In Eleanor and Marcia’s words…
Who/what inspires me: (Marcia) Those who find their passion and follow it even if it is challenging. (Eleanor) People who are positive and keep searching for new ways and ideas.
Best advice: (Marcia) Be nice to others, it isn’t difficult! (Eleanor) Listen to that little voice inside your head… and NEVER say NEVER!
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Eleanor Gorman lay on the sonographer’s patient table, a cool gel upon her stomach, the ultrasound device rubbing over her skin. Her husband Andrew stood beside her. The duo was ecstatic. They had just married, Eleanor was already pregnant and their life together was full of promise. Smiling at each other they watched the hazy form of their unborn child appear on the ultrasound screen. Excited they glanced at the sonographer. Her face was stern. Where a heartbeat should have sounded, a heavy silence screamed back at them. “I’m sorry,” the sonographer said shaking her head. Their tiny baby had died in Eleanor’s womb.
“It was just horrific,” Eleanor remembers. The miscarriage was the start of a seven-year battle to produce a child they so desperately wanted. Their journey took them to lows from which they feared they’d never recover – times when grief pierced their very souls with a weight near impossible to bear. Yet, they persevered. And when Eleanor’s sister Marcia Huber offered to carry Eleanor’s child as a surrogate, they dared to hope once more.
Today, with four-month-old son Arlo who Marcia carried through pregnancy, Eleanor feels like the luckiest mum in the world. Watching his face while he sleeps, grasping his tiny hands in hers, Eleanor feels like her heart could burst with the love she feels for her child. But surrogacy is not an easy gig. How did they reach this point? How did Eleanor cope with someone else carrying her child in their womb? How did Marcia deal with handing over the life she’d nurtured?
How did Eleanor cope with someone else carrying her child in their womb? How did Marcia deal with handing over the life she’d nurtured?
Quest for parenthood
After their initial miscarriage Eleanor and Andrew craved parenthood more than ever. In her ever-more desperate attempts to conceive, Eleanor tried acupuncture, she went gluten free, she gave up coffee, she did her best to manage stress, and she visited doctors and specialists. Finally she found a specialist who diagnosed her with Asherman’s Syndrome, a condition caused by the scar tissue from the curette she’d endured after her miscarriage.
The condition was preventing her falling pregnant again so the scar tissue was removed with surgery. But no pregnancy ensued. Two years had passed since the miscarriage and Eleanor decided it was time to get serious. They’d try IVF.
Eleanor grimaces as she remembers visiting the IVF clinic with its factory feel, detached nurses and uncomfortable conversations. “I’d catch the train into the city in the early morning to go to the clinic and see dozens of women going through the same thing,” Eleanor says. “It’s not a nice feeling at all. Everybody tries to avoid eye contact with each other. Everyone is in a world of pain and you put a big barrier around yourself.”
As Eleanor’s IVF attempts continued to fail that barrier got harder to penetrate. “After the first few times it doesn’t work you build up a fantastic shell,” Eleanor says. “Your whole head is just filled with ‘I want a baby’. And you just have to tell yourself not to get too hopeful. You want it so much that it’s in your thoughts the whole time but you have to push it aside.”
“Your whole head is just filled with ‘I want a baby’.”
Pregnancy – and loss
After five attempts at IVF Eleanor finally got the news she’d craved with her very soul. She was pregnant. Ecstatic, she phoned Andrew and the duo dared hope once more. The pregnancy lasted six weeks. Another few IVF attempts later and another pregnancy. Six weeks later another loss. Yet again Eleanor became pregnant, and again the baby died within two months.
After so much loss, so much pain, doctors conducted more tests and Eleanor was finally diagnosed with a condition which caused Eleanor’s body to produce ‘killer blood cells’ which would go into attack mode against the embryos in Eleanor’s womb. It was unlikely Eleanor would ever carry a baby to full term.
It was unlikely Eleanor would ever carry a baby to full term.
By this time Eleanor and Andrew had endured 11 failed IVF attempts over seven years. Eleanor’s sister Marcia had grieved along with her sister each time, comforted her through her four miscarriages. They’d discussed surrogacy as an option before. Now it appeared to be Eleanor’s only hope.
