SurrogacyIndia’s focus is in fertility, not infertility. Making babies, is possible. ‘Possible’ is what we believe in.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Friendship more than survives surrogacy ordeal: Porter

When Leslie Solomonian offered to carry a fetus for her friend Sofia Grebius, neither woman knew how hard it would be.

Moments before her first baby was born, Sofia Grebius remembers the midwife asking two questions: “Are you ready?” and “Is your friendship going to survive this?”

The friendship in question was with Leslie Solomonian, a woman Sofia has considered kindred for two decades.

Leslie was giving birth to her baby.

“I was so surprised by that second question,” says Sofia, looking over at Leslie with tears in her eyes. “I never felt that.”

Friendships are built through shared experiences: canoe trips, picnics, soccer games, work projects. Sofia and Leslie’s “project” was on a higher stratosphere. It was to make a baby.

Sofia, a 37-year-old Swedish entrepreneur, wanted to be a mother desperately, but couldn’t deliver her own child. She lost her uterus, though not her ovaries, to cervical cancer six years ago.

Leslie already had two children. Her pregnancies had been easy, enjoyable even. Four winters ago, while driving to an inn in the Kawarthas for a girls’ getaway, she offered to be Sofia’s surrogate.

“You were quiet after that,” says Leslie, a naturopathic doctor and professor. “It took you a long time to think about it.”

The two are unlikely friends. They grew up on different sides of the globe: Sofia in Sweden and Laos; Leslie in Kitchener and later Toronto.

They met 20 years ago, when they were both nervous 17-year-old students arriving in Japan for a yearlong student exchange. Neither spoke Japanese. They both felt painfully obtrusive, acutely alone and desperately homesick. (This was before the invention of email.)

That year, they became each other’s family.

When Leslie competed in a triathlon, “Sofia rode her bike beside me while I ran, cheering me on and pouring water over my head.” She describes Sofia as loving and loyal.

For Sofia, Leslie’s trademark qualities were strength and a full-mouthed relish of life.

After that year, they returned to their own continents, keeping in touch only sporadically.

But, their spirits were glued.

Leslie wept when Sofia broke the new about her cancer over Skype. They talked too about her longing to have a baby and the walls she was slamming into.

Local adoption is rare in Sweden. Sofia put her name on international adoption lists, but her cancer history disqualified her in many cases. As for surrogacy, it is not permitted in Sweden.

In Canada, only altruistic surrogacy is legal under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act.

You can’t pay a woman to carry your baby for you. It has to be a gift.

It was the biggest gift Leslie has ever offered anyone, she admits. But, at first, she didn’t think it was a big deal. She was simply loaning out her uterus. She figured her life would otherwise continue as normal.

When Sofia came to Toronto in the fall of 2013 for the first attempted embryo transfer, Leslie insisted that she and her boyfriend, Peter Blom — the baby’s intended father — stay in her small apartment. She threw them a party.

“I assumed it would work the first time and it would be easy,” says Leslie.

Sofia overflowed with anxiety and anticipation. She’d been working up to this moment for years. For her, it was a titanic deal. She remembers the walk to the fertility clinic like this: “I was exploding inside. I wanted to cry. I was concentrating on breathing.”

The procedure didn’t work the first time. Or the second or third. Every attempt, Leslie had to be induced into menopause, then jacked full of estrogen and progesterone so her uterus was ripe. She had hot flashes, and violent emotional swings.

For Sofia, the “project” meant repeated cross-Atlantic trips. She had to jab her belly with needles to jolt her ovaries into high production. The egg extraction operations triggered frightening flashbacks to her cancer surgeries.

The “project” has unfolded over four years. During that time, Leslie’s marriage ended and Sofia and her former boyfriend broke up. She started dating Peter a few months before the first scheduled appointment at the fertility clinic. Up till then, she was going to use donated sperm.

The pressure on Peter was extreme. Did he want to be a father? Once he decided yes, the pressure transferred to his just-forming relationship with Leslie. It’s hard to become soul mates on command.

“Someone I didn’t know was doing this insanely emotional, intimate thing for us,” Peter says.

Finally, last June, the embryo embedded in Leslie’s uterine wall successfully. It was their fourth and final try.

Sofia and Peter did not come to the clinic that day, though they were in Toronto. Leslie had asked for some privacy.

Having a baby together is hard on marriages. It’s also hard on friendships, it turns out.
“Knowing how big this was for you emotionally and feeling the weight of that — it was too much to carry,” Leslie says in tears.

It wasn’t just her uterus but her identity she felt she’d loaned to the “project.” Few people notice a pregnant belly without commenting on it. Leslie was forever explaining herself. She felt more pregnant than she had with her own children, precisely because she wasn’t carrying her own child.

“I needed boundaries to live my regular life. I have relationships to foster, kids to look after, my job. I needed space.”

The weight of that distance felt leaden to Sofia. She worried more about her friend than she did about her growing baby.

“My friend was not feeling well. I didn’t know how to help,” she says.

Early the morning of March 1, Leslie’s water broke. She let Sofia know and texted her that afternoon when she was enroute to the Toronto Birth Centre in Regent Park.

Forty minutes after they all arrived, Leslie gave birth to a little boy. He was heaved up onto her bare chest until his umbilical cord was cut, and then he was passed into the trembling arms of his mother.

Sofia calls that experience “pure magic.”

“I felt lighter,” says Leslie.

So, what was their answer to the midwife: Will friendship survive this?

Both respond with an emphatic “Yes.”

All the things Leslie loved about her friend — compassion and loyalty — came into sharp focus again.

“We’ve just gotten to know each other deeper,” says Sofia.

She and Peter have named their son Astor Ontario Q Axel Joe Blom Grebius.

“We were worried those were too many names. But then, why not just give him them all?” says Sofia. “There were so many people involved in him being here.”


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