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.

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

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.

The Complicated Surrogacy Process – step by step

Given we have so many supporters not familiar with surrogacy, we thought it might be worth while writing a post about the process. Surrogacy is a complicated process and an expensive one at that. So we thought you should know what we go through in order to have our babies.

Before I start here are some common surrogacy terms explained:

· Intending Parents (IPs): Couples looking for a surrogate or who have a surrogate
· Intending Mother (IM): The mother looking for a surrogate or who has a surrogate
· Intending Father (IF): The father looking for a surrogate or who has a surrogate
· Gestational Surrogate (GS): A surrogate who has no biological link to the baby she carries. Either the IPs sperm and eggs are used to make the embryo, donor eggs and sperm or a combination of both.
· Traditional Surrogate (TS): The surrogate uses her own egg but the Ifs sperm or donor sperm.

For surrogacy to be legal in australia it must be altruistic, meaning the surrogate must not be paid for carrying the baby except for her reasonable expenses.

Given this, the biggest hurdle for a couple requiring a surrogate is to find one! It is illegal for a couple to advertise for a surrogate and it is illegal for a surrogate to advertise their services. This makes it very difficult for IPs to find surrogates. A lot of surrogates are IPs sisters, female friends, even their mothers. But for IPs, like us, who don’t have this option, they have to rely on the kindness of strangers.

So how do you find a surrogate? Well thank god for the modern technology, the internet! There are several websites designed for IPs looking for a surrogate and surrogates looking for IPs to meet up. IPs and surrogates need to be careful what they write though as remember its illegal to advertise or make comments designed to encourage surrogates to come forward.
So many IPs post their stories and wait and hope that privately a surrogate will contact them. And that’s basically it. So as you can imagine this is a very difficult process and can take months, even years.

The law states that a surrogate must be over 25 years of age and have had at least one child – although it does say there may be exceptions – whatever they may be.

The law also says a couple must have a medical reason for requiring a surrogate. So contrary to popular belief, surrogacy is not used because the woman is too busy to be pregnant or too vain.

The law also requires IPs and the surrogate and the surrogate’s partner to attend counselling. The counsellor is required to ensure both couples fully understand the process and the issues that may arise during the process. The counsellor must then write a report saying they are comfortable that both couples understand the process.

Both couples are then required to obtain legal advice. This legal advice must include any issues that may arise out of the process. It also ensures both couples understand that the surrogate and the surrogates partner are legally the baby’s parents. This means that it is completely up to the surrogate to give up the child to the IPs. Basically if the surrogate decides to keep the child there is not a lot the IPs can do except to start a legal case.

But on the other hand, there is also the possibility that the IPs can change their mind and decide not to take the child. So the legal advice covers all this sort of stuff – ensures everyone knows of what could go wrong.

Once the legal advice is obtained an agreement must be drawn up between the couples. The law does not state what must be in this agreement – which is a strange thing. The only thing the law does say is that the agreement is not enforceable. Weird right? What’s the point of it then? Well who knows really? But I guess it is a good opportunity for both couples to put down in writing what they expect from the process.

Probably the main thing that’s in most agreements is what costs the IPs will cover. Whilst it is illegal for the IPs to pay the surrogate, the law states that the IPs must pay all reasonable expenses incurred by the surrogate. So reasonable expenses might include – legal and counselling fees, medical fees, parking, petrol, life insurance, death insurance, health insurance, maternity clothes, drugs, loss of wages, required child care etc etc. Basically anything the surrogate might have to pay for to get pregnant or whilst pregnant or recovering from giving birth the IPs must pay for. But what is deemed reasonable to one surrogate and IPs might be different to others.

Once all this is taken care of the IVF process starts. The IVF process is the same as any other IVF process, they take the IMs eggs (or donor eggs), take the IFs sperm (or donor sperm), put the two together and then hopefully create some embryos. One (or two in some cases) embryo is then transferred to the surrogate who will hopefully get pregnant. As you are aware Medicare does not assist in any of the costs related to the IVF process.

Of course the IVF process could take one go or it could take multiple times.

Once the surrogate is pregnant Medicare and the health funds come to the party. A surrogate is considered as any other pregnant woman. Basically it is not recognised as a surrogacy. Given this the surrogate has full control over the pregnancy and makes all decisions relating to the prenatal care. Generally though the surrogate and IPs work together on the process.
Once the surrogate has the baby, the surrogate will hopefully hand over the baby to the IPs. The IPs then must wait 28 days but no more than 6 months to apply for a parentage order. This basically changes the legal parents from the surrogate and her partner to the IPs. The birth certificate is changed to reflect this change. Both parties must consent to the parentage orders.

Prior to the parentage orders being granted, both couples must attend more counselling. The counsellor must ensure that both parties are ok with the process and the granting of the parentage orders are in the best interest of the child. And yep another report needs to be drawn up.

And that’s the end of the process! As you can see it is a long and stressful process for all involved.

Of course I have only just touched on the mechanics of it. Between all the steps a lot of bonding occurs between the surrogate, her partner and the IPs. I have not attempted to touch on the emotional part of it.

Anyway I hope this explains the process for everyone. Please feel free to ask me questions and for those experienced in the process, if I have missed anything let me know and I will update.

Janelle’s Story

In 2008 my husband and I experienced the heartache of miscarriage. My doctor told me that it was most likely due to fibroids and that I needed to consider surgery. We tried to fall pregnant again over the next 12 months without success. As it was, I didn’t know how I would handle a second miscarriage anyway so in 2009 I had the surgery to remove the fibroids but there were too many. My doctor told me he stopped counting after 100 and then had to stop removing them altogether as it would risk the viability of my uterus. Even after the surgery, there were still so many tiny fibroids that the walls of my uterus looked like rice bubbles. Since 2009 we have undergone more treatment to shrink the fibroids and six IVF cycles. Along the way, we have been able to create some beautiful little embyros but the bottom line is that I just don’t have a good enough uterus to keep them in.

After our last IVF cycle, my husband and I sat down and discussed our options. We considered stopping altogether and not having a family, but neither of us were willing to go that way. And so the other option was surrogacy. We weighed up the financial cost and what it is going to mean for us. At the end of the day we decided that the chance of having a beautiful baby in our arms was worth it and we couldn’t give up before we had tried everything. But the financial impact of surrogacy will affect us for the rest of our lives. It will mean that I will have to go back to work a lot sooner after the birth than I otherwise would want to. It means we won’t be able to afford to buy a home in the next few years. It means our baby won’t have everything we would like to give them, but they will have a loving, dedicated mother and father who want that child in their lives more than anything else in the world.

I am so blessed that surrogacy is an option for us and that we have a wonderful surrogate who I cannot thank enough. But it’s not an easy option. I’ve grieved the loss of not being able to carry a baby myself and we have had to make some serious financial decisions. But by removing the discrimination in the Medicare Legislation, my husband and I will be able to start our long hoped for family, like so many other Australians, without the additional crushing expense. It won’t lessen the emotional impact of not being able to carry your own child but it will mean that the child is born into a family not burdened with added debt, over and above the usual cost of bring a new life into the world.