Paul and Jaryd are a couple living in Brisbane, and are part-way through their surrogacy with a traditional surrogate, Charli. They share their story wisdom for finding and connecting with a surrogate here in Australia and through social media.
The media is buzzing with news that Ian Thorpe and his partner Ryan Channing, are planning to have a baby via surrogacy. Channing was quoted as saying that the couple were pursuing surrogacy in the US because ‘the laws in Australia are difficult for same sex males in regards to surrogacy.’
Whilst famous people having babies makes for good headlines, no one has checked whether what Channing said is true. For those of us who have carried a baby for a gay couple, his comments were a bit surprising. Gay couples considering surrogacy would be forgiven for assuming that surrogacy is difficult or impossible in Australia, and may head overseas without considering domestic options, or the ramifications of pursuing surrogacy overseas.
So, a fact check for a start – is surrogacy difficult for same sex couples in Australia? The truth is that surrogacy is challenging for everyone in Australia – same sex and opposite sex couples. The laws in almost all States apply the same to everyone, regardless of sexuality or marital status. Heterosexual couples face the same hurdles as same sex couples due to prohibitions on advertising for a surrogate, and the availability of surrogates, as well as restrictions on Medicare rebates. The one difference is Western Australia – WA surrogacy laws provide that only heterosexual, married couples can pursue surrogacy. That excludes same sex couples and singles. At the moment, the WA laws are under review and one criticism of the current law is that it prohibits same sex couples from accessing surrogacy. This pushes all West Australian same sex male couples to pursue surrogacy overseas. Does this apply to Thorpe and Channing? Well, Channing is from Perth, although it is reported that the couple live in Sydney.
So is it difficult to pursue surrogacy in Australia? Well, that depends on your perception and expectations. Surrogacy in Australia is based on relationships, rather than a transaction. And because it is relational, it can take a lot of time and commitment. There aren’t many women in Australia willing to be surrogates, and it is not normalised here as it might be in some other countries. There is no payment or reward for carrying a baby for someone else – the only reward is seeing them become parents. And as such, it can be quicker to pursue surrogacy overseas. There are enormous benefits for those that are able to pursue surrogacy within Australia, but the statistics are clear – only 50-60 babies are born via surrogacy in Australia every year, compared to almost 300 born overseas to Australians. But that doesn’t make it impossible – and certainly for those who are able to enter into a surrogacy arrangement within Australia, it’s very much worth the time and effort.
So how does surrogacy work in Australia?
Surrogacy in Australia is governed by State legislation, and each State has slightly different laws. All surrogacy in Australia must be altruistic; commercial surrogacy is illegal. This means the surrogate cannot receive payment or a reward in exchange for having a baby; she can however have her surrogacy-related expenses covered.
Some States take it a step further, criminalising commercial surrogacy overseas – NSW and Queensland laws provide that residents from those States must not pursue commercial surrogacy overseas.
There are also prohibitions on advertising for a surrogate in most States, which can be challenging for anyone to find a surrogate. There are options to find a surrogate, including social media and Surrogacy Australia’s Support Service. It is worth reading, researching and understanding the laws and the processes within Australia before considering overseas options.
Same sex male couples face the challenge of needing an egg donor, as well as a surrogate. Egg donation, like surrogacy, is altruistic in Australia, and most often egg donors are found either in family or friends, or via online forums such as Egg Donation Australia.
If you’re an aspiring dad and wondering about how it all works, what options are available to you and how to get started, you might be interested in downloading The Handbook. You’ll find some great support at the Gay Intended Dads Facebook Group. And you can book a consult with Sarah at the link below, when you’re ready to take the next step.
Surro-baby, Darcey, turned one last weekend. Her dads threw her a party, of course, and like all first birthdays, it was more of an anniversary for the parents than it was a party for the baby. An anniversary of survival, of joy and frustration and tears (hers, theirs, and mine!) and love and learning about each other and the journey of parenthood. I’m exhausted just thinking about it, and relieved it’s not me living it!
So often in the last year, I’ve been asked about my surrogacy journey and specifically about my relationship with Darcey and her parents. So much of what we know about surrogacy is what we see in the media, and usually that’s based on commercial arrangements overseas. People are curious whether I still see Darcey, and whether I have a bond with her and what my relationship is with her parents. So, in light of it being my one year anniversary and Darcey’s first birthday, here’s my reflections on the last twelve months.
The first days after Darcey’s birth was a bit of blur of hormones and overwhelming joy and love. The oxytocin was flowing and we (Darcey’s dads, myself and my partner, Troy) were in a bit of a bubble of love. It was lovely! It was a bit overwhelming because I felt like there wasn’t a guide book for how any of us were supposed to feel or act. I also felt like a bit of a circus act, because we had lots of people sending their well wishes and demanding details of the birth and the surrogacy arrangement, and midwives at the hospital ‘checking in’ to see whether I was falling apart. We were relieved to leave the hospital and back to our own comfort zones.
