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Monday, November 10, 2014
‘Real hope but another reality’: Surrogacy and same-sex parenting in Ireland
A LANDMARK CASE in the Supreme Court this weeksaw the status quo remain in place – that the genetic mother of a child born to a surrogate could not appear on its birth certificate.
According to Ireland’s current laws, genetics only counts when it comes to fatherhood, not motherhood.
To be a legal mother, the child must be born out of your body.
It seems like an unbelievable position for the court to take but the Chief Justice underlined that she had no other option. It was not the job of the courts to create a “golden rule” for motherhood. It was up to the lawmakers of the country. She basically told the big wigs in Leinster House to pull the finger out on this one and come up with some legislation on surrogacy.
As a solicitor for one of the sisters involved in the case said outside the court, “Surrogacy is happening… These aren’t the only family involved in this particular kind of case.”
And there are potentially hundreds more who will need legal clarity in the near future.
As a visiting fertility specialist told an audience at a same-sex parenting seminar held in Dublin’s city centre this week, “there is a global revolution happening and Ireland is just entering it”.
Dr Brandon Bankowski of Oregon Reproductive Medicine was one of a number of experts to speak to more than 50 same-sex couples on Wednesday evening in the Westbury Hotel.
He was addressing those couples as ones who had “made the first step… to dream of becoming parents”.
In an earlier interview withTheJournal.ie, he said there are options available to gay and lesbian couples, such as co-parenting and adoption but he believes, “The desire to have a genetic offspring is really powerful for a lot of people.”
“There is a time for everything. We’re excited to be here at the start of it in Ireland – it takes a while to introduce this option. A lot of couples may have given up on the dream, which they don’t have to.”
That was the message too of Conor Pendergrast, the adult son of a lesbian couple who grew up in Ireland.
He told the room of prospective parents:
I am the human face on the product of what could be a very long process. And to say, heh, look it’s great at the end of it. You get a son.
How does it work?
Oregon Reproductive Medicine (ORM) and North West Surrogacy Centre (NWSC) have been providing third-party reproductive services for over two decades.
In their areas in Oregon and California, it is no longer a remarkable trade.
“It’s not even interesting to us anymore, in the sense that it’s so well accepted,” John Chally of NWSC tellsTheJournal.ie. “That is driven by the acceptance of same-sex marriage around the world.
There is that children’s saying: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby….
“At this point in the process, they’ve been in love for a long time. Then they have a culture that is accepting of their marriages. It’s then a very natural development that those couples would be looking to complete their families with children.”
Chally, along with co-founder Sandra Hodgson, began processing same-sex adoptions in 1989.
“What we realised first off, they actually are fairly easy to do. We thought the individual birth mothers would never choose a gay or lesbian family. The experience was extraordinarily different to that. The genius of the programme was asking the birth parents if they would be comfortable placing their child with a gay or lesbian family. To our pleasant surprise, 40% said yes. Interestingly, that percentage hasn’t changed very much since 1989.”
Surrogacy options for same-sex couples were just as easy, according to Chally, as establishing legal parentage in the courts for both parents was a straight-forward process.
Oregon also allows for compensated surrogacy – meaning the woman who carries the child is allowed to be paid for her work.
And it is a job for many of them.
“They take it very seriously,” says Chally, when asked about what motivates a woman to carry a stranger’s child.
It’s always complex. What we know is that the money does play a role. There are other things as well. The surrogates that come to us – almost all, have had good pregnancies. That’s why some women look at it and they think she’s crazy.
“Some women liked their pregnancies, liked how it feels, love the idea of providing for another family. They talk about it in that context. Each one of our surrogates has to have had a child and be raising that child. They look at couples unable to have children, and they feel really good about that.”
There are other rules that NWSC and ORM have put in place for potential surrogates: they must be between 21 and 40 years old; they have their criminal, medical and financial records examined; they cannot have had more than five pregnancies; their homes have to pass a social worker’s inspection.
The money they receive is described by most as “not life changing” with women using the average $30,000 payment for deposits for a house, college funds for their children or, sometimes, a first holiday for their family.
Hogdson says the motivation is often about bringing more children into the world.
“My husband and I were watching a TV show one day where a woman was a surrogate. I thought,I could do that! I could give someone a baby!We talked about being a surrogate for six to seven months before starting the process,” says Brandi, who gave birth to Landan for Adam and Sharon.
The couple had been trying for pregnancy for four years but could not conceive. Today, they have become close friends with their surrogate, although this isn’t the case 100% of the time, according to Chally.
“When you enter into a surrogacy relationship, you don’t know what it’s going to be like. It starts out as a business relationship but you hope that it will be more,” Sharon says. “I’ve never met this person before and all of a sudden you’re signing a contract and she’s going to carry a child for you.
You want to be involved, but she has her own life too, so it’s a little challenging to know how to interact socially. I was surprised by how close we became with Brandi—we have become really good friends.
Dr Bankowsk shows the room a slideshow picture of his ‘embryos clean room’ in Oregon. It is state of the art, built by Intel engineers. It is the reason that he boasts a 90% live birth rate in his clinic, he says.
To those sitting in the audience, it must scream dollar bills.
Indeed, one of first questions asked after the presentations was the cost of the whole process. Including the $30,000 surrogacy fees, intending parents should expect to spend about $100,000 (€80,000).
It will be a barrier for a lot of couples, admits Chally.
“But often, it becomes a family affair. Parents of gay children sometimes feel a sense of loss because they think they will not have grandchildren. This process is transforming for them and they are often very involved – from a financial point of view, but also coming to the initial meetings and appointments.”
The barriers to parenting were the subject of the majority of the audience’s questions following the presentations. The length of time its takes? The cost? Is a civil partnership or marriage is required? What if one of the parents has HIV? Who appears on the birth cert? What nationality is the child?
What didn’t come up was whether there were any parenting difficulties once the child came along. It seems the American experts were correct in their assumptions that people are comfortable with couples in love becoming parents.
Conor was not asked about whether he was bullied. Or whether his life was harder because he had two mothers instead of two fathers.
One former teacher said that he has seen from Ireland’s schools that co-parenting just “isn’t an issue”.
The barriers to parenthood for Ireland’s gay and lesbian couples are exactly where the Chief Justice said they were. In Leinster House.
One of the men in the audience, Ben Murray, said he was at the very earliest stages of contemplating the idea of becoming a father.
He came, he said, more out of intrigue and to see whether it would all “be too much” – being the test cases before there is legal certainty.
His conclusion at the end of the night? He said it was easy to be excited and in awe at the wonderful stories told by new parents and giving surrogates but he was hit hardest by the “hard reality” of the dubious legal situation.
“There is real hope,” he say, “But another reality.”
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said this week that he will be bring a memorandum for a Assisted Reproduction Bill to his colleagues before the end of the year so that surrogacy, gamete donation and other third-party reproduction issues can be legislated for.
Twenty years on, maybe the global revolution has landed in Ireland.