When Rebecca Davidson overheard her aunt saying she feared she’d never fulfil her dream of becoming a mum, she was determined to help.
But she had no idea that deciding to become a surrogate for Geelong-based Paula, 48, would not only give her aunt the baby she’d longed for but would also end up saving her own life.
That’s because surgeons carrying out an emergency caesarean to deliver baby Maxwell discovered an apple-sized tumour, which had stopped him being born naturally.
A biopsy revealed Rebecca, 26, had cervical cancer, which would have most certainly killed her if it hadn’t been detected then.
‘At the time I was distraught and kept thinking: “Why me?”’ says Rebecca, who is now undergoing chemotherapy and daily radiation. ‘But when my consultant said that if they hadn’t discovered the tumour during the C-section they would be talking to me about palliative care, I realised I was lucky.
‘If I hadn’t decided to be a surrogate for Aunt Paula, I wouldn’t have found out I had cancer until it was too late.’
Rebecca, who lives in Northern Ireland, has always been close to her mum’s sister, Paula, who migrated to Australia when she was 18.
‘She married my uncle, who is Australian, and moved to Geelong,’ she explains. ‘I went over for holidays and we spoke all the time. The distance didn’t come between us – we are a close family, and I would do anything for her.’
So when Rebecca overheard her aunt voicing fears that time was running out for her to have a child, she offered to help.
‘She didn’t ask me to be her surrogate,’ Rebecca says. ‘I overheard her talking at my daughter Daliah’s christening.
‘I knew they couldn’t conceive naturally – there was nothing wrong that doctors could find, it just didn’t happen for them. They had years of IVF treatment, but my aunt was explaining that they only had one frozen embryo left and she felt she was too old to risk having it implanted in her.
‘She didn’t usually talk like that, and I was shocked to realise how much she was still hoping for a baby.’
Rebecca didn’t say anything, but that night she told her husband Paul, a business analyst, what she’d heard.
‘I said I wanted to help her and he just looked at me and said: “Well, why don’t you then?”
‘I was young and had already had my family – James, who’s nine, and Daliah, two – and I knew I wouldn’t have any problems handing over the baby as it wasn’t biologically mine.
‘I also thought I was healthy, as all my health checks, including my pap test, were up to date.’
Rebecca phoned Paula and simply said: ‘I can have your baby for you.’ Shocked, her aunt asked if she was sure, but Rebecca was adamant.
‘I wanted Paula to be a mum, and this was the only way I knew how,’ she said.
Paula flew back to Australia and sought legal advice. Over the next year there was a lot of paperwork, counselling, medical tests and psychometric tests for her and Rebecca to go through, but finally, in December 2016, they were given the go-ahead.
‘It was a relief, and Paul and I flew over to Australia with the kids for a six-week stay,’ Rebecca says. ‘We only had one shot, as there was only one embryo, which was 10 years old.
‘There was a risk it wouldn’t defrost properly or would be damaged, but it was perfect.’
The transfer was quick, easy – and more painless than the two weeks’ wait to see if Rebecca was pregnant.
‘I did an early test, which was positive. We were all ecstatic.’
Everything was fine until Rebecca began bleeding on the way back to Britain.
‘I was terrified I was going to lose the baby,’ she says. ‘But a scan back home confirmed I was still pregnant, though the doctor said he could see two sacs – the embryo had split in two. I’d been expecting twins, but one baby hadn’t made it.
‘Of course, it was upsetting, but I just prayed that the remaining baby would be OK.’
She went for regular check-ups and scans – which revealed that she was expecting a boy.
‘Paula named him Maxwell,’ Rebecca smiles. ‘I’d talk to him and play him music. I wanted him to know that although he wasn’t mine, he was loved.’
Apart from cravings for burgers and onion rings, Rebecca’s pregnancy was normal – then her waters broke three weeks early.
‘I’d planned a natural birth,’ she explained. ‘But when my waters broke, they were pink with blood. I panicked.’
After making sure Paula knew what was happening, Rebecca raced to hospital where an internal examination showed something was wrong.
‘The midwife said the baby had his arm up over his head, which would stop him from coming out naturally,’ she explains. ‘I told her this was a surrogate baby for my aunt and that he was very precious. I couldn’t let anything happen.’
Rebecca needed an emergency caesarean. But during the C-section, the surgeon began asking her questions.
‘He wanted to know if I’d missed a pap test or whether I’d had any irregular bleeding. I was too worried about Maxwell to take in what was happening.’
Maxwell was perfectly healthy, but her surgeon revealed that it hadn’t been his arm blocking his exit – it was an apple-sized tumour on her cervix. Tests revealed it was cervical cancer.
Rebecca didn’t want to ruin Paula’s first moments with Maxwell and decided not to tell her straight away.
‘She broke down when I handed Maxwell to her. She couldn’t stop thanking me. That’s when I realised how lucky I was. If I hadn’t had Maxwell, I wouldn’t have gone for a pap test for another year.
‘Doctors told me I had stage 2B cancer, so it was already growing outside of my cervix. If I hadn’t been a surrogate it would have been too late.’
Rebecca’s tumour wasn’t removed during the caesarean, as survival rates are higher using chemo and radiotherapy.
She will have regular MRI scans to check the tumour is shrinking.
The radiation makes her body go through menopause, so Rebecca can’t have any more children.
‘It’s ironic that Maxwell was my last pregnancy,’ she says. ‘But I have no regrets. I have two beautiful children and helped my aunt become a mum.’
Paula – who was devastated to learn about Rebecca’s diagnosis – is now back in Australia with Maxwell and remains in constant touch with her niece.
‘As soon as I’m better, we’ll visit,’ Rebecca says. ‘Maxwell is my little cousin – and the reason I’ve got a fighting chance of survival.
‘I can never say thanks enough for that.’