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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Best friend becomes surrogate for cancer survivor’s baby

EDMONTON – When Shannon Webb was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29, it meant surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation – but not before freezing some embryos.

“(The doctors) said, before I went through all my treatments, ‘You should think about freezing your embryos. Because after breast cancer treatments, you don’t know if you can still have kids’,” Shannon tells Global News.

In late 2011, Shannon and her husband Jeremy froze ten embryos at the Edmonton Fertility Clinic. Then Shannon endured a year of treatments, but still needed more medication that made pregnancy too risky. That’s when her best friend of 20 years, Barbara Gitzel, offered to carry one of those embryos for her.

“I’ve always wanted to be able to communicate (to Shannon), ‘You mean a lot to me, the things that you’ve gone through’,” explains Barbara.

“I just want to be able to bless you, and be able to help you.”
“It’s just overwhelming,” says Shannon.

“My heart is just overflowing. Like, what a special friend to do that for us. It was very special.”
With her own husband’s blessing, Barbara started hormone therapy. It took two attempts at implantation at a fertility clinic in Calgary before the pregnancy test was positive. Barbara sent a photo of the test stick to Shannon.

“I got a text on my phone and I showed Jeremy the pregnancy test that was positive,” Shannon laughs. “And he said, ‘Oh the little Sticker stuck!'”

From then on, the fetus was known as Sticker. Barbara explained to her own two children, Jonas (5) and Miles (7), that she was having Auntie Shannon’s baby for her. Some friends warned Barbara that surrogacy might be harder than she expected.

“You know, ‘You’re gonna have this baby and you’re gonna have to give her up’,” says Barbara. “(But) I think from the very beginning, she was never our baby. She was always Jeremy and Shannon’s baby.”

Both families joked that the surrogacy was Extreme Babysitting. Barbara included Shannon in every aspect of her pregnancy – from maternity shopping, to doctor’s appointments, to the actual delivery. On November 11, 2014, Shannon drove her best friend to the hospital, then helped deliver her own baby girl.

“I caught (the baby’s) head coming out, and I could see her red hair, and Jeremy and I were laughing, crying… hysterical,” Shannon recalls.

Adds Jeremy,

“We were just losing it, the doctors were losing it, the nurses were crying. Everyone was so happy.”
Baby Élodie Elaine Webb weighed nine pounds, four ounces. She was bigger than Barbara’s previous babies, but arrived just as quickly – after less than three hours of labour. Barbara says watching her friends’ faces as they held Élodie was her reward.

“I just wanted to be able to let them experience it. Because being a parent is awesome, and I just wanted them to be able to do that too.”

Shannon and Jeremy describe Barbara’s gift as ‘overwhelming’.

“We did go through a really hard time and to just give us this gift that we couldn’t have had without her, it was very special,” says Shannon. “This little baby has so many people to love her. She’s just so lucky… We’re just so lucky.”


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