Pregnancy can become a lot harder or even impossible after cancer, but a viable option exists for those who still dream of growing their family—surrogacy.
“You guys better have kids soon. I mean, you’re almost 34,“ my mother-in-law proclaimed during our daily walk through her Toronto neighborhood, transitioning abruptly from our previous discussion about whether or not we should have sushi for dinner. I adored her, but she was much too impatient to be bothered with subtlety.
Women all over the world were waiting longer to have kids and I had little concern for keeping up with what anyone expected. Her son and I had just gotten married and were about to move from New York City to Toronto in order to live closer to his family. An actor, I had signed with a top Canadian talent agency and my current focus was on finding us an affordable apartment downtown where I would be auditioning.
Sure, my husband and I had talked about having kids—but we wanted to get settled before we got serious about having a family. Four years later, we bought ourselves a little more time by freezing our embryos. Soon after I turned 39, we both felt the time had finally come to start trying for a baby and during my 40th birthday dinner we announced to our families we were four months along with our first child.
Pregnancy was incredible. I loved every minute of it, working out daily and never having any morning sickness. And when our son was born that April I was genuinely sad I wouldn’t be pregnant anymore, though I was excited to see my feet again and could do without the late night in-utero acrobatics our love child was so keen on performing. Before being pregnant I assumed it was something I could only tolerate once but now, my husband’s insistence we try for baby number two wasn’t completely dismissed.
For Christmas that year, he got my mother-in-law—who despite her sometimes tactless tendencies was my closest friend and favorite travel companion—and me an all-inclusive trip to Aruba. It was on that luxury vacation that I noticed the palpable lump in my deflated right breast, which two weeks after returning from paradise was confirmed to be breast cancer.
We were suddenly faced with the reality that if we wanted to try for another baby within the next year, I would not be the one to carry it. It was too dangerous to expose my body to a pregnancy surge in estrogen and progesterone, both of which were largely responsible for helping my type of breast cancer grow. A double mastectomy had removed all of the cancerous breast tissue, and further testing showed that the cancer hadn’t spread. But a risk of recurrence was still a possibility.
I was placed on a hormonal protocol, which included putting me into chemical menopause and taking a daily pill that further diminished my estrogen. Going off these medications so soon after being diagnosed was a risk I wasn’t prepared to take. Suddenly all that time I thought we had to grow our family was gone.
“We were suddenly faced with the reality that if we wanted to try for another baby within the next year, I would not be the one to carry it.”
Luckily, nearby in a fertility clinic were our “just in case” embryos sitting safely in storage. We had the bun; we just needed the oven. The search for a surrogate was on.
We had no idea where to start. In the U.S., while 47 states recognize gestational surrogacy according to Circle Surrogacy, exact laws and protections can vary widely based on your location. Furthermore, commercialized surrogacy is illegal in Canada. You can reimburse a surrogate’s expenses related to the pregnancy but anything outside of that is not allowed.
We ended up consulting a surrogacy agency that in exchange for several thousand dollars helps “match” you with a suitable surrogate. We made a video introducing ourselves and our first child to potential candidates. My eyes flooded with tears as I recounted the path that brought us here.
The agency immediately sent us a few possible matches, filling us with hope that our “super-surro” was closer than we thought. However, none of them were a fit and any of the ones whose initial applications we did connect with weren’t interested in pursuing next steps when they discovered we already had a child.
It all felt so out of my control. Frustrated with the endless waiting, I needed to take action. I severed ties with the agency and turned to Facebook, joining a few groups for Canadian surrogates and intended parents (IPs), intimate groups full of very active members. I posted my story and within a few days connected with a surrogate, Roxanne, who was open to another journey if she met the right couple.
The day we met in person, we spent the entire time relaxing and laughing at a spa, our phones in a locker as we sat sharing stories. While she was several years younger, our birthdays were a day apart. And when she met our son she immediately adored him, excited to help make him a big brother.
Over the course of the next 10 months, I spent many evenings at her home, sharing dinners and movie nights with her incredibly supportive husband and their three fantastic kids. And when our beautiful son was born in May 2020, I was so excited to make her one of his godmothers.
Cancer took so many things away, but getting to go through this journey with Roxanne was something I’m grateful cancer allowed me to experience.
Our shared birthday is in two weeks and we are celebrating it together. With all of the COVID-19 restrictions in Canada, this will be the first in-person time spent together since our miracle baby was born. On our agenda: binge-watching Netflix, sipping chocolate tea and lots of laughing, because that’s all I ever want to do with my family. And Roxanne, my surrogate, is forever family.
Sarah DiMuro is an actor and writer in Toronto, Canada who recently welcomed her second child via gestational surrogate. You can follow her on Instagram at @sarahdimurowrites. For more information regarding surrogacy during or after breast cancer, visit cancer.net/survivorship/life-after-cancer.