The desire to do something big and meaningful for someone, along with experiencing pregnancy again was part of what led Jasmine Akre to become a surrogate, not once but twice, for a family 14, 577 kilometers away.
Jasmine grew up in Calgary while her husband Jay was raised in Outlook. They were living in Calgary when they met but had their wedding in Outlook, a place they hoped to live one day.
That came to be earlier this spring when they and their two teenage sons made the move and now call Outlook home. Prior to this move they lived in Calgary for 15 years and then to Martensville, and that’s where Jasmine’s surrogacy story began.
“I made a bucket list of 32 things I wanted to do before I was 32,” Jasmine explained. The list included doing something that scared her, helping someone in a big and meaningful way and being pregnant again. “When I saw an ad for surrogacy, I thought it crossed off three or four things on that list.”
She and Jay were done having their family but since she had such good experiences with her pregnancies, she thought she could be a good candidate to have a baby for someone else.
She contacted the agency ANU Fertility and was sent information right away, followed shortly by profiles of couples searching for a surrogate. She knew it was time to have a conversation with Jay. “I knew I needed to talk to my husband before I started falling in love with people I wanted to help.”
Jay admits he was initially shocked. “You want to do what?” he asked his wife. But he was quickly on board when he saw how much this meant to Jasmine. “This was something she really wanted to do so I encouraged her.”
Meanwhile, almost 15,000 kilometers away in Adelaide, Australia a couple named Robyn and Mick Renyard had been dealing with dashed hopes of having a family and were searching surrogacy options in Canada.
Jasmine chooses couple
Jasmine described it as incredibly daunting reading through the profiles of those looking for a surrogate. Many families fit the criteria Jasmine had set and she told the agency she felt overwhelmed. Their consultants had a strong sense the Australian couple would be a good match so suggested she re-read their profile and consider meeting them.
After an initial video call in February 2019 Jasmine felt a strong pull to them. “They seemed a lot like us,” Jasmine shared. “Just a bit older version of us in another country, honestly. They were people that had the same ideals as we had. I wanted to do it for somebody I could relate to, be friends with, and someone who had the same end goals.”
Jay and Jasmine discussed this with their boys who told their parents mom should help the other couple. “Kids understand way better than adults do,” Jasmine remarked. “When I explained what this meant they told us they were fine with it and that I should help them.”
Jasmine traveled to Toronto for medical tests and screenings and went back for the IVF procedure and the implantation of the embryo. “You are taking somebody else’s embryo, no part of your own, and having that transferred into your womb where it will grow,” she explained.
Two weeks later it was confirmed she was pregnant. Everything proceeded well with the pregnancy and Robyn and Mick put plans in place to arrive in Canada in April for the birth of the baby.
COVID causes trouble for parents hoping to witness birth of baby
But that was the spring of 2020 and the world was now in the grip of the pandemic. Restrictions were imposed and borders were closed. The Renyards applied for travel exemptions and waited anxiously as they watched more and more international flights get cancelled.
Travel permission was granted and they arrived in Saskatoon just days before the due date, all the while knowing they would first have to isolate for 14 days. Fortunately, the baby was late and the day their isolation ended Jasmine went into labor and gave birth to a healthy baby boy, witnessed by Robyn and Mick.
The new parents and their son Joseph remained in Canada for a few weeks completing required paperwork and further cementing the bonds between the two families. That strong relationship continues. “Our pictures are up in his nursery,” Jasmine noted. “He knows us as auntie and uncle.”
Contact is frequent, something that was important to all involved. It was during one of those conversations, just prior to Joseph’s first birthday, that Robyn asked Jasmine if she would ever be a surrogate again. Jasmine told her it had been long enough that she thought she could, but wouldn’t want to do it for another couple since they had such a perfect story and didn’t want to taint it. Robyn wondered if she would be a surrogate for them again. “If you’re ready to have baby number two I am on board 100%,” Jasmine told her. Both women laughed and said conversations with Mick and Jay should probably happen before they got ahead of themselves!
Baby number two
In October 2021 Jasmine went through IVF and became pregnant with the second Renyard baby. “This pregnancy was much harder,” Jasmine remarked. Complications included a gestational hemorrhage at sixteen weeks which she described as “terrifying.” She went on bed rest and recovered well. But just as she was going back to work, she got COVID. There was also the stress of moving to their new home in Outlook while commuting back to Martensville for work. Then came the surprising news she had gestational diabetes. “I had to relearn at 22 weeks how to eat for the remainder of the pregnancy. I was dealing with hormones and kicking sugar at the same time,” she said with a smile, “so I was an emotional basket case.”
The gestational diabetes required inducing the baby early, leaving Robyn and Mick to scramble amidst travel chaos around the world. When baby Emilia was born in June 2022, they enacted the plan they had when Joseph was born, but didn’t need. This time, Jay and Jasmine took Emilia home with them for three days as they waited for her parents to arrive.
Some might wonder about the emotional challenge to carry, deliver and care for a baby that is then placed in another couple’s arms. “It was always the plan,” Jasmine explained. “It was always their baby. This was not my baby. I was not giving up anything. I was just giving back what was entrusted to me.”
The Renyards spent a month in the province after Emilia’s birth meeting much of the Akre extended family and exploring the area. “They loved it. They especially loved Outlook,” Jasmine said.
Then it was time for an emotional farewell as the Renyard family of four returned to Adelaide where they applied for Emilia’s Australian citizenship. Both children are dual citizens.
It is illegal in Canada to accept any form of payment for being a surrogate. You can be reimbursed for costs related to the pregnancy but surrogacy is an altruistic act Jay and Jasmine say not everyone understands. “Sometimes I just shake my head,” Jasmine admitted. “Some people are coming from a place of ignorance or misunderstanding. I am okay with someone having an opinion that’s different from me and I’m okay with just agreeing to disagree. But I’m not okay with people being rude.” While they have had to put distance between themselves and a few people, their family and friends have been supportive and excited to share this journey.
Gratitude all around
Jasmine and Jay are quick to express gratitude for the relationship they now share with Robyn and Mick. “We feel like we have a sister and brother in another country and they’ve said they feel the same,” Jasmine shared. The Akres plan to visit Australia one day but in the meantime, group chats and regular video calls continue to build the relationship.
Jasmine speaks openly about her surrogacy experience. “I’m happy to talk about this because I want people to know there are so many ways to build a family. The best part of this is creating a new family overseas. It’s a beautiful thing.”