Congrats, Joel & Virginia!

Although I went to school with Joel a million years ago, I never met beautiful Virginia, or “Gin” until I arrived in her hotel suite on her wedding day where we instantly connected and felt like we had known each other for years. Joel and Gin planned their Ontario wedding from Alberta, which I always find amazing, as it adds a whole other level of uncertainty and stress. Luckily, after visiting Strathmere Lodge upon arrival, they knew all would be well for their wedding day.

Top five favourite things:

1) Joel and Gin’s daughter. She enjoyed her parents’ wedding day happy and content (except for the brief time when she had to be put in her flower girl dress) giving toothless smiles, flashing her giant blue eyes, and giggling, giggling, giggling. I could have photographed her, and just her, all day long.

2) Juxtaposition of getting ready and the ceremony site. There are so many ways to go about getting ready vs where a couple actually gets married. Joel and Virginia both got ready in the heart of downtown Ottawa, steps from the Peace Tower and Parliament. It was so much fun to take their photos in the city and send them off in their limo, only to meet them in the heart of the country of North Gower for the wedding.

3) Kissing Game Dice. If you were a guest at Joel and Virginia’s wedding and wanted to see them kiss, you had to get up, roll a giant homemade dice, and follow whatever side it landed on. Some options were “Kiss Someone of your Choosing”, “Do A Little Dance”, and “Charades: Act Out an Animal.” It was lots of fun.

4) Simple Ceremony. I think when planning a wedding the most important thing is to keep it true to you. For Virginia and Joel, a simple and short ceremony is what they wanted, and what they executed. Officiated by Virginia’s aunt, it was personal to them, and with their daughter up front and centre in her little wagon, they were married.

5) Slideshow. Joel’s mum put together a beautiful slideshow of photos and music for everyone to enjoy and reflect upon together. It even got me misty!

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Continuing a Family

Making and continuing families is an amazing aspect of life. Two years ago when a loving couple was not able to bring a child into the world they turned to a surrogate. That surrogate was Amy. After some chats, exchanges, tries, Amy finally came to carry and deliver a little girl, allowing this family to grow to three members.

Now here we are, two years later, at the birth of this little girl’s sister, who was also carried and delivered by Amy. She arrived happy and healthy, earlier than expected, to finally meet and complete her family.

Moments of the day:

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Congrats, Erin & Andrew!

Erin and Andrew had a warm Spring wedding day among the blossoms and fresh green grass. Having travelled to multiple countries around the globe together, they chose a travel theme throughout their wedding day. This theme was perfectly executed thanks to Brittany (at glossdecor.ca) in the form of globes, vintage luggage, compasses and maps adorning every last inch of their reception space right down to their cake.

Top five favourite things:

1) Humour. Every time Erin, Andrew and I met to talk about their wedding plans one thing was clear: they do not take themselves too seriously. They themselves are funny, this is clear, but also their group of friends are funny, their families are funny and their colleagues are funny. They favoured photos which showed this side of themselves and their wedding party, leaving me to have fun with it and think of crazy things to make people laugh.

2) Erin’s Father’s Service Dog, Dill. Dill is the sweetest dog. He is a member of the family and someone who watched over the day and all of the guests, enjoying the party and the company. At times I felt as if I was doing a photo story more on Dill than anything else!

3) Blossoms. I have to say my favourite visual element for Springtime are the tree blossoms. In Ontario, the blossoms are sometimes fleeting and only last a few days, other years we have them for longer. No matter what, they are very unpredictable and hard to plan for (I have tried many a photoshoot!) Erin and Andrew completely lucked out as their wedding day was smack in the middle of full-bloom Spring flowers. Every tree on the grounds of Billings Bridge Estate was fluffy and pink, snowing petals down all day long.

4) Facial Hair. Andrew and his groomsmen took their roles very seriously and chose not to shave in honour of the wedding. They all produced giant beards aside from one who opted for a moustache, and one groomsmen who, well, couldn’t produce. This theme of facial hair came up so many times leading up to the wedding day and on the wedding day we had some fun with it in the photos as well. :)

5) Beer. Andrew and two of his groomsmen brew their own beer which they proudly served at the wedding. Their passion for beer and brewing shone through in Andrew’s groomsmen gifts, giant beer pong game, red solo cups and proudly displayed draft beer bar.

