Trewy’s Surrogacy Story

In response to our media story on Channel 9 News Tuesday, 9th April, we received words of encouragement from Trewy and his wife, an ordinary couple facing the difficulty of a surrogacy without Medicare. Trewy decided to share his story for us below.

“After, marrying my wife Rach in October 2010. We discovered Rach has fertility problems.

Fertility problems in Australia are not rare with 1 in 8 couples needing treatment. However, Rach has a more rare and costly medical condition which prevents her body from producing eggs. No eggs, is a not a big problem. If you have a family friend you could be lucky. If you wait for donor eggs in Australia, it will take about 5 to 6 years according to the doctors.

[Moderator note – http://www.eggdonationaustralia.com.au is an excellent not for profit site dedicated to egg donation in Australia and recipients can find donors within a few months, so for those needing an egg donor, don’t lose hope and don’t believe the doctors!]

Rach and I have been lucky to find an egg donor and harvest three eggs at a cost of $12500. This was a straight out-of-pocket expense and not covered by our private health or anything. It’s worth noting that in Australia, no money is allowed to be paid to an egg donor.

I thought having three 3day old embryos (3 potential children), our hurdles and dramas would be over. Sadly, it was just the beginning. After months of drugs and money being used to try and get Rach ready to have an embryo transferred,  we have only managed to kill one of our potential children, kill my equity in our beautiful home, beat up our credit card and become ever so saddened by our grim outcome.

See the IVF train is a slow and expensive train. Suddenly, your life goes from a newly married couple to counting down days till the next cycle of drugs, and loads and loads of tests with more and more delays.

Financial stress plus emotional stress can start to beat you up. I would be lying if I said “I have never considered divorce’’. I would even give up my house, even body swap with a terminally ill person, if only I could have a son who could catch a ball with me. A son to share his first beer. Sadly, if I bear no children, then there will be no grandchildren either. All I can look forward to is a lonely retirement.

This is where you can help. IVF is a kind of high risk investment. Except IVF investment is a rule breaker as it is investment with emotion. I don’t want to be father of the year, just a father.

This year we are switching from IVF to surrogacy. Sadly, life makes Rach a poor microwave. Rach has found a surrogate. A person, who will not receive money for their priceless gift, to us. Sadly, the costs of surrogacy are about $60000 to $80000. This is lawyer costs to create the legal surrogacy agreement (2 lawyers $15000 each). The costs of counseling, insurance to be able to obtain a parentage order under the surrogacy agreement. Then all the medical costs that are not covered by Medicare or our useless private health which follows the laws set out by Medicare.

Morally, I feel obliged to continue with this course of action, because those two embryos are technically alive and just frozen. Even after this process we may not have a child. I’m sure the cost would double if we are lucky to use both embryos.

I have begged the banks for a low interest loan, and even contacted my superannuation to help cover the $60000 for surrogacy. I have not been very successful. So, goodbye dream home and boat. Sadly, the dream of having a family is killing my dream of financial security. However, you never know…..I could win lotto.

How can two tax paying government employees with private health cover and a small mortgage be forgotten? We’ve never received a government handout, and we’ve paid all of our HECs debts. We have been described by our friends as the ‘unlucky couple in the lucky country’.

How can you help? I have no idea. Bring attention to this situation, government assistance, I remember former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, giving a speech containing the word family. Family first and family this. Well, after I’ve written letters to Labor, Liberal governments both state and Federal, I’m sad to say that no replies have been received.

If I do make it through this nightmare. I really wanted to take the egg donor, surrogate and wife –  hopefully with a child or children-  on a holiday. To thank them for their commitment to my family. However, with the cost of things coming, I may have to wait a while. A long while. Perhaps a lifetime.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

Trewy”

Of course, we know how you can help people like Trewy. Sign our petition for change, and send an email to Tanya Plibersek and other members for parliament. Choose from any of our ready- made email formats from the Resources tab.

Together, we can make this change, and help ordinary working couples become families. As you know we are starting to receive replies and are receiving media attention, so as a group we are making an impact – where before we were solo travelers, losing hope on our own voyages. Too many have been silent for too long!

