A couple of weekends ago, I again had the pleasure of being involved with the Families Through Surrogacy Annual Australian conference in Brisbane. As an overview, it is 2 days of listening to presenters and panelists chat about all things surrogacy- both international and local. It is a non-stop, bustling weekend that always leaves me a little tired afterwards.
With 30+ panels and presentations and almost 50 speakers, together with about 15 sponsor displays, the weekend was the place to be for anyone interested in, or going through surrogacy. There were many great sessions that stood out for me:
The first was Surrogacy 101 for Australians. You can find the information slide HERE. What I found most interesting was that over 80 babies are estimated to have been born via altruistic surrogacy in Australia over the past 2 years which is fantastic! In addition to this, the last slide shows the comparative costs between various countries, with the US being the most expensive, Cambodia the cheapest and Canada and Australia sitting in the middle. Canada is becoming an increasingly viable option for Australians who are unable to find a surrogate locally and for those residing in NSW/QLD/ACT where engaging in commercial surrogacy overseas is illegal.
The next session I ADORED was the children of surrogacy session. It was 3 kids born via international surrogacy (TS and GS), one via Australian surrogacy and the child of a surrogate from Queensland. These kids pull no punches. If their life completely sucked, they wouldn’t be telling everyone that things were rosy. The fact is that they spend little time contemplating how they came to be and recognise the women who raised them as their mothers, not the women who carried them (although they are most appreciative, of course). The daughter of the Aussie surrogate was so proud of her mum- you could feel it when she spoke. Although she was responsible for THE most brilliant quote from the entire conference: “she’s had lots of kids; she’s not a slut of anything, but she’s had A LOT of kids”. The entire audience dissolved into laughter. It was something we needed as a precursor for the “seriousness” that is surrogacy.
The international and local speakers are great- they provide lots of detailed and relevant information about surrogacy, producing embryos, the risks of carrying multiples, the ins and outs of dealing with international laws etc etc etc. But it is the personal stories that I most love to hear. The Intended Parents with children born to surrogates in the US, Canada, Australia and the Ukraine all sharing how their journeys went, what challenges they faced and how they overcame them. Speaking about the respect they have for the ladies who carried for them and the fulfillment in their lives that having a child (or children) has bought. Most of them commented that they had looked into adoption but it was just too hard/expensive or they were knocked back for various reasons. This is an important note to make because many of these people attending the conference were there because surrogacy is their VERY last resort. And it is certainly not the easiest path.
Surrogates shared their journeys about finding Intended Parents, the process, pregnancy and birth and post birth emotions. Counsellors spoke about the importance of solid, thorough sessions. Lawyers spoke about your rights as a surrogate or Intended Parent. The male partners of surrogates and IM’s spoke about their journeys and how strong the women are and how they stand beside them. I cried bucket loads of tears over these 2 days, both happy and sad.
The session that had the biggest impact on me though was the last one on the Sunday, titled Sacred Surrogacy. It was a session for surrogates only and was ran by some amazing women from Canadian Fertility Consulting. I was drawn to these ladies because they are/were surrogates themselves and they recognise that when a surrogate is treated with respect and love, that it is more likely that a journey will go well. Their respect for surrogates and intended parents makes them the leading consulting service for surrogacy in Canada and that is clear to see. We were ushered into a private area with rose petals and green foliage in the middle of the room, atop of which sat a beautiful bowl filled with bath crystals. They explained to us that they run surrogacy retreats for their surrogates and are in the process of finalising their first IP retreat. At their surrogates retreat, surrogates get together to provide each other with support and love as they go through their journeys. There is meditation and group sessions and the entire thing looks truly beautiful. Just a video outlining the retreat sent most of us diving for the tissues. We were each asked to reflect on our upcoming or past journeys and share with the other women what our hopes or fears were. We chose a scent or product to put in the bath crystals and continued this around the group. We laughed at the insanely funny things about carrying for others. We cried hearing our surrogate sisters divulge their fears and sharing their stories of loss or things gone wrong. We shared things in that moment that we never would have otherwise shared in forums where everything remains there forever for others to read. In that moment we were united and the energy in the room was electric and that feeling will remain with us forever. I am getting slightly emotional about it even as I type! I am wearing a bracelet we all received. It is a daily reminder of who I am and who I can share my innermost thoughts with- with women who truly understand. In fact- it has had such an impact that we are looking at running our own surrogacy retreats!
There were a few major take homes that resonated with me at the conference and I wanted to share them with you.
- There was an overwhelming message from all sides that it is crucial for Intended Parents to have grieved their inability to carry their own child before commencing the porcess of surrogacy. Too often we are seeing people rush from infertility to surrogacy or the loss of their ability to carry into surrogacy and this was highlighted as one of the reasons why journeys can go awry. It has been suggested that counselling is crucial for one to be able to move forward with a more open and objective viewpoint in order to be able to support a women and her family as they carry their child.