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Natalie & Keith, love and tulips

One hazy and hot spring morning I met up with Natalie and Keith to explore what springtime and the Ottawa Tulip Festival had to offer. In the end, what mattered was watching Keith and Natalie laugh, love, and steal moments together. The flowers, the light, the water, and the willows – offered nothing in comparison to the ease that these two have. Stay tuned for the wedding (!)

Some of our favourites:

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Blaire & Dave are engaged!

Although these two live in the heart of downtown Toronto, they have a big soft spot for peaceful green-space. For our rainy spring afternoon of photos we met at Blaire’s Uncle’s beautiful farmhouse down a dirt road in the heart of the country. Umbrellas on hand, wandering the fields and barns, I got to capture the love between this joyful couple in an absolutely gorgeous setting.

Here are some favourites:

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Published Abroad

You may remember the amazing story of Harald, Ida and Amy from a few blog posts ago:

http://jacklovesmary.me/2014/03/31/making-a-family/

http://jacklovesmary.me/2014/05/04/a-happy-ending/

The parents of these lucky babies reside in Norway where the subject of surrogacy is quite a hot topic. Within Norwegian law there are strict regulations on artificial insemination, and surrogacy is illegal.  Although this is controversial subject matter, more and more couples are coming forward to tell their stories in order to continue the discussion. Harald and Ida’s experience has become a great example on the side of why surrogacy should be a violable option on Norwegian soil as they, among countless other couples, have travelled abroad in order to have their biological children born by surrogate mother.

Two publications have used their family to help examine this law; National magazine “KK” as well as their local city newspaper. Harald and Ida were kind enough to mail me some copies so I could see my photos in print (subtitled in Norwegian no-less!) Here are some shots I took of the articles:

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Here is Harald’s translation of the story in KK magazine:

“The Ultimate Gift”

Here’s Even and Marie. They are born by Amy, but are Ida and Harald’s children. Read the amazing story of Norwegian Ida and Harald, the Canadian mother of seven Amy and the two families’ special friendship”

“My mother has a superpower – she makes families”

This is one way of describing it when you’re eight years old and your mother gives birth to other people’s babies. For Ida and Harald, the joy of parenthood had to go via Canada and another woman’s womb.

How do you thank the woman that’s given birth to your two children? How’s it possible to describe the gratitude? Harald Natvik’s tried, over and over.
– The answer Amy gives us, says everything about her:
“I’m the one that should say thank you, I get to help you to become a family”

Amy Cameron (38) has got seven children and a husband with a good job, home in Canada. She’s also given birth to three other babies, now living in Norway. Two of them are Ida and Harald’s twins Even and Marie, who’ll turn one in March.

How is it possible to carry a child and then to give it away? How can she do this, if not money is the motivation. And could money be motivation enough?
– It’s not money that makes the world go around; it’s what you do in life and for others. And I haven’t given them away, I’ve given them back. These babies were never mine; I gave them a womb to grow in. I knew all of this from the beginning, Amy explains.
She’s always been attracted to surrogacy, even since she gave birth to her first child.
– My grandmother taught me the importance of giving, and I remember thinking that surrogacy had to be the ultimate gift, something that really would make dreams come through. After I had delivered my first child I couldn’t let go of the thought, I knew I would do this when the time was right. I love being pregnant and I love helping. It just makes sense!
In an old and beautiful wooden house, placed in a lush garden in Os outside of Bergen, there sits Ida (32) and Harald (32) and can still not believe the many downs and ups life’s given them the last three years.  The year newlywed Ida was to turn 30 years old, she got cervical cancer.
Her first thought was “Am I going to die?” and then “If I survive, will I ever have children?” The doctors could answer her first question and told her that they had detected the cancer early and gave her good prognosis. The other question, no one could answer.
– The news went from bad to worse. First they only removed a small part of the cervical, but it turned out it wasn’t enough. When they realised that they had to remove the whole uterus, I weren’t allowed to freeze my eggs. Without a uterus, I was infertile and I couldn’t have children, according to the laws in Norway.

