Surrogacy in Australia

1) Medicare needs to be given to women undergoing IVF for surrogacy to make it easier for people to conduct surrogacy in Australia where we have superior medical facilities and surrogacy is conducted among economic equals. Read this blog to see real life surrogacy stories. We are everyday women who deserve the chance of a family just like anyone else.

2) People are heading overseas to Thailand etc, in part, because Australia makes it so hard. It’s complicated, and there are not enough protections for Intended Parents or Surrogates. There needs to be clearer regulation to ensure that a surrogate and a surrogacy patient understand what their rights and responsibilities are. Banning surrogacy is not the solution – it will only drive it underground.

3) Altruistic surrogacy is legal in Australia, after careful screening with psychological reports & in many cases police checks. Parents need to be deemed suitable, as do surrogates. A judge awards the parenting order after the baby is born, in a court.

4) We have a community of women undergoing surrogacy who all have legitimate medical reasons for needing surrogacy.  We are cancer survivors, or born without a functional uterus, or have some other serious medical condition that means we rely on the goodwill of another woman to have a baby. Our community supports women through cancer – we have giant pink ribbon days and our sportsmen wear pink – then what? We survive, thrive and want to have a family, and our community stops supporting them – there is no Medicare available when you want to have a family. This is clearly unfair and needs to change.

5) In Australia, discussions about genetic abnormalities and the risks in birth are completed with a psychologist and written in a contract. The baby Gammy story would not happen because we ensure that there is support for all involved. This is why we need to make surrogacy easier in Australia. A good start is giving women Medicare for IVF procedures for surrogacy.

Feeling the Medicareless pinch

Facing the financial strain of IVF without Medicare is a real challenge. This is one of our member’s stories.

It’s no secret that dreams take hard work, and some dreams take more hard work than others. This is what I think about when I rise for work at 5 am, ready to go to the Police Force, and take on the day’s duties. Dreaming about my partner’s face, holding a baby in his hands, is what I work hard for every day.

It’s a common dream – it’s one my colleagues and I talk about at work. Family is a big topic amongst my friends and I. I’m surrounded by family-loving people, dedicated to their families, our society, and our friends, and yet my situation is so different.

I’m struggling to make a family, through the only method I have available to me – IVF. You see, a few years ago, I had a medically necessary hysterectomy. I had two simple choices – remove my uterus, or face ongoing debilitating pain and suffering that impacted every aspect of my life. That’s not really a choice, it’s a situation one finds themselves in that has no care for whether or not you’ve made plans for family.

One of my friends is going through IVF. Because she has a uterus, she gets Medicare benefits. She goes to the same clinic I go to, and has just received a letter advertising that her out of pocket expenses will be $1250. Her second cycle will be $650. Her transfers are included in the costs. She can afford to do the recommended 3 cycles of IVF in which to gain a baby.

For me, one cycle costs $12,000. The transfers cost $4,000. So I am eating budget mince, and putting off the home loan repayments.  All of my money from many months of pay (and I mean ALL of my income) will be going toward making my dream a reality. What choice do I have?

Which is why I know as I struggle to pull together another meal from the cheapest mince I can find, padding it out with carrots ($1 a bag) and grated on-special vegetables for another daily staple of spaghetti bolognaise, that our situation just isn’t fair.

I want to create a family with my partner. He’s a loving man who will be a fantastic dad, and he really, really wants to be a father. It’s a natural enough desire, isn’t it? He also grew up surrounded by people that value family.

One late night, my partner said; “I’m in a lose/ lose situation with you. If I leave you, who’s to say I’ll ever meet someone I love as much as I love you, to have children with? If I stay, I may never have children…” It was heartbreaking in the truth.

Sometimes I’ve thought – “Maybe I should just do the kind thing and tell him to leave me, and find a woman that can give him a baby without needing surrogacy. Maybe that’s the kind thing to do?”

