A? lot of people helped to bring baby Ari into the world.
While all births are remarkable, the two-month-old will have quite the story to tell of how he came to be, thanks to a few women who gave his dads the biggest gift they could.
But for the woman who carried him for nine months, and handed him into their arms, it was the 'greatest high' she's ever experienced. And the remarkable journey started in the most humble of forums: Facebook.
'Best thing I've ever done'?
"It's the best thing I've ever done. I've always thought about being a surrogate," Rachel Morrison, 31, told 9Honey. ?
?After becoming curious about surrogacy, Rachel ¡ª who has never wanted children of her own, joined a Facebook group to learn and connect from others who had been on, or were exploring, the journey themselves.
After following along for a few months, the Melbourne-based makeup artist wrote an introductory post, ?before she came across a post by a couple from Adelaide, Matt and Aldo.
Starting a conversation, the trio got to know each other over Facebook, and quickly felt a connection. ?Deciding to meet in person, Rachel flew to Adelaide, only for the COVID restrictions to change last minute, meaning they were only able to spend two hours together.
A week later they spent a week together to see if they were a good match. Not naive about the challenges of the unique relationship, both parties filled out an extensive questionnaire covering their expectations from conception through to a baby's arrival and beyond.
It was a really big thing for me to still be part of the baby's life, but in like an aunty role.
When their answers aligned, they embarked on mandatory counselling, before deciding to proceed.
"It was sort of like dating, you pick the person whose morals and values and future goals align," she said. "It was a really big thing for me to still be part of the baby's life, but in like an aunty role."
"From day one they said 'You'll be cool aunty Rach'. I wanted this experience for myself as much as the gift for someone else. Having a pregnancy my way was important, too," she continued. ?
"I 100 per cent wanted to find someone who was invested in me having a good experience as they were? in having a child at the end."
Each were delighted when Rachel fell pregnant on the first transfer, using a donor egg from a woman in Queensland who wanted to give back after conceiving her and her partner's child using donor sperm.
Sending the couple a photo of herself holding a positive pregnancy test, Rachel said they called in 'tears of joy' when opening this.
Though Rachel had wanted to experience pregnancy, she was dealt a blow in hyperemesis gravidarum, which made for an uncomfortable experience. ?
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But feeling Ari moving around in the final months gave her 'everything and more' than she'd wanted. ?
For Rachel, she always knew it wasn't her baby and talk to Ari and tell him: "Your daddies love you so much", or "Aunty Rachel loves you,". Though she felt a special connection, she describes it as loving him as her friend's child, not as her own.
At 37 weeks and already in Adelaide while awaiting the birth, Rachel went into labour which, like her pregnancy, had it's challenges. Her own partner, Taryn, had to make a quick dash from Melbourne to join her, offering much-needed support.
"Taryn had to just jump on a plane. She was incredible, she'd sort of been freaking out beforehand, but she was an absolute rock for that labour." ?
After all Rachel and Ari's checks were done, both couples went to Matt and Aldo's house, where they spent six days bonding together. Rachel and Taryn then stayed another month in Adelaide, where she was made to feel she could call them to check in if ever she needed.
For Rachel, watching the pair settle into their new role as parents made everything worth it.
"Seeing them be comfortable in becoming parents, dealing with sleepless nights was equal parts hilarious and heartwarming," she said.?
"It was the greatest high you could ever imagine. I was on cloud nine. Just seeing the end result of what started as a conversation on Facebook messenger to seeing them as parents, it's literally the best feeling in the entire world."?
Rachel said she'd consider doing this again, but warns others considering the journey to do their research first, saying it can make or break the experience.
Family lawyer Cassandra Kalpaxis agrees, saying anyone interested in surrogacy should engage legal advice even at the exploratory stage, if only to work find out the financial costs involved.
While domestic surrogacy in Australia is on the up, it still remains just a tiny amount of all births. While approximately 141 children were born via a surrogate last year, the total number of babies born for the year was 309,996.
Of these 141, 90 per cent are estimated to have been gestational surrogacy arrangements, where, as with Rachel, the surrogate had no genetic relation to the child.
Commercial surrogacy isn't legal in Australia, though altruistic surrogacy, in which the surrogate does not receive financial payment is (with the exception of the Northern Territory, and is dependent on certain, state-specific criteria being met).
But intended parents are liable for the medical costs (agreed upon in a pre-conception agreement) of the surrogate, as well as their legal fees, which Ms Kalpaxis says many underestimate.
"I couldn't tell you how many people start the process and then realise they don't have the money for the legal fees and all these other things they need to factor in. It's best to get that information early one," she told 9Honey.?
While Australia has stringent laws surrounding surrogacy, Ms ?Kalpaxis says these are vital to ensure those who embark on the journey are doing so for the right reasons. Adding it ensures these arrangements are ethical, which is not always guaranteed in international arrangements.
Questions she hears from clients are often around what they're legally able to do, where they can find a surrogate, whether to do a domestic arrangement or look internationally and what happens if someone pulls out of the arrangement. ?
The most vital step, she says, is 'setting everyone's expectations early on', describing it as a 'relationship of trust'. ?
"Do your research and work with professionals. I tell people to avoid the chatrooms and the like, because often they're places of significant overwhelm, and that person's experience may not necessarily be their experience." ?
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