ESTEVAN - There is no greater miracle than the birth of a new human being.
But Tim and Chewn Bangsund (nee Pham) could argue that their path to a big family was even more miraculous than it is for a lot of people, as they needed a surrogate mother to help them in their journey not once, but twice now. And once again, the stars aligned for them.
Their happiness doubled when Josephine Maple Pham Bangsund brought even more sunshine into their lives. A healthy baby girl carried by Estevan's Melissa Mosley arrived in this world at St. Joseph's Hospital in May, weighing eight pounds, eight ounces.
Josephine became the second daughter to the happy fathers, joining her older sister Florence Juniper Pham Bangsund, also born in Estevan in November 2019 and carried by Estevan's Lisa Beaulieu.
Tim said becoming parents has been great for them.
"It's good. I think we're both pretty familiar around kids with both having young nieces and nephews. And we're pretty excited. It was nice to be home in Canada, we were here for four months after Florence was born. And both of our parents live in Canada, mine are in Estevan and Chewn's are in Saskatoon. So it was nice to have that extra family support while we were trying to figure things out," Tim said.
The Bangsunds, a family with a strong connection to Saskatchewan now residing in Australia, said they always wanted to have several kids as they both came from bigger families and were close with their siblings.
"For us being kind of split between Australia and Canada, and Australia being home, I think we just wanted to make sure that we were more of a family in terms of a bigger family, and that Florence would have a sibling, especially with travelling, and I work in mining," Chewn said. "And while we have a good community and friends in Adelaide, Australia, where we live, I think we just wanted a bigger family unit, just to support each other and so the girls can grow up supporting each other."
But they couldn't have guessed that they'd have their big family started with the help of two wonderful women from Estevan, their hometown.
"We didn't know how we would do it because obviously, we need a little bit more help than other families. Obviously, there is a lot of different ways to make families, but we felt it might not happen because it really depends on a special person with surrogacy to be able to help you. But we were lucky," Tim said.
"Even before we started looking for a surrogate, Melissa had contacted Lisa, our first surrogate, just to find out about the process, get some advice for her because she was interested in doing that herself. And then Lisa got Melissa in contact with us and we hit it off right away."
"Being a surrogate was always something I wanted"
Melissa said for years she's known she wanted to become a surrogate mother, but that dream started coming true and her relationships with the Bangsunds started after she learned about Lisa's story that the Mercury shared in 2019.
"Being a surrogate was always something I wanted to do since having trouble conceiving our first child. After eight years of fertility appointments, we were blessed with our son Huxton. Not knowing if we would get the chance to have more than one blessing was the moment that I decided one day if I could help create a family, it was something I was going to do," Melissa shared.
"Two years later we got the surprise of our second child Oaklyn. Having the million-dollar family we decided that was all we needed, and our family was complete, and it was time for me to search for a couple who needed my help. I talked to Lisa, who was the only person I knew personally that was a surrogate, and got some information and advice from her. We joked that maybe one day we would carry the same DNA and that she would get me in contact with those dads that she helped.
"It was a small world when we found out who they were and that we all somewhat knew each other," Melissa said.
"It started feeling like it was meant to be," Tim said.
Melissa's surrogacy journey started in 2020. She said Tim and Chewn have always been known to them through family and school, with growing up in the same city of Estevan before they moved to Australia. But they'd get to know each other better preparing for the next step for the Bangsund family. They'd talk over Facebook messenger and FaceTime, as after Florence was born, the Bangsunds caught almost the last flight from Canada to Australia right before COVID shut everything down.
Melissa's first doctor's appointment was a screening that took place in Regina to determine if she was a suitable candidate. Results came back positive and their first embryo transfer was in November 2020.
"We got a positive preg. test but unfortunately a month later the plus sign started to fade," Melissa shared.
They tried again in February 2021, which also ended in a loss.
"But the third time was a charm [in September 2021] and resulted in a perfect eight-pound, eight-ounce little princess," Melissa said.
Answering difficult questions
Melissa was a little concerned about their children understanding that they don't get to keep Josephine as they are only six and eight years old, but with preparing for nine months they were happy to see her with her family and big sister. Besides, Melissa was able to explain to her kids that not everyone is the same and sometimes others need help to have a family like their own.
"The easiest way I found to explain was that even though two people love each other they can't always have what other families have. And because Florence really wanted a baby brother or sister, they needed a mommy to help them. So mom used her belly to help grow her a little sister, and they loved that without us, she wouldn't be able to be a sister and they wanted that for her," Melissa explained.
While Florence is still young, her fathers have already started explaining how their family works as well.
"As soon as we can talk, we start talking about how our family came to be. It won't be a surprise that we needed extra help to make our family, but our plan was just to be truthful and honest right from the get-go. We just talk about how our family came together, we needed help from a lot of different people and therefore there's a lot of extra love in the world for [Florence and Josephine]," Tim said.
"She just knows that she has a dada and a papa, and then some others have a mom and a dad," Chewn added.
Books also help with showing that families can look very different as well as a more diverse surrounding in Australia.
"We're pretty fortunate in where we live in South Australia and the community that we have there as well. It's quite diverse. [Florence] was born one month before one of our closest friends also went through surrogacy," Chewn said.
They are staying in touch with Lisa, who Florence calls tammy buddy, and plan to be in touch with Melissa. They will be spending a year in Canada, since Chewn was able to get a contract in Saskatoon and Tim took parental leave for a year from his work to stay with their daughters.
While it was an organic decision for the Bangsund family and their surrogate mothers to keep the relationships, the fathers noticed that decisions about the connection going into the future should be based on what works best for both families.
"I think every certain story is different. Keeping in touch for us just comes natural as Estevan is our hometown and so it's just an extended family within the community of Estevan, which is a nice thing because not all surrogates and intended parents' relationships are like that," Chewn said.
And in their case, the decision to stay connected worked for everyone involved.
"We are all doing great and love visiting with our special family. We stay in contact and talk often. I have gained an amazing family that includes me in many activities and events as well as being ever so lucky to watch a little human that I helped create grow for her first year of life before returning to Australia next summer," Melissa said.
What future will bring
Both families hinted that one day there might be another continuation to their story.
"We have talked about the future and the last little embryo that is remaining and hopefully we are gifted with one more perfect little human," Melissa said.
The Bangsunds said they haven't decided if they want to keep growing their family yet and time will tell. But their whole experience with both daughters has been great from A to Z, and they are very grateful for that. They also noted that having both kids born at St. Joe's was a pleasure.
"Both Florence and Josephine were born in Estevan at St. Joseph's Hospital, and we just had the best experience with the nurses and the doctors and all of the staff. They're just so welcoming, helpful and supportive. We're forever grateful for the people of Estevan," Tim said.
Melissa also had a wonderful experience.
"I am very blessed to be called a tummy mommy and am open to helping others with any info they need to create a family of their own."
Melissa said people can reach out to her with any questions about her experience and process through Facebook messenger or over the phone at 306-421-7678.