Infertility is a common problem in Australia where one in every six couples will be unable to bear a child.
Medical advances such as IVF have provided hope to a number of couples, but when medical intervention fails what options are left?
Sadly, for many Australians adoption isn’t a viable option. The number of children available for adoption is low, waiting lists are long and those who have pursued IVF for a number of years may find themselves “too old” to adopt by the time their paperwork has been approved.
Surrogacy, however, is one option that infertile Australians are turning to in an effort to realise their dreams of a family. According to Surrogacy Australia, a Melbourne-based advocacy group for parents using surrogacy, a survey of 14 surrogacy agencies overseas this year found the number of babies born on behalf of Australians jumped from 97 in 2009 to 269 in 2012.
What is surrogacy?
Surrogacy is the act in which a woman carries a child in her uterus for another person or couple. Surrogacy arrangements are, by their very nature, complex and involve a number of medical, emotional, financial and legal issues that are only just coming to light. However, as more and more couples turn to surrogacy, its unknown frontiers are being mapped in a way that will enable any number of hopeful couples to become wonderful parents.
In Australia, a surrogate mother must not have any genetic link to the child she carries. The child’s genetic mother and father, or an unrelated donor, must supply the egg and sperm that will be used to form the embryo. This embryo is then transferred to the womb of the surrogate mother.
Infertility treatments can be expensive. Can you afford IVF? >>
Giving the gift of life
Giving the gift of life to a couple who is experiencing infertility is a beautiful thing. But like any major life decision, the decision to become a surrogate comes with a number of emotional, financial and legal issues that you need to prepare for.
On Feb. 5, 2013, Allison Lowden gave birth to a beautiful little boy who wasn’t her own. Acting as an altruistic gestational surrogate, Allison feels her decision to be a surrogate was borne from her own fertility fortunes.
“I have been very lucky to have three perfect, naturally conceived children,” says Allison. “Having seen friends and family struggle to have children, I am very aware of how fortunate I am to have my fertility so it seemed only right to pay it forward and help others experience the life-changing joy (and angst!) of parenthood,” she explains.
Having previously donated eggs to three families, Allison had never planned on becoming a surrogate. But after reading about the struggles of one particular couple online she decided to take the plunge.
Could you be a surrogate?
To become a surrogate in Australia you need to be over 25 and have completed your own family.
For Allison and her husband, becoming surrogates also involved a variety of blood tests, physical check-ups and pelvic ultrasounds conducted by the fertility specialist who conducted the frozen embryo transfers. They were also required to attend counselling with the fertility clinic’s psychologist as well as complete a questionnaire and a personality evaluation.
The legal requirements surrounding surrogacy in Australia vary from state to state but there is one standout point potential surrogates and parents may not be aware of — that the surrogates, not the genetic donors, are legally considered the child’s legal parents until the genetic parents can apply to the Family Court for a Parenting Order.
“Prior to having an embryo transfer we were required to sign a Surrogacy Agreement,” explains Allison. “While this was completed with our lawyers it is more a statement of intent than a legally binding document. Because surrogacy in Australia is altruistic, we don’t have the commercial contracts that apply in places like the United States so a lot of trust is involved,” says Allison.
“My husband and I were considered the legal parents of the baby we carried until his parents could apply to the Family Court. The earliest they can do this is 28 days after the birth and then we had to wait until their appointed court date to transfer guardianship,” explains Allison. “Prior to this, there is always the possibility that the baby’s parents will relinquish care or even apply for child support payments as, legally speaking, they are caring for ‘our’ child,” she says.
When it’s time to say goodbye
No matter what way you look at it, being a surrogate takes its toll. There are time-consuming appointments, a physical toll from the IVF treatment and the pregnancy itself and then there are the inevitable emotions involved.
“Unfortunately, our first two IVF transfers were unsuccessful so I experienced guilt and a sense of failure as I felt I had let the intended parents down by not falling pregnant quickly,” explains Allison.
“But there have been a lot of wonderful things about being a surrogate as well,” she says. “The most amazing moment for me was at the birth — after more than two years of working towards having this precious child, I was able to push him out and his mummy caught him. I put one arm around her, and the other around this perfect little man we had all made together — we both had tears running down our face as we gazed down at him in wonder and joy,” says Allison.
“Everything we had been through was instantly worth it. His daddy cut the cord and they were finally able to hold their beautiful rainbow baby together. It was an extraordinary, humbling experience and I feel so privileged to have been part of it.”
If you would like to know more about becoming a surrogate in Australia, visit Surrogacy Australia for more information.