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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Surrogacy for gay couples in Victoria, Australia

With two failed foreign surrogacy attempts behind them, a gay couple from Victoria have found the answer closer to home, writes Julia Medew.

For the past four years, Andrew Brough and Simon Curtis' quest to have a baby has been a costly global mission.

In 2012, the gay couple found an egg donor through an agency in South Africa who ticked all the right boxes. The anonymous woman had a healthy medical history, blue eyes like the two of them and came across as smart and fun in her written correspondence.

In one of the first altruistic surrogacy arrangements brokered by two gay men in Victoria, Andrew and Simon this week won approval for Andrew's sister-in-law, Lani Rowell, to carry a baby for them this year.

Like many gay men before them, the pair then found an Indian surrogate who could carry an embryo created for them using Andrew's sperm and their donor's eggs. They met the surrogate – a woman with a young son who wanted money to put him through school and build a new home – and felt comfortable with the process.

But it did not go well. After spending $65,000, their surrogate miscarried at 21 weeks. They tried again, but just as their third attempt was failing, the Indian Government decided to restrict surrogacy to heterosexual couples.

Heartbroken, the pair looked at other international options. But in the end, the answer was waiting at home.

In one of the first altruistic surrogacy arrangements brokered by two gay men in Victoria, Andrew and Simon this week won approval for Andrew's sister-in-law, Lani Rowell, to carry a baby for them this year.

Under the deal, an egg donor will provide eggs to be fertilised with Andrew's sperm and Lani will have the embryo implanted into her womb.

While more than  50 women have agreed to be surrogates in Victoria since a 2010 law change opened it up to more people, only five gay male couples have struck such a deal.

After Andrew, Simon, Lani and her husband Jason (Andrew's brother) celebrated the final sign off from Victoria's Patient Review Panel this week, they said the process had been difficult at times.

For the last two years, the four of them have had to complete police and child protection order checks and have psychological and legal counselling to work through all the possible scenarios, such as what would happen if Andrew and Simon broke up during the pregnancy or Lani and Jason did not want to hand the baby over.

With the paperwork now complete, they are all excited about starting the IVF process in coming months.

"I feel so blessed. It has brought us all much closer together," said Andrew.

Lani, a mother of two, said she and Jason decided to offer her womb to the couple because they had completed their own family and wanted Andrew and Simon to experience the same joy of parenthood. Lani said she also wanted them to be able to watch the pregnancy grow and be at the birth – something that may not have occurred with an overseas surrogate.

But there has been see-sawing emotions and trepidation throughout the process, too.

"It's funny, one moment I feel really excited about getting pregnant again and then I remember how much it can hurt!" she says, laughing.

Lani also felt it was important to ensure Jason was ready for the emotional highs and lows that have accompanied her previous pregnancies.

"The hormones send you crazy loopy and that will be Jason's brunt, so he has had to be on board more than anyone else… He is very supportive of it, though," she said. 

Together, the four of them have discussed many practical possibilities. For example, while Lani is hoping to give birth in the same public hospital she delivered her two children in, she wants to ensure there are options for her to be separated from the baby so she does not bond with it. She will also not breastfeed the baby, but if she can express some milk, she will provide it. 

"It's hard to know how I will feel," she said. "I know it will be a hugely emotional experience."

But Lani said there was no chance she would try to keep the baby.

"If I really want another baby, I will have my own," she said.

Simon said while Andrew planned to hold Lani's hand during the birth, he is already hoping to catch the baby.

"I think it would be amazing to the be the first person to actually see that new person entering the world," he said.

Sam Everingham, founder of Surrogacy Australia, said the trend towards gay men striking altruistic surrogacy arrangements in Australia was encouraging because both India and Thailand had shut down the option in recent years.

While other countries such as Nepal and Mexico are opening up new commercial surrogacy opportunities, he said it currently cost about $170,000 to employ a surrogate in the US. In Australia, it is illegal to pay anyone for their sperm, eggs or surrogacy, but reasonable expenses can be covered.

"This story is great. We want to see more of it in Australia," he said. "The stumbling block is usually finding a surrogate."

Surrogacy Australia's next annual conference will be held in Sydney on May 16-17. 

Are you eligible to apply for a surrogate?

Anyone can apply but a doctor must believe you are unlikely to become pregnant, be able to carry a pregnancy or give birth.

Are you eligible to be a surrogate?

Must be 25 or older.

Must have previously given birth to a live child.

Your egg must not be used in the conception of the child.

Will you both ...

Have counselling and legal advice?

Ensure you are prepared for consequences if arrangement does not proceed as intended?

Undergo a criminal record check?

Agree to a child protection order check?

If yes, the Patient Review Panel will consider your request.

NB: In exceptional circumstances, the panel may approve a surrogacy arrangement even when not satisfied of all the matters above. 


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