From mom to surrogate to fertility counsellor

How the pandemic magnified more challenges for the infertility community

Surrogate Ariel Taylor is standing in a doorway
Ariel Taylor, a mom, four-time surrogate and fertility counsellor, stands in front of Compass Rose Fertility in London, Ont., on May 30. She shifted her fertility counselling business online because of the pandemic. As a result, she was able to reach more people. COURTESY Ariel Taylor

For months, Jane* attended doctors’ appointments, including weeks of hormone injections and medications in preparation for her egg retrieval procedure. She did all that only to find out with one day’s notice that her procedure had been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the clinic didn’t know when she could come back. 

The news was devastating for Jane and her partner. It was also devastating for Ariel Taylor, who was the surrogate selected to carry their child.

“It was really hard going through the process,” said Taylor, who lives in London, Ont. “It set us back about six months.”

When fertility clinics shut down in Ontario at the start of the pandemic, many patients were left feeling anxious and worried about their chances of having children. Although some clinics have since reopened, many couples are still experiencing delay after delay in their efforts to expand their families.

Dr. Clifford L. Librach, founder and director of CReATe Fertility Centre, a fertility clinic in Toronto, said the number of patients they can see was reduced dramatically due to pandemic restrictions. Some couples have had to wait a month just to begin their treatment, and only the person receiving the treatment is allowed inside the clinic.

Taylor, who eventually gave birth to the couple’s baby in April, says these kinds of changes can be devastating for couples trying to conceive.

“[Partners] have not been able to be with their wives when they find out they had a miscarriage,” she said.

Taylor told the Toronto Observer how the infertility community struggled through this time and how the pandemic furthered her vision to become a fertility therapist.

Talking about how it all started

She learned about surrogacy in high school. After giving birth to a daughter of her own when she was 23, she started looking into surrogacy and signed up to offer couples needing help.

“I wanted to help someone experience what I felt when I had my daughter and being a mom,” Taylor said.

In January of 2016, she matched with her first family and had her first embryo transfer. 

“I didn’t really understand all that went into fertility treatments and why intended parents have to use a surrogate,” she said. “I miscarried my first surrogate baby. It was devastating, and for my intended parents it was their last embryo. They didn’t have any more.”

Taylor has since been through four surrogacies, with her last surrogate baby born in April 2021. She recently graduated from King’s College at University of Western Ontario with a social work degree and is starting her own fertility counselling practice in London.

Initially Taylor wanted to work as a social worker in the hospital, in paediatrics, but when the pandemic hit, she had to do virtual counselling for a placement through school. She was pleasantly surprised by the possibilities of online therapy.

“The pandemic has forced people to be able to integrate technology into their practices,” Taylor said. “And for me, that’s really been helpful because I can reach so many more people virtually than I can in person.”

It’s still illegal to pay surrogates in Canada

In Canada, surrogates can get reimbursed for expenses they spend during the pregnancy, such as food, maternity clothes, medication and transportation, but it’s illegal to pay surrogates for their services. The Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHR Act) says that anyone caught paying surrogates can face up to 10 years in prison and be fined up to $500,000.

“Everybody in this industry is allowed to make money except the woman that’s actually carrying the baby,” Taylor said.

There is this fear for both surrogates and intended parents that makes them wonder if they are claiming what is deemed legal. They had to buy Gravol. Is that pregnancy-related or is that not? Did they use a whole container, or was it just half of it? Do new shoes count?

“I think by decriminalizing paid surrogacy, you would take all of that away,” Taylor said. “I don’t think anybody should be telling women what is and isn’t required for their own pregnancies.”

Even though infertility is a medical condition, the Canadian law doesn’t seem to reflect that way. Many couples can’t afford a surrogate because it’s not universally covered by health care in Canada. There’s limited funding in Ontario for some infertility treatments but it doesn’t cover any fertility drugs or sperm and egg storage.

The AHR Act dates back 17 years and is not reflective of today’s climate of infertility. Taylor hopes changes will be made in BILL S-216, which was first introduced last year in February, sponsored by Ontario Sen. Lucie Moncion, and is intended to decriminalize payment for surrogates. 

“Everybody in this industry is allowed to make money except the woman that’s actually carrying the baby,” Taylor said.

No baby boom during the pandemic

Last year, there was a running joke online saying that the lockdown and pandemic life was going to cause a baby boom — COVID babies. But birth rates are actually declining in some parts of Canada, with B.C.’s marking its lowest point in December since 2010.

The records suggest that many people have postponed their baby plans because of the pandemic. Librach says many people have concerns and fears about going to hospitals and clinics, so that plays a role in delaying their fertility treatments and baby plans.

“I saw the jokes about the COVID babies, like, oh, everyone’s gonna be home just getting pregnant,” Taylor said. “I know that people in the infertility community were devastated by that.”

In Canada about 16 per cent of couples, or one in every six, experiences infertility.

Sensitivity training is something Taylor is teaching people about, how to be sensitive to people in this community and what to say and what not to say.

“If the pandemic showed us anything, it’s the importance of inclusive medical care, including infertility treatments, IVF, use of a surrogate, egg donation, egg retrievals, IUIs,” Taylor said. 

*This source’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

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Posted: Jun 7 2021 12:07 pm
Filed under: Government Spotlight On Small Biz Unique Business