Cassie Lakes’ Tinonee home, which she shares with her partner of three years, is filled with the joyful sound of her three children happily playing together.
It is a sound the 28-year-old woman believes nobody should miss out on hearing just because they aren’t able to have their own children.
She so firmly believes that nobody should miss out on parenting that she altruistically took on the extraordinary task of being a gestational surrogate for a same sex male couple looking to extend their family and give their eldest son a little sibling.
“It’s something that I’ve always really wanted to do, ever since I can remember,” Cassie said.
“How would I like it if I couldn’t have kids? Wouldn’t I want someone to do it for me? I have the gift to be able to.”
Her journey began when a visit to the obstetrician planted the seed of the idea in her head. He commented how she would make one of his fertility couples jealous because of how fertile she was.
Cassie then started researching egg donation and as a result has donated eggs twice, each time to a different same sex couple.
“In 2015 I decided to donate my eggs and so I met a couple and I did an egg donor cycle for them. After that I thought, well, there’s not going to be any right time for surrogacy so I might as well do it now,” Cassie said.
“So we started looking into it and found that it wasn’t actually as difficult as people said it was. In Australia it is illegal to advertise that you are looking for a surrogate. Surrogacy is legal, but you are not allowed to advertise and nor are you allowed to pay the surrogate.”
Basically it was instantaneously I knew they were the ones I wanted to do it for.
Cassie joined the Australian Surrogacy Community Facebook page, a hub for intended parents and those looking to be surrogates. Here she came in contact with Christian Ruiz Gomez and Juan Fernandez Masip, a same sex couple from Sydney.
After messaging to and fro for a while, the two families met.
“Basically it was instantaneously I knew they were the ones I wanted to do it for,” Cassie said.
“I had them meet my kids before I offered to be their surrogate, and when my kids liked them I made a slide show with my kids offering for me to carry their baby.”
Watch the slideshow:
Cassie had discussed with her children the idea of growing a baby inside of her to give to another family before starting the search for intended parents.
“At the time I think Maddison [her youngest] was a bit to young to understand, but we normalised it, so it became part of our routine and I involved them in it from the beginning. Maddison really liked the idea that they already had a baby because she would get to play with the baby!” Cassie said.
“They said yes and we started counselling and legals started in August 2016. It doesn’t cost the surrogate anything. They pay for everything. We’re not to be out of pocket. They’re also responsible for any time that we had off work, medication, any pregnancy-related medical expenses.”
Although Cassie had donated eggs previously, she elected not to use her own eggs and to be a gestational surrogate for Christian and Juan, meaning that an egg donor was used so Cassie is not genetically linked to the child. The sperm was provided by Christian. The process took place through IVF, with the embryo transfer made in March 2016.
The IVF medication made Cassie ill as it mimicked morning sickness. Once she became pregnant the side effects of the medication settled down. However this was short lived – three days after the embryo transfer she started vomiting, and did not stop. She was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, a very extreme form of morning sickness that can be life threatening.
“You can vomit between 30, 40, if not more, times a day. You can’t keep anything down. It’s life threatening for both the woman and the foetus. Kate Middleton suffers it with her pregnancies,” Cassie explained.
The fathers were involved the entire way through the pregnancy. They, with Cassie, chronicled their journey through a Facebook page they called ‘Gift of Love.’
After a difficult birth, little Atlas was delivered by his fathers at Manning Hospital on December 5, 2017, and immediately placed skin-to-skin to Christian.
Cassie said the moment was “beyond words” when she saw the baby in the fathers’ arms and the looks on their faces.
“That was the way I wanted it. That was the plan. I didn’t want the baby bonding any more with me than he already had,” Cassie said.
The birth was a lot worse than the pregnancy and I have been advised never to do it again. It’s too much a risk of my life, now. I almost died with it.
Cassie was quickly rushed to surgery following the delivery as she had lost nearly three litres of blood.
“The birth was a lot worse than the pregnancy and I have been advised never to do it again. It’s too much a risk of my life, now. I almost died with it.”
The awful irony is that Cassie can no longer have any more of her own children.
“It’s okay to decide yourself that you don’t want any more children, but to be told by somebody else and to have the option taken away from you completely is heartbreaking,” she said.
The surrogacy birth was the second Manning Hospital has had – the first was only around 10 weeks prior to Cassie giving birth to Atlas.
“We had a few hiccups with the hospital along the way to do with surrogacy policy,” Cassie said, but adding that changed when she was around 36 weeks pregnant.
“At the end of the day, the hospital were fantastic with accommodating for the needs of ‘every family is different’ and this is basically what it came down to - times are changing, families are changing, and they accommodated us at the end of it.
“They were fantastic. The midwives themselves were amazing.”
What started as a surrogacy agreement has morphed into a strong friendship between the two families. They meet often, despite Christian and Juan living in Sydney. ‘Aunty Cass’ gets her snuggles, but is also getting plenty of sleep.
“I miss him, but no different to how I miss my nieces or nephews. For me, it was never about the baby, it was about the dads, it was about creating a family and seeing them as a family.”
Cassie is not feeling distressed at all about not having the baby she carried for nine months.
I thought there was something wrong with me. I said to the counsellor that I really don’t care that I don’t have this baby.
“I thought there was something wrong with me. I said to the counsellor that I really don’t care that I don’t have this baby. And she said it’s normal for a surrogate. That’s why we do so much counselling to begin with because they can tell whether we’re going to be okay with it at the end,” she said.
“I picture them with the baby. I don’t picture me with the baby. Obviously I’m going to be there for the baby’s first birthday, but I’m not picturing all those milestones with me and the baby, I’m picturing them with the baby. That’s what it’s always been about. Not me.”
Her children are similarly unaffected.
“The kids love giving him cuddles. He’s just like any cousin, and they call him their cousin. So they’re not attached in any way, it hasn’t affected them emotionally in any way that we’re aware of,” Cassie said.
While Cassie is unable to have any more children, she is still a passionate advocate for surrogacy.
“We’ve gotten an influx of intended parents on the Facebook group and there are nowhere near enough surrogates for them. Nowhere near enough surrogates in Australia. The only other option for them then is to go overseas, but overseas it is a business transaction, it’s not how it is in Australia.
“Overseas, you’re not a part of the pregnancy, a lot of them miss the birth. So if we can get more surrogates here, it sort of makes it more possible for other people.
“A lot of them are giving up on the thought of ever really becoming parents. Imagine having to give up on the idea of being a mum or a dad? You shouldn’t. Everyone should be able to have that option and to be involved in it as much as possible.”
Imagine having to give up on the idea of being a mum or a dad? You shouldn’t. Everyone should be able to have that option and to be involved in it as much as possible.
“It’s becoming more of an option for people. Financially it’s not an option for everyone, because surrogacy can easily cost between $50,000 to $100,000 if not more, and that’s without paying a surrogate.
“We just want to try and normalise surrogacy and give other people the options because not many people know about it,” Cassie said.
Would Cassie encourage other women to become surrogates?
“Yes, I definitely would. It’s difficult, but it’s rewarding. And if you can help somebody else, why wouldn’t you want to? Obviously surrogacy isn’t for everyone; you have to definitely have the mindset for it, and not see the child as your own.
“But even if you can’t do surrogacy – donate your eggs!”
It’s all about babies
So, what’s next for Cassie?
She’s not giving up on making people happy.
Instead of finishing her half-completed midwifery course, which she says she intends to finish when her children are old enough for her to leave them at home, she is studying to become a celebrant.
“I just want to make people happy,” she said.
“I will be able to do naming ceremonies!”