Couple's search for stranger to have their baby after heartbreaking abortion decision

Chris Allen and Jorjia Nicholas are looking for a surrogate to have their baby. Photo: Supplied
Chris Allen and Jorjia Nicholas are looking for a surrogate to have their baby. Photo: Supplied
It's a decision no mother-to-be should have to make.

Jorjia Nicholas, 25, was forced to have an abortion as pregnancy put her and her unborn child's lives at risk following years of heart problems and damage done during surgery.

The Nelson woman and fiance Chris Allen, 28, are now on the difficult hunt for a stranger to have their baby.

Nicholas' heart issues started in 2016. She was living in Christchurch and working in a hotel when, during a shift, she became dizzy, had double vision and her ears started ringing.

Nicholas has been in and out of hospital. Photo: Supplied
Nicholas has been in and out of hospital. Photo: Supplied
The same happened while at the beach with a friend days later. The friend took her to the GP who did an echocardiogram.

"I knew from the way they reacted that it was not good," Nicholas says. "They told me to get to ED immediately and asked if I wanted them to get me an ambulance."

At hospital, her heart was measuring at 30 beats a minute (a normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats a minute). After three days, several tests, X-rays, ultrasounds and an MRI of her heart, doctors were still baffled.

"They said, 'The heartbeat is really irregular but we can't find why it's happened . . . You are a mystery. We really don't know what we are dealing with here'."

Nicholas eventually had a pacemaker put in, was discharged and moved to Blenheim to her parents' home as she was too sick to work and pay rent.

After a few months, she was back playing netball and feeling well but nine months after her hospital admission, she started having dizzy spells again so went back to Christchurch where she had a biopsy.

Nicholas with her niece in hospital. Photo: Supplied
Nicholas with her niece in hospital. Photo: Supplied
The biopsy didn't show up anything but during the procedure, she says her mitral valve was damaged. The valve lets blood flow from the left atrium, to the left ventricle. It caused a leak and she was put on two drugs that remove excess fluid.

"I just remember the surgeon saying, 'We don't know the damage this has done and we don't know how this is going to affect you, we just have to wait and see'. After a few months, it just got worse. It got to the point where I couldn't even walk 200m without huffing and puffing. Even a phone call, I would continually cough."

Meanwhile, Nicholas met mechanic Allen in March 2018 and the couple didn't waste time talking about having children.

"I asked him at the start, 'Are you sure you want to be with someone who is this ill?" she jokes. "But he was pretty adamant, he's stuck by me the whole time."

The couple talked through the risks of pregnancy with her cardiologist and say they were told they were high and she would need to be monitored.

In June that year, Nicholas had open-heart surgery to correct the damage to the mitral valve but says there was still a minor leak and she stayed on her fluid retention medication.

The couple went on the waiting list with Fertility Associates in May 2019, in case they needed a surrogate. They were told the wait was between 12 to 24 months.

"We thought, if we don't need them because we end up having a baby naturally, that's even better," Nicholas says. "We'd also had discussions about maybe having one child naturally and then going through Fertility Associates for a second one. So we still had hope."

The couple say they were not actively trying but became pregnant in August last year. But an appointment with an obstetrician confirmed their worst fears; it wasn't just the strain on Nicholas' heart they were worried about, the medication she is on due to the damage put the baby at risk of being intersex or having growth problems.

"It was just horrible, not what we wanted to hear," Nicholas said. "The obstetrician said, 'The risks are high, I wouldn't recommend it but at the end of the day, it's your choice'."

But Nicholas is unable to live without the medication so their decision was made for them.

"After that appointment, Chris and I were heartbroken.

"But it was pretty much a no-brainer . . . I didn't want to have a baby and then for Chris be left with one of us or neither of us."

Nicholas with her niece in hospital. Photo: Supplied
Nicholas with her niece in hospital. Photo: Supplied
Allen adds: "Jorjia's heart is doing just enough for her, let alone trying to have another human inside and grow. Worse case scenario, we could possibly lose both of them."

She went through a medical termination at eight weeks' gestation and wonders how things would have gone had she not suffered the heart damage and been on the resulting medication.

"[Pregnancy] would have still put pressure on my heart . . . but if there had been no accident we would have given it more thought, even if it meant bed rest.

"There was no way I wanted to carry on a pregnancy with the risk I may have a deformed child when I knew from the start that the risks were there."

The couple's two-year wait with Fertility Associates is now up and they'd like to start trying for a baby with a surrogate by next year. They will be newly married after their wedding in October.

A family member suggested they make an Instagram and Facebook page to appeal to potential surrogates. A few have been in touch via their page Surrogacy for Baby A but they say some "were just being nosey". They also met a woman in Nelson but it didn't work out.

"We want somebody we get along with, maybe we have similar interests with, someone who has [their own] family," Nicholas says.

"Pretty much someone we can form a friendship with. Once we have our baby, we're not going to be like, 'Cool, we've got our baby, see you later'. We want them to be a part of our life if that's what they want as well.

"If they want to come to birthday parties, or get called aunty whoever, we want to have that kind of relationship with them."

The couple also have a profile on the Love Makes a Family website, which was started by husbands Christian Newman and Mark Edwards, who had their son Frankie via a surrogate. The site connects couples with women wanting to be surrogates.

Because it is illegal to pay surrogates in New Zealand, and borders closing has meant it has become difficult to use overseas surrogates, more couples are struggling to start families.

The couple met in 2018 and wasted no time talking about having children. Photo / Supplied
The couple met in 2018 and wasted no time talking about having children. Photo / Supplied
About 10 per cent of the treatments undertaken by Fertility Associates involve donor sperm, donor eggs, donor embryos or surrogacy.

Once the couple find a surrogate - who must have finished having her own children - the woman will undergo medical testing and counselling. The application will go to the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology for sign-off.

Meanwhile, doctors have put Nicholas' illness down to Myocarditis - inflammation of the heart muscle - but it's still not known what's causing it.

She is no longer able to work full time or play sport and says she's put on weight. However, the couple stress they would have lots of help from family with any potential child and are keen to have children while Nicholas is still young and has enough energy.

The couple are keen to find a surrogate who they can have an ongoing relationship with. Photo:...
The couple are keen to find a surrogate who they can have an ongoing relationship with. Photo: Supplied
"Chris and I are really looking forward to starting this journey and having our own little family, we understand it's a huge thing for someone to do for us and we would be forever grateful for someone helping us start our family."

Myocarditis

• Inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall.

• Usually caused by a viral infection.

• A severe case can weaken the heart, which can lead to heart failure, abnormal heartbeat and sudden death.

• About 100 people are diagnosed in New Zealand every year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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