(Big picture with Harald, Ida, Even, Marie and Rubina: And then they were five – including the house cat Rubina. Even and Marie still don’t know what their parents had to go through for them to be born into this world. – One day we will tell them how wanted they were, Ida says.)

Harald struggled to focus in work and instead spent his time on the job making a special folder. It opened with a picture of Harald and Ida  and inside he had gathered pictures of children from all around the world – adoption was his first thought. They needed something to focus on and to look forward to in the midst of cancer and despair.
– Adoption was never a second choice for us, but a natural way of creating a family, Harald explains.
– But then we read the adoption rules in Norway. It says you can’t start an adoption process before five years has went since your last cancer treatment. Then it takes another five years to adopt. We could be too old to adopt and we couldn’t wait ten years to become parents.
And the dream of having their own family could’ve stopped there. To many it probably would’ve. But Ida and Harald aren’t quitters. They knew what they wanted and they were willing to go far to make their dream come through – a dream that they had shared since they met.
– We always knew we wanted children, we just wanted the right timing; Finishing our educations, moving out of the small apartment and moving into our own house. We had just signed the papers on our dream home when Ida got sick, Harald says.

She didn’t feel like she was sick, but she had had some bleedings, many have. Still she made an appointment for a doctor to have a look at her and do cell testing. Then came the phone call that said she was sick. Eventually there were many such phone calls. Harald experienced cold shivers every time his phone rang when he was at work – there was never any good news. With the uterus gone, so went the hope of carrying children. But when Ida started her radiation and chemotherapy, she still was optimistic, she knew she had spent her last weeks before treatment, doing everything she could. At at fertility clinic in Riga, there were five embryos. Ida and Harald described them as their “five babies on ice”. In the midst of sickness and despair, the fear of dying and the uncertain future, they held on to the hope for what to come. It was the comfort they needed when all looked bad.
Harald describes how Ida, only one week after her operation, still not on her feet, still using her time to call clinics in Europe that not only could help them with collecting her eggs, but also transporting them to another country.
– If we were to have any chance at all, we had to never stop – Ida says determined.
– I could never forgive myself if I hadn’t done all in my power to do, before it was too late.
They only had five weeks, from when they were told that Ida needed radiation and chemotherapy. Five weeks to rescue her eggs, the one hope they had to become parents. On the way they got help from understanding doctors who could advise them on clinics abroad and even let them know of an OB in a different Norwegian city – well known for his liberal thoughts on surrogacy – illegal in Norway, but that turned out to be their only chance to have children.
– The clinic in Riga required that we had an OB in Norway that was responsible for me. He knew we didn’t have much time and even booked me for an appointment on Easter Day. We can’t let Easter stop your family from happening, he said. I am forever grateful for all the help I got, Ida says.

At the end of May, Ida’s treatment was over. They only had to wait for the control check the following Fall. They wanted to see if the treatment had worked before moving on their plans for the future. Ida wasn’t 100% yet, as expected after months of operations and difficult cancer treatment. Additionally, Ida – only 29 years old – had to deal with menopause after having her uterus removed and her ovaries destroyed by radiation. Then – a new shock – Ida’s mother died suddenly.
– We experienced more misery in six months that other people will experience in ten years, Harald says.
But the fall of 2012 brought good news, Ida’s treatment had been successful. It would still be five years before the doctors could say for sure she had been cured, but Ida has no symptoms – no cancer cells. They now allowed themselves to look ahead and the future started with them writing their most important letter. A letter filled with hope – could there be someone out there who wanted to carry their child?

