Running as opponents in a board of governors' election at Carleton University in Ottawa is how Zane and Baden Colt met.
"Love at first sight on the poster," Zane told CTVNews.ca in an interview. "We've been together ever since."
On their first date, Baden, 18 at the time, was upfront about her health and what it meant for their relationship.
"I actually mentioned for the first time to Zane that I probably wouldn't be able to carry a pregnancy all the way through," Baden said. "I really believe strongly in putting all things out there. I'm in no way ashamed of my infertility."
At the time, Zane believed there would be a "workaround" for the two to conceive a child. Years later, when they were ready to start a family, doctors made it clear Baden would not be able to become pregnant.
The workaround Zane hoped for came in the form of a gestational carrier or surrogate – another woman who could carry the pregnancy for the couple.
However, many of the costs associated with fertility care are not covered through employee insurance in Canada or government health care, forcing hopeful parents like Zane and Baden to pay out of pocket for the family they dream of.
The lack of access and high costs are just some of the barriers for families in Canada, something advocates say needs to change.
HOW ZANE AND BADEN FOUND A SURROGATE
Baden has epilepsy and requires a Class X drug to treat it. This type of medication is not safe to take while pregnant.
"In my case, coming off of the medication wasn't an option, or I would be having seizures and just in general very sick," she said.
"We decided to open up our journey in terms of finding a surrogate by putting ourselves out there online," Baden added. "We created a blog, we created an Instagram page, and we just started sharing a little bit about who we are as people and what we were hoping to accomplish in a surrogacy journey, the kind of relationship we wanted to build with a potential surrogate and her family, and it resonated with people."
After six months, one of their videos went "viral," the couple says, and a woman named Ashley reached out asking to help.
This way of finding a surrogate is highly unlikely and the pair said they were "very lucky."
Before hopeful parents can start the pregnancy process, legal agreements need to be in place, which incur extra expenses for the fertility journey.
Surrogates in Canada cannot be paid for carrying the baby, according to the website Surrogacy in Canada Online, an organization aiding families to navigate the processes.
There are other expenses like medication coverage, taking time out of work for appointments, travel to and from checkups, and rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) – a way to inseminate sperm with an egg.
Zane said the legal agreement costs between $5,000 and $10,000, depending on where the baby is born. Using a surrogacy agency costs between $15,000 and $30,000 and reimbursing the surrogate for expenses and net lost wages could range between $20,000 and $40,000, he said.
"That's how I got a $60,000 number by adding all that together, plus of course the fertility expenses, the round of IVF, the genetic testing and the transferring of the embryos, plus all medication, so it can get very expensive," Zane said.
COVERAGE NEEDED FROM BOTH EMPLOYERS AND GOVERNMENTS
Surrogacy in Canada Online estimates that about one in six Canadians are affected with infertility.
"The World Health Organization defines infertility as a medical disease. No matter why … you've been diagnosed with a medical condition that causes your infertility, you're a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community or a single person… there should be access," Carolynn Dube, executive director of Fertility Matters Canada (FMC), told CTVNew.ca in an interview.
FMC is an organization that teaches Canadians about infertility and provides free support and information.
"We're asking insurance carriers, brokers and employers to consider inclusive fertility and family-building benefits to help ease that burden," Dube said.
This could include things like adoption support and family planning information.
Zane Colt is lifting his daughter, Scottie Colt, in the air. The young family was able to have a child after going through a process of surrogacy. (Calvert Quach/ Mango Studios)
It's not just employers that need to provide coverage, she said, adding governments also need to step in.
Seven provinces in Canada provide some financial assistance or coverage to parents trying to conceive a child, Dube said.
She said Ontario and Quebec fund a full round of IVF, although medication is not included in Ontario.
"Then in other provinces, like Manitoba and Nova Scotia, there's a tax credit. So the issue becomes certainly you're going to get that refund as a separate budget line item, but the patient still needs to pay upfront," Dube said.
New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island also have some coverage.
"We live in a country where we have universal access to health care and yet this piece of health care is not covered," she said.
IVF is an important aspect of how infertile people can have a child who has their genes, but it involves multiple processes, the website for IVF Canada, a clinic in Ontario, reads.
First, a woman's ovaries need to be stimulated to produce one, or multiple, follicles containing eggs. From there the eggs are retrieved.
Eggs are fertilized with sperm to create embryos, which then can be transferred to the uterus.
Not all embryos will result in a successful fetus. For Baden and Zane, their first round of IVF did not work, but their second resulted in their daughter, Scottie.
In Canada, IVF treatment costs about $20,000, but most people need to do several rounds to conceive a child, Dube said.
COVERAGE IN THE WORKPLACE
Some employers are early adopters of covered fertility care in Canada, one of which is Gibson Energy, an oil company headquartered in Calgary.
Riccardo Silvestro, the director of total rewards and human resource systems at Gibson, told CTVNews.ca in an interview the company wanted to provide employees with benefits beyond the "traditional" workplace coverage.
In May 2022, the company launched its Family Building Benefit in partnership with its insurance provider, Sun Life, recognizing that the costs to become pregnant can place an unnecessary burden on people who are struggling to conceive.
"We wanted to address fertility services, adoption services and surrogacy," Silvestro said. "(So) we created a benefit offering a $30,000 lifetime maximum for families that wanted to pursue any one of those options, and on top of that – for fertility specifically – we also offered $5,000 for fertility drugs."
The benefit was well received by Gibson's 500 employees, Silvestro said, adding the goal was to provide coverage for people needing fertility support so it would "alleviate stress and financial burden.
"Would we like to see more creative benefits like this take form? Absolutely," Silvestro said. "It would be nice to see more of that happening, (but) it really comes down to organizations and their philosophies."