Starting a family can be a long and difficult journey for some women and couples. Sometimes, even assisted fertility treatment like IVF cannot address all underlying causes of infertility. For some women, complex medical conditions make carrying a pregnancy dangerous for them. Other women do not have a womb in which to carry a baby, either because they were born without one, or have required a hysterectomy before they were able to complete their family.
Surrogacy refers to a process whereby a woman carries a pregnancy in her womb, with the intention that the child will be raised by another couple after birth, known as the intended parents. It involves a complex legal arrangement, whereby the parentage of the child is formally transferred to the intended parent/s after birth.
Jess and Rachel, two women who made the selfless decision to be surrogates for other women, share their stories below.
Jess – Mother of 4; Egg donor, first time surrogate
Over the past nine years, my husband and I have been blessed with four beautiful children – Scarlett who is almost nine years old; George, who is four; and fraternal twins, Angus and Frankie, who are two. They are healthy, happy, confident children and we love them dearly. Although its not always smooth sailing, we couldn’t imagine our lives without our babies. Nor can we imagine not being able to experience the challenging yet rewarding days of parenthood. So, with my husband’s unconditional love, support and patience, I chose to become a surrogate.
I’m often asked questions about being a surrogate, and I’m happy to answer them. The question I always find hard to answer is ‘How will your children feel when you don’t bring a baby home?’ The answer is, I simply do not know. But what I do know is Chris and I want our kids to be kind, honest and caring of others. Perhaps being involved in a surrogacy will lead them in the right direction. We hope so.
The relationship between a surrogate and intended parents needs to be built on trust, communication and kindness. I am fortunate to have found a wonderful couple, and it feels like an honour to be their surrogate. We have created a strong, beautiful and trusting relationship. They have trusted my judgement throughout the pregnancy and respected my experience in carrying a baby. They have never sought to tell me what to eat, or what to do or not do, and have been as concerned about my wellbeing as their baby’s. In return, I have respected their role as intended parents, and have involved them in the details and stages of the pregnancy, trying to help them to feel connected with their baby, and enjoy the experience.
The reward of being a surrogate is seeing our intended parents build the family of their dreams. Dreams do come true. I am not giving away a baby. I am simply helping a couple make their own baby, and experience the happiness and joy my husband and I already have.
Rachel – Mother of 3; Midwife, Egg Donor; Surrogate
My name is Rachel, and some people call me crazy. Some people also call me an angel but I prefer to think I’m a little crazy. It’s not because at 37 years of age I have three daughters aged between 10 and 19. It’s not because I’m a midwife and deal with the highs and lows that come with working with birthing women everyday. It probably has something to do with me making friends on the internet and then making babies with them, and my husband is totally ok with it! Well, mostly ok with it.
Thirteen years ago I read an article in the paper about a woman whom had donated her eggs to help infertile couples. I had two children at the time and was a stay at home mum and figured it was something nice to do for a stranger. I started researching how to go about donating my eggs on the internet and stumbled upon an online support forum for egg donation. It was here that I found a passion for helping people I had never met, either through support or through donation. The first couple I helped needed a donor as she had gone through premature menopause. Despite the long process of counselling, test and an egg pick up, the egg donation inspired me and filled me with a sense of worthiness because I felt like I was doing something for the greater good. I went on to donate my eggs to two more couples and eventually took over administration on the support forum which took up most of my spare time for the next six years. The children born from my egg donations are now 12, 11 and 9 years old and we’ve kept in sporadic contact over the years.
In 2008 the Queensland government was looking to decriminalise altruistic surrogacy. It was around this time I was starting to consider becoming a surrogate so I entered a submission into the parliamentary committee and then was asked to talk in front of the committee hearing when they convened a few months later. After talking to so many couples at the hearing about their struggles in becoming parents after exhausting all IVF options I was convinced – I wanted to be a surrogate. It was at this time my first egg donation recipients were told that it was unsafe for her to carry another pregnancy. It took me all of three seconds to offer to not only carry for them, but use my own eggs to allow their daughter to have a fully genetic sibling. Due to the joys of being young and fertile we fell pregnant on our first attempt and the little boy we had was the first baby born legally through altruistic surrogacy in Queensland. Three months post-delivery I was riding the post surrogacy high and I decided I wanted to do it all again! Hubby was less enthusiastic, but eventually agreed. This time I met a same sex couple and within three months we were cycling; again using my own eggs. After our third attempt we found out we were pregnant with twins! At 27 weeks I experienced my first ever major complication in pregnancy. I had a placental abruption and the twins were born that day via emergency caesarean section. Luckily they thrived and are now 6 years old, however experiencing such a life threatening event was sobering. It bought home just how much we surrogates put on the line to help other people.
I re-diverted my energy into my career and campaigning for greater surrogacy awareness in Australia. I started volunteering for a not for profit organisation called Surrogacy Australia and started a facebook support group for people in Australia pursuing surrogacy called Australian Surrogacy Support. For the last six years I have been involved in one way or another with the annual Australian Surrogacy Conference either as a speaker or a committee member. When the baby Gammy scandal hit Australia, I was executive officer of Surrogacy Australia and ended up juggling the media furore that occurred as a result. It was exhausting and eventually when things settled, I stepped down from that role and went back to focusing on the support groups.
In 2015 I decided I had one more surrogacy in me, this time gestational surrogacy – using someone else’s egg. I met an amazing South Australian couple and it really was a perfect match. We became fast friends and often forgot that we met because of surrogacy. After two cycles we were pregnant and my addiction to peeing on a stick had been thoroughly embraced. It was late in this pregnancy when I had one of those life-altering moments, a moment when you know….from that second onward your life will never be the same. After a few complications with a condition called polyhydramnios (too much amniotic fluid) we were told at 35 weeks that the baby I was carrying likely wouldn’t survive birth due to having a rare genetic condition. It was a wait and see what happens scenario which was earth shattering for all of us. Baby Hugo was born at 38 weeks and lived for four days on ventilation before the decision was made to remove life support, it wasn’t until six months later that we found out he had an extremely rare form of Muscular Dystrophy called Nemaline Myopathy and neither of his parents were carriers. There are moments in life that define you, set you on a path that for better or worse it shapes you into the person you are today. Surrogacy has definitely been a defining moment in my life but living through loving and losing Hugo with my family and his parents was a moment I can unequivocally say changed me to my core. My husband knew without me even having to mention it that I would one day give Hugo a sibling, and that moment is fast approaching as we are due to give birth to his sister in a matter of weeks in what luckily has been a completely uncomplicated pregnancy.
Surrogacy has taught me many things through the years and it’s not just what seven pregnancies can do to a body. I have learnt that I am strong and can face just about anything life throws at me. I have learnt that everyone makes an impact on the world in one way or another and helping create families is my way of paying it forward. I have learnt that it really does take a village to create a child sometimes and people’s capacity for love and friendship is all you need to help you through. Most importantly I have learnt that you really can choose your family and it’s the people that we choose to have in our lives that give it meaning.