January 2, 2012
Author Heather Jopling became a surrogate mother for a gay couple in 2005. Her husband David Hoare has donated his sperm to a lesbian couple.
For nine months Heather Jopling carried Milena in her womb, but she always knew the baby wasn’t “hers.”
After a long labour, she handed the newborn over to two ecstatic gay dads who had been in the delivery room with Jopling, along with her husband, David Hoare, when the baby was born.
“The memory of watching this baby being passed to her family is one of the best memories I’ll ever have in my life — it was pretty amazing,’’ recalls Jopling, 43, who lives in Cobourg with Hoare and their 11-year-old daughter, Rissa, which means “laughter’’ in Latin.
Jopling’s experience of being a surrogate mom in 2005 — and the wife of a man who fathered a boy, Rowan, now 7, through a sperm donation to a lesbian couple — has been so positive that she joined the Toronto Public Library’s Human Library event in November to talk about it. At the annual event, readers can “borrow” people of varying experiences and backgrounds for sit-down conversations at participating libraries.
It was a good experience, plus she got to meet a lot of other interesting “books,” says Jopling, whose eclectic work background includes performing Shakespeare while dressed as a clown, writing and producing four one-woman shows, and — just recently — finishing a libretto for a vampire rock opera, The Crimson Chorus .
Most people she’s spoken to about her surrogate experience have been very accepting, although she understands there may be some who find it hard to fathom how a woman could carry a child for nine months and then hand him or her over for adoption. With her theatre background, Jopling has worked with a lot of gay people over the years and understands how difficult it can be for couples who want children.
It’s hard to find surrogates in Canada, says Jopling, who gives talks a couple of times a year at a Toronto community centre that hosts meetings of gay couples hoping to become parents through conventional adoption or surrogacy.
There are no formal statistics available on surrogate pregnancies. Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act, passed in 2004, forbids any fees or compensation for surrogate mothers (although out-of-pocket expenses can be covered for things like maternity clothing), so the only legal surrogacy is altruistic.
But it’s not enough to want to help someone, says Jopling. A good surrogate has already had children (so she understands intimately what is physically and mentally involved) and is healthy and emotionally stable, she believes.
In her case, she was friends with the two men who legally adopted the baby girl and who also have another daughter from a surrogate. She saw what good fathers they were with their first child and how they yearned for another. She offered to help them realize their dream.
The actual insemination was “low tech” and just involved a syringe at home. “It worked,’’ she said.
It was a good pregnancy with no complications. She went into labour at 5 p.m. one day and Milena was born at 1 a.m. the next. The two dads were with her in the hospital delivery room, along with two midwives. Since she’d already had one child, Jopling knew what to expect, but she recalls the anxious fathers “begging” her to take something for the pain.
A few times a year, Jopling and her family see the two dads and Milena, who knows that Jopling is her “birth mother” and that she grew in her “tummy” and seems fine with that. Jopling’s daughter, too, enjoys the visits with her biological half-sibling.
The family also occasionally sees Rowan, conceived through Hoare’s sperm donation to lesbian friends, who shares the same birthday as Rissa.
Because she’s so comfortable with the complexities of modern families, she turned her hand to writing diversity-friendly fiction for kids. She’s written a couple of books about kids who have gay and lesbian parents, Ryan’s Mom is Tall and Monicka’s Papa is Tall (Nickname Press).
Even in her own family, things change.
Her husband’s mother is now in a lesbian relationship. “I have three mothers-in-law and I’m very lucky that I love them all,” she says.