Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New Year Reflections

We were fortunate to have a visit from Zander and his family yesterday afternoon. It was an impromtu, unexpected pop in (his family were down in Brisbane, and had a few spare hours), and it was lovely to see everyone again. 
Zander is 21month old now - and VERY BUSY! He quite literally did not stop the whole time he was here. I don't think I'd quite forgotten what that age was like - but it was a bit of an eye-opener to experience it firsthand again. My goodness, toddlers are full on! 
It blew my mind to think that this was the age my youngest child was at when I first decided to become a surrogate. I don't know what I was thinking!!? It did take my memories back to when I was fully immersed in all things surrogacy, and I found this old article I wrote for the Mamamia website shortly after Zander was born.
This article was so therapeutic for me to write, and even now it still brings a tear to my eye to read through it...   

Last month I gave birth for the third time. Only this time, the baby wasn’t my husband’s. Nor was it mine. I gave birth to a gorgeous 9lb, 9oz baby boy with his parents standing by the hospital bed ready to hold him for the first time.
I screamed as he crowned, as my body forcibly pushed him from the only home he’d ever known out into the world. I looked down at his vernix covered face as he lay on my belly, and I could see his older brother in his gorgeous chubby cheeks. I had just helped complete another family.
I am a surrogate mother.
I decided in December of 2012 that I could be a surrogate. It was a combination of motivating factors – I knew the ache of infertility. My husband and I had been given next to no chance of ever conceiving naturally due to a host of serious medical issues we’d both faced in our teens. We were one of the lucky ones that beat the odds to have our children fairly easily though.
I also wanted to ‘give back’ and do something of substance in 2013, and I wanted to experience a pregnancy once more (my two children were born only 18 months apart and my second pregnancy seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye). My husband and I were 100 per cent sure that our family was complete, and those painful, sleepless nights with a newborn were all too fresh in my mind. I knew without a doubt that I could birth a surrogate baby and hand him to his parents.
Surrogacy within Australia is most definitely legal, but only if completed altruistically (unpaid), and only if the steps are followed as per the Australian Surrogacy Act. The baby is legally recognised as the child of the surrogate mother and her partner until a parentage order is applied for once the baby has been in the care of the his ‘Intending Parents’ (read ‘actual parents’) for 28 days straight. The process is scary and confronting when you’re at the beginning, with so many unknowns. But with a bit of hard work, a whole lot of trust and a touch of luck… we’re now at the other end. A family has a gorgeous baby boy who would otherwise have never existed.

I met the family I would come to help in this way completely by accident on Facebook while researching surrogacy at the start of 2013. We ‘clicked’ and decided to get together in person. It was seriously the most bizarre yet totally natural feeling lunch I’ve ever had. The conversation varied from the weather and traffic, to fertility, pregnancy, birth experiences and children all in the space of a few hours. I think we all just felt a very real and honest connection – we were all there with one goal in mind.
There are so many things that can go wrong when it comes to creating a new human being, and I think we all found it quite confronting to face these scenarios during the pre-surrogacy counselling sessions. We needed to be on the same page in terms of how many embryo transfers we would attempt, what would happen if a scan result showed something wrong with the baby, what would happen if the pregnancy was putting my life in jeopardy? We honestly got incredibly lucky though: the first embryo transfer resulted in a positive pregnancy test and a relatively straightforward, uneventful pregnancy. Baby was completely healthy, grew like a weed and kept me entertained with his near-constant internal acrobatics. Many surrogates are not this lucky, and end up on a heartbreaking journey of either cycle after cycle of negative pregnancy results or multiple miscarriages.
As the pregnancy progressed, I often wondered what this little baby boy would look like, as does any pregnant woman. His mum had undergone a complete hysterectomy/ovarian removal to save her life a few years earlier, so a third family was needed to help create this incredible baby through the use of donor eggs and his dad’s sperm.

When I looked down at his face as he lay on my belly following delivery, I could see so many people in him all at once, but most importantly for me – I couldn’t see myself. His cord was cut and my role was complete. There was no hesitation or possessiveness there for me at all. It was honestly like handing a friend back her baby.
All three of our families got together recently to celebrate the end of the surrogacy process, and the beginning of our lives with a new addition. It was such a beautifully relaxed afternoon as the baby snoozed and was passed from lap to lap.
I feel such a sense of pride and accomplishment to have been a part of this process, and so proud of my body for accepting him and nurturing him until he was ready to meet the world.

Surrogacy can be heartbreaking, but it can also be beautiful beyond words.
It may not be the right path for everyone, but for those who have no other options it literally means the difference between holding your child in your arms or not.

Friday, October 2, 2015

18 months old already!

Look at that gorgeous little face. Mr Z is 18months old already. How on earth did that happen!? Our family and his family went camping for a few days earlier in the week as it had been over a year since we'd had a chance to catch up. It was great to see how big he'd gotten, and for all the kids to play together.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This time last year....

