Why did Selina do it? Was it for the memory of Thea, the infant daughter of a co-worker who died at four-and-a-half-months? Or for Amelie, whose parents desperately wanted to give her a sibling? Or, perhaps, it was because Selina Robinson, the Coquitlam city councillor, had really great pregnancies and wanted to help a family?
Whatever the reason, Selina says it's a love story, and one that she'll share this month at the third PechaKucha Coquitlam Night, hosted by ArtsConnect, at the Evergreen Cultural Centre.
For readers unfamiliar with the narrative Selina will tell on May 31 - somehow squeezing it all into a six-and-a-half-minute slideshow presentation with 20 images - here is a synopsis:
1. Some 15 years back, Selina worked with a woman named Terri, also a family therapist. The two were close and, one day, Selina took a call at home from Terri, saying, "I lost my baby today." Selina thought, "What, in the mall? At the grocery store?" The girl had died from sudden infant death syndrome and "there was unbelievable grief. It was horrible."
2. A couple of years later, Terri gave birth to her second daughter, Amelie, via emergency C-section but Terri contracted an infection in her uterus and was unable to have another child. Heartbroken, as both Terri and Paul, her husband, came from large families and wanted another sibling for Amelie, they looked around for options. Adoption agencies ruled them out because they were too old so they searched on the internet.
3. And up popped the word "surrogate."
4. One day, after listening to Terri's plight, Selina offered herself as the fetus carrier. "My saying is, 'I can do that for you,'" she said. But after about 20 minutes, Selina realized there would be implications, namely, her family and how they would respond. "I thought, 'Ah, it's only nine months.'"
5. Her husband, Dan, played the devil's advocate. There were long talks with their children, then aged 11 and nine, and after "a very thorough process," they agreed.
6. But while her kids and hubby were cool with the surrogacy -- her son even joking with his school teachers that "mom's having a baby and it's not hers, and it's not dad's either" - Selina's mom was unsure. "I was really nervous about telling her," she said, "because Mom loved my pregnancies. She talked to the babies but, with this one, she didn't know what to do. She didn't know what her relationship was going to be."
7. "She said, 'Can't someone else's daughter do this?'"
8. Other people's responses also varied about the surrogacy. Some were happy, some said, "'Oh, you're taking such a risk!' I was doing it anyway."
9. Of her agreement with Terri, which was voluntary and did not involve money, Selina said, "We were clear. We were confident. We were comfortable."
10. They talked endlessly and asked a lot of questions of each other, especially around ethics and religion.
11. Still, Selina made one thing clear: She would not be the child's mother, she would not raise it.
12. For the next 11 months, Terri and Selina were under the supervision of a team of fertility specialists at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. The process involved testing Terri's eggs for reproduction, visits with psychologists and synchronizing their menstrual cycles. When the time was ready, doctors mixed Terri's eggs with Paul's sperm in a petrie dish and 13 embryos were made. Four were placed in Selina's body in November 2000.
13. Selina had another great pregnancy, which was documented by TLC's The Things You Do For Love, though she was put on a bed rest at 29 weeks and the boy was born via C-section six weeks early, weighing around four pounds.
14. Selina sees Evan about twice a year now; he knows that she gave birth to him. "He's bright, articulate, he loves to read, he has great friends. The family is now complete," Selina said.
15. Best of all, Selina's children can recall their mother being pregnant. After she saw the finished product from TLC, where her son was asked what it was like to have a mom who was a surrogate and he said, "My mom is doing something that's making the world a better place," I said, "That's it. My parenting is done. They were amazing."
16. "They have great memories because they know what's right.... How could I not do it?"
17. Terri, Selina said, was a diligent new mom, even taking pills and pumping to ensure Evan had her breastmilk. "That child had her full attention," she said.
18. But the next few years were not so sunny - on the legal front. Terri, Paul and Selina went to the B.C. Supreme Court to remove Selina's name from Evan's birth certificate. In her affidavit, Selina wrote, "I am being required to lie on a legal document that I am the mother of a child with whom I share no genetic material."
19. In the end, the Vital Statistics Act was amended and Terri was officially listed as Evan's mother on his birth certificate. "It was hard but [the government] changed their policy."
20. Selina said if she were to do it over again, she would get Terri and Paul to get her more life insurance.
"But that's about it," she said.
PKN 3 presenters
PechaKucha is the Japanese word for "chit chat" and involves a presentation of 20 slides, shown at 20 seconds each. The May 31 event will feature:
Dave Danchuk, artist
David James Pacholko, graphic designer
Ellen Gelinas, humorist/educator
Gayle Hunter, youth arts educator
Geoff Scott, television producer
Ian MacKenzie, new media producer
Kelven Tan, event producer
Paul VanPeenen, photographer
Selina Robinson, councillor/family therapist