
But both parties agreed when things opened again, they were going to go ahead, thinking, “Nobody knows when this is going to be over. This will give us something positive, some hope,” said RIchard.
In May, Richard began taking medication to ensure her body was ready to accept the embryo.
In mid-June, she flew to Ontario for the transfer, but there was another snag. Her husband couldn’t come with her because they would then both need to isolate upon their return to New Brunswick. That didn't work for her family.
Restrictions were also hard for the parents, who had to stay in the car during the whole process and experience it through Skype, said Richard.
Plane rides were more stressful and she found herself questioning things like if she really needed to take a sip of water and risk removing her mask.
“It’s a bit nerve wracking having it all happen during the pandemic,” she said, but doctors in both provinces were comfortable and she had checked everything about travelling safely with the province.
Back in New Brunswick, Richard rented an Airbnb to quarantine for two weeks.
“I couldn’t get blood work done, but I took a lot of pregnancy tests,” she said, adding that she knew it would show as early as four days post-transfer.
As the lines on her pregnancy tests grew darker it showed that her hormones were moving in the right direction, she said.
“It was a nice reassurance for me and it gave hope to the parents too..it was a reminder that we did it,” she said.
Toward the end of her isolation, seeing her child in the driveway with her husband, but not being able to go to each other was especially difficult, she said.
But her own family had been a great source of support. Her daughter has been helping take care of her mom so the baby her mom is making for another family is healthy, she said.
COVID has forced more video connections and less in-person ones, said Berger. “Due to Covid it meant that we had to miss out on some big milestones and ultrasounds that we probably would have flown out to be present for,” she said.
The birth itself could be less than ideal. COVID-19 restrictions mean the baby’s intended parents will have to time their arrival to be two weeks before the birth to self-isolate and if the baby comes early they could miss the arrival.
It’s also uncertain what the rules might be by then in the delivery room, said Richard.
2020 had made for a bumpier journey for the two families to grow a bump, but they say it has been worth it.
“Being able to do this for someone else is a great gift. It’s so much bigger than me,” said Richard. “There is so much in our world not in our control, this is a way to bring positivity and happiness.”
For Berger, she said she sees it not only as the gift of her son, but the gift of an extended family in Moncton.
Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal