**This is a serious post. I am sorry that there will be no laughing in your immediate future but sometimes I need to get my serious pants on and this is one of those times.**
Since our appointment on the 1st of this month, things have been a little up in the air. The clinic committee met and had some “concerns” about my last surrogacy pregnancy, namely my post birth bleed. I was confident that with everything that had happened and the debrief we had with the hosp that we would get the okay, but the waiting for this to be official is insane!! What the committee needed was for the Ob who oversaw our last pregnancy at the hosp to write a letter confirming that they would take me again as a surrogate. All good but it felt like forever to get it! We finally sighted a copy late last week, now all that is needed is for the clinic committee to day yes, send KiT/CaT a massive bill and then things can proceed! Hopefully this will be soon so we can get out of this holding pattern we have been in for the past 3 weeks.
In a nutshell, the letter confirmed that I had an “atonic uterus” which basically meant that it failed to contract post birth, leaving exposed blood vessels bleeding that would otherwise have been closed off with the uterus compressing to a smaller size as is normal post birth. The letter confirmed that with some modifications to my care post birth, that there was no reason why I couldn’t birth again without complications. He also requested that he oversee the pregnancy again which is brilliant and I am really excited about it. He has a no nonsense approach which surrogates and IP’s need sometimes as we tend to overthink everything when pregnant!
I don’t have any concerns going into this 2nd surrogacy. Yes I had a bleed but it was just something that happened. Now that I have a risk factor, we put plans into place to try and prevent it happening again. I am not scared or worried about it. If I was, I wouldn’t have planned to become a 2nd time surrogate. Is it that black and white for me? Yes.
Now- the serious part.
A lot of us Aussies are aware that the Federal Parliament are undertaking an inquiry into surrogacy in this country. The scope for what they are looking into is wide and encompasses both local and international surrogacy, their implications and what could be improved. I felt as someone who has gone through the process in Australia, it was my duty to contribute to this inquiry and I made a submission.
Submissions can be made 1 of 3 ways. Publicly with your name attributed to the submission. Publicly with your name withheld from your submission and privately. If you submit publicly, those who visit the website can see your submission. If you submit privately, only the committee will see what you have sent. There are a LOT of public submissions against surrogacy in any way, shape or form. This was upsetting to some in the community but I knew it was going to happen. Usually the most vocal are those who are opponents to change. Given they don’t speak from experience, their submissions are usually unfounded and had thinly veiled links (at best) to unsubstantiated research or assumptions about surrogacy. What a lot in our community have done is post privately (which is their prerogative) as their stories were hard to tell. Posting them publicly was just too much. I decided to post publicly but withhold my name. In hindsight, I probably didn’t need to post anonymously but made the call on the day.
If you feel like settling in for a cuppa, here is my submission:
“RE: Submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Surrogacy
For the majority of Australian states, altruistic surrogacy framework under ART legislation was introduced between the years of 2008 and 2012. Being relatively new to Australian citizens, having a child through altruistic surrogacy in this country has been incorrectly assumed as being long, arduous, expensive and almost impossible to achieve. It is my intent in this submission to outline to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs what we have learned during this past half a decade of surrogacy in Australia- what we can do better and where we need to be moving forward.
Ask a member of the general public about surrogacy in Australia and the most common response is “is it even legal?” Most Australians will never come across surrogacy as it is something they don’t need, or for women, being a surrogate would not be something they would even consider. But for some, it is their only option. Cancer, emergency hysterectomy, illnesses and disorders, absence of a uterus, losing a child and being a gay man are all reasons why one may need to utilise surrogacy in order to have a child. Do we have an entitlement to have a child, to be a parent? No. However, if you have the capacity to care for a child then why should you not be a parent just because of circumstances outside of your control? Surrogacy addresses this need. Within Australia, there have been some wonderful outcomes from surrogacy arrangements; Intended Parents who have a baby in their arms and surrogates who have willingly sacrificed so much to see it happen.
However, surrogacy in Australia has its flaws. Consistency of legislation between states is one of them. Are you a gay couple in WA? If so, you are unable to access surrogacy. But you can if you live in VIC for example. In QLD, there have been surrogacy arrangements facilitated in 4 weeks that have progressed to embryo transfers. In VIC, you should allow approximately 6 months. In some states, it is a requirement to have lengthy clinic and independent counselling. In other states, you are given approval after only a few hours of discussions with a counsellor. Rules surrounding payment of expenses are not consistent, can be subject to interpretation and are Intended Parent focused. A substitute parentage order can be granted if it is satisfied that a surrogate has not received material gain from the arrangement yet it is still granted even if the surrogate has been left out of pocket financially by her Intended Parents. Intended Parents are threatened with legal action if they want to buy a massage voucher for their surrogate as it may be contravening the “material gain” clause in the legislation. Most states have an allowance to cover a surrogates’ wages when she is on maternity leave from her work. In VIC this is not permitted. In SA, providing life insurance for a surrogate can be deemed as inducement. And as the legislation affects the state the Intended Parents reside in, interstate surrogates are required to abide by the laws of the state they do not reside in. Is it any wonder people turn to overseas surrogacy to have a family?!
