BY the time Kristy and Craig Darken found out they were going to be parents, they had almost given up all hope of holding a child of their own in their arms.
It had been close to eight years of highs and lows, of hope and of devastation, as the Elermore Vale couple trod the testing track of having a baby via a surrogate.
But then, countless counselling sessions, IVF, two surrogates and 10 embryos later, a tearful late night phone call came from Kristy’s sister, Rebecca.
“She was crying her eyes out,” Kristy said.
“I thought she was crying because she knew it was our last try. I thought she was devastated. Then finally, she said, ‘I’m pregnant. It worked’.
“We’d had so many negative results that we were in shock, we just sat there, looking at each other.”
About nine months later, Henry Darken – the couple’s “$100,000 baby” – arrived to provide an endless supply of priceless moments since his speedy birth on February 8.
“I’d just built up this resilience,” Kristy said. “I didn’t actually cry until his birth day. There had been so many disappointments, I didn’t want to believe he was actually real until he was actually here.”
When Kristy and Craig first met, she told him if he wanted children and a family, she probably wasn’t the one for him.
She was a teenager when she found out she was born without a uterus.
“My mum had always said she would try to have a baby for me,” Kristy said.
“She was our first surrogate. We jumped through all of the hoops. We went through the IVF process. We did all of the counselling sessions, all of us, and got all of the legal agreements done.”
The already complex process was made more complicated by the fact they were living in Townsville at the time, and each state has its own surrogacy legislation.
“We don’t know why it didn’t work,” Kristy said.
“Mum was a little bit older, but technically, you can still go through menopause and carry a baby, because you are not relying on the egg, but the uterus.”
The experience had been hard on everyone.
“We’d do a transfer, and say, ‘Well technically, we’re pregnant.’
“But then a week later we’d be at rock bottom,” Craig said.
They decided to take a break for 12 months.
Kristy and Craig quit their jobs, sold their house and most of their furniture.
They bought a caravan and took off on a trip around Australia.
They had not long arrived in Tasmania when the motor of their car blew up.
“That’s where we were when Kristy’s sister, Rebecca, contacted us and said she wanted to have a baby for us,” Craig said.
Rebecca already had two children, and her husband was supportive and encouraging. All of them, Rebecca’s husband too, had to have individual and group counselling sessions.
Kristy and Craig had to be approved by an ethics committee, and new surrogacy agreements drawn up.
“There has to be a medical reason why you can’t carry a baby,” Kristy said.
“You can’t just do it because you want to keep your size eight figure.
“In Australia, you can’t pay someone to be a surrogate. It is someone essentially gifting their body to you. In the US, you can.”
Henry was the result of their 10th and final embryo.
“By the time we got to the last one, I was happy to see the back of the Genea clinic. They were great, but it had just been such an emotional roller coaster,” Craig said.
“When we walked out of that last one, either way, it was going to be over.”
Kristy described the process to her young nephews as having all of the ingredients to bake a cake, but no oven.
There was room for improvement in Australia’s surrogacy laws, and the availability of information about it, the couple said.
Soon they will apply to the Supreme Court for a parentage order to become Henry’s legal parents, but they were advised that despite the expensive surrogacy agreement, if Rebecca chose to keep the baby, she could.
“My sister and her husband’s names go on his birth certificate, his name goes on their Medicare card,” Kristy said. “Legally, if things went south and Rebecca wanted to keep him, she has every right,” Craig said. “Not only could she get to keep him, but because I’m the biological father, she could take me for child support even though I’m not ‘legally’ his father.”
Kristy and Craig missed out on the usual support new parents get at the hospital – such as learning how to feed, bath and change the baby – as they were not technically patients.
“The staff were wonderful, they just didn’t know what to do with us,” Kristy said.
The private lactation consultant Kristy hired to help her learn how to breastfeed – a possibility thanks to hormone tablets – was not permitted on site, they said.
“I felt more comfortable coming home, but I was pretty much 48 hours behind everyone else at the same point,” Kristy said.
For surrogate, Rebecca, “This is not my baby,” almost became a mantra while she was pregnant with her newborn nephew.
Every flutter, every movement and every kick: “This is not our child.”
“Right from the get go, it is in your head, ‘This is not my baby. He is not my biological child,’” she said. “It has to be.”
Rebecca was about 13 when Kristy discovered she did not have a uterus.
She volunteered her surrogacy services then, although they would not taken seriously until many years later.
“I always thought that if I could carry a child for her, I would,” Rebecca, 30, said.
“When someone wants something so badly, and you are able to provide them with the opportunity, I don’t see why you shouldn’t.”
When Rebecca met her husband, James – the father of her two sons – she “laid down the rules” early.
“I said, ‘This is what I plan on doing for my sister, and if you don’t like it, you may as well leave right now.’
“He was really supportive.
“When Kristy and Craig tried surrogacy the first time, we didn’t realise that legally I had to have already had my own children first.”
There had been sacrifices.
The couple had to abstain from sex until there was a positive pregnancy test, which took five months.
“We could not risk a pregnancy of our own hindering the process. Imagine if you went nine months with someone being your surrogate and the baby was born and it was not yours.”
They missed family events in the Philipines, as they could not risk travelling to countries with reported cases of Zika Virus 12 months prior to an embryo transfer.
There was pressure too.
“But it was pressure that I put on myself,” Rebecca said.
“For the first and second embryo transfers not to work, that really hit me hard.
“I had always gotten pregnant so easily, and you can’t get much more accurate than the scientist literally putting the embryo in your uterus.
“It was heartbreaking to feel like I failed them when I had never failed myself.”
The psychological sessions throughout the surrogacy process had been very thorough, covering all kinds of hypothetical scenarios. Many people asked how she coped with “giving the baby away.”
She said in some ways, it was similar to a stillbirth.
“You still birth a baby, you still have the afterbirth contractions for a couple of weeks, you still have the squishy tummy that the baby was meant to be laying on during breastfeeding, and you still have the milk that was meant to supply sustenance to the baby. The baby won't be put into my arms after delivery and it won't be coming home with me. But the big difference is the baby is alive and healthy and gets to go home to two loving parents.
“I never looked at the situation as I don't get to keep the baby, I look at it as I created the opportunity for two people to be parents.”
Although she expects she may have a closer connection with Henry than a typical aunt, her detachment during the pregnancy meant she did not have the bond with him that many would expect.
“For us, my body was the oven, the incubator for Henry. But the experience definitely brought Kristy and I closer as sisters, and as friends,” she said.