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Womb Mates

Like many young couples, Sean Dawson and Shannon Bourbonnais grew desperate to have a child. Unlike most, they used a surrogate mother.
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The two embryos implanted in Skye LeBlanc's uterus both took hold, and an infertile couple who'd wanted a child ended up with twins. Brian Green
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Like many young couples, Sean Dawson and Shannon Bourbonnais grew desperate to have a child. Unlike most, they used a surrogate mother.

I know I'll be a mother," Shannon Bourbonnais used to tell her friends. "I just don't know how yet." After she suffered a miscarriage in 2001, at age 28, Bourbonnais, who teaches French at York House School, embarked on a regime of positive thinking, massage, special diets, drugs, charts, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, fitness programs and vitamin supplements. She also did hundreds of hours of Internet research.

After "trying" for a year after the miscarriage, she and her husband, Sean Dawson, a phys ed teacher at an elementary school, made their first appointment at an in-vitro fertilization clinic. There are three IVF clinics in Vancouver, and Shannon chose Genesis mostly because of its previous success rate. In the summer of 2002, she started taking Synarel, to suppress her cycle, then Pergonal and Gonal-F, to stimulate her ovaries to release eggs. In the fall, Dr. Albert Yuzpe removed ten of her eggs and, using Sean's sperm, created three viable embryos.

Shannon's uterine lining was too thin to support the embryos, it turned out, perhaps because of the post-miscarriage D & C (dilation and curettage) procedure. So they delayed the transfer, and for the next year doctors monitored and treated her uterus lining, starting with uterine therapy (in which a kind of balloon is inflated to stimulate tissue growth). By now, Shannon was used to rushing off from school for treatment that once would have seemed daunting and invasive. And while dealing with the monthly disappointment, fertility drugs (one of which stimulates menopause and gave her night sweats) and regular tests, she was teaching full time, acting as head of the French department, working on her M. Ed. at UBC, and teaching workshops to teachers across the country.

Finally, in the fall of 2003, doctors transferred one of the previously frozen embryos to her uterus. After two weeks Shannon prepared herself for the phone call from the clinic, but she already knew the results of the pregnancy test. "I know all the signs so well now," she said. Already, friends were privately starting to refer to her quest as "optimistic."

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