"When I saw her I couldn't breathe."
Planning to one day have a baby is easy, conceiving for some may also be an effortless task, but that's not the blanket reality for all want-to-be parents.
After five years of negative results and a whole lot of heartbreak, Canberra's Rob and Ellen Coleman had exhausted just about every test and option available to one day have a baby of their own.
That was until they took up an offer from Mr Coleman's sister, Mudgee's Alison Doyle who could not bear to watch her relatives endure any more grief.
After months of toing and froing, the Coleman's agreed to take Mrs Doyle up on her offer to be their surrogate.
And on July 20, 2021, their "miracle" baby was born.
For the Coleman's, their infertility challenges arose in 2016.
Through the half a decade-long journey, they were constantly met with comments claiming that 'nothing should be wrong' due to age and health, but those harmless words only kept the possibility of Mrs Coleman carrying their child alive, making moving on all the more difficult.
"We went through seven rounds of IVF. We tried blood dumping, I did two checks for endometriosis. I think all up I went under the knife just with procedures six times, and then to see what was wrong, another six times," Mrs Coleman said.
"This whole time we were told how young and healthy we are and that there shouldn't be anything wrong, and that's the most frustrating part because you don't have any answers.
"We had to question when is it too much money to keep going or when do we stop?"
Before they wed, the Coleman's were planning to the exact month when they would expect to fall pregnant, after being told through high school just how easy the task would be.
To find any positive through the upset it would be that the heartache made the husband and wife-team stronger with one often picking up the pieces for the other.
"We are so grateful that we both were in the mindset that you can't play the blame game, we had to be a team," Mrs Coleman said.
"Trying to remain optimistic through the whole process was really hard, especially when both of us didn't really believe it.
"Rob had to pick up the pieces because I would just be in bed crying.
"We had to rely on each other because you can't rely on your family unless they've been through it."
The surrogacy process
The legislation around surrogacy arrangements differs from state to state, and although the process was well worthwhile, the Coleman's admit that it can be a confronting process.
"With surrogacy, the laws around what you have to do are full on. You feel judged," they said.
"We had to pay eight thousand dollars for a contract between Ali and us for two lawyers to look at it but it's not law-binding. We can say 'don't jump out of a plane' and she can, it's nothing but it's mandatory.
"Then you have to go through the Supreme Court to apply for a Parentage Order. On top of that you also have to do six rounds of psychology.
Having been by their side through all of the lows, there was little question in Mrs Doyle's mind that being her brother and sister-in-law's surrogate was something she wanted to do.
"I just couldn't imagine life without my own children," she said.
To be able to give somebody that gift is amazing, I feel very lucky.Alison Doyle
Having three children of her own, Mrs Doyle and her husband Derek set about explaining the situation to the kids in a way they would understand.
"We started to get the idea in their heads by praying at night hoping Rob and Ellen could have a baby, they knew there was a situation," Mrs Doyle said.
"I told them I was able to help and they were very excited."
The phone call
Given their history with conception, the Coleman's were discussing how they were going to prepare Mrs Doyle for a negative result, and at that very moment, everything changed.
"Literally before she [Alison] called to tell us that she was pregnant, we were asking each other how are we going to talk her through this being a no because we were so used to the negatives," Mrs Coleman said.
"When it was a yes, we just dropped to the ground. We were like 'what are the two lines'?"
"When I found out, I was overjoyed. It was very surreal and it still is," Mrs Doyle said.
"After so much loss, Rob and Ellen just couldn't believe it."
On Tuesday, July 20, 2021 at 8.40am, Wynter Grace Coleman was born at Mudgee Hospital weighing 8.7 pounds (3,990 grams) and 51cm in length.
Upon laying their eyes on their "little miracle", the Coleman's were met with an overwhelming sense of relief.
"When I saw her I couldn't breathe, I was so shocked that she was actually there. I know you could feel her kicking in the belly but when I physically saw her, it was like a weight had been lifted," Mrs Coleman said.
"It was the best moment of my life, she's our little miracle," Mr Coleman said.
"We haven't slept since she was born because we can't stop staring at her. Each time it's a different topic about her little features," they added.
"With all of the dark times we've had, we will maybe be up at 2am when she's two-years-old just smiling at her because we can truly appreciate all of the good times."
A teary-eyed Mr Coleman described his sister and her family as being "superheroes", while Mrs Coleman wondered how one could ever repay someone for such an act of selflessness.
"Obviously it's not just Ali who sacrificed, it's her kids and Derek. They were just amazing and so supportive, they're superheroes," Mr Coleman said.
"How the hell do you ever say thank you to someone who carried your child?," Mrs Coleman questioned.
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You are not alone
While infertility affects one in six Australian couples of reproductive age, according to IVF Australia, it remains an isolating ordeal, said the Coleman's.
"Miscarriages and infertility are still such a secret between women and it's so sad. I kept it a secret as well and I felt so isolated," Mrs Coleman said.
"I know everyone is worried about being too sensitive with topics but I think this is one where people should be mindful.
"I remember I was at work when I just got told we weren't having a baby. I remember someone while I was heating up my lunch was like 'when are you going to have a family? Time is ticking'.
"We understand it's never from a bad place, but it can really affect people. Your one question about someone starting a family could be the straw that broke a camel's back."
After coming through the other side, they hope that anyone going through something similar realises that they are not alone.
"I wish I had talked about it to everyone, and I wish I could talk to everyone who reads this article and has a question because you shouldn't have to do it by yourself, it's a hard path to go down," Mrs Coleman said.
"What you're feeling is real. Don't let anyone tell you to 'not worry about it'.
You're not alone.Ellen and Rob Coleman
We love Mudgee
During the final stages of their stay at Mudgee, the Coleman's were full of praise for the local community.
"We joked about wanting to live in Mudgee just because of how amazing everyone at the hospital and the community have been, they've all been so accommodating," the Coleman's said.
"It just felt perfect in Mudgee. I couldn't knock any of it."
For Dr Craig Hearn, who delivered Wynter, he said to be a part of the process was a privilege, meanwhile Mudgee Hospital maternity unit manager, Jackie Hattam said it was a positive experience for all involved.
"This is just an amazing thing. I've never been involved in anything like this before," Dr Hearn said.
"Alison is an amazing person to have taken on this real act of selflessness out of the love she has for her brother and sister-in-law. It was an honour for me to be involved."
"It's been an absolute honour and privilege to care for this family. It has been a really positive experience for everyone involved," Ms Hattam said.
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