Christchurch influencer gives birth after responding to couple's Instagram appeal for surrogate

Tess Dunford was told she couldn't have another baby - then Rebecca Keil stepped in as her...
Tess Dunford was told she couldn't have another baby - then Rebecca Keil stepped in as her surrogate. Photos / Instagram
In the most selfless of acts, a Christchurch influencer has helped a Wellington couple become parents again - two years after they were told they couldn't have any more children.

Influencer and mum-of-two Rebecca Keil became a surrogate for Tess Dunford and partner Dan Stemp after seeing their plea for a surrogate on Instagram.

Fast forward two years and now Dunford and Stemp can finally hold Keil's precious gift in their arms - a baby boy named Ziggy Te Taonga Stemp.

But Dunford and Stemp's journey was far from easy after the birth of their now 2-year-old daughter Indi caused Dunford to require blood transfusions and an emergency hysterectomy, meaning she wouldn't be able to carry another baby.

After months of recovery, Dunford and Stemp decided to take to Instagram, searching for a surrogate. The couple knew that if possible, they wanted their little family to expand by one more.

Enter Rebecca Keil.

"I knew them a little bit through their business (Don't Be a Doormat) and through work, and I knew Tess would need a surrogate," Keil tells the Herald.

"Becoming a surrogate is something I always thought I wanted to do. I'd carried my own two kids perfectly fine, and I don't mind giving birth - I actually find it really cool!"

Her husband Jared was more than supportive of the idea, saying that he didn't mind as long as they weren't keeping the baby.

In September last year, Dunford and Stemp hit their Givealittle fundraising goal of $15,000 for their surrogacy journey and IVF treatments needed. Over the next year, the couple and Keil went through the process of mandatory counselling and passing an ethics committee.

Rebecca Keil became a surrogate for Wellington couple Tess Dunford and Dan Stemp. Photo: Instagram
Rebecca Keil became a surrogate for Wellington couple Tess Dunford and Dan Stemp. Photo: Instagram
In March 2020 Dunford went through an embryo transfer and Keil was later transferred the fertilised egg. Keil says they were "super fortunate" that transfers worked on the first go.

The Covid-19 lockdown in March added a hiccup, Keil shared, noting that during her first trimester New Zealand in lockdown she felt "pretty rubbish". But tried to keep the baby's parents as connected as possible.

The trio's journey has been documented on Instagram, with several of Keil and Dunford's collective 45K followers labelling baby Ziggy's arrival, "the most anticipated arrival of 2020".

A mild case of pre-eclampsia led to Keil being induced on Friday, November 13. She went into labour on a Saturday night after having her waters broken and seven hours later at 3.48am on November 15, Ziggy was born via water birth.

The ever candid Keil describes the unfathomable experience simply as "weird". "It's hard when it's not your kid - hard to find that motivation."

So it was Dunford who became that motivation, hopping into the birthing pool and being by Keil's and baby Ziggy's side for the emotional moment.

"Tess hopped in the pool with me when Zig was born so she could hold him straight away. It was a really beautiful moment, everyone in the room was crying, but I was just like, 'here's your kid'!" Keil laughs.

After the birth, everything "turned to s***", Keil says - she'd lost a lot of blood, her blood pressure dropped dramatically and she needed several transfusions in the following days.

Keil also required surgery to repair a clot and internal tear from the delivery, which meant her uterus wasn't contracting back down as it would naturally.

The transfusions have also meant that Keil will be unable to pump and donate her milk as she had planned.

By Wednesday morning the ever-optimistic Keil was recovering well and was hoping to head home and finally be able to see her own children.

"My kids have been amazing, they're 5 and 6 and I struggled with that side of things, with being away from them. But we're all pretty chill and we've had incredible support. My husband has been amazing."

Keil hopes her surrogacy journey will raise awareness about fertility issues in New Zealand and the different ways birth can be possible.

"I've had people message me saying they didn't even think you could be a surrogate in New Zealand. I don't think we actually have surrogacy laws, we have ancient adoption laws which make the process a whole lot harder."

It's these "archaic" laws that meant Dunford and Stemp have to legally adopt their biological son from Keil and her husband Jared - as they are married he is legally assumed to be the birth father.

Keil explains that while her body has given birth to a baby, it feels as if it's Dunford who's had a child.

"Mentally there's no grief there at having to hand him over. I've cried the past few mornings, but that's just the hormones."

And she acknowledges that giving her new friends a child has been "incredible".

"It has been such a positive journey. I joke that I'm trying to tick off all the different ways of giving birth. But it has been amazing."

Dunford shared a snap of baby Ziggy to Instagram along with a tribute to his surrogate mum.

"I am in total awe and admiration of this wahine toa who carried, cared for, nurtured and brought our baby into this world in the most incredible way," she wrote.

"It was one of the most powerful things I have ever experienced and will never forget and will always be indebted to her for what she has done for us."















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