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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hugo: the baby a gift of love from one woman to another.

BABY Hugo does not know it yet, but he came into the world in one of the most unusual and wonderful of ways.

He was nurtured in the womb of a woman who was not his biological mother.

Before Hugo’s birth, Jess Junkeer and Fiona Clothier were just acquaintances, but they would soon share the most intimate experiences by becoming one of just a few dozen Victorians undertaking a local surrogacy arrangement.

It began four years ago, just months after Jess, now 30, married her husband Geoff.

She was exhausted and bloated, and losing weight and blood. Within a week of seeing her doctor she was confronting cervical cancer and surgery.

“Our life was turned upside down so quickly,” Jess said.

But the worst was yet to come. When she woke from surgery to take out the tumour, doctors told her that the cancer had spread so they had to remove her cervix.

“My husband and I were completely destroyed,” Jess said. “We had been talking about starting a family and now I was coming to terms with having cancer, but the hardest part to digest was that I couldn’t carry my own children.”

Fortunately, before her chemotherapy and radiation started, Jess was referred to Melbourne IVF for fertility advice. There was just enough time to retrieve and freeze eggs, in the hope she would one day find another woman to carry her baby.

Melbourne IVF medical director Dr Lyndon Hale said their surrogacy patients typically had a medical condition that prevented them from carrying a baby, no uterus or an inability to get pregnant.

The hardest part was finding a surrogate because they cannot advertise or pay the woman, which he said would actually prevent more people from going overseas where the regulations were less stringent.

Counselling, psychological assessments, police checks and legal advice are all required in Victorian surrogacy arrangements.

Jess and Geoff were always going to seek out a local surrogate, but they never expected it would be so undeniably arduous for both the commissioning parents and surrogate with the process taking at least a year.

“It baffles me that we have not adopted a more cost-efficient and less emotionally draining process, similar to countries such as America,” Jess said.

“That’s why so many childless couples have no alternative but to explore avenues overseas.”

They never had to go down this path, thanks to Fiona 35.

She first heard of the couple’s plight through a friend — who just happened to be Jess’ older sister.

One day Fiona received an email directly from Jess, as she was one of the few people the couple knew who was under 40 and had already completed her family.

For Fiona and her husband Dean, their answer was immediately obvious.

“It was the natural choice and it felt right, if we could help we would,” Fiona said.

One of the biggest deciding factors was that Fiona had four complication-free pregnancies and that the baby would not be genetically hers.

It took three attempts to implant one of Jess’ fertilised eggs into Fiona.

“It was the most magical moment,” Jess said.

Fiona made sure all her children were aware that she was carrying a baby for Jess.

Even her three-year-old, Evie, would pat her stomach and say: “That’s Jess’ baby.”

Both women had to acknowledge the fear that Jess may not want to part with the baby once he was born, but by recognising it was a possibility, it allowed them to deal with it.

From Fiona’s point of view it was “always their baby”.

The exhaustion of pregnancy also helped remind Fiona that she didn’t want to go back to nappies and night-time feeds.

Other people’s positive reactions to her role as a surrogate also spurred her on.

“I didn’t have one single person, whether it was in the supermarket or at school, that was concerned or questioned what I had done,” she said.

When Hugo was born, Jess helped deliver him and Geoff cut the umbilical cord, before the wriggly newborn was placed on Fiona’s abdomen.

Then it was time to give Jess and Geoff their most precious possession.

For Jess, it was the happiest moment of her life.

She had been given hormones so she could breastfeed, allowing her to bond with Hugo immediately.

That night Jess and Fiona stayed in adjacent rooms in the maternity wing of the Grand Hyatt.

Now, despite now returning to their lives on different sides of the city, the women remain connected. It’s a bond they feel will last forever.

For Fiona, Hugo is like her little nephew.

And as much as he was a gift to Jess and Geoff, Fiona believes being able to offer them their only chance to have a child of their own was also a present to herself.

And for Jess, Fiona will always be her Wonder Woman who has given her the chance to achieve the impossible.

“No words could ever be enough to express how grateful I am to Fiona and Dean, we just feel so incredibly lucky,” she said.


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