Tasha and Wayne McKenzie wanted a baby even before they said their vows on their wedding day. After four years of trying to fall pregnant naturally and after six unsuccessful rounds of IVF, their friend Lee-Ann Laufs said she would be their surrogate. Charlene Yared West sat down with Tasha, Wayne and Lee-Ann to learn more about their surrogacy journey.
Surrogacy chose us
Wayne and Tasha felt that they had exhausted all their options to have a baby, save the adoption route. Their friend, Lee-Ann Laufs worked closely with with a safe house for abused and abandoned children called Miracle Kids in Cape Town. “I emailed her to get the details and she called me back saying that she had been telling my wife Tash for months that she would be our surrogate – and that she really meant it. I was blown away by what she said and wanted to laugh and cry simultaneously. I knew this could finally be it… We could have our baby!”
Tasha recalls how she got to know Lee-Ann in her beauty salon; “When she came for treatments, we got to know each other and would start chatting about where I was in fertility treatment. She always mentioned wanting to be our surrogate, but sometimes people say things they don’t really mean and I wasn’t sure if this was one of those times, so I left it at that. She gave birth to her second son and after the caesarean messaged me from the hospital saying she would do this for us. She told us to be patient and wait a little while longer until she had healed and was ready to be pregnant again. We left it at that and I still didn’t believe her!”
It was only after Lee-Ann and Wayne had spoken that the offer of surrogacy became real to Tasha. “Unless you have been through the process, you will never know the heartache of infertility and I was terrified to allow someone else to carry my baby.” adds Tasha. “It was the best news to hear that both eggs survived and we were expecting twins. Prof Thinus Kruger from the Aevitas Clinic dealt with the embryo transfer and making us pregnant.”
Lee-Ann recalls how during the pregnancy, Wayne started calling her “Smeg”, which was a code word for oven. “That was exactly how I viewed the pregnancy; I was an oven for their babies. Simply put; their sperm and eggs, my uterus. The babies don’t receive anything from the surrogate mom except food and a warm comfy womb.This is known as gestational surrogacy,” explains Lee-Ann. “There were no feelings afterwards of ‘I wish they were mine.’ The joy it gives others is so worth it and helps erase all the heartache they went through to finally have their babies.”
The medical side
“The surrogate and the commissioning mother need to sync their monthly cycle,” says Professor Thinus Kruger from Aevitas Fertility Clinic in Cape Town. “Hormone injections are administered to the surrogate to stop her from ovulating at this time. Her uterine lining also needs to be a certain thickness so that the embryo can be transferred into the lining to grow.” He explains how the commissioning mother’s eggs are stimulated to get as many as possible and are then grown until they are mature enough to be harvested and then fertilized by sperm from the father. “The laboratory scientist selected eight eggs based on quality and and then fertilized those. They are then grown and allowed to undergo cell-division outside of the body between three and five days. Not all the eggs will go through these stages of cell division and then another selection process takes place where only two embryos are transferred into the surrogate’s uterus at this time. After the transfer, there is a waiting period of ten days before seeing if the pregnancy is viable.” Prof Kruger explains that there are variations to this process and it is not successful at every stage.
Gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Gary Groenewald was chosen by Lee-Ann to continue his care as her primary caregiver. “Lee-Ann is an extremely giving person and to do this for friends – to undergo pregnancy and surgery via caesarean section – is a major sacrifice. It really takes a special, very generous person to do this for someone else,” he says.
Since the McKenzies’ case, Life Healthcare developed a very practical and sensitive protocol to deal with future surrogacy cases. Wayne shared how special the caesarean was at Life Kingsbury and that he and Tasha were allowed to be there as well as Lee-Ann’s husband, Shaun. “It was the best day of our lives and we are forever grateful to Lee-Ann for what she did for us. We are adjusting to life with our baby girls, Lea and Madi and being parents,” says Tasha. “It has been an amazing journey and all the pain and disappointment of infertility is slowly fading, but it still feels like a dream sometimes… but then I see my daughters and I am so proud and happier than I could ever have imagined possible.”
Surrogacy Quick Facts
- According to Surrogacy.co.za, women who want to be a surrogate need to have had experienced pregnancy and birth and have at least one living child of their own.
- A surrogate also needs to be in good physical, emotional and mental health. A thorough medical and psychological examination is carried out to ascertain suitability of the surrogate and the parents.
- Since 2010, new laws about surrogacy were passed and women wanting to be surrogates may no longer gain financially from the process. However, all medical bills for the pregnancy must be footed by the commissioning parents. You may only be a surrogate for altruistic reasons.
- Commissioning parents opt for surrogacy because they are unable to conceive their own child via fertility treatment or otherwise. Many gay couples who want a child of their own often look for a surrogate to help them achieve this.
- As a surrogate you have no rights to the child after birth.
- A contract is drawn up with the Surrogate Lawyer so that your surrogate does not run away with your unborn child. In the contract it also states how many IVF processes the surrogate is willing to do and how many IVF processes the parents to be are able to afford before cancelling the contract.
- Check out www.surrogacy.co.za for more info.