It was a year ago - a whole 365 days ago, that this chubby-cheeked little man entered the world and my caretaker role was swapped for an observer role. Zander is thriving in his home and it has been a delight to observe him develop and grow. Happy Birthday big boy!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Half a year has passed...

Zander is nearly 7 months old!!! Where did more then half a year disappear to!? He's getting so big - just got this photo from his mum and dad.

If that happy little face doesn't make the surrogacy process worth it, I don't know what does!!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lets talk about Surrogacy

In the last week or so the topic of surrogacy has exploded in the media here in Australia due to a horrifying story from Thailand. When the story broke last week it was claimed that an Australian couple had employed the services of a Thai surrogate to carry their twins, but that when one twin was born with Downs Syndrome, he was left behind while the healthy twin sister was taken home to Australia.

At the core - this very scenario invokes intense emotional reactions in pretty much everyone who hears about it. I think everyone with a reasonably developed sense of 'right and wrong' can see that there is something horribly wrong with what has happened. Then, as tends to happen with these stories, each day more and more details have emerged. It is claimed that the surrogate is only 21, and went into the surrogacy completely unaware of what was involved (she had no idea about IVF and embyro creating, and probably had no idea what an embryo transfer was going to be like). She has apparently stated that she agreed to be a surrogate so that she and her husband could pay off some debts. She is now caring for the baby boy as her own son, again stating that he is hers because he was in her tummy.

To me, as a fellow surrogate, these don't sound like the words of someone who had a full grasp of what she was getting into. I don't know her, and can only base my opinions on what I've seen her say herself (on heavily edited TV), and the limited knowledge I have of the commercial surrogacy process in Thailand... but my heart goes out to her. This is the crux of the anti-surrogacy arguement: weathly western couples taking advantage of under educated, naive and desperate women. This is when the system fails. This is when a third party 'agent' gets to line his/her pockets at the expense of other people's desperation and with complete disregard for the lives being created.

We live in 2014 for goodness sake! It really makes me wonder at the state of humanity that we are STILL exploiting women and children. And I also think this is where most people are getting confused in directing their horror and frustration at this story. It's easiest to throw up our arms and say 'surrogacy is morally corrupt', 'there should be a blanket ban worldwide' and that people seeking surrogates are 'horrible human beings'. But that isn't the case and it doesn't solve anything. That doesn't deal with the fundamental problems of infertility or the exploitation of women, it simply tarnishes everyone with the same soiled brush.

I honestly don't know what the answer is.

I have been contacted by a number of media outlets to state my opinion, but have declined out of respect for Zander's parent's and the privacy of his family. But it has certainly got me thinking about the process of surrogacy in Australia versus other countries around the world. At one point I probably would have pushed for surrogacy in Australia to become commercial like many other countries, as it seems like in Australia the surrogate is the one doing all the work and taking all the risk, but the only one NOT to benefit financially! But I think I've done a backflip on that opinion this week.

I don't know that there can be a system where a surrogate is paid for her 'services', that doesn't open itself up for exploitation? Would it then become those with means seeking out those without? Women may be coerced into becoming a surrogate by the prospect of a 'payout' when maybe they otherwise wouldn't have offered? I honestly don't believe this would be the situation everytime - there will always be women willing to be a surrogate regardless of financial gain (strange but true - they do exist!), but it does feel like a bit of a moral minefield. Money has a long history of corrupting otherwise innocent scenarios...

The way the Australian system works at present has the surrogate volunteering her service. She gets no financial benefit (and often times ends up out of pocket herself as Intended Parents can't possibly pay for every pregnancy-related cost as some are quite obscure!). She does what she does simply because she wants to help. Both parties undergo counselling to cover the full medical process as well as the social and psychological impact of the pregnancy/creating another human being - so there is no confusion as to what is going to happen. And the most important factor is that both parties are entering into the arrangement as equals. There is no 'employer/empolyee' roles to play, and therefore no feeling of ownership or power. If anything the IPs put themselves in a vulnerable position as the law in Australia states that the surrogate has full control of her pregnancy.

This process is by no means foolproof, and it doesn't always go to plan. People say one thing, then do another. People make promises that they may not be able to fulfill. Emotions run hot. Miscommunication happens. Hormones wreck havoc and lives can be put in jeopardy. And at the end of the process the surrogate is left with nothing but a few more stretch marks, and in the worst scenarios possible irreparable physical damage.

Despite this, without surrogacy, a sweet little boy would not exist.

There will always be couples seeking the assistance of a surrogate to help them have a child. Just as there will always be women willing to carry for another person. The discrepancy lies in the amount of couples needing a surrogate, versus the number of women willing to carry for no payment. Which is how commercial surrogacy becomes a booming business.