- Counselling isn’t just a box to tick off. It is crucial and needs to continue through the pregnancy and after the birth- whether mandated by legislation or not. Joint sessions as a minimum with individual sessions if required. Counselling needs to be thorough and challenging! If you are not challenged, then you may not have the right counsellor. Food for thought. Even if there are no sticking points, counselling helps build the solid communication foundations that you ALL need once a surrogate is pregnant or trying to fall pregnant. You need to have a plan for what happens if there are difficulties, if communication does break down or if you are having trouble articulating anything. Experienced surrogacy counsellors are great at putting things like this into place and asking the right questions about what would happen if something went wrong. Most of us wont need to deal with any of that, but if those plans are there, things are less daunting if they do arise.
- Not all international agencies/clinics/surrogacy providers are equal. In addition to recommendations, you need to do your own research. I actually found some of them so aggressive (particularly with their “competitors”) that they were downright rude. I would NOT want them facilitating a surrogacy arrangement if I ever needed one. You also also need to ask the hard questions of who you are looking to go with:
- Do you offer ongoing counselling for your surrogates?
- Do you assess IP’s for their suitability to go through this process?
- What do I need to consider that might add additional costs to my journey?
- What are my legal rights as an IP?
- What are our surrogates rights?
- How are the surrogates and Intended Parents supported throughout the process?
- What are your views on multiple embryo transfer?
- Empathy is so important in a surrogacy journey. From both sides. An IP needs to put themselves in the shoes of their surrogate to see what she might need or why she might be struggling. A surrogate has to try and look at things from an IP’s perspective if they are perhaps behaving in a certain way. This respect and compassion and ability to reflect on stories outside of our own is what can make for a less complicated journey.
- My final take home is that surrogacy is hard. It is. It is overwhelming and can make you feel very alone. But the surrogacy community is an amazing place to find information, support and friendship. For those looking into or going through surrogacy, lean on us in the community. We are here for you.
I want to make a few personal comments about the weekend.
You all know how totally in LOVE I am with Marian and Rachel- remember their Intended Awesome blog? KiT and I got to hang with these women all weekend and they still completely rock. We may have giggled at the most inappropriate times and sent memes during sessions but there is another side to this. There is a friendship that wouldn’t have otherwise been there without our ability to carry or inability to carry. We make friends in the strangest of places and having dinner with women and discussing all the ins and outs and grotty parts of childbirth while still managing to stuff our faces with 100 courses is pretty great. Rachel was the first one to welcome me into this community. We can write 1000 words or 1 word to each other and we know how the other is thinking or feeling. I love that she is so experienced but is still so amazingly human. She is a 4 time surrogate with worries and fears, yet is so excited as if it were her first time carrying. Marian is the Gold Standard Benchmark of Intended Mothers (I should trademark that). Caring, compassionate, intuitive, involved, grateful and respectful. KiT and I have learned a LOT from these women and our journey carries with it all the great foundations that theirs does because they showed us what is important in a relationship.
I pretty much spent the better part of 72 hours straight with KiT. She didn’t run away but maybe because that was due to the fact we were sharing a hotel room and a flight home… Being in each others pockets for that space of time can be hard but it just felt normal. We laughed and cried, we weren’t stuck at the hip and were respectful of the others time and space. It cemented for me that she is a pretty amazing chick and I am so grateful that I am able to carry her child. I also discovered that she has a hidden talent- tap dancing!
My fellow surrogate women, from all across our wonderful country who it was so fun to catch up with. These ladies ground me. They teach me so much and I love the support that I can give to them. They are old hats, new hands but we all have something in common and that is our desire to do something that is challenging and at times, insane to help others. You need to be pretty sure about yourself in order to do this, and these confident women are such a source of inspiration. I encourage any Intended Parent to open up a dialogue with a surrogate as you can learn so much.
The GORGEOUS IP’s that I support. They know who they are. One amazing woman even bought me Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s and Ding Dongs all the way back from the US just because I hadn’t tasted them before!! I love their friendship, their ability to open up and share, their honesty and their overwhelming support of me and other surrogates- whether we are carrying for them or not! I look forward to each and every one of you becoming parents or adding to your families. You deserve this.
I loved every part of the conference, from the difficult things to discuss, the stories of heartbreak and tragedy, to meeting new and wonderful people, having lots of drinks and laughs, snorting at inappropriate times and learning new things as I go through this next journey. Each conference just cements the passion I have for this community and my love for those who I support and who support me. Cliche? Yep. But its true. You know me, I dont blow smoke up anyone’s arse. I tell it as it is.
Speaking of arses, you have come to the tail end of this blog. Thanks for hanging in there! There is still a LOT I have to say and you are owed an update from me and my journey, so I will be back shortly with some more xo