Small Win – Medicare Rebates for ICSI

When I started working on this campaign I did quite a lot of research on the Medicare Rebates relating to IVF and surrogacy. During my research I noted that the Health Insurance (General Medical Services Table) Regulations 2011 excluded Medicare rebates for item numbers 13200-13221. In the Medicare Benefits Schedule these item numbers related to various IVF procedures.

What I also noticed that ICSI (the process of inserting the sperm directly into the egg) was item number 13251. As you can see not one of the item numbers excluded from the Medicare rebates. So I asked my fertility clinic if I could receive a receipt so I could claim my rebate. They denied me.

So I rang and wrote to Medicare asking for assistance. They initially advised that all IVF treatments used for surrogacy were excluded from the rebate. I pointed out to them that this is not what the law says. So they referred my concerns to the Department of Health and Aging.

I am pleased to say, that today I have received written advice from the Department saying that my understanding of the law is correct and that I am entitled to a rebate for ICSI.

If anyone else used ICSI for their embryo creation, I’d encourage you to ask your clinic to bill you separately for this treatment so you can claim your rebate from Medicare. If you have any issues I’d encourage you to print out this letter and show your clinic, or when you ring Medicare.

This is a great small win for us!

It also poses more questions. Why are all other IVF treatments excluded for Medicare rebates but this one is not? I think this just adds to our argument that we should be receiving the full rebates.

Don’t give up everyone, I feel a change just around the corner. 🙂

Letter from Dept Health & Aging

Response from Department of Health & Ageing

Today we received a promising response from the Department of Health and Ageing.

Firstly they “commended” us for the work we are doing to create awareness about the Medicare laws as they relate to surrogacy.

Secondly they reiterated that they are committed to medically necessary services to the public and are therefore actively considering the issues raised in the surrogacy paper. They have advised that I am welcome to contact them to see how this work is progressing and provided the contact Ms Mary Warner, Director of Medical Services.

I am so proud of this response and hope that they are sincere in their response.

Please continue the great work you are all doing in creating awareness about this issue, great joint effort.

Letter from Dept Health & Aging

Tracy’s Story

Let me just start this by saying that in no way does my story compare to the heartache that others in this blog have been through. My husband and I have been blessed with a gorgeous little boy. However, the current Medicare legislations are certainly putting an extra hurdle in the way of completing our family.

Tracy with her husband John and precious son Oliver

Tracy with her husband John and precious son Oliver

John and I met and married within a year and a half. We were in our early thirties and just knew it was right. We both had stable jobs, I was a primary school teacher and John was an engineer. We had the car, the house, the Labrador. The next thing to conquer was the kids! We were so excited to start a family together and hoped to have three children. I come from a small family and John’s family are all in Ireland so it was our plan to bring back the noisy house and big Christmases that I’d dreamed of. We fell pregnant very quickly. At our 10 week scan, we found that the heartbeat had stopped. We were devastated. But four months later, we found that we were pregnant again. I was anxious, but as the weeks rolled on I got more and more confident that this pregnancy was going to work. I was healthy throughout and we got busy preparing for our new addition. Oliver was born after a drug free natural labour on the 5th of November 2012. As the doctor placed him on my chest, I began to feel strange. I don’t remember much after that… Apparently, my uterus inverted causing a severe post partum haemorrhage. I required 13 units of blood in a transfusion and my blood pressure was so low that they were expecting brain damage or cardiac arrest! The only way to save my life was an emergency hysterectomy. My poor husband saw all this unfold and had to give the consent to perform the operation, something he’ll never come to terms with.

I remember waking up in the ICU after being on life support for a couple of days. I was so relieved to hear that my son was fine but was absolutely heartbroken to hear that I would not be able to carry any more children. I just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I had never felt emotional pain like that before.

