After four years of painful and mentally exhausting fertility treatments, Nicole Russell’s dream of becoming a mother seemed out of reach.
Then her best buddy Lauren sent a text to her struggling friend, with an incredible offer.
“It was my life changing moment,” Nicole tells 7Life.
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The pair have been best friends since graduating law together in Canberra in 2000.
Nicole shared the happiness as Lauren gave birth to her first son in 2009, followed by the birth of two more boys in the next few years.
“I’m like their second mum,” says Nicole, an actively involved godmother to all three.
Despite Lauren living in the capital, and Nicole in Melbourne, the pair manages to support each other through every life event.
But it’s one particular such event that has cemented their friendship for life – Lauren’s gift of motherhood.
Motherhood round one
Nicole and her husband Andrew began in 2013 trying to conceive a child naturally.
“I knew from the start we would have some challenges,” Nicole says.
At 35, the practising lawyer was classified as ‘advanced maternal age’ and, paired with her endometriosis, she suspected her road to reproduction would be bumpy.
After 12 months, the couple decided to see a fertility expert who confirmed Nicole’s concerns.
Testing found Nicole had a low egg reserve, meaning her ability to form an embryo might be unlikely.
The hopeful mum was placed on medication to stimulate her ovaries but this was unsuccessful.
The specialist continued to adjust the regime and finally Nicole’s body was ready for an embryo transfer.
But after multiple attempts of both ‘fresh and frozen’ embryo transfer, nothing ‘stuck’.
The couple sought a second opinion.
“It turned out my husband and I had this same gene match which meant my body was basically rejecting the embryo,” Nicole explains.
Throughout Nicole’s struggles, she reached out to her close friend Lauren for support.
It was 2015 and Nicole was starting to doubt if she would ever become a mother.
That’s when she received a text message from Lauren.
“It said, ‘If you need me to, I would be your surrogate’,” Nicole says, recalling how her jaw dropped at her friend’s incredible generosity.
Nicole and Andrew flew to Canberra to discuss the proposal.
“Myself and my husband and Lauren and her husband just sat down and we went through everything, all the what ifs,” Nicole says.
“But it was clear Lauren had thought everything through.”
At the time, Nicole wasn’t quite ready to give up the dream of carrying her own child.
So the best friends decided to possibly revisit the idea at a later date.
“I was so emotional, it’s such an amazing thing she was offering,” Nicole adds.
Fertility specialist #3
Back in Melbourne, Nicole and Andrew met a third specialist, with the couple hoping this time might be the one.
For 18 months, Nicole was given rounds of different medication – but nothing worked.
And with a bill totalling $60,000, she was out of answers.
In October 2016, Nicole was in Canberra on business when she stopped in at Lauren’s – physically and mentally exhausted, the aspiring mum had lost hope.
“I was worn down, I had bad anxiety and was having panic attacks,” she confesses.
“I was so unwell from a mental health perspective.”
And there, in the arms of her best friend, Nicole surrendered.
“Lauren just said, ‘That’s it, I’m taking over’,” she says.
From that moment, a weight was lifted off Nicole’s shoulders and, by the end of 2016, surrogacy plans were in place.
For the first few months, the pair went through counselling and sought independent legal advice to ensure this was the correct path for both women.
Lauren had three smooth pregnancies and didn’t want any more children of her own – she was happy and willing to be a surrogate for her best friend.
So it was confirmed – Lauren would carry Nicole and Andrew’s baby.
When April 2017 rolled around, Nicole was physically and mentally recovered from the four years of invasive fertility treatments.
Just in time for Lauren’s first embryo transfer.
“I wasn’t that hopeful,” Nicole admits.
“But Lauren never had a problem falling pregnant so she was confident.”
Even so, thinking back on her own experiences, Nicole assumed Lauren would need to go through numerous transfers before one stuck.
As soon as they left the doctor’s office, Nicole pushed from her mind any thought of becoming a mother.
But 10 days later she opened a text message from Lauren.
It was a pregnancy test displaying two pink lines – denoting a positive result.
“I had never seen two pink lines before,” Nicole smiles.
“It was the most unbelievable feeling of ridiculous happiness.”
Lauren’s pregnancy was smooth sailing, and Nicole flew to Canberra for every milestone appointment.
The seven-week scan was a moment she will never forget.
“Hearing our baby’s heartbeat, I cried hysterically,” she says.
At week 10, they found out Lauren was carrying a girl, an emotional moment for everyone.
“Lauren had never had a girl so it was very special,” Nicole says.
Three weeks before the baby was due in December, Nicole packed a bag and flew to Canberra – she would be coming home with her newborn girl.
Lauren was induced a week before Boxing Day, and proudly delivered a healthy baby.
The surrogate mum’s husband, as well as Nicole and Andrew, were all present at the birth.
Little Frankie was placed on Nicole’s chest before the umbilical cord was cut.
“It felt like I was cuddling her for a very long time,” Nicole smiles.
Then cuddles circled the room before the baby was finally handed back to her mum, Nicole.
“It was the most unbelievable feeling of ridiculous happiness“
Frankie is now four and one smart cookie.
“She knows exactly where she came from,” Nicole says.
“She goes, ‘I grew in aunty’s tummy because I couldn’t grow in mummy’s’.”
The cheeky four year old – who Nicole says is ‘going on 14’ – has a special connection with Lauren, whose sons treat Frankie like a sister.
The gift that Lauren gave Nicole, which brought the best friends even closer, still leaves Nicole lost for words.
Helping with surrogacy
Now, Nicole wants hopeful mums to know IVF isn’t always the answer.
“Surrogacy is possible in Australia,” says Nicole, who has started her own business to help others navigate the emotional and often-tricky road.
In Australia, surrogate mothers cannot benefit financially from a surrogacy agreement.
But medical bills and other costs directly related to the pregnancy are fully covered by the other party.
Nicole’s company Russell Walker Surrogacy assists with legal contracts while also offering advice and counselling to prospective parents.
She says the most rewarding thing about her work is sharing the joy as aspiring parents see evidence of new life.
“I love getting clients’ seven weeks scans and hearing the baby’s heartbeat,” she says.
“It’s so special.”