There are few women who can say they’ve brought 21 children into this world – but Queensland mum Mel Holman is one of them.
Mel was working as a nurse, and already had daughters of her own, when she came across a fellow nurse crying in the hospital bathroom.
“She told me she’d had another IVF failure. She was devastated and worried her husband would leave her,” says Mel. “I remember feeling like I wanted to fix it for her. I just wanted to hand her a baby – motherhood had come so easily to me.”
That moment changed Mel’s life. Over the past eight years she has donated hundreds of eggs, giving countless Australians a chance at having their own family.
Her eggs have facilitated the birth of 17 children, and she’s gone through the egg donation process – which involves self-injecting hormones and going under a general anaesthetic to have the eggs surgically removed – more than 20 times. She’s also been a surrogate on two occasions.
“It’s not just about making babies, it’s about making families, and these kids are so wanted,” says Mel, 34. “It’s beautiful to see something that seems so small to me can really change their whole lives.”
In Australia it’s against the law to be paid for egg donation or surrogacy, and at times Mel has faced complications as a result of the egg donation process. On her fourth round, she had a very rare reaction and spent a week in hospital with ovarian hyper-stimulation, which saw her gain 13kg of fluid, some of which ended up in her lungs.
Yet she believes her suffering is a small price to pay for the happiness of others.
Melissa Smith, 44, and her husband David, 48, had been having fertility treatments for a decade without any luck when they came across Mel through Egg Donation Australia – a website and Facebook group Mel launched to help unite donors, surrogates and recipients.
After years of miscarriages and terrible heartache, the couple, from the Hunter Valley, NSW, were blessed with not just one baby but two, when Melissa fell pregnant with twins using Mel’s eggs.
“There’s nothing we could really do for Mel that could show her how precious the gift is she gave to us,” says Melissa, choking back tears. “When I look at my little boy and little girl every day, I just think how blessed we are.”
Mel launched Egg Donation Australia in 2011 after realising just how difficult it was to find recipients for her eggs – despite knowing there are always women facing fertility issues.
“Back then, if you needed an egg donor and couldn’t find one, doctors would give people a wait time of four to seven years before a donor was likely to become available,” says Mel.
“Now, through Egg Donation Australia, that wait time has been cut down to an average of eight weeks – sometimes you can even find a donor in a day!”
After starting out with just three donors, Egg Donation Australia now has thousands of members across the country, including 571 egg donors and several surrogates. Last year, 130 babies were created through the group.
On top of donating her eggs, Mel agreed to be a surrogate for the first time in 2013 when she met 42-year-old Tereasa Trevor, through Egg Donation Australia.
Tereasa has a condition that means pregnancy can be life-threatening, but she and her husband desperately wanted to have a child. Mel had three miscarriages before she was able to deliver healthy baby Nina on April 9, 2015.
“To see the way Tereasa looks at Nina fills my heart with joy,” says Mel, who candidly admits she hates being pregnant.
Although Mel didn’t have any intention to become a surrogate again, when she was introduced to Kelly and Stephen Dascoli and discovered how much they wanted a family, she committed once more. She delivered their baby, Parker, four weeks ago.
Mel has brought the joy of family to legions of Aussies, yet ironically her own family life has been far from joyous. In 2014 she was forced to flee domestic violence, fearing for her life and the lives of her two daughters. But despite the tough times, she has never faltered in her generosity towards others.
Mel has told her new partner Mal she won’t commit to being a surrogate again any time soon, but it’s not something she can ever completely rule out.
“It’s one way you can make a huge difference in somebody’s life. I’ve never felt richer than when I’ve given,” says Mel. “Never say never!” she adds with a smile.
Tereasa Trevor, from Newcastle, NSW, was staring down the barrel of her fourth miscarriage. She was six weeks pregnant with twins, but her doctors indicated the pregnancy would likely fail. After seven years of desperately trying for a baby with her husband, the news was absolutely devastating.
“Tereasa, if you can’t hold these babies, I’ll have a baby for you,” Mel told her.
The women had initially started talking after Tereasa reached out to Mel through Egg Donation Australia to ask if she would donate eggs. At 39, she wanted to give herself the best shot at having a child.
Desperate for her unborn twins to survive, Tereasa declined Mel’s offer to be a surrogate at first. “I said, ‘I don’t need your help,’” she says. “But the next week I miscarried.”
Discovering she had a blood-clotting disorder that meant another pregnancy could kill her saw Tereasa change her mind. “Instead of being depressed, now I had Mel as my incredible safety net,” she says.
Mel was implanted with Tereasa’s egg, but miscarried at eight weeks.
They tried again using donor eggs, but she suffered two more miscarriages until finally the decision was made to use Mel’s own eggs and Tereasa’s husband’s sperm. Perfect baby Nina was born on April 9, 2015, and Tereasa adores her precious little girl.
“There’s so much meaning in my life now, and moments when I just feel like my heart explodes looking at her,” she says. “It’s the most profound gift you can give another person.”
Do you know an amazing mum? Nominate her for the chance to be named 2017 Barnardos Mother of the Year!
Nominations are invited from anyone who knows an exceptional Australian mum. She could be your own mother – birth, foster, step or adoptive – your wife, partner, sister, daughter, friend or someone special in your local community.
A winner will be named for each state and territory and flown to Sydney – along with their nominee – to enjoy a high-profile event at which the national winner will be crowned.
Nominations close February 26 and can be made on the website: MotherOfTheYear.com.au