The first weeks were a bit of a mixture of emotions and activity – Troy and I getting on with our home lives, getting the kids ready for kinder and school, and work, and me recovering from birth and expressing milk for Darcey. And of course, lots of visits with Darcey and her dads. I found these weeks a bit strange, and as I like to feel in control, that lack of routine or consistency was a little unsettling. I was rather sad that our surrogacy journey was ‘over’ and I didn’t want it to end, because I’d had such a lovely time. I even offered to carry another baby for them immediately. Let’s say, the oxytocin ride was amazing, but quite the rollercoaster!
The biggest frustration for me was not being able to drive, and my body not moving the way I wanted it to. I had a caesarean section, and whilst I knew intellectually that my body was recovering from major surgery, I was frustrated that I was sore and tired and slow. My youngest child was learning to ride a bike, and I couldn’t move fast enough to keep up. I had to keep reminding myself that I’d just had a baby, because part of my brain hadn’t caught up to reality. It is one of the amazing things about the body and the mind – of course I knew that I’d had a baby, but it didn’t stop me wanting to get back to normal as soon as possible. I’d never wanted to care for a newborn again, so why couldn’t I get back to my usual routine?
Over the next few months, it was like a gradual ‘weaning’ process for me and Darcey and her dads. In the early weeks we would see each other ever day, then every few days, and then once a week, and then once, sometimes twice a fortnight. They were enjoying their newborn, and I was finding my way as the ‘ex’ surrogate. What was my role, now that I wasn’t pregnant and had no job to do? It was also confusing, and sometimes confronting. Sometimes I resent the impact that surrogacy has had on me and my family, knowing that they got the baby and I got…a postpartum body and hair loss. I’m still dealing with the hair loss, which bothers me more than I expected it to.
Even with lots of other things happening in my life, I still had lots of processing and thinking to do about the surrogacy, and the birth, and Darcey and her dads. I have access to an amazing surrogacy counsellor, Katrina Hale, who regularly debriefs with me about all this stuff, and I also had lots of support from other surrogates. Less than 60 surrogacy babies are born in Australia each year; having friends who understand the feelings and thoughts is so necessary and appreciated. Traditional surrogacy is all the more complex, and traditional surrogates are all the more rare.
During that time, I was able to put a lot of my creative energy into other things, including creating the Podcast, and organising the Surrogates Sisterhood Day. I also set myself a running goal, to run 10km at the Carman Women’s Fun Run in December. Having other things to focus on was really useful.
My relationship with Darcey’s dads has changed, and grown. I spent a lot of time in the early months second-guessing why they wanted to spend time with me, and sometimes I still do. I worry that they only spend time with me because I gave them a baby; that they feel they have a debt to repay. And they probably do feel indebted to me, but that’s not a good foundation for friendship. I remember feeling surprised that they seemed to like spending time with me; perhaps I thought they would stop once the baby was here? Katrina reckons there are two certainties with surrogacy – the surrogate worries that she will be abandoned. And the intended parents worry that she’ll keep the baby. I admit I was surprised when I fell into the cliche. These days we have a new normal; we spend time together as families and I babysit for Darcey occasionally. I still worry that there is a power-imbalance in our relationship; that they will forever feel they need to express their appreciation, and worry that they’ll ever offend me. I think most surrogates find the power-imbalance really uncomfortable.
As for my relationship with Darcey, it took me a while to realise that it is a journey and not a destination. I remember wanting to know what she would think of me when she’s 10, or 15, or 25. Would she know who I am? Would she recognise me? I would see her face and be struck by how familiar she seemed, as if I am surprised by the resemblance she has to me or my kids. Even now, when I see a photo of Darcey in my newsfeed, I draw breath. I know that face! Oh wait, of course I do, it’s Darcey. Katrina thinks it must be a primal response, which some donors and donor-conceived children also experience when they meet each other. Like we’re recognising ourselves in the other person, perhaps. But it took me a while to accept that it is a perpetual journey; that I don’t know what my relationship with Darcey will look like in the future, and that’s ok. I’ve found comfort in accepting that I have limited control over it, because I don’t have all the answers. And at some point she’ll decide what she needs from me and what our relationship is to be.
These days, I spend time with Darcey and her dads regularly. She’ll know me as Aunty Sarah, and of course she’ll know her story. But whilst I recognise her as being from me, and the baby I carried, I don’t feel like her parent. I don’t feel like I need to take on a parenting role for her. I don’t feel bonded to her the way I do to my kids. She looks for her dads when they leave the room – and I find that affirming, because I know her primary attachments are to the people who are her parents, just as we intended. My relationship with Darcey is different; more than an aunt-niece relationship, but not the same as a mother-daughter relationship.
