So often on the path to surrogacy, well-meaning people ask “Why don’t you just adopt?” This question, while well intentioned, shows a certain naivety about the process of adoption including the incredible challenges, costs and complexity.
Medicareless interviewed Arielle, a mother from surrogacy, who first looked into adoption carefully before going down the surrogacy path. Here is her story.
What medical reason do you have for needing to look into adoption or surrogacy?
We started to try to fall pregnant in 2005 and expected the ‘happy accident’ to occur naturally. The years passed and we realised something was wrong so we saw a fertility specialist who announced that we were ‘infertile’ simply because after a year of trying, at my age (32), we should have been pregnant already.
Did you try to fall pregnant yourself? What happened?
We started the IVF journey not longer after this bombshell was dropped on us. And then we tried and tried again for the next 6 years. We were never given a reason for it not working, I just simply couldn’t get past the 2 week mark after each transfer. And with every attempt came the devastating realisation that we were not successful and that with time ticking away things would only get harder. I suffered so much pain and grief during this time. So much soul-destroying confusion and despondence. People kept telling me to be positive and keep trying. And somehow, after each round of IVF and the grief that followed, I always got back on the horse and tried again. Physically, psychologically, spiritually – I was crushed. Adoption was always in the back of my mind as a road we’d go down when the time was right, but as you are not ‘allowed’ to be undergoing IVF when applying for adoption, I needed to wait until I was ready to stop trying to have my own baby. This is in itself was a huge step to take – to let go of falling pregnant, experiencing motherhood in the ‘normal’ way, and seeing a child grow up that came from within me and looked like me.
When did you first think of looking at adopting?
It certainly wasn’t when people – who knew our pain – would flippantly remark “Why don’t you JUST adopt”! This started happening in the first year of our IVF journey and it was simply insulting. Even after 6 years of IVF I wasn’t quite ready to look into adoption. I still had some hope of carrying our child and -not even realising just how hard it would be -adoption still felt like a very hard ‘other’ road to travel.
What was it that attracted you to adoption?
After all that we’d been through in the better part of the last decade, we decided that adoption would be a better option than putting ourselves through more tortuous rounds of IVF. I thought logically that if we followed the steps given to us to adopt, did the courses, reading, interviews etc we’d end up with a child or children within a few years and finally have the family we yearned for. We also felt that it would be a wonderful thing to bring a needy child or sibling group into a loving family. We had so much love to give and so many years of parenting that had been preparing for – we felt so ready to adopt after 7 years of failing to start a family the natural or IVF way.
Describe the adoption process.
We first had to wait for the introductory seminars to proceed. That was the first chapter of waiting. So we decided – ok let’s adopt! And then found out it was 4 months until the first seminar was to be held. We waited patiently. We attended the seminar with open eyes, ears and hearts and met many other hopeful ‘intending parents’. The coordinators were very empathetic but warned us that the adoption route could be extremely challenging and that only a small percentage of people would get to the finish line, mainly because of the time and commitment it took to go through the process. We did not yet have an inkling that the challenges would mostly be due to the small number of children that are placed in Australian families (from overseas). We were advised to choose overseas adoption as Australian children are mostly fostered into known families. And we were only able to select one country to adopt from. We were told that this country may change it’s relationship with Australia at any point and close the adoption program. So to keep reading up on current laws and changes in case it affected our chosen country’s program.
We then proceeded with the interview process. This went on for a year and cost over $10K. We would rush out from work to meet with the social worker who would investigate everything about us and our lives and intentions for the adopted child. We were told to be prepared to move house, learn a new language, attend picnics with other adoption families, travel to and from the child’s country of origin and blend aspects of their culture with ours. We had to be prepared to be open with the child about their origins when the time was right. We understood why they asked of us these commitments…and we were more than willing to compromise in every way we could if it meant we could have a child of our own.
We also had to learn about an excruciating check-list of ailments, ‘defects’ and historical matters (such as incest, addiction, abuse) to let the program managers know that we were prepared to live an adopted child that could have any number of debilitating illnesses, deformities or social impairments. We were told that the less boxes ticked the less chance we’d have of being matched with a child, so we ticked them all.