Tracy's wishes she could give her son Oliver a sibling

Tracy’s wishes she could give her son Oliver a sibling

Anyway, fast forward almost 4 months and I love being a mummy. I’m on maternity leave and enjoying every minute of it. Physically I have healed, however, I’m not ready to give up the dream of more children. I’ve looked into adoption and permanent care, however, there are so few children to be placed that our chances aren’t high. During my research I have found that finding a gestational carrier can happen to everyday families like us! At this stage, I’m unsure if this will occur in Australia or overseas. This is completely dependent on whether I can find a carrier here or not, but either way, I will be doing my IVF cycle on home soil. We have discussed the priorities for our family and have decided that another child is more important to us than a new car or material possessions. We will be using all of our savings to fund this and we are just hoping that the bank will allow us to take out another loan to cover the rest. If it doesn’t work the first time, I don’t think a second time will be an option. A child is our priority but if we can’t get more money, there is nothing we can do. I already feel ‘ripped off’ that I had to have a hysterectomy, but being charged extra for IVF services is like kicking us when we are down. All I can do is to hope that our actions here will persuade the powers that be to change the Medicare ruling and give us the chance to complete our family.

Tiffany’s Story

Well low and behold I got pregnant the very first month I tried. I remember being totally shocked. All was going well until I reached 7 weeks and started to bleed. I remember going to the hospital, laying in the ultrasound clinic and hearing the words that would haunt me forever “There is no heartbeat.” I can still fell the emotional pain that I felt being wheeled to a ward past the maternity unit and seeing all the mothers with their newborns.

We were told to go home, wait a couple of months and try again. Well we tried and tried for 2 years and nothing happened. Eventually after clomid, injectables and iui we jumped on the IVF roundabout. Again I was shocked when I got pregnant the first time. On my birthday I found out that I was having twins. I thought that God was giving me back the baby I lost plus one.

When I was 21 weeks pregnant I went into spontaneous labour and my precious twins Jacob and David were stillborn. My heart was broken but I was even more determined to try again. After 3 more IVF cycles we got pregnant again. This time we made it to 23weeks and our daughter Aimee was born and lived for 2 hours. After Aimees birth I the doctors could not control the bleeding. I haemorrhaged and needed most of the blood in my body replaced. I ended up having to have an emergency hysterectomy.

I thought that my dreams of being a mum were over. I went home from the hospital with empty arms and an even emptier heart. I struggled for 3 year. Seeing counsellors and taking anti-depressants. I could not let go of the idea of being a mum. It almost cost me my marriage. My husband was devastated by the deaths of our children and could not stand the thought of being hurt again, whereas with me it was all I could think about. I spent day and night scanning the internet trying to find an answer to our heartbreak.

I found a website that hooked potential surrogates up with perspective parents. I started talking to a woman named Janice. She agreed to help us. We flew to the other side of the country to meet with her. When we got there she told us that she wanted $10, 000 to be a surrogate for us. Besides the fact that it is illegal we also felt that it was immoral. We worried that if we payed her now she would come back later asking for more money. We flew home even more deflated than before.

We went into counselling and tried to resign ourselves to being childless. I decided to go back to university and get a teaching degree. Life plodded along, our dogs were our kids and we travelled overseas and did all the things that people say you can’t enjoy when you have kids. The problem was we didn’t really enjoy them; there was still a hole in our hearts.

In 2011 two of my cousins approached me. One wanted to donate eggs and one wanted to carry a baby for us. I was so scared, too scared to get excited. Even when my cousin Yvette called me and said she was pregnant I did not cry or show much emotion. All I could think is she will decide to keep the baby; I’m going to get hurt again.

Since Yvette lived interstate we did not get to go to all the appointments. She sent us lots of pic and again it felt like we were looking at someone else’s child. During all this time our biggest worry sadly was money. It cost us every bit of our savings to have this child and we were wondering if we would be able to provide her with the life that she deserved.

Finally the day came Yvette was scheduled for a c section as our daughter was breech. I went into the theatre with her. My husband waited outside. They pulled this screaming pink little thing out of her and my heart melted, but still I did not feel like she was mine. All I could think was please God don’t let her change her mind, I can’t live through any more grief.” They cleaned our daughter up and handed her to me. It was like an out of body experience. I felt like I was going to faint.

When my husband held our daughter who we named Jasmine Grace for the first time he broke down. He tells me now that he knew from the second that she was put in his arms that she was ours. The fact that she looks just like him helps too.

The day that we left hospital was a day of mixed emotions. I was so happy yet I knew that my cousin was hurting so badly and there was nothing I could do to take her pain away.

The first few weeks at home are a blur now. I sort of felt like I was babysitting. I took about a month to really bond with Jasmine. It wasn’t until the legals were underway that I totally felt like her mum.