But I won’t give up. Which is why every meal is spaghetti bolognaise. Every cent of our income is going into IVF. What’s hardest is knowing that it needn’t be like that.

This is the real life impact of the government’s lack of action. It makes me so angry. I’m angry that I have to pay so much more than my friend. It’s hard to see others succeeding when they have such affordable access to medical treatment. Especially when it’s completely obvious that I have no other option but to seek medical treatment to have a baby.

There’s no other pathway for me. IVF is my ONLY way to have a baby. So why am I excluded?

What would you do? Give up on your dreams? Let your partner go and live a solo life? All because the government hasn’t updated its law to include you in a sentence of legislation…..?

I’m not about to give up yet, but I’m growing weary, and I’m running out of funds. If this transfer doesn’t work….I am not sure I can go on living like this. I’m making every sacrifice I can for our dream, but that feeling of being a part of a system that is so unjust is so….well….I don’t even have words for it. It’s so upsetting. Every day it’s upsetting. In the supermarket it’s upsetting. In the office it’s upsetting. I sit in the car and think about it. I can’t escape this feeling.

In the end, I just want to be a part of a family. I want to share what others have in an everyday, normal way. I want my partner to be a dad. And I want equal treatment to a woman with a uterus. I’m not half a woman. They took my uterus but they didn’t take my dreams. Well, not yet.

Surrogacy Myths: The career woman too busy for a family

Is surrogacy a choice? Do women choose to allow another woman to carry their babies because they are too busy to do it themselves?

All too often when we start conversations about surrogacy, certain repeated themes come into the conversation. One of those themes is the idea that surrogacy is a choice. That it is something women may choose to do because they have a solid career and are ‘too busy’ to take the time to gestate their baby. Or they are ‘too old’ because they have ‘spent their lives working on their career’. In other words, people question: ‘why should we support you when you have made bad choices and are now paying the consequences for those choices?’

We heard this myth of the busy career woman in the interview last week with Dr Andrew Pesce, former head of the Australian Medical Association. While we were happy that he supported our cause for equal treatment under the Medicare laws when accessing IVF for surrogacy, we were saddened to hear him bring the ‘mythical career woman’ into the media interview.

Let’s consider this notion for a moment. Just who would this mythical woman be, that would prefer another woman to have her own baby for her? Let’s look at the case of Nicole Kidman as a prime example. Not only is Nicole potentially quite rich, famous and a very busy career woman, but she also used a surrogate to have her daughter Faith Margaret after giving birth to her first child Sunday Rose.


<Image from JustJared.com >

On the surface, Nicole Kidman could be this mythical woman. She could be the busy career woman/ celebrity who is ‘too posh to push’. The obvious question then is: Why did she keep trying so hard to have her own baby?

Kidman spoke to Who magazine about her depression, and repeated pregnancy failures:

“I had tried and failed and failed and failed. Not to be too detailed, but I’ve had an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriages and I’ve had fertility treatments. I’ve done all the stuff you can possibly do to try get pregnant.

Every woman who has been through all those ups and downs knows the depression that comes with it. So the way it just happened with Sunday was like, “What?” The percentages were so low. It is the miracle in my life.”

So if you scratch the surface just a little, any journalist worth their salt can see that there is very likely to be some underlying issues regarding WHY Nicole Kidman choose a surrogate to carry her precious second child into the world. In her own words, Kidman says in an interview with People magazine back in 2007:

“There’s a complicated background to that, given that I never speak much about many things. One day maybe that story will be told.”

Yet many persist in saying she represents this myth of a career woman who isn’t interested in carrying her own baby. We here at Medicareless believe that this example shows that celebrities can have infertility issues too. That just like the rest of the world, being rich or famous does not exempt you from being the 1 person in 6 that will suffer from infertility. In all likelihood, there is a very sound and MEDICAL justification for Nicole and Keith’s decision to use a gestational surrogate to carry their child.