Around that time we also had to give up notions of adopting a baby. At our age (38 by then) our best chances lay in putting our names down for older children (4+) who were more likely to have had a background of abuse or neglect. So we ticked away, hoping for a small miracle, and hoping that we’d be matched with a relatively healthy, and if possible, happy child. Unfortunately, we knew the chances of this were very slight. Still, we forged ahead, knowing that we would cope with no matter what or who came our way. We were by that point simply desperate to hold and love a child as our own.
So when did you start looking into surrogacy?
We were towards the end of the adoption interview process which had taken about a year and was already very costly both financially and in terms of time. Friends we’d met through the adoption seminars had already been to an Indian Surrogacy Clinic (that I’d also seen featured on the ABC’s Insight program earlier in the year, when surrogacy was still a strange concept that ‘other people’ did but certainly not us!) and within a couple of months after returning home – they had announced they were pregnant with their surrogate. I had been to India 12 year’s prior on a soul searching adventure and had a great affinity with the country and people. And although we were still a little freaked out by the concept of surrogacy, we began to normalise it via the hundreds of questions we asked of our friends plus some online forums and groups I joined. As the adoption interviews neared the end we found out that our country of choice had a wait list of about 1-2 years to GET ON the actual wait list for child placements (being only 10 or so placements per year from this country!) And THEN the long 3-6+ year would begin. Not only that, but we were advised to keep checking online for changes in the country’s adoption program as it could close or change at any time and that could impact us immediately. This could mean starting over with another country/program and certainly after a few years with our getting into our mid-40s we’d have to reapply anyway. So given these parameters, at the best of situations, we would be around 45 by the time we had waited the 6 or so years to adopt.
Adoption was, in a nutshell, a host of uncertainty and painstaking waiting whilst enduring daily pangs of childless grief, while we watched our friends come home with a baby via surrogacy. We began to think about hopping on a plane to India and giving surrogacy a go – our final throw of the dice (as it’s been called recently in a Radio National story!)
As we waited for our social worker to go to the loo during our final adoption interview – just before she announced that we were (in the eyes of DOCS) deemed ‘fit’ to be parents’ (!!) – we looked at one another and said “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” – and with a nod and smile we both just said the hushed word INDIA. Within months we were there…the lead up to going was so hectic – juggling work, surrogacy research, finances (the surrogacy was only possible by digging deep into our mortgage savings), visa applications, checking out legal implications and always managing our heavy hearts. At this point and after so much failure we didn’t seriously think surrogacy would work for us. We just needed to tick the box in order to tell ourselves that we’d tried EVERYTHING to achieve our dream to start a family.
On the way to India we decided that this was really it – one trip, one try and then a new journey: hit 40 and create a new enriching life without children. How we’d do that was still a mystery to me, but I knew that I didn’t have any puff left in me after this final – and at the time strange and scary – attempt at starting our family.
How did surrogacy work out for you?
Finally, we have the family we’ve always dreamed of and feel especially lucky to have been blessed with twin boys Leo and Noah who are now 6.5 months and thriving. We feel proud of ourselves for having undertaken the surrogacy route especially with all the strangeness and fears that it presented to us. In the end, we realise that by taking matters into our own hands this way and taking a few risks fulfilled on our dream to have a family in a much shorter time than adoption would have. Much as we would have loved to embrace a child from another country with our love and create a family this way, the Australian programs just make it seem so out of reach and near impossible to succeed. Surrogacy didn’t give us any guarantees as an option but it did work for us. We’ll forever be grateful for our surrogate and everyone involved who helped us to make this happen.
What would you say to people that say “Just adopt” or “Why don’t you just adopt”
Do some reading! And don’t think that a grieving mother or father-in-waiting is prepared or even able to give up on having their own child so easily. I would say to those with children – imagine if someone took your children away. How would you feel? Would you ‘just adopt’? As this is what it felt like to me – that someone robbed us of having our own children. Adoption was always going to be an option, but the spiritual crisis presented by not being able to have your own child is never going to be repaired by the concept of adopting.