Jasmine is now a year old and she is my whole world. I would go through the last 15 years again in a heartbeat to get her. Thanks to Facebook my cousins can see her whenever they want and we have been to Adelaide to see them twice in the last year.
I’m not going to lie and say that our surrogacy journey has been easy. For one thing it looks like we will probably have to sell our house to pay off the debts we incurred during this process and the actual pregnancy was a rollercoaster of emotions, but if people ask me if I would do it again my answer is always the same “Hell yes “.

Are you crazy? Why are you doing this in Australia and not overseas?

So often amongst our community of people accessing surrogacy, we (the women doing altruistic Australian surrogacy) are asked ‘Why do you bother trying to do it here in Australia?’ and ‘Don’t you find it all too hard?’
The truth is, the Australian system really IS making it too hard for couples. Clearly we are in agreement that the law should protect the interests of the child as paramount, and we understand that is the objective of the laws. Yet what in practice is happening is that altruistic surrogacy in Australia is so unclear and challenging – that a money making industry has popped up to ‘assist’ women such as us.

IVF Clinics

Those people that ‘assist’ us are most often lawyers and IVF clinics. The IVF clinics, as you know from this blog, charge an incredible amount of money per attempt of IVF. Between 12 and 18,000 per cycle, with no access to Medicare.

Every clinic has a different approach to the cycle. Some of them will insist on absolutely crazy and detrimental protocols, like egg quarantining. Yes, a clinic can request you to quarantine your donor eggs even though eggs on their own DO NOT work in about 85% or more of cases. Who cares? The IVF clinics are not paid on your successful outcome. So it makes no difference to them if your outcome is successful or not.

Some clinics will have a good process in place to support surrogacy but still insist on a 6 month quarantine of embryos. So after years of struggling, you find you have to wait 6 months before you can even start. This is incredibly frustrating.

Ethics Committees

Then there are the ethics committees. The doctors that have to certify that you are truly eligible for surrogacy. I must say that being certified as infertile is not a pleasant experience. Conversely, I don’t know of too many women that would willingly give up being pregnant either, or who, by choice, would like for someone else to carry their baby. To nourish it and grow it for them. Generally speaking, this is quite a personal task, and one that people like to do themselves, so I don’t quite understand why there is an assumption that women would rush to do surrogacy unless they absolutely had to. Some of us wonder if we will ‘fail’ the ethics committee as we haven’t ‘failed’ enough times in our IVF attempts. It is deeply distressing and the guidelines are not clear, which only makes it more messy.

Then comes our favorite topic –

IVF and Medicare.

Kate, from the blog Our Surrogacy sums it up perfectly.

” A refusal of support to assist something so positive for no real reason other than that I can’t carry the baby myself (was like rubbing salt into the wound).  I have had a hysterectomy under hugely traumatic circumstances.  Otherwise I am a healthy, active, young person desperate to complete our family.  why should I have to pay triple or more what other people would pay for the exact same treatment simply because those other people are infertile in a different way?

When I started to look into it further I discovered that some clinics do give medicare rebates to people who have had a hysterectomy – what??!!   Even amongst the clinics and IVF world here in Australia there is inconsistency.

Kate on her wedding day

Technically I ought to have been entitled to medicare rebates as at the time I had no surrogacy arrangement in place and I could have had a cycle and frozen the embryos to either send overseas or use for surrogacy here later on.  When I called Medicare they agreed that technically, you should only not be entitled to the rebate where a surrogacy arrangement was in place.  But my clinic would not budge.  I would be up for $12,000 minimum for one cycle; no rebate.  I can’t blame them, they were doing things by the book and didn’t want to get into trouble.  But the injustice that other clinics would turn a blind eye and bill the cycle in a different way seemed too much on top of the basic injustice that medicare won’t cover surrogacy.

In comparison, me, my husband and son can all fly to India, stay for almost 3 weeks and get a full IVF cycle with transfer to surrogate for less than that.  Yes we will have the fee to the surrogate and other costs on top of that but so would there be additional costs doing it here.  So, rather than stay here, give business to the IVF clinics here, and perhaps be safer, unfortunately I feel as though my whole family is being forced overseas to pursue something that could have been achieved here had the rules, regulations and costs been a little more user-friendly and accessible.” Read more of her blog here.

