Is this baby really a crime?

From March 1, it will be a crime to enter into a commercial surrogacy agreement paying a willing mother at a clinic in India, as Krista and Matt Geary have done with their new daughter Elizabeth. The couple would be in breach of the new NSW Surrogacy Act.

The Gearys agreed this week to go public - even some of their family and friends don't know their very personal story - to condemn the law, in the same week that Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban revealed that daughter Faith Margaret had been born to a surrogate mother - or a ''gestational carrier'', as she controversially described it.

If the celebrity couple lived permanently in Sydney they could be facing two years imprisonment and a $110,000 fine if the surrogacy was a commercial arrangement and carried out in a month or so.

The story of Krista, a teacher, and Matt, a prison officer, both 37 from Moss Vale, is not unlike those of many couples desperate for a child.

Three years ago, Mrs Geary gave birth to the couple's first child, Billy. Medical complications after the birth meant she could not risk another pregnancy. Wishing to give Billy a sibling, they considered adoption but feared they would be put in the ''too old'' basket by the time the application was processed.

Two years ago they learnt about the Akanksha Infertility Clinic in Anand, India, run by Dr Nayana Patel. The clinic has 270 successful surrogate or birth mothers and 67 who are pregnant. The surrogates are paid $US7500 ($7580) when the baby is handed over to the parents. It is equivalent to about 10 years' pay and enough to buy a reasonable house and educate their children.

The couple's first attempt, where four embryos were implanted into an Indian mother at the clinic, failed. They had been warned there was only a 20 per cent chance of success.

''Back in Australia we got an email saying it was unsuccessful. We were pretty devastated,'' Mrs Geary said.

''We went back in December [that year] and they said the eggs weren't of a great quality - we thought it probably wasn't going to work and it didn't.''


With the procedure for each round of IVF and care of the surrogate mother for two weeks costing about $10,000 excluding airfares and accommodation, the couple decided to quit after the second visit. But then they decided on a ''last-ditch effort'', with Mrs Geary visiting a naturopath beforehand to maximise her health.

They made a third visit in April and again flew back to Australia.

This time the email was different. Mrs Geary said: ''The first word of the email was congratulations. We were ecstatic.

''Our baby was due on January 9, I planned to get there mid-December with my mum, Elizabeth. Then we got another email at the end of November from Dr Patel to say congratulations, our surrogate had gone into labour six weeks early but the baby was breech so she did an emergency caesarean,'' she said.

''She was four days old when I got to see her at hospital. I can't even think of a word to describe how I felt. I was so excited just to see her.

''Our surrogate and her husband and child were at the hospital, we were in a room a couple of doors down from them.

''I would take Mia down to see her or she would bring the milk she expressed in. I would invite her to sit down and give her Mia to hold. We just felt grateful, she's a really happy, peaceful person. If Mia cried or anything she would just hand her straight back to me, she was really comfortable with me as the mother.''

The paperwork took two weeks - the Australian high commission requires a DNA test to get Australian citizenship and a passport.

Indian authorities need more form-filling to issue an exit visa. Mr Geary held his daughter for the first time at Melbourne airport when his wife finally returned from India - the culmination of their three-year journey to find a sibling for Billy.

Both are distressed at negative comments about so-called Indian ''baby farms'' and strongly refute any suggestion that the surrogates are exploited.

''The surrogate women are just happy women. They come out of the rooms and smile and shake your hand - they are really just happy women because they are pleased with the choices they have made,'' Mrs Geary said.

''They are assuming everyone who is a surrogate is being pushed into it or exploited which is condescending because these are all women who have made informed choices.''

Dr Patel, speaking from the clinic, told The Sun-Herald: ''The human being has two basic needs - to protect themselves and to reproduce. The NSW government is taking a backward step and denying these women a basic right as a human being.''

Mr Geary said the NSW legislation was a setback for couples trying to have a baby.

''Surrogacy is just starting to become known as another option for people and this is going to knock it on the head straight away. It slams the door in a lot of people's faces,'' he said.

Looking at Mia, Mrs Geary added: ''But how is this criminal? How is this a criminal act?''