The practice of surrogacy has been brought firmly into the headlines now that Sarah Jessica Parker and actor husband Matthew Broderick have welcomed twin baby girls born to a surrogate. It got me thinking about the emotional minefield the experience must be for all involved.
The recent 60 Minutes and Sunday Night stories on Australian couples using Indian surrogates also generated much debate in the media, as well as in my household. Watching the story from the comfort of our lounge room it seemed like a huge step to take, to travel to a foreign country and have your embryo implanted into a stranger, a stranger who was doing it for the money. However it just shows the lengths people will go to, to have a child. And as I can relate to that primal need to be a parent I can absolutely understand the desire to do whatever it takes.
But would I do that? I don't know.
Here in Australia surrogacy seems to be pretty rare and is illegal in many states. However the restrictions are currently under review in NSW and fertility clinics such as Sydney IVF offer to facilitate it as part of their services. Yet, despite it being legal in NSW, after researching the tight restrictions and legalities of the process I can see why a couple would make the choice to go to country such as India, where the laws are far more accommodating.
It is illegal in every state to have any financial arrangement with a surrogate, so the woman needs to be doing it for purely unselfish reasons. In fact, to have the process done through Sydney IVF it is a prerequisite that the surrogate has a "close and ongoing relationship with the commissioning couple," suggesting only family or close friends would be considered.
I’ve asked myself if I could do it, if my sister or my best friend were unable to have their own child, could I give that gift to them?
You also need to go through a rigorous selection process that includes psychological evaluations on both the state of the infertile couple and the intended surrogate and her partner, with your case then reviewed by an ethics committee.
All of these restrictions are obviously there for a reason, and I wouldn't dispute their need, but you can't help but feel for a couple going through the process. They have obviously already suffered through years of infertility and/or recurrent miscarriages in order to get to this point, which is a heartbreaking roller coaster in itself. To then have to prove your worth in order to have something that comes so easily to most must be extremely difficult. On that note, a lot of children would probably be better off if all parents had to pass such a rigorous test before conceiving, but that is a whole different topic!
However, it is when the tests have been passed and the child has been conceived that the laws start to look very discouraging for prospective parents wanting to do the process in this country. For when their child is born they will have no legal rights to it, leaving them incredibly vulnerable for things to go wrong.
In fact, with no legal framework in place, if a dispute over the child went to court the birth mother would most likely be assumed to be the true and legal mother.
Can you imagine going through all of that, finally achieving the dream of a being a parent, to then have the birth mother change her mind and be powerless to fight it? I truly cannot image a bigger nightmare. And it's in this instance that the Indian laws are far more favourable, with them allowing the biological parent's names to go directly on the birth certificate.
But then there is the flip side of the debate, the emotional impact on the birth mother. I can't imagine how hard that would be either, to go through IVF and pregnancy, to carry and give birth to a baby knowing you would have to give them away. A woman who is able to do that solely for the emotional satisfaction of helping another person is amazing. It is the ultimate gift.
I've asked myself if I could do it, if my sister or my best friend were unable to have their own child could I give that gift to them? Again, I don't know. I'd like to think I would be able to, but I can' imagine the emotional turmoil you would go through having to hand that baby over, even if it was to someone you knew would be a wonderful parent.
Would the emotions be the same for those mothers who have given their children up for adoption and then ached for them every day of their lives? Or is it different because they are not biologically related?
Which raises the point of why a couple would go to such lengths when adoption is an option. Is it because adopting a child is now even harder to do than using an overseas surrogate, with the costs and waiting lists astronomically high? Or is it that primal need to create your own biological offspring that drives them to any lengths necessary?
Channel 7's Sunday Night show featured a couple in their story who were waiting for their twins to be born to an Indian surrogate and I found their story incredibly moving. The thought of being powerless to protect your own babies, reliant on another woman to do what you must so long to do, my heart just ached for them. I hope their story has a happy ending.
One such happy ending was also featured on the show, with an Australian couple now the proud parents of a son, thanks to an Indian surrogate. Interestingly, that mother wrote a post on the Essential Baby forum, which you can read here. I'd be fascinated to hear more from her and maybe she could answer my questions about how they came to that decision.
One thing is sure in my mind though, for all the sensational headlines it creates to refer to Sarah Jessica Parker as a pampered celebrity who is 'buying' a baby because she couldn't find the time to have one herself I say, what a bunch of rubbish. No one would choose this path unless they had exhausted all other options and no one can understand what it is like to long for a child unless they have experienced it. So, whether I would do it or not, I wish her all the luck in the world.
How do you feel about surrogacy? Do you agree with it, could you do it for a friend or family member? Would you use a surrogate if you could not carry a baby? And should we relax the laws here in Australia or do you think they are necessary? I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Comment on Amity's blog here.