I think as a society we like someone else to tell us how to feel, and we like to view things dichotomously. It's easier for our brains if we can just categorise something as 'good' or 'bad'. It means we don't have to think about all of the variations inbetween because that requires way too much effort (and way too much empathy!).

Surrogacy, however, is not a black and white topic. It is complicated, and emotional, and important - oh so important. It quite literally involves life and death. And I think if nothing else it's a good thing that people are talking about it at the moment. What happens from here I do not know. But I only wish the best for the poor twins caught up in the current scandal.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Officially not mine

Today was the court hearing to officially and legally transfer the parentage of Zander from my husband and I to his actual parents. None of us had any idea what to really expect never having found ourselves in a position where we were required to present at the Supreme and District Courts of Brisbane before... but we all survived!

We paid for an extra day of kindy for our own kids so they didn't have to tag along as well, but Zander's parents were told that it would look better if they had the boys with them on the day.

The whole proceedure was VERY formal. We had to wait to be told to sit. We had to wait to be asked a question before we could speak, and we had to say 'your honour' after every response. Mark and I attended un-represented, but Zander's parents had their lawyer there and he pretty muchly ran the show. He explained what documents had been submitted to the court, and how both parties involved had satisfied the requirements of the Surrogacy Act. The Judge then read through EVERY document.

We all just sat there in silence and waited. It took him nearly 30mins to do so. I found it hard to stop from fidgeting, so I must say I was pretty impressed by the behaviour of Zander and his brother. Zander pretty much just slept through the whole thing, only waking up at the end with a little cry for a bottle. And his 2yr old brother sat and read books and only attempted to run through the court room once or twice!

Then the Judge looked up from his reading and stated that he felt satisfied that this wasn't a commercial surrogacy situation and that it was in the best interests of the child to transfer parentage. He congratulated us all and reiterated that in his 16 years of experience as a judge he had seen just how important it was for children to know where they came from, and encouraged us to keep things open and honest with Zander (all of which we had explained we would do in the court-submitted paperwork anyways).

We gathered outside of the court room after it was over and we all immediately relaxed. The process was finished. Properly, legally finished! We took some photos, Zander needed a nappy change (pooing in court will be his claim to fame!) and then we all escaped the formality of the building and went to lunch to celebrate!

I honestly think the worst bit about the legal side of things was just not knowing what to expect. The reality of it was far less daunting then I'd imagined it would be. I also found it really surreal to see Zander again after a few months. He looked just the same as before, but had obviously grown and changed a fair bit at the same time. He is way more alert and gives away smiles to whoever happens to take his fancy, and is just such a happy, content little guy.

And so the Aussie Surrogacy Journey is officially finished. Obviously this doesn't mark the end of the relationship between our family and Zanders family at all, but it does feel like a significant and celebratory-worthy milestone!

Congratulations Mr Zander, you are now officially your parent's son!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Life goes on.

Zander will be 7wks old tomorrow, and is out of hospital and doing much better. Time is such a strange, relative thing. It simultaneously feels like an eternity since I was pregnant with him and worrying about having to give birth, yet just yesterday that he was pushing and shoving against my insides. I have plunged myself back into our family business after taking a bit of time off to recover, and have a dozen orders/projects that I'm trying to work on at the same time. This is all great, and very normal - but it means that I don't actually spend a great deal of my day thinking about surrogacy stuff anymore. It kind of feels like that was simply 'something I did', a part of my story, but not something that I'm living and breathing so much anymore.

I think when you're pregnant with your own child there's a tendancy to become totally absorbed with all things baby. I think the same thing happens when you're pregnant with a surrogate baby, only the absorption is with all things surrogacy and the exciting unknowns of the journey.

I remember the taxi ride home following the embryo transfer back in July last year, and wanting to tell the driver what had just happened. That I was quite possibly pregnant with someone elses child. It's a similar feeling on the flip side. I get about doing the daily errands, and at times I just want to tell people 'I was a surrogate. I gave birth 7wks ago. I gave a family a baby'. But I don't. Slipping a birth story into small talk with a cashier is not something I'm great at!

When there was a baby-bump it was obvious I was pregnant and I was able to choose how much information to disclose to curious strangers. Now I just have a slighty-flabbier-than-usual-belly, but there's nothing outwardly obvious to say 'I gave birth'. There's no newborn in a pram, or packets of nappies in the trolley... It's just my story. A piece of the puzzle that is my life, that is now a narrative told in past-tense. Its a curious thing really... how a life-changing, life-giving scenario becomes 'just a little something that I once did'!

I suppose I could look at it in a different light though... that I've simply passed the baton of this story onto Zander himself. This isn't my story anymore. This is his story. This is the start of his life and everything that he will become. I am the opening sentence in the novel of his life and it is up to him to write the rest.