Prior to Australia’s annual surrogacy conference on 3-4 June, Sam Everingham looks at how one determined woman sidestepped her Endometriosis to build her family via surrogacy
Aged 25, Sydneysider Jillian Pearl was diagnosed with severe endometriosis and told if she wanted a family she should get moving. Her gynaecologist prescribed Clomid and within four months she fell pregnant, ultimately giving birth to a daughter. The pregnancy was difficult, with constant bleeding, nausea and cramping. Her daughter arrived 3.5 weeks early. Sadly, by the time her daughter was 18 months old, Jillian and her partner had separated.
In 2007, aged 34, severe complications of endometriosis (bleeding most weeks, low iron, depression and much scar tissue) led to a hysterectomy, though the doctors saved Jillian’s ovaries. After years on her own, Jillian moved to Brisbane in 2010. Thanks to an internet dating website she met her current partner Alex soon thereafter. Alex wanted a family, Jillian’s body could not carry one. Repeatedly the pair split over this issue, only to be drawn back together by their love.
In early 2012 – aged 39 Jillian began to research surrogacy. She connected online with an Australian surrogate and the women she had carried for – they provided not only their experience but emotional support.
Keen to use her own eggs, Jillian underwent an IVF cycle. But her age was against her. Only three eggs were collected. Just one fertilized into an embryo, but it failed to survive to Day 5. Jillian knew she needed an egg donor, though was terrified of raising the concept with Alex. When she did finally broach the idea, Alex surprised her. He agreed to do some research with her so they could make an informed decision.
Ultimately comfortable with the idea, another parent through surrogacy guided them to the community-run Egg Donation Australia forum – a site where Australian women donated eggs informally to others. They soon met a woman Sarah who agreed to donate eggs.
The subsequent IVF process produced five healthy embryos –put on ice until they could locate a surrogate.
Jillian and Alex were over the moon when they connected with an Australian surrogate the next year. The doctors transferred an embryo and it took. However their joy was short-lived when at nine weeks their surrogate miscarried. Undeterred, they pushed on to a second embryo transfer as soon as they could. The result was negative.
By now, their surrogate felt she could not go on – a common issue in Australian surrogacy, where a lack of financial compensation together with the physical toll means most potential surrogates find it hard to undertake multiple transfers.
Jillian was devastated. Then out of the blue a work colleague offered to carry. Overjoyed they had a second chance, Jill and Alex connected regularly with their new surrogate. With no Medicare rebate available for surrogacy-related IVF, each cycle was very costly. But this time the embryo transfer was a success. As the weeks passed, their precious embryo turned into a growing foetus. Then complications hit. The stress mounted. Their surrogate bled throughout the pregnancy and when a large hematoma was detected, it looked like a miscarriage was only days away.
But the pregnancy progressed, though Jillian admits, ‘I found it difficult to not be carrying our daughter. I felt bad for my husband who would have loved to experience pregnancy the “normal” way. It was a scary process full of unknowns – will I be able to bond with this child? Will they know I am not their biological mother? Will my family look down on me?’
Meanwhile, with regulatory hoops to jump through that seemed repetitive and endless, Jillian found the process both stressful and cumbersome. It was a long nine months.
But in May 2015 after a stressful delivery, a healthy baby girl was delivered. They named her Olivia.
Two years on, Jill & Alex maintain a special bond with their surrogate and her family. In April 2016 they married. By now, Jill’s ongoing health issues had led to a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. A month after the wedding, surgeons removed half a metre of her bowel.
Despite her own health issues, Jill is eternally grateful ‘We are proud that our love and determination gave us this wonderful gift,’ she admits.