Marcia eventually broached the subject with her husband Rob. “Rob wasn’t surprised but he was concerned for my safety,” Marcia says. “We’ve got our own beautiful girls. I was older now. He felt caution, and we didn’t rush anything. There’s the physical side but there’s also the mental side – would it be ok for me to give a baby away that I’d carried all that time?”
“…would it be ok for me to give a baby away that I’d carried all that time?”
After months of steps to gain approval for surrogacy – including medicals, legal appointments and counselling – they finally received the green light, and one of the embryos produced with Eleanor’s eggs and Andrew’s sperm was placed inside Marcia. They’d have to wait 10 days for a blood test to see if the embryo had survived. They had decided Eleanor would be the first to receive the results of the test. That phone call came. The attempt had failed. The spark of hope that Eleanor had dared to let glow, was nearly extinguished. “You have to tell yourself it won’t work because you want it so much,” Eleanor says. “But it’s incredibly disappointing.”
During the second attempt Eleanor said she wouldn’t speak to Marcia for the 10 days until they’d discovered if she was pregnant. She couldn’t bear the thought of reading into Marcia’s every statement – did she feel tired, was she sick, could she possibly be pregnant?
10 days later Eleanor and Andrew finally received the news they’d so ached for. “I was like ‘you’re kidding’. I was excited but kind of non-believing. I rang Marcia, she was really excited. There’s a fine line of wanting to run around and be totally excited but you don’t know if there’s going to be a baby at the end.”
“There’s a fine line of wanting to run around and be totally excited but you don’t know if there’s going to be a baby at the end.”
Weeks passed and it was time for the first ultrasound scan. Eleanor drove from her home in Sydney to Newcastle where Marcia lived and they attended the scan together. Eleanor had nightmarish visions of the ultrasound of her first pregnancy, when the heartbeat had failed to sound. Grasping hands Eleanor and Marcia waited. The baby’s form materialised on the screen. And there was the heartbeat – a furious beating that lit up Eleanor’s very being.
“We both cried,” Eleanor recalls. “I was so excited to hear the sound of the heartbeat – that’s what I wanted to hear. I recorded it and called Andrew and said ‘you’ve got to hear this’.”
Marcia was similarly elated: “She’d been trying for seven years,” Marcia says. “They’d had all these losses and then there’s a heartbeat – that was really emotional. You really can’t describe it.”
“They’d had all these losses and then there’s a heartbeat – that was really emotional.”
A life grows
As the pregnancy progressed Marcia became stricken with the nausea that had characterised her other pregnancies. Her family rallied around her. “Rob and the girls were very supportive and patient with me if I had to run away from the kitchen,” Marcia says. “Poor Rob had a huge load – the emotional load and physically he needed to cook, he did the shopping, he was wonderful. It was big for everybody.”
As Marcia’s stomach swelled, Eleanor tried to keep her hope in check. Each time she saw Marcia she marvelled at her grace, how calmly and beautifully she handled the pregnancy. Jealousy was never an issue. “I wasn’t jealous at all,” Eleanor says “She was this mother earth person – it was just like it was meant to be. I’d been through so much. I knew this was my only option, so I could fully embrace it. I was somehow able to go ‘well my body wasn’t able to do this and yours can’. I was ok with that.”
And while Marcia was nervous about how her body would respond to handing over the baby, she knew in her mind that she’d get through it. “I always knew the baby was going to be theirs,” she says. “It was like an extended babysitting gig.”
At the 12-week pregnancy scan Marcia, Rob, Eleanor and Andrew crowded in to the room for the ultrasound. “It was weird going in and saying ‘yes it’s me and here’s my
husband and these are the parents’,” Marcia says.
Again they heard the heartbeat. Emotion soared and tears flowed as another pregnancy milestone passed. Like the life inside Marcia, the ember of hope was beginning to grow stronger.
By the time Marcia was three months pregnant they decided to tell people about the pregnancy. Every movement Marcia felt from the growing life inside her was a confirmation that the baby continued to prosper. “There’s the extra burden of concern when you’re carrying someone else’s child so it’s good when there’s movement,” Marcia says. “But it’s very different to your own pregnancy in terms of talking to people. You need people to realise that you won’t have a baby at the end.”
