Surrogate’s labour of love for gay dads
BECOMING a parent and starting a family with the person you love is the beginning of a significant chapter in life.
For some, it's a struggle to conceive, while for others, like those in same sex relationships, it's even harder.
After watching a friend endure the difficulty of starting a family, Shannon Garner reached out and offered to be their surrogate.
Although it didn't come to fruition, Shannon - who has two children of her own in Coffs Harbour with her husband - was inspired to become a surrogate.
On this journey in 2014, she met John Cole and Justin Worthy, a gay couple from Sydney who had a dream of starting their own family.
A carefully planned and discussed process, Shannon and her husband were honest with their children about the surrogacy.
"They've never asked me any questions like 'is that my sister?' or 'isn't that our baby?'
"From the start it was always John and Justin's baby," Shannon said.
Nine months later, Justin and John were in the delivery room with Shannon as she gave birth to their daughter Elsie.
Justin, who helped deliver his daughter, said the feeling was like nothing he'd ever experienced.
"She was born into my arms. It was a feeling of such relief and such happiness, and a feeling that you never really have any other way," he said.
The pair were stunned at the experience, recalled Shannon, who didn't hold the baby but encouraged the men to embrace Elsie soon after her birth.
"They were suspended for a moment and I just said 'pick her up, that's your daughter', so it was lovely to see them just scoop her up," she said.
"They took their shirts off and they had her in a blanket and they were just cuddling her. John was crying - it was amazing,
"The dream was for them to have a child and now they've realised that dream, and that's something that my husband and I were able to give to them."
At the hospital, Shannon discovered through the midwives that surrogacy is quite common across the Coffs Coast.
"They joke that Coffs Harbour and its surrounds is a bit of a hub of surrogates," she said.
In October, Shannon will be carrying Justin and John's second child. It can't come soon enough for Justin, who is thrilled.
"It's looking like that is actually going to become a reality, which is amazing and is so exciting," he said.
"We couldn't be happier ... that we can do it all again with Shannon."
Shannon's surrogacy journey is chronicled in her book, Labour of Love, which launches today at the Book Warehouse, Coffs Harbour.