The mythical career woman in Australia

To continue with this analysis – with maternity leave, the expanding right to flexible working arrangements to help modern families with implementations such as working from home or job sharing – what woman would feel the need to use a surrogate to aid her career progression? In fact, Australia topped a list of 128 countries by international consulting and management firm Booz & Company for women’s access to education, equal pay, childcare and anti-discrimination policies. Should the career woman want a baby, she can have it.

And as unfortunate as the facts are – the glass ceiling is alive and well in Australia. So the likelihood that a woman is actually in an extreme position of power that requires her to not take time off to have a baby is extraordinarily low. This shows that if this mythical ‘I can’t afford time to have my own baby’ woman does exist, she is ridiculously rare.

In fact in the Sydney Morning Herald, October 17, 2012, Helen Conway, the director of the federal government’s Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, said:

”In Australia, women hold just 14 per cent of board seats in Australian companies, just five CEOs of our top 200 companies are women and a quarter of our top 200 companies have no women on their boards at all.”

Ms Conway said more than 50 per cent of university graduates in Australia were women, but that had not translated to substantial increases in the percentage of women in corporate leadership positions. ”We are wasting our female talent,” Ms Conway said.

So this collectively imagined mythical woman, at the top of her career and totally focused on her position as CEO or CFO, unfortunately, is an incredible rarity and is not one we should be focusing on when discussing the very real, and very immediate needs of surrogacy patients wanting a family.  This rare case of a woman who is willingly “choosing” surrogacy should not be used as a political vehicle of manipulation to implement rules that deny the majority of genuine patients from medicare benefits.

So if it isn’t career, what are the real issues that require a woman to seek a surrogate to carry a child? We took an informal review from our small community and have made a list of the medical issues that have forced them to seek a surrogate to have a family. Note not one of them lists ‘my thrilling career’ as the reason for surrogacy.

All of these women deserve a chance to do IVF and receive equal treatment under the Medicare law when trying to have a family.

  • Age 35 : Survived cancer twice. Now in remission and wants a family. No children.
  • Age 36 : Severe fibrosis followed by multiple failed IVF cycles. Dr. confirmed that the patient would be unable to fall pregnant when she was 35. No children.
  • Age 31: Emergency hysterectomy aged 26 as a result of eclampsia/organ failure/hemorrhage during childbirth. One child aged 4.
  • Age 34: Severe post-partum hemorrhage and uterine inversion resulting in emergency hysterectomy at 34. Still 34 now with one six month old baby.
  • Age 38: Rare blood clotting disorder that causes deep vein thrombosis when pregnant. 3 failed pregnancies, each resulting in massive clotting with risk of stroke, heart attack, death. Began trying for children at 29. Recently recommended for surrogacy after another failed pregnancy and blood clotting episode. No children.
  • Age 40:  Autoimmune disorder, antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. This caused the death of two of three boys (pregnancies). Now has a mechanical mitral valve after 2 open heart surgeries and is on warfarin which is counter-indicated for pregnancy. One child aged 4.
  • Age 34: Heart-double lung transplant recipient age 24 required due to developing pulmonary hypertension and right heart failure which resulted from a ventricle septal defect at birth. Risks of carrying a child include birth defects, very high risk of miscarriage, kidney failure, very pre-term delivery. No children.
  • Age 30: Cardiomyopathy (heart failure). Patient is healthy on drug therapy but cannot carry a child as she will have a heart attack or stroke and most certainly will die. Additionally the drugs are also not compatible with a developing baby. 21yrs old at age of diagnoses. Have been trying a number of options to have a baby for the past 4 years. No children.
  • Age 38. Heart transplant at age 26 due to a virus. No children but surrogate currently 9 weeks pregnant and all looking good for a birth due 26th November.
  • Age 35: Born without uterus. MRKH syndrome. Diagnosed at 17. No children.
  • Age 29: Hormone positive breast cancer at age of 26, had a mastectomy, did chemo, hercepton and radiotherapy. Cannot risk a pregnancy because of high chance of recurrence and on breast cancer medications that cause deformities when pregnant.
  • Age 35: Marfan Syndrome. Open heart surgery at 32 to replace aortic valve and entire ascending aorta. Life long warfarin therapy which is counter-indicated for pregnancy. Twin boys now aged 3 yrs born through surrogacy at age 35 on 4th and final attempt.
  • Age 27: Numerous clots. Clotting disorders- Antiphospholipid syndrome, prothrombin gene mutation g20210a and lupus. Age 16 when first diagnosed. No children.
  • Age 35: Emergency hysterectomy at 35 during childbirth. Have 10yo and 3yo sons. Did IVF for 6 years to have 2nd son (genetic condition means only 1 out of 8 eggs are viable). “Our daughter is in heaven”.
  • Age 30: Diagnosed with rare autoimmune disease (Takaysu’s Arteritis) at age 24. Waiting for open heart surgery and will be on medication that is counter-indicated for pregnancy. No children.
  • Age 32: MRKH Syndrome born without a uterus. Diagnosed at 17yrs. First gestational surrogacy attempt at 30yrs resulting in 1 child (now 22mths), lost her twin. Second attempt lost baby at 17wks.
  • Age 29: MRKH Syndrome diagnosed at 16 age. No children.
  • Age 42: MRKH Syndrome diagnosed at age 6. Not only not a full kidney but no uterus, no fallopian tubes, no cervix but thankfully has ovaries so did IVF last year & have 6 embryos ‘on ice’.
  • Age 27: Breast cancer, recurrence in lymph nodes when pregnant with son at 26 years old. The cancer was estrogen receptive, so doctors advised to not get pregnant again and that removal of the ovaries was a good idea to lower the estrogen to ensure no more recurrences. Full hysterectomy. One 8 month old child.

