Renee Golland, a mother of three, is no stranger to surrogacy. She knows firsthand both the blessing and the burden being pregnant with another couple's child can bring. And while helping those who were unable to conceive their own baby gave her great joy, there's no denying the fact pregnancy comes with many risks. It's why Renee is calling for a change to Australia's surrogacy laws. She wants to see the switch from altruistic surrogacy (where the birth mother can only claim pregnancy related expenses) to legalising compensated surrogacy (currently known as commercial surrogacy, where the birth mother is paid for being a surrogate). Because right now the largest responsibility in this entire process lies with the surrogate - to grow and birth a healthy baby for someone else - yet they are not one who gains financially.
"There is no doubt there is money to be made from surrogacy," Renee stated in a recent parliamentary inquiry into this often misunderstood subject. "Usually the clinics, lawyers and counsellors are the beneficiaries of this. But not the surrogate - the woman who is carrying the biggest physical and emotional burden for someone else to have a child - as wonderful as the experience can be."
It is asking too much of a woman and her own family.
And yes, surrogacy is a beautiful experience - Renee doesn't question that. She is also aware offering payment to be pregnant with another couple's child could lead to people suddenly seeing dollar signs and undertaking it for all the wrong reasons. That's why she suggests this: "It has to be a compensatory amount that doesn't inhibit an intended parent from being able to afford it in Australia. But we also don't want to go down the path of America. I don't see paying $30,000 - $50,000 to a surrogate as something we would be able to maintain.
"My personal recommendation is about $10,000," she suggests, with this amount to be on top of any pregnancy related costs they incur as a surrogate, which they are already legally entitled to in Australia.
Sam Everingham, the Global Director of Families Through Surrogacy, agrees there needs to be change. "The lack of compensation of surrogates in the face of other professionals earning large sums for facilitating the process is particularly unfair, given it is the surrogate doing all the heavy lifting," he advises, adding altruistic surrogacy would be enhanced by the ability to even gift the surrogate and her family a nice holiday. "Too many intended parents turn away from surrogacy in Australia because they feel uncompensated - it is asking too much of a woman and her own family."
Australia's surrogacy numbers are low - only around 40 births per year take place - and both Renee and Sam believe a compensatory framework might encourage others to consider surrogacy here. As Sam says, "Better compensation would likely increase the pool of available surrogates hugely and hence encourage more Australians to engage domestically."
This too is Renee's hope, as she is frustrated that families are forced overseas to undertake this process. "Surrogacy in Australia has a reputation for being damn near impossible," she reveals. "There's big risks which come with it, such as people getting stranded in countries when they close down surrogacy and now there's limited options for gay couples overseas. They're really struggling to have families."
While there was a recent parliamentary inquiry into current Australian surrogacy laws (which merely recommended further inquiries be conducted), fair compensation for surrogates still appears to be many years away. Of course, no amount of money will completely remove the physical risks associated with being pregnant with someone else's baby, but it could open up the dialogue on this often misunderstood subject.
"By providing a compensated system it's going to be inducement enough for women to say 'I could carry for someone else but I didn't think it was legal' or 'I thought I could only carry for a family member or friend but now I could carry for someone I don't have an existing relationship with'," she says. Ultimately, it's Renee's wish that more women be encouraged start a conversation about surrogacy which otherwise might have gone unsaid, and if compensation can kick-start it then let's hope we see our laws eventually change.