Surrogacy gift of life
A Victorian woman is sharing her cancer journey, and the birth of her son through surrogacy to help raise awareness about surrogacy.
In 2015, Gretel Fowler was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer and the need for regular scans to track the cancer’s progress ruled out being able to carry a baby.
“At the time, I did ask my oncologist about fertility preservation and the answer was basically you don’t have time,” Gretel said.
“There was a concern if I was to become pregnant, I could not be scanned for nine months”.
By 2017, the cancer stabilised and Gretel and her husband Ed Ung were able to preserve eight embryos. By 2019, the need to consider surrogacy to start a family increased, after Gretel received disturbing results from a scan.
“I had a very rapidly growing metastasis in my liver and the oncologist said it was quite an aggressive metastasis, which would be managed as a chronic condition and surrogacy was going to be the best way forward.”
At a family barbeque, Gretel asked her sister in law Ros Erskine whether she knew anyone who might be interested in being a surrogate.
“From the start, I didn’t think yes I am in. I am going to be your surrogate,” Ros said.
“Gretel and Ed never asked either. They just asked are you willing to meet with the fertility specialist. It’s a lengthy process. After I was cleared by my GP, obstetrician and the fertility specialist, then I said I am in.”
Ten months of counselling and legal process followed before Ros was implanted with Gretel and Ed’s embryo.
In January 2022, the birth plan went out the window, when Ros went into labour four weeks early and baby Oscar was born.
Gretel and Ed were interstate when Ros went into labour and watched the birth via Facetime, before making the dash to Melbourne to meet Oscar.
Ellen Moriarty-Taig, Epworth Freemasons Maternity Concierge, was involved from the initial stages to help with logistics.
“Part of my role is to tailor the experience for each of our patients at Epworth Freemasons Maternity,” Ellen said.
“It is incredibly rewarding to be involved in a surrogate pregnancy. It is a wonderful gift of life and a special secret to keep.”
Midwife Prue Hartley worked with obstetrician Shelley Rowlands to support Gretel and Ed through their surrogacy.
“It was important Gretel and Ed were present for all antenatal appointments, either across zoom or in person,” Prue said.
“Test results were always discussed with both Gretel and Ros to ensure open communication. “
Gretel and Ed stayed in a room in the Epworth Freemasons post-natal ward after the birth.
“This was important for them to bond with their baby, allowing time to learn to confidently feed and do all of his newborn care,” Prue said.
Ros said a lot of people don’t understand how she could be a surrogate.
“People ask you how you can have a baby and give it away,” Ros said.
“They’re not understanding that you go into surrogacy with a different mentality. I went into this knowing I was helping Gretel and Ed bring their baby into the world. When I was pregnant, I was so excited they were going to have a baby. It was always about them the whole time”.
Gretel hopes the story of her cancer treatment and Oscar’s birth helps others.
"We decided to share our story to raise awareness, advocate for, and normalise the different ways in which families are created,” Gretel said.
She is eternally thankful for everything Ros has done.
“The hardest thing about having someone birth your child and make you a family is there’s never a gift good enough to give in return. But, Ed and I celebrate Ros just by looking at Oscar every day.”
Between 2021 and 2023, Epworth Freemasons cared for the families of four surrogate babies. The hospital offers an all-inclusive package for intended parents of surrogate births, for their post natal stay following the birth of their baby.