If you have been moved by this list, and feel that the Medicare laws that do not allow these women equal access to fertility rebates is unjust, please download and sign our petition before June 5. We welcome your support.

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!

The murky waters of Medicare – Why we should update the law

The Medicare legislation is not clear in relation to rebates for medically necessary IVF. It states that if you are in an agreement to do surrogacy, you are not eligible for surrogacy. (Clause 2.37.7)

However, what if you are NOT in an agreement – say, you haven’t found a surrogate yet? Or you have just had a hysterectomy or you have just survived cancer and now you want to preserve your eggs so you have a chance of having a family?

If you are not in an agreement, and are not subject to an agreement – technically, you should be able to do an IVF cycle and be treated just like any other couple.

Unfortunately, NO.

Medicare recently replied to one of our campaigners and stated that ‘because a birth would require an ‘intended’ surrogacy’ they could not provide a rebate. However, this is clearly an interpretation of the law, and is not what the law expresses in the legislation.

Medicare state that they are committed to health services and ‘are currently looking into changes but they are NOT expected in the short term.’

This is why we are here campaigning. Now the law is being interpreted rather than expressly clarified – and it is open to interpretation at the clinic too.

Clinics are left to interpret the law, and as we have seen in the ICSI debate in an earlier posting, it means that even when surrogacy candidates are allowed to have a Medicare rebate, clinics will err on the side of NOT giving them.

We would like to clear up this mess. We would like to see IVF rebates provided equally to women who have a uterus or those who do not. Equal treatment under the law is a basic tenant of our society and we want to change the Medicare laws to reflect that.

We hope to have your support by either downloading the Petition in the files section and/or writing to your local member of parliarment and Tanya Plibersek.

Jillian’s long two weeks ahead

Wow it’s here already. Today I start my injections for my first IVF cycle.

I’m not really sure how I am feeling – maybe anxious, nervous and even a bit pressured. Not pressured to go through with the cycle –  I would do it ten times if I could!  Pressured because I know I must succeed with this precious cycle. Without Medicare benefits this may well be my only chance.
Many women going through their first cycle are aware of the slim success rate and already start planning a second attempt. For me (and many of you following our blog) a second cycle would be what dreams are made of! Its like winning the lottery!