The first birthday and the anniversary of me giving birth feel like two separate events, both worthy of reflection and acknowledgement. “It’s complex” is the best descriptor I can come up with. There is no box that any of this fits in. I feel some peace as we meet this milestone – this chapter is closing, whilst the book is still being written. I have other things to focus on and surrogacy, whilst sometimes all-consuming, is not a career (unless you’re a surrogacy lawyer, of course!).
There have been multiple comments from Darcey’s dads over the year about how lucky they feel to have her in their lives, and plenty of people reflecting on how lucky Darcey is to have her dads. And I agree on both fronts. But in everything that we’ve been through in the past year, and how much we’ve shared over the past 3 years, I must say that I am the luckiest person. I am so privileged to have been a part of this journey and to be a part of Darcey’s life, and for her dads to have let me be part of theirs.
Surrogacy is incredibly complex, a perpetual journey, and moreso than I ever imagined. My life is richer and I am so grateful for it. There is such a special sweetness in participating in creation.
Ben and his partner Terry live in Queensland, and earlier this year they became dads when their surrogate, Kath, gave birth to baby Ivy. Kath lives in Victoria, and despite the distance between them, this team had a really positive experience and have built a strong and lovely relationship between their two families.
This is Part 1 in a 3-part episode with Rachel, a surrogate who has delivered 5 babies for their intended parents. In this episode, Rachel tells her story of starting as an egg donor, and then as a traditional surrogate. There were many bumps in the road, but Rachel’s tenacity and strength are inspiring.
Amanda was a traditional surrogate for her friends Dhusk and Tim, and gave birth to Sailor earlier this year. Traditional surrogacy, where a surrogate uses her own egg, is less common than gestational surrogacy, and can be a different dynamic and journey.
Brett and Stuart conceived baby Findlay with the help of a surrogacy in Canada. But things did not go to plan, and Findlay had to arrive at 25 weeks, due to his surrogate suffering with pre-eclampsia. As a result, Brett and Stuart up-ended their lives in Sydney, and lived in Canada for more than 5 months, until Findlay was big and strong enough to travel home to Australia.
Sarah sat down and chatted with Sheridon Byrne, a Melbourne-based Doula, to talk about Sarah’s surrogacy journey. Sheridon provides Doula services to the queer community, and we talked about how surrogacy can be an option to grow a family.
Kate is a gestational surrogate for a gay couple, Mike & Glenn (listen to their story at Episode 10). Kate is due to give birth any day now, and in this episode you’ll hear all about her plans for a positive surrogacy birth and postnatal period.
Mike and Glenn pursued surrogacy overseas, but after hitting roadblocks and ultimately not having any success, they turned to Australian surrogacy – and are now eagerly awaiting the birth of their daughter, with the help of egg donor Cass, and their surrogate Kate.
You will hear Mike and Glenn mention a few things in this episode, which might pique your interest:
You can find the Australian Surrogacy Community and Egg Donation Australia on Facebook.
You can also find Shannon Garner’s book about Australian surrogacy, Labour of Love, in all good bookstores and online.
This is a 2-part episode with Carla, an egg donor and a traditional surrogate. Carla has donated her eggs to 8 couples! In this episode we explore her egg donations and her reasons for donating, and hear all about her relationships with her donor babies and their parents.
If you are interested in egg donation, join the Egg Donation Australia group on Facebook.
In this episode you’ll hear from the sensational Rhiannon, who was a gestational surrogate for her brother and his partner not once, but twice – and is planning on doing it again!
Listen now to hear how Rhiannon took her Aunty duties to a whole new level, all the while single parenting her own three kids and with the support of her interstate intended parents.
In this episode of The Australian Surrogacy Podcast, I interviewed my husband, Troy, about his experience as the partner of a surrogate. I was often asked what Troy thought of me being a surrogate, so this week I thought it would be good to hear from Troy himself.
In this episode, I had the pleasure of interviewing my intended parents, Mike and Nate, about their surrogacy journey and becoming dads to baby Darcey.
Mike and Nate started talking about having children on their second date, and they considered a few different options before committing to surrogacy in Australia. It was another 5 years before they welcomed Darcey, and you’ll hear about what they went through to become dads.
I might be a bit biased, but I think they’re pretty special and it was lovely chatting with them and reflecting on our journey together.
In this first episode of The Australian Surrogacy Podcast, you’ll hear from me, Sarah Jefford, and about why I decided to make a surrogacy podcast.
I am a surrogate and a surrogacy lawyer living in Melbourne with my family. In 2015 I decided to become a surrogate, and in January 2018 I gave birth to a baby girl, Darcey, for her two dads Mike and Nate.
You’ll hear all about my journey to becoming a surrogate, as well as about me as a surrogacy lawyer.