What we need to consider is the following:
1. Consistent laws between all states. This includes provision of wages, stipulations for what is acceptable to purchase for a surrogate without it being deemed as a gain (ie. house cleaning, food deliveries, massages/physiotherapy/acupuncture), allowing couples, singles, heterosexual and homosexual couples from all states to access surrogacy in their own states and what MUST be covered in order to ensure that a surrogate is adequately protected from suffering any financial or other loss. This includes having access to independent legal advice at the cost of her Intended Parents to work through any issues that cannot be resolved by counselling or mediation. Consistency in age limits for Intended parents, surrogates and for treatments. Mandatory Police and Child Protection checks for all parties.
2. Access to Medicare rebates for surrogacy. At the moment, as soon as “the S word” is mentioned, singles and couples have to pay a non subsidised rate for anything to do with surrogacy. This can add tens of thousands of dollars to an arrangement and for some; this is on top of previous unsuccessful IVF treatments that have bought them to the point of needing a surrogate.
3. A national screening initiative for ALL surrogacy parties. This determines whether they are suitable to commence treatment. There is no hiding the fact that clinics, Intended Parents and surrogates want success. But at what cost? Some Intended parents are clearly not ready for the challenges that present themselves when someone else is carrying their child. They may not have mourned their own inability to carry a child. Quite often when “red flags” are raised, it is already after Intended parents, surrogates and clinics are well into the process, having spent a lot of time and money. Screening all parties and doing this consistently across all states will enable:
a. Intended parents to look outside of their own family and friends for someone to carry their child
b. Surrogates to be pre-screened psychologically and physically to determine their suitability to carry for someone else before they even set foot in a clinic
c. Matching of parties to occur- similar to the US who do this well
4. Compensation. Not commercialisation. There is no doubt that there is money to be made from surrogacy. Usually the clinics, lawyers and counsellors are the beneficiaries of this. But not the surrogate- the woman who is carrying the biggest physical and emotional burden for someone else to have a child- as wonderful as the experience can be. Compensating what surrogates do, combined with screening will see more surrogates want to carry for another and ensure that they are in no way out of pocket financially during their journey. Constantly, we are hearing “I would be a surrogate but only for family members”. A small compensatory payment may see the mindset for this shift to being able to carry for a previously unknown party. Screening will ensure that she is not in it just for the money. I suggest a payment of $10,000. With access to Medicare Rebates for surrogacy, this would still be a financially viable option for Intended parents.
5. Parents names on the Birth Certificate. Currently, a surrogate and her partner are considered the legal parents of any child born through surrogacy in Australia. A Substitute Parentage Order is then applied for and granted through the court system allowing the original Birth Certificate to be amended. This can take between 4 and 8 months and in this time, a surrogate may have to provide approval for medical procedures which doesn’t seem fair to her or the child’s parents! The US system does this and it is definitely an attractive feature for Intended Parents looking at overseas options.
I know a lot about the surrogacy community as I have immersed myself in it for the past 3+ years. I have seen good and bad journeys and have experienced firsthand what it is like to carry a child for someone else as a surrogate. That moment when a child is handed over to their true parents is an electric and natural moment. You are not “giving up” a child. The child you have grown and birthed is simply being united with their real family. Australia has a somewhat terrible history with adoption. Even today the scars remain. With all due respect to those who have experienced the tragic outcomes of adoption in Australia, surrogacy is not the same thing. Surrogacy is the coming together of a team to produce something extraordinary. Something life changing. Children born of surrogacy don’t yearn for their “birth mothers”. This has been shown by interviews with children born of surrogacy who have grown to be independent, well adjusted children who appreciate how they came to be and whose story of birth doesn’t define who they are.
Surrogacy in Australia is here to stay. But in order for us to promote it on our shores instead of overseas means we need to make some positive and lasting changes that protect all parties and are in the best interests of the child to be. We can do this by introducing consistent, national framework, by reducing barriers to Intended Parents who feel like the ability to have someone in your country carry for you is impossible and by providing increased protection for surrogates whilst having them still maintain bodily autonomy. I can put myself forward to help you to assist this. I am open and honest about my experiences- the great parts and the challenges. Any changes should be assessed by those who have gone through the process and know what it is like- not outsiders looking in with a preconceived notion of what surrogacy is like based on “bad news” stories in the media. I look forward to hearing your positive suggestions for surrogacy in Australia moving forward and would certainly appreciate any opportunity to assist in these matters.”