When Shayna Garner told her sister Aimee that she would be her surrogate, Aimee didn’t speak for a moment. After eight unsuccessful rounds of IVF, Aimee and her husband were still coming to terms with the idea that they would never be parents. Shayna’s offer came as a surprise.
The sisters have always been close, and although Aimee is older, Shayna says, “Growing up, I always thought, ‘I’m going to help my sister if she ever needs it.’ We all had it in the back of our minds that she would struggle.”
Aimee was born with Hirschprung’s Disease, a congenital gastrointestinal disease. Over her life, Aimee has had around 40 surgeries which have left her with significant internal scarring, notably to the area around her reproductive organs.
After four years of IVF that began when Aimee was 21, and two miscarriages including one of twins at nine weeks, surgeons discovered that Aimee’s scar tissue was preventing her uterus from expanding to carry a baby.
The biggest decision you can make
Shayna’s second child, Fletcher, was only a few months old when Aimee’s news came. There were many obstacles that might make offering surrogacy difficult. “I was married, I had my husband to discuss this with, I had two children I needed to think about, and having a new baby, the last thing I wanted to do was jump into another pregnancy,” Shayna explains. “It did take me a few months to think about it, talk to my husband and come to the decision.”
Because Aimee had already been going through IVF, she had three viable embryos left in storage. The first transfer to Shayna was unsuccessful, but the second worked, and at the six week scan the overwhelming reality that they’d be parents struck Aimee and husband Jake.
With Aimee’s previous pregnancies, they’d never got far enough along to hear their babies’ heartbeat. At Shayna’s scan, baby Francesca’s heartbeat was strong, and the sound had the couple in tears. Shayna says, “It was a beautiful moment, and something I’ll remember forever.”
Shayna is humble and easy-going about the experience. “It gave me a better understanding of what Aimee had to go through with IVF. I watched my sister struggle for so many years, and I had children so easily. I knew that she deserved this.”
When asked how she bonded with the baby, Shayna says, “The entire pregnancy I had in my head that my sister was expecting, and that the baby was my niece. I bonded with her as my niece. Every time I felt her move, my first though was, ‘I’ve got to call Aimee and tell her.’”
It’s her eldest daughter, four-year-old McKenzie’s maturity that’s most impressed Shayna. “She was amazing. When I was pregnant she’d put her hand on my belly and say, ‘Mummy, the baby is going with Aimee.’ She had a fantastic understanding of what was going on.”
Shayna’s pregnancy with Francesca was her easiest, as was the birth. She explains, “It’s the only birth when I didn’t have to have drugs. I was laughing and talking through contractions until the last couple of hours.”
Aimee was in the room with her through most of her labour, and Jake and Shayna’s husband Aaron joined them for the birth.
Seven months on, Aimee is a natural at motherhood, and baby Francesca is thriving. Aimee and Jake moved to Toowoomba to be near Shayna during her pregnancy, and the sisters now live 10 minutes apart.
Sister surrogates: A birth story
This beautiful video celebrates the birth of gorgeous Francesca. Warning: Tissue alert!