Unfortunately, we just can’t afford it as is.
In fact, when looking at the statistics, and my chance for success, I almost went straight from thinking about doing my own IVF cycle with my own genetic (but potentially not young enough) eggs, to the “safer financial idea” of a donor IVF cycle, where a younger woman would donate her eggs so we could have a family. I was justifying this idea in my head as “better value for money”.

What was I thinking?

How could I even start thinking that way? My desperation for a child was turning into a financial decision!!! It was only when my mother in law said to me “you don’t want to be left wondering ‘what if…’ ” and she is right. What if? What if my eggs work? I have to find out.
This should be the most exciting two weeks of my life. Many babies are created in a night a passion with those we love the most. But for us the process is far more complicated. For some of us the medication tends to make us somewhat “moody” and for others it’s a breeze. The stress causes arguments in our lives often with our partners who tread on egg shells (pun intended) as they support us over the two weeks it takes to do the stimulation to collect the eggs. Never-the-less, I know our love will withstand these pressures. We made it this far –  there’s no turning back!!!
I have my fingers crossed! Two weeks seems forever, but its going to be positive thinking all the way!!!
To all the amazing people following our blog and supporting our fight –  I thank you. Your support is wonderful.

One for the Country

We may not represent a large % of the population, but we represent the very segment of the population that Medicare should be most likely to assist.

We pay our Medicare Levies. We work, we pay taxes. We long to fulfill the ‘Great Australian Family Dream’ as outlined in 2004 by then treasurer Peter Costello who famously encouraged parents to have three children: “one for the husband, one for the wife and one for the country”. The dream of a family it seems, is one that is entrenched in every aspect of life.

We are everyday women, with everyday dreams. The idea of the nuclear family is the ‘norm’ in Australia. So some of us long to have our nuclear family. We may have one child, but we’d like to provide our child with a sibling. Yet, we have been robbed of fulfilling our dreams by medical circumstances.

Others of us here on this page don’t have any children at all. The yearning for a child is a strong and primal desire – and it’s not one that can be dismissed lightly.The quote ‘Never give up on something you think about every day’ is one that comes to mind.

Whatever our situation, there is one thing we all have in common – surrogacy is the only means by which we can have children. So why should we be forgotten by Medicare?

There will never be a large % of the population that access surrogacy. So the money we are talking about in terms of Medicare rebates would not become a major financial burden on the system any more than the current IVF rebates are. It just doesn’t make sense on any level that women who are at a medical disadvantage are given less support from the Medicare system than their more fertile sisters.

Surrogacy relies on IVF to operate. So not giving Medicare rebates for IVF on surrogacy  – to the group of women that absolutely and unequivocally need it – seems to go against the grain of what Medicare is set up to do. That is – to make healthcare equitable and accessible to all.

This week, I’ve heard too many sad conversations from our group of women, who are sinking their life savings into one single IVF cycle in the hope it works. The sadness knowing that if this rarified IVF cycle doesn’t work and their surrogate doesn’t get pregnant the curtains fall down on the stage of family dreams.

Given the opportunity to make a few attempts this need not be so. IVF is not an exact science, the hands of creation are still meticulous and exacting. It’s quite normal for a fertility specialist to say that the first attempt is quite literally ‘the test’ to see how you perform on the drugs. The subsequent cycle will be tweaked, refined. Like any good experiment.

When each cycle costs 18,000 or thereabouts, it’s a very bitter pill to swallow. Large numbers sound so abstract, but no matter your current wage you know how hard it is to save that money, only to find you can but afford one cycle. The test. The ultimate test of your finances, and also your ability to handle stress.

If we could change Costello’s mantra to 3 IVF cycles, I’d be happy. One for the father, one for the mother, and one for the Country.