Celebrating a first Mother’s Day with baby, thanks to his surrogate mom

Natalie and Dave Daniels had been unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant for a decade, then close friend Candice Johnston volunteered to carry their baby for them

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May 8 will be a special Mother’s Day for Natalie Daniels, and not just because it’s also the 10th anniversary of her and husband Dave’s wedding.

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Natalie and Dave, after a decade of frustration and heartbreak trying to have a baby, will celebrate on Sunday with little Ronin, who was born on Jan. 10 to a surrogate mother.

Natalie’s friend Candice Johnston became pregnant last May with Ronin, who was nine pounds and seven ounces at birth.

“After all those obstacles, it’s just normal life now,” Natalie said over the phone, Ronin gurgling happily nearby.

The Daniels had unsuccessfully tried invitro fertilization three times, with two fertilized eggs each time. Ronin’s embryo had been frozen in 2017, but then health issues meant Natalie needed a hysterectomy — and a surrogate if they were to realize their dream of her.

Candice talked it over with her husband Patrick, a sports writer with The Province and Vancouver Sun, and volunteered.

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“There’s this feeling of not getting too excited during the process, thinking it’s just going to fail again,” Dave said. “Then it’s finally happening, it’s very, very surreal, definitely a pinch-yourself moment.”

It helped immensely that Candice remained upbeat throughout, the Daniels said, through every stage, milestone and appointment, reassuring them everything was going to work out while the expectant parents sat on pins and needles waiting for test results.

Longtime friends (from left) Dave Daniels, Alice Johnston, Patrick Johnston, Natalie Daniels, Candice Johnston and Molly Johnston.  Candice was a surrogate for the Daniel's family.  She gave birth to Ronin Daniels January, 2022.
Longtime friends (from left) Dave Daniels, Alice Johnston, Patrick Johnston, Natalie Daniels, Candice Johnston and Molly Johnston. Candice was a surrogate for the Daniel’s family. She gave birth to Ronin Daniels January, 2022. PNG

Just recalling that optimism still causes Natalie to tear up.

Candice, whose youngest child just turned two, said she can’t imagine what feelings might be swelling up in Natalie on Mother’s Day.

“Years and years, hiccup after hiccup, and finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel after getting shut down again and again and again,” Candice said. “After this amount of time to have a child now, I don’t think there are words to adequately describe how that feels.”

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Natalie, too, said there are no words.

“There were tears, just the anticipation, my whole body was vibrating,” she said of the moments leading up to the scheduled Caesarian. “I was, ‘Oh my god it’s happening.’”

She could see Dave watching via FaceTime, also crying.

Ronin emerged — “It’s him!” — Gave a cry, had his umbilical cord cut and Natalie was holding her son in her arms.

“I was just like ‘Ahhhh,’ it’s just the fullness of every positive feeling you could ever feel in a moment.

“It was perfect.”

Dave and Patrick — Candice calls her husband the silent MVP in this adventure — met 20 years ago while they were students at UBC.

The two Johnston girls, four-year-old Molly and Alice, the two-year-old, adore Baby Ronin, as they call him.

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St. Paul’s sees maybe one or two surrogacies a year, and staff were moved by Candice’s selflessness, Andrea Firmani, a nurse in the hospital’s maternity program, said.

“Big props to Candice, she’d just had a baby (Alice), it’s like wow, she’s just done this all over again for someone else’s family.

“I’m so happy for (the Daniels) to be having that first Mother’s Day coming up.”

This was a one-off for Candice, who provided Ronin with breast milk for his first eight weeks, but even if she had known then all the hardships, all the anxieties about carrying someone else’s baby, everything she went through, Candice said she would still have done it in a heartbeat.

“I feel very lucky I got to be a part of (Natalie) being able to enjoy this Mother’s Day.

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“There are so many out there… I felt like that, too, after I had a miscarriage, I felt that pain of having Mother’s Day go by when you’ve had a failure, a loss.

“There’s really no feeling like it when you do get to actually celebrate.”

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