Lawyers

To do altruistic surrogacy in Australia, you need to complete a pre-surrogacy contract and then apply for a parenting order post surrogacy. When I first started looking into surrogacy, I met some wonderfully kind lawyers. They seemed so nice. However, I have since found that they spend time making a connection with you as they want to charge around $15,000 – $20,000 for the process. That’s right. They seem so nice and lovely, but by any estimation, that is a lot of money. And if you worked that out on hours….well let’s examine this idea together?

If a top rated lawyer were to charge  $450 an hour then it would be 33 to 44 hours of work. These lawyers are family lawyers. Our local family lawyer charges $250 per hour. So, by that standard we would be looking at even more hours of work. Is this realistic? Honest? When the pre-surrogacy contract is not legally enforceable? When it’s largely a cut and paste of a template that they already have on-hand…can they possibly find themselves doing a week’s worth of work on this project? I have since found lawyers that will charge the reasonable rate of about $750 to $900 for a pre surrogacy arrangement and $5,000 for a post surrogacy arrangement. But I had to really look hard for them because the industry cogs are well in place.

As one lawyer laughingly (but not jokingly, there is a major difference) said to us recently, “$60,000, (his estimated cost of altruistic surrogacy in Australia) Well, anybody can get their hands on that nowdays!” I guess at that rate of pay, it would be a correct statement.

Does this make Australian Surrogacy truly altruistic?

My feeling is that altruistic surrogacy is altruistic for only one person – the lovely lady that offers to carry the baby for you. It seems strange that the woman doing the most vital of all jobs is always the one called on to be the most accountable in terms of financial gain, erstwhile a huge industry cogs its wheels around her, making money at every step. She cannot be given a holiday post birth to celebrate a job well done. She can’t be given more than $10,000 in expenses over the 9 months she is pregnant, including lost wages, or a red flag goes up. So how can a lawyer ask for 15 to 20 thousand? And an IVF clinic 12 to 18,000?

With the confusion and the grey-ness of the law, with the industry that preys on people that need surrogacy in Australia we can see why many opt to go overseas where the laws are clearer and the expenses are laid out clearly and contractually.

We have made a choice. And we want to change the system.

We choose to do altruistic surrogacy in Australia because it’s what is right for us, but we understand why those who opt for overseas options think we are a little crazy. However, maybe we are just the right kind of crazy to get these laws changed enough to make the system fairer for all? To make the system clearer and more honest? We choose to start with the Medicare law, as it’s the most obvious one that needs changing.

Changing the law to make it fairer is worth being a bit crazy about!

Holly’s Story

Holly & Ash

Holly & Ash

At age 14 i was diagnosed with a severe mullerian anomaly with a unicornuate uterus and severe endometriosis. The endometriosis drowned my fallopian tubes and one ovary. What i was left with was half a uterus, one ovary that was not connected, one kidney and no cervix. At 14 years old this was devastating. At 18 I met Ash (23), he was beautifiul, kind and supportive. Like any normal couple our age we had a normal lifestyle, normal paying jobs and a house loan but there was just one thing missing, a child. 6 operations later the news I received was heart breaking ” I’m so sorry Holly, there is nothing more we can do” Surrogacy was our only option. I spent months resaeaching how to go about it and what to do. My gorgeous mum was the first person to offer, it was like a dream come true. Sadly Mum was diagnosed with hormone related cancer and was no longer able to carry our baby. Six months later a wonderful woman offered to carry my baby. The words estatic and overjoyed don’t even come close to what we were feeling! However those feeling didn’t last long when we were told that medicare wouldn’t cover us for IVF. We are looking at around $15,000 – $20,000. As a normal young couple this just seemed out of reach. Medicare cover everyone else for IVF but will not cover us. Not only do we have $15-20,000 for IVF but we also have another $20,000 + for other surrogacy involved costs. It is my understanding that when Medicare made this decision surrogacy was illegal, now that surrogace IS legal here in Australia the outdated laws need to change. So over all i feel discriminated against and think this is greatly unfair. Please change the law so that us and couples like us can be blessed with a family