Like the life inside Marcia, the ember of hope was beginning to grow stronger.
As the pregnancy reached full term Eleanor and Andrew travelled to Newcastle in preparation for the birth. There was no way Eleanor was missing her child’s arrival into the world. Marcia had elected to have a natural birth. She’d given birth to her own girls naturally and felt it was the best for the child. She also feared being stuck on the labour ward after a caesarean, the cry of other newborns a reminder of the child she’d handed over.
As the labour started a tension hung over the hospital. As they had previously arranged, Eleanor and Andrew waited outside the delivery room where they watched staff rush in and heard Marcia’s cries of pain pierce the ward. Hope turned to fear. Was this normal? What was going wrong?
“The hardest thing was hearing her at the end and just being so scared,” Eleanor says. “I was crying and praying please let us come out of this with two healthy people. We couldn’t lose Marcia, the most wonderful person in the world, and we couldn’t lose this baby we wanted more than anything in the world. I bargained with god, with the universe, could we have got this far for something awful to happen. This story couldn’t end with heartbreak.”
“This story couldn’t end with heartbreak.”
As the baby failed to arrive more people rushed in. The air was thick with fear. The baby’s head finally crowned and Eleanor was called. She watched him enter the world. She cut the umbilical cord. Andrew came in. Eleanor pressed her child to her chest, closed her eyes and thanked the universe. “I went totally into my own little word,” Eleanor says. “We had a baby. I just looked into his little button eyes.”
Eleanor had taken a hormone which enabled her to breastfeed her child. She enjoyed skin on skin contact with her new baby. Laying on the delivery bed, Marcia witnessed Eleanor and Andrew’s sheer joy. “It was amazing,” Marcia says. “She had this baby. She could put him straight on the breast – that all helps with bonding. I’m sure she would have bonded anyway but that was extra special.”
Andrew and Eleanor were able to stay with their baby in the maternity ward. Marcia and Rob elected to go home the same day. “I was hugely emotional and I think shell shocked and tired,” Marcia says. “We went home and ate, I was exhausted. We went to bed, lay there and read, chatted and I was sort of on a high in a way. But then I woke in the night and just cried – all the emotion, having the responsibility of carrying the baby, that he’d come. I don’t know – just all of it. I just cried and cried.”
Eleanor pressed her child to her chest, closed her eyes and thanked the universe.
The next day Marcia, Rob and their girls went to the hospital to see the baby, named Arlo. Marcia revelled in holding this child that she’d carried inside so long. She relished the joy her sister was radiating. After several days Eleanor, Andrew and Arlo went home to Sydney to begin their life together. Eleanor and Marcia spoke every day on the phone. “The first week we’d just call and cry – we were both so emotional,” Eleanor says.
Meanwhile Marcia battled the discomfort of stitches, hormones and swelling breasts that were preparing to feed a child that was not there. “I let myself cry whenever I needed to cry,” Marcia says. “I spent about a month feeling fragile. I think when you’ve got a baby you’re busy but when you don’t and you’ve gone through all that and you’ve got these hormones that’s not totally easy. But I knew that I would gradually work my way through and gave myself time and let myself feel whatever. And my little family huddled around me and gave me hugs – that was amazing.”
When Marcia and her family visited Eleanor and Andrew several weeks later they knew they’d done the right thing. The new parents were alight with the joy of a parenthood they had fought so hard to experience. “Giving Eleanor and Andrew something that they really wanted was really special,” Marcia says. “You can’t beat being able to give someone a baby. It all really worked so well. The hormones and all after the birth were not easy but I knew that was part of the deal.”
So would she do it again? “It’s certainly not something to be undertaken lightly but it’s very rewarding to be able to help in such a huge way. It’s definitely not for everyone but if you think you can do it, it will bring such joy.”
That is certainly the case for Eleanor. “Because Marcia did it so naturally and in such a giving way it feels so normal,” Eleanor says. “Every day I say to Arlo we are so lucky to have you. I am the luckiest mother in the world. I’m totally blown away by what a gift Marcia has given.”
“Every day I say to Arlo we are so lucky to have you. I am the luckiest mother in the world. I’m totally blown away by what a gift Marcia has given.”