Could having a baby be as simple as swiping right? That's the theory behind a new Tinder-like app, Just-a-Baby, which is designed to match potential co-parents, sperm donors, egg donors or surrogates.
"Start your journey of alternative parenting. Meet other people and make a family your way," reads the tagline of the free app, which launched during Sydney's Mardi Gras Fair Day earlier this year.
The story of Just-a-Baby's conception (pun intended) is a familiar one. As Melbourne man Paul Ryan, 37, reached his mid thirties, still single, he began to feel increasingly anxious around having children, as becoming a dad was something he'd always wanted to do. And as he looked around his friendship circle, he realised he wasn't the only one.
"The whole idea of having a perfect, heterosexual long-term relationship wasn't the reality for a lot of people," Ryan told Essential Baby. "And there didn't seem to be a Plan B that was openly talked about."
In conjunction with co-founder Gerard Edwards, Ryan created his own Plan B: Just-a-Baby. Users simply download the app, share their story as part of their profile, and start swiping.
"There are people who have been sperm donors in the past and are happy to do it again, as well as gay and lesbian couples," explains Ryan of some of the people who have already registered. "One of our goals is to address the stigma around alternative parenting models."
So what happens when you find a potential match?
"We don't provide legal advice or fertility advice," Ryan says of the next steps, "but we highly recommend it."
Presently, Just-a-Baby loosely connects people to legal, counselling and fertility services, but more detailed help for users is currently in the works.
Response to the app has been positive. "Many have said it's great to have this tangible place to go, to come and find a solution, and be among like-minded people," Ryan says. "A place where you can come and start a conversation."
Married couple Sharon and Josh Gross, from Victoria, are already using the app in search of a surrogate.
Mrs Gross has treatment resistant depression, a condition she has battled for years for most of a decade. Now she's happy, healthy, and working full time – a situation that could change rapidly if she tapered off her medication during a future pregnancy.
"My doctor has said that not only would I need to come off a few of the drugs at various times during the pregnancy, when I got back on [one of the medications] it may not work," Mrs Gross says, highlighting that she's also at risk of postnatal depression.
When a friend emailed Mrs Gross a link to Just-a-Baby, she thought, "Why not? It's just so tough. We'll give it a go."
So far the couple have had one match – a woman who told them she was considering the idea of surrogacy but was in the middle of trying to "convince her husband".
"She said she had two kids and they were easy pregnancies and she really enjoyed carrying babies," Mrs Gross said. "She'd want to give that gift to someone else, which is amazing. It's huge."
From Mrs Gross' experience of the app, however, while there are plenty of sperm donors and egg donors, there aren't as many women offering to be surrogates. But she's allowing herself to hope – and dream.
Leading Australian surrogacy lawyer Stephen Page points out that Just-a-Baby users are embarking on a huge undertaking, one requiring diligence and care.
Before entering into what could be a life-long decision, he says, you need to consider how to minimise risk. "You do that through getting legal advice, having counselling, and meeting the person," Page notes.
"There are nine systems of law in Australia concerning this area and they're not necessarily consistent," he says, highlighting that Just-a-Baby's founders have been careful to ensure the app complies with the law.
"We have laws in our country that mean egg and sperm donors and surrogates can only do it on an altruistic basis," Page says, explaining that there are also laws around advertising for surrogates in certain states.
More specifically, Page advises, "If you've got a donor type case, if you are going to have a known donor I'd recommend specific fertility counselling and that they also have a sperm donor agreement – one that's been properly drafted by a lawyer, to set out clearly what everyone wants."
Page believes there's a need for Just-a-Baby in Australia, adding that he's often asked by clients how to go about finding donors or surrogates.
"There is a shortage of surrogates, egg donors and sperm," he says. "There's an absolute need for something like this for people to get connected."
If you're planning to start swiping, however, Page's message is clear: "Anyone who engages with this app just needs to take care, minimise risks and make sure the person they connect with is the right person for them and their child."