Bringing families together
BEING a parent is one of life's most incredible, rewarding and challenging journeys - but not everyone is blessed with the experience.
What if you could give that gift to someone who wanted it so badly?
It was that burning question which inspired Shannon Garner to become an altruistic surrogate.
The Coffs Harbour local, who gained national media attention when she published her book Labour of Love in July 2016, has just given birth as a surrogate for the second time.
While Shannon has an amazing husband and two beautiful children of her own, four years ago she felt called to help someone who was struggling in their quest to become a parent.
"I was so grateful for my own two children and I had friends who were struggling to fall pregnant and have children,” Shannon said.
"After two good pregnancies and two great births of my own, I felt like I could contribute.”
Along with her husband Andrew, Shannon made the decision she would be a surrogate. Not long after, she learned of Sydney couple Jon and Justin through a mutual friend.
"We started chatting via email to start with and then we met up in person,” Shannon said.
"Andrew and I wanted to meet the boys, we asked lots of questions - lots of very personal ones - to make sure we felt like they were the right couple and would be amazing parents.
"We came away from that meeting with a great sense they were good people and in this for all the right reasons.”
In February 2014, thanks to IVF, an egg donation from a family friend and a sperm donation from Jon, Shannon fell pregnant. In November, Jon and Justin's daughter Elsie was born.
"Everything went the way it was planned and in the moment she was born I said, 'oh I could probably do this again' but didn't really think about it again for a while,” Shannon said.
As the months went by after Elsie's birth, knowing Jon and Justin longed for a second child to complete their family, Shannon reached out and offered to help again.
Baby Harrison was born earlier this month.
"The second time around has definitely been easier, we knew what to expect, I knew my emotions would be in check and we knew the whole process.
"Obviously the first time, all of that is unknown - so this time was much less stressful.”
Shannon said in general, surrogacy was a little understood area and the main reason she decided to write Labour of Love.
"All I wanted to do with the book is change one person's perspective on surrogacy or give one person hope and I've had countless messages from people saying it's done just that, which is lovely.”
On the Coffs Coast we are fortunate to have a support network for surrogates and egg donors.
"We have the Mid North Coast Surrogate and Egg Donor Group on Facebook and for our population, there's actually quite a good number,” Shannon said.
"Three of us were pregnant but in the last three weeks two of us have given birth and there'll be another later this year.”
While Shannon's surrogacy journey with Jon and Justin is now complete, for Shannon and her family, Jon, Justin, Elsie and Harrison are now family for life.
"Andrew and I are seen as Uncle/Aunty figures and the kids like cousins. The bond we've formed with not just Jon and Justin and the kids but their whole extended family is just amazing.
"They're just the best dads, they both do it so well... they're deserving of being parents just like anyone else.”
Shannon will now focus on her writing and with her first fiction novel at the publishers, she will now begin work on the second.