December 4, 2023Read More
This two-time surrogate mother wants to share her joy of parenting and gives an inside look at what it’s like to carry a child for another family.
One of the most delightful and daunting experiences in life doesn’t come easy for everyone. For Sonja Martin, 45, however, pregnancy and being a mother was her passion in life. After giving birth to her third child, the Ontario-based author and child educator knew her joyful journey had finally come to an end. But as she contemplated her future, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
“I have always, since I was five years old, wanted to be a mom,” she says. “By the time I had my third, it was like a grieving process. I didn’t want to be done with this stage of my life, but I’m not going to continue having kids.”
So instead of moving on, Martin turned her attention to helping others experience what she had in abundance — first by becoming a leader and lactation specialist at La Leche League, a non-profit organization that supports mothers as they learn how to breastfeed, and then by becoming a doula to help guide others through their pregnancy process.
She soon realized she wanted “more,” and would find it during a passing conversation with an acquaintance at a baby fair who had recently made the decision to become a surrogate. A weekend retreat following that fateful day provided all the clarity she would need.
“It just kept coming to me,” she says. “By the time I came home, I had a journal and I had it all planned.” She presented her thoughts on becoming a surrogate to her husband, he expressed his support and set out to change lives.
Do surrogate mothers in Canada receive compensation?
As she researched the process, Martin learned that nearly one in six couples experience infertility and surrogates are in very high demand in Canada. Unlike in the U.S., it is illegal to pay someone else to carry your child. This lack of any real financial incentive means the waiting list for hopeful parents is acutely long.
With the growing number of Canadians in line for a surrogate, many people are left wondering why the laws prevent them from receiving payment. It’s because the Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits payments in an effort to impede on any attempt to commercialize reproduction services. They can be reimbursed for reasonable expenses, but the laws surrounding those are stringent.
“When we get compensated, it means that every single time we go anywhere, we’ve got to record it, take a picture of the receipt, put it in an app and write reports,” says Martin. “You don’t make a penny in Canada — if anything, you’re going to be out of pocket because you’ll forget to submit a receipt or you purchase something that isn’t covered.”
Martin says years ago, a friend told her that for every surrogate that stands up, there are 10 people waiting. And with COVID, the surrogate supply decreased with fewer people willing to interact with the healthcare system – so a lot of people dropped out.
Traditional vs gestational surrogate
It’s important to distinguish that there are two types of surrogate pregnancies: traditional and gestational. Traditional surrogacy is when the surrogate mother not only carries the child, but also provides her eggs with the intention of giving the baby to other parents upon birth. “It’s rare in Canada,” says Martin. “With traditional surrogacy, the surrogate is also the biological mother so the legal process is even more complicated than in my scenario.”
Martin is a gestational surrogate, which means she carries the child but the egg is retrieved either from the intended mother or an egg donor. “The paperwork is intense,” says Martin. “I signed nearly 1000 pages of documents – every possible scenario needs to be accounted for and the intended parents actually have very little control over the actual pregnancy.”
What motivates someone to be a surrogate?
With no financial incentive, Martin is often asked why she would put herself through the often-grueling nature of childbirth for someone she doesn’t know. “I guess the short version would be a maternal calling,” she says with a smile. “I’m really big on parenting. I think you teach your kids that you love people. It doesn’t matter their gender — some people need help.”
She realized just how dire this need was when the first surrogate agency she contacted got back to her almost immediately, eager to get things started. It was the first of many surprises.
According to Martin, the screening process is bare minimum. “The bar, in my opinion, is set really low because surrogates are in such demand. The initial screening from their agency is more like matchmaking. They ask you, ‘Are you OK with same-sex couples? How do you feel about an international couple?’ And then you get a phone call instantly. What you don’t realize is that there are 200 families who have been waiting for five years for someone to sign up.”
The work that goes into carrying someone’s child
Martin wasn’t about to back down, however, and after completing the process and giving birth to her first surrogate child almost four years ago, she is something of an expert on just how time-consuming it can actually be.
“I don’t think people realize it’s a job. It might sound crass but it’s an unpaid volunteer job. You have to be aware of that going into it,” says Martin.
After giving birth to a happy healthy baby that now lives with their two dads in France, Martin took a few years off before deciding she was ready to begin the process anew. She took the time to write a children’s book called Eli’s Baby Story – helping little ones understand what surrogacy is all about.
How PocketHealth brings moments of joy to intended parents
Now pregnant with her second surrogate child, Martin has found the process has become easier, thanks, in part, to advances in technology. Since COVID restrictions affected how many people can come into ultrasound clinics, the intended parents missed some of these special moments and Martin wanted to share the excitement and keep them informed of the baby’s progress. Fortunately, PocketHealth gives patients control over access to their medical imaging, so after every appointment, Martin sends her sonograms to the parents using PocketHealth, allowing them to follow along on their child’s journey.
“Like any other parents, they want the souvenirs, they want to know that everything’s good, they want to share updates,” she says. “For the parents, it gives them peace of mind and keeps them included in the experience.”
Post-surrogacy and sharing the love of parenthood
As for her next chapter, Martin says she wants to become a surrogacy doula to help future parents and their surrogates navigate a delicate process that can cross cultures, languages and a host of other barriers. “I don’t know if there is such a thing but I’m going to create it,” she says.
In the meantime, she offers some final words that she shared on an online message board in response to an American couple who couldn’t comprehend why anyone would carry someone else’s baby for free. “I just wrote, ‘It’s love. Simply stated, it’s love. Expanding love, showing love, showing caring.”
“You don’t need to have anything more than that. Some people just love to help people and that’s what works for them. It’s not for everybody but for me it just feels like a really kind way to give a pretty awesome gift.
PocketHealth is giving expecting parents the power to take charge of their pregnancy journey, no matter the path. Seamless online access to medical imaging makes it easy to share records with doctors and care providers. To access your medical imaging and records, please visit us here.