On the other side of the Atlantic, Amy read about the young couple, with the house by the ocean, with their parents close by, down the road. She remember feeling an instant connection, she wanted these people in her life.
– She’s a kind of person that adopts dogs and cats, she lets her children bring home turtles and squirrels. She’s just a good person. Charity is important to her and this time she chose us, Ida and Harald smiles with a face of gratitude.
They talked a lot on Skype, Facebook and by e-mail and the precious embryoes were sent from Riga to Canada.
The first IVF attempt failed and Amy had comforting words: “We have to get back up on the horse and try again!”
A new IVF attempt, two new embryos. They turned out to be Even and Marie. Ida and Harald were expecting, but the belly was on the other side of the Atlantic. It was a different kind of pregnancy and they shared the joy together.
– We read books on pregnancy together and followed the progress week by week. When I turned to the chapter and it said “Mum’s breasts can start to feel tender”, I skipped that part and read the part meant for the fathers, Ida laughed.
– We were like two fathers, together trying to back the one carrying the children.
The first time they got to meet in person, Amy was already in week 20 with the twins. Ida and Harald travelled to Canada to meet their babies for the first time, the ultrasound. On the 25th and 26th of March Even and Marie arrived – he just before midnight and she a few minutes later. Ida were there and got to cut the cord on both babies. Ida and Amy’s husband were both there, while Harald had to wait outside the room with Amy’s mother. The role as a surrogate is something that includes the whole family – and that’s the way it should be, according to Amy
– Surrogacy has changed our lives. It’s made my husband and I appreciate our own fertility, we understand now how lucky we are. It’s also taught our children that the World is a good place, we just have to look for the good. If we do something good, good things will happen to us. We’ve gotten two absolutely amazing Norwegian families through surrogacy, a whole world apart, but still so close.

(Picture of us and the whole Cameron-family: Harald and Ida got even more than bargained for when Amy gave birth to their children, her big family. Here’s Harald, Even, Ida and Marie with Amy, husband Patrick and the children Ava Kate, Savannah and Jadyn, David with the sign. In front are the twins Bidget and Charley and Olivia. “My mom helps makes families” the signs read. It’s a quote from one of Amy’s children’s home work at school about superpowers)

They all speak of each other like family, on each side of the Atlantic.
– There’s a strong bond between me and my three surro-babies and there always will be. Thankfully I’ve “worked” with parents that allow me to have that bond. They’re sending me updates and pictures and I get to be a part of their lives. Like a aunt, in a way, that’s had the privilege of carrying them and giving birth to them. It’s pretty special.
Around Amy and Ida’s wrist, they both carry identical bracelets with the twins’ fingerprints. On the twin’s naming day, both families planted identical cherry blossom trees, one in the garden in Os and the other one in the Camerons’ garden in Ottawa. The trees belong to Even and Marie and it’s a symbolic bond between the two families. Even though the twins haven’t realised much yet, there’s a lot of talk about Amy in their home in Os. She’s got a special place on the wall in the house, among family pictures.

There’s an airplane toy hanging above the changing station in the bathroom. When the children are looking at it, the parents tell them about how they travelled all the way by plane to Canada to be there when they were born. Ida and Harald stayed in Canada for eleven weeks and they describe the months as the best time of their lives.
– How do you reflect on that it’s illegal to have children in Norway how you’ve had yours?
– We had to be pragmatic and instead think of what we COULD do. We had to think of possibilities, not limitations, Ida says.
– When thinking back, I’m frustrated at how hard it is in Norway. We’ve been lucky, but we’ve all the same worked really hard.

Ida and Harald’s had only positive feedback from family, friends and government branches. Harald still can’t help himself and joins debates about surrogacy when he feels that the debate is too one sided.
– The people who says that it’s not a human right to become a parent is usually the ones who’s got children themselves or who don’t want children. The debate on surrogacy in Norway’s been about the exploitation of poor or week women. It’s a extraordinary underestimation of Amy and women like her. We’ve of course covered all the medical costs and expenses, but we haven’t paid her to carry our children – we could any how never repay her for what she’s given us. We can only give her our gratitude.
Ida gets teary.
– Sometimes it just strikes me how amazing it is that we did it – that I could get this happy again. It’s so big and sometimes difficult to grope. It feels like we’ve lived two whole lives these past two years. We can almost still not believe that it’d end like this.
And still it’s not over. At the clinic in Canada there’s still one “baby on ice” left. Amy’s said she’s not rejecting the possibility of carrying more children. Who knows?

 

 

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