Surrogacy surges despite screening problems

THERE has been a tripling of interest in surrogacy in Australia and the US in the last 12 months, says Sam Everingham.

“Yet we still lack any appropriate surrogate screening or matching service,” says Everingham, organiser of the upcoming conference Families Through Surrogacy.

He says the absence of screening means Australian surrogates often drop out along the way and this, along with restrictions on compensation, advertising and security of parentage means many Australians continue to travel abroad to pursue their dreams of parenthood.

“The conference will address key issues such as what predicts psychologically healthy surrogate and intended parent relationships, the motivations of surrogates to carry and how they can give up a child,” he says.

Families Through Surrogacy conference, Victoria University Convention Centre, Melbourne, June 3-4. Visit familiesthrusurrogacy.com/australian-intended-parent-conference/

The moment Michael Wood (left) sees his daughter Anika for the first time with Emma holding the baby Anika and surrogate Jessie Thomas and  husband Marty at right. Photo by Tracey Beresford, A Slice of Life Photography, Rockhampton.

THE MUM

I thought I’d be weeping with joy but it just felt right and I got straight into mothering.”

EMMA Wood never imagined she would have so many issues conceiving her second child, but after 10 years of failed IVF and four miscarriages she now has a five-month-old daughter, Anika, through domestic surrogacy.

Emma, 41, says surrogacy is booming in Australia because of limitations around international surrogacy, adoption and the use of social media to connect couples in need to surrogates.

“It had been hard enough for us to conceive the first time, after 18 months of trying and an operation,” she says.

“But in trying for our next baby, my husband Michael and I went through so much loss that it was hard to believe the surrogate pregnancy was happening until Anika was born.”

Emma will speak at the upcoming conference Families Through Surrogacy  in Melbourne, offering an insight into the Australian experience of surrogacy.

“It’s certainly the hope that you’ll find an Australian woman to carry your child,” she says.

“Michael and I travelled from Canberra to Queensland six times during the pregnancy to be at the scans and to visit our surrogate Jessie Thomas.

“We still have a great relationship. We were in regular contact and although we couldn’t pay Jessie, we reimbursed her for whatever we could.”

Emma says that surrogacy has turned their family’s lives around, after connecting with her surrogate through social media.

“I was testing the water when I joined a group on Facebook and almost straight away a post came up from Jessie saying she wanted to be a surrogate and that anyone interested should send her a message,” she says.

Emma, who was in Canberra and Jessie, from Rockhampton, started chatting and formed a friendship, and Jessie formally offered to be their surrogate after they and their husbands had met in person.

“It was an amazing offer and we were so excited, but we didn’t have any embryos at that point, so we found a Queensland doctor who fast-tracked our IVF and we had three embryos that were good to go,” Emma says.

After an early miscarriage and finding out that one of the embryos wasn’t viable, Jessie became pregnant on the third try.

“I was surprised at how natural it felt when Anika was born – I thought I’d be weeping with joy but it just felt right and I got straight into mothering,” says Emma.

“At the moment I’m at home with Anika and loving it all, and it’s great having a sibling for Ed, too – I think we had all given up on it ever happening.”

Surrogate mother Amey Bencke with fathers-to-be Nik, left, and Kristian… “I’m not giving away a baby. I’m giving it back to its parents.” Photo by Amanda Hobson from AJ & ME Photography.

THE SURROGATE

“I’m not giving away a baby. I’m giving it back to its parents.”

DOULA, egg donor and surrogate Amey Bencke, 37, is currently pregnant with a baby for two dads Nik and Kristian and due at the end of June.

“I met my recipients through Egg Donation Australia while they were looking for a donor,” she says.

“In Australia you’re not allowed to advertise that you need a surrogate, so people rely on finding connections through friends, family and support groups.”

Amey says that as the baby was created with the help of an egg donor, with the parents already having one perfect embryo on ice, it’s not related to her.

“I get a lot of people telling me they could never give away a baby, and asking if I think I’ll change my mind. I just keep repeating that I’m not giving away a baby. I’m giving it back to its parents,” she says.

“We were incredibly lucky that it worked first go. I was already an egg donor and thought I could carry a baby for someone, too, if they were creating their own embryos. I figured pregnancy and birth was relatively easy for me, and this would be another way to help a couple become a family.”

Amey says that while surrogacy and egg donation are purely altruistic in Australia, reasonable surrogacy-related expenses are covered by the baby’s parents, such as doctors’ bills and prenatal vitamins.

“Altruistic surrogacy is legal here, but there are rules and regulations you have to abide by – which differ from state to state,” she says.

“We had psychologist evaluations, counselling, legal advice and fertility specialist appointments before we were approved by an ethics board to go ahead.

“Surrogacy certainly isn’t for everyone, but sometimes it’s the only option for people who are desperate for a baby but for one reason or another can’t carry a baby.”

Amey, who has three children aged 19, nine and seven, says that this pregnancy has been different to her own.

“I think I’m more conscious of every movement than I was with my babies. It’s a lot of pressure babysitting for nine months,” she says.

“The parents have trusted me with their baby and I want to make sure I give it the best start possible.

“I’ve also had a lot of complications, more than any of us ever anticipated. Severe morning sickness, a heart murmur, low blood pressure; it has put a lot of strain on me, my work and especially my family.

“My family are proud of me, but they will be happy to have me back to my normal self in the next couple of months. I’m really looking forward to playing at the park with the kids and going walking with my husband.

“It’s the little things that turn out to be the big things.”

Dad-to-be Kristian says it’s been a dream of his and Nik’s to become parents for some time.

“To find someone like Amey has been incredible, and means the world to us,” he says. “We were looking overseas for a surrogate but to find someone in Australia who was willing to help us to achieve our dreams, it restores your faith in humanity.”

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