A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the 4th Australian conference about surrogacy. With daddy left at home with the kids, I jetted off to Sydney for what I could only describe as a emotional roller coaster of a weekend!
For the uninitiated, the conference looks at australian and international surrogacy. There are some amazing sessions where speakers take us deeper and deeper into the world of surrogacy. We hear from fertility specialists and clinics, intended parents (IP’s), surrogates, children born through surrogacy, psychologists and everything in between! It was amazing to hear everyone talk so passionately. Even having completed my first surrogacy journey I was still moved and overwhelmed by those who had spoken.
These conferences offer intended parents hope that they can become a mummy or daddy! But it is hard to be always upbeat at a conference where the undertone is overwhelmingly heartbreaking. IP’s shared stories of tragedy, loss, having odds stacked agains them, hitting brick walls at every turn to become a family. IP’s in the audience learned so much from them and how to get through their own roller coaster journeys. The environment was like we were one big family, cheering each other on and offering hope. Surrogates shared what it is really like to carry a child for another. They spoke about needing support, what happens when journeys don’t go to plan and how we can all work together to achieve the greatest outcomes.
I was asked to be involved in a few areas on the weekend. I participated in a best practice panel about surrogacy in Australia and was asked what I believe needs to be changed so we can become better at something that is still so completely new. I spoke about parents being able to be on the birth certificate from birth- this would be ideal as 6 months post birth, Ethan was still “legally” classed as mine and hubby’s which although we were proud to do, just didn’t feel right. I spoke about continuity of laws between states- they are all so different and bloody confusing! I spoke about mandatory counselling. That both IP’s and surrogates not only need counselling before one gets pregnant, but during the pregnancy and after the birth. This needs to be implemented! I mentioned that Medicare rebates should be available to those going down the path of surrogacy. Surrogacy is expensive enough and the difference between the cost of an egg pick up with and without the rebate could be more than 10k! I spoke about surrogate matching- that we should be able to have a database where those searching for IP’s and those searching for surrogates can come together to establish a relationship.
But the biggest thing we spoke about was commercial/compensated surrogacy in Australia and whether this would work for us.
I am divided on this for a number of reasons:
-I am really conscious of how much surrogacy already costs in Australia. Although it can be done for less, the average price for an uncomplicated journey is about $50,000. Add in any extra egg pick ups, illness of a surrogate, things that weren’t expected etc and the costs can quickly escalate. Would commercial/compensated surrogacy then make it out of reach for all but the wealthy amongst us?
-I think it would be great for surrogates to be pre-screened prior to being able to become a surrogate. Quite often, surrogates and intended parents can start on their journey, IP’s can pay out a lot of money and then find that for one reason or another, things are unable to proceed. Screening would enable IP’s to have great confidence in the process and commercial/compensated surrogacy would mean this could happen.
-Would I accept $30,000 plus for having a child for someone else? Nope! This doesn’t sit well with me. Its a hell of a lot of money and surrogacy is expensive enough. I think a small, token compensatory payment of a few thousand dollars (more than 2, less than 10) would mean that no surrogate is ever out of pocket and it would allow for something like a nice recuperation holiday post birth or for her partner or family who have sacrificed so much during the process.
-Although if compensatory/commercial surrogacy was legal, I would hate to think that one would feel like they would have ownership over someone else’s body just because you are paying them. No one should be able to dictate what their surrogate eats, her exercise level, make choices about births etc just because there is a contractual agreement in place. There still needs to be that underlying trust that the woman is carrying a child to the best of her ability.
So definitely a LOT to consider and I hope that members of our parliament take the time to chat with actual surrogates and IP’s about where surrogacy laws should be aimed at in the future.
On that panel I also spoke about support during a pregnancy and that a journey is just as much about the surrogates partner as it is about her. The person who stands beside you through all of this, who picks up the extra slack, who advocates for you, who lets you be pregnant for another person- they are true heroes. To those who are looking to be surrogates, my advice is if your partner is not supportive- DONT DO IT! Your relationship needs to come first.
I also spoke on a panel about post birth experiences- what hormones do to your body, accepting that IP’s wont be able to be 100% there for you like they did before the birth, how you can get support etc. These were great and informative sessions!
I moderated 2 sessions as well. We spoke with surrogates and IP’s about their journeys in Australia and covered a wide range of discussion points. The audience asked heaps of questions so that was really beneficial for everyone.
The sessions that really affected me the most though, were my one on one meet ups. Intended parents who would come see me and we would chat. They would tell me their stories. Stories of loss, cancer, organ transplants, tragic circumstances and everything in between. I cried with these ladies/couples who told me that they didn’t feel like a woman because they weren’t able to carry. I got asked by people who had so much hope; “how do I find that special lady to carry our child?”. We already knew the answers- it takes patience and you need to put yourself out there. But with anywhere from 15-20 IP’s for every surrogate who is looking, some are in for a challenging wait. That breaks my heart. I hope I was able to answer their questions, to give them lots of information and hints and tips and most of all, provide them support for their circumstances that lead them to surrogacy being their only option to have a child.
A woman is no less of a woman just because she is unable to carry a child. 9 months is nothing compared to the amazing mummies these ladies will be when they have that baby in their arms and care for them for the rest of their lives. THAT is a woman. THAT is a mother. Not the lady who carried. The lady who raises. Of course I know its not all that black and white. But it really hit home, that for me, I took it for granted. I took my children for granted. So when the kids are driving me nuts, I take a deep breath and I appreciate them for who they are. I appreciate how fortunate I was to be able to carry a child for myself and my husband. I am a better mummy because of the surrogacy community who has taught me that what matters is being the best parent you can be and taking nothing for granted.
But what is most fortunate is that in this country, women now have choice. The choice to become a mummy in the most amazing way. The choice that women have to carry a child for another. THAT is why I do this. THAT is why I am a surrogate.
Since that weekend, I am pleased to share some amazing news. We have come full circle. This week, the County Court of VIC approved the granting of the substitute parentage order for our IP’s. Meaning that Ethan is now legally theirs. It was a really special moment.