This weekend just gone was the fourth annual Families Through Surrogacy Conference. It’s a two day event where surrogates and intended parents come from all over the Australia to learn and gather and realise that we’re not alone. I have attended the event since the beginning back in 2012 and it’s so great to see the event has more than doubled since it first began. Further it’s so great to see the focus of the conference has shifted from a predominately overseas approach to a good mix of overseas and local surrogacy. My favourite part was catching up with Marian and David and all the amazing people whom I have met online over the years. I absolutely love this community.
The night before the conference we got to have dinner with another amazing surro team who are at the starting gates with the gun poised in the air to signal the start of their journey. Renee is my ‘surro sister from another mister’ and has been an amazing support to me over the last few years and I’ve watched her go from strength to strength as she travelled through her own first journey and then onto this one with the amazing Kelly. Kelly is my ‘could be baby mama’. I say that because in a horrible world if Marian and Renee didn’t exist, I would totally through my womb at Kelly! We had a fabulous dinner with much alcohol consumed (by everyone except Marian and myself) and we even managed to gobble down some monster doughnuts afterwards. Kelly and Renee surprised us with the most hilarious t-shirts made in a dubious asian size (see piccies below). Needless to say I can’t wait until they’re duffed and we can repay all their support. Renee even has a blog you can read here.
On the first day after the welcome address an American agency explained how surrogacy works over there. Basically the American markets is tried and tested and has been around for over 30 years. American surrogates become surrogates because they love being pregnant (I hate pregnancy), they want to share the joy of being a parent with other people (totally not my motivating factor), they are completely healthy and undergo extensive psychometric testing (I have multiple health issues and am a self confessed loon). This agency gets around 400 potential surrogates approach them every month and out of those potential, only around 40 will be accepted as surrogates. I have no doubt I would be one of the 360 that would be shown the door.
The next session was my favourite session for the weekend, it was a panel called Children and Surrogacy and has three children born through surrogacy on the panel – aged between 17 and 24 and my own daughter Brittany who represented the child of a surrogate mother. This panel was hosted by the wonderful Alice Kirkman who was the first person ever to be born through surrogacy in Australia. I have a lot of love for Alice who takes everything in her stride and puts her own unique spin on life. She is also a freelance journalist, so take the time to google her work. My favourite part of this session was when Alice asked the panel if any of them would be a surrogate or donate gametes, to which Britt replied “yeah – I mean you get to see the smiles on the faces of the people you help and you’re doing something amazing for other people (proud mummy moment! *sniff*)…..and my Mum, she’s had lots of kids; she’s not a slut of anything, but she’s had A LOT of kids”. Que laughing so hard I cried. To Britt’s defense I did tell her to be honest. Needless to say I am super proud of Britt for speaking about her thoughts on surrogacy in such a public forum.
I missed a few of the next sessions however I did manage to sit in on the session on legal issues and eligibility when engaging in surrogacy. It was a session that explored the various legal issues regarding to not only each state of Australia, but international differences as well. It was interesting to note that the Ukranian lawyer was obviously against altruistic surrogacy and couldn’t understand why anyone would even attempt it. Australian state laws can differ greatly so if anyone reading this is just starting to look into surrogacy, definitely do your homework on your own state legsilation! For intended parents looking to go overseas, to me Canada seems to be the most appealing legally.
After lunch the large room was made into two separate rooms and two sessions were run simultaneously for the rest of the day. Marian and Kelly as well as a fab surrogate Britt got to sit on a panel titled ‘matching with surrogates’ and made some very valid points for intended parents looking to match with a surrogate *waves pom poms*. After that a session on the trouble with twin pregnancies was run by Dr Warren DeAmbrosis. He basically pointed out the complexity of a surrogate carrying a twin pregnancy. Renee has carried twins for herself and made some very valid comments at the end of his presentation about how difficult her own twin pregnancy was when she was hospitalised for 6 weeks from 28 weeks gestation. As usual eloquent Renee pointed out that this sacrifice is a given when carrying your own children, but there is absolutely no need to put a surrogate through that process when it can be avoided. At this point I wanted to share my own experience of carrying a twin surrogate pregnancy but I found myself far too emotional to talk about it. When we decided to transfer two embryos for Michael and Jared it was after a lot of disappointment in failed cycles and poor embryo quality. Looking back now I remember how naive I was and thought a twin pregnancy might actually be cool. Of course I was proven wrong when at 18 weeks I could barely walk up my stairs without passing out and then went on to hemorrhage so badly at 27 weeks that the twins had to be born ASAP. The amount of stress the pregnancy put on my relationship with my children and husband Simon was far more than if I had been pregnant with one baby, and in hindsight I would never put myself in that situation again. Brittany also touched on this topic during her panel discussion when the topic of compensation came up. It was suspected that I had a placental abruption and my life, as well as the twins were in grave danger and Brittany felt that compensation could have helped balance the benefits versus risks variance. Personally even if I was compensated in future I would never sign up for a double embryo transfer again. If I wasn’t living in a major city where tertiary care was available, my children may no longer have a mother and Simon may have lost his wife that day. Luckily it all ended well and the twins will be turning 5 just before Bear is born.
Keeping it in the family Simon was then on a panel titled ‘Men in the Middle’. He was joined by David and a good friend of ours who has gone through years and years of IVF with his wife to have his daughter through American surrogacy. I think it’s really important to hear from the husbands as they are often silent sufferers when it comes to infertility and surrogacy. Husbands of surrogates are particularly forgotten about in this situation as so much focus is on the surrogate and intended parents. Simon doesn’t complain but I know me being pregnant isn’t easy on him or our realtionship and as he and David both pointed out, sometimes Marian and I get caught up in our own relationship that we are a little guilty of ignoring them. It’s something that I have been working on for the last few months – to try and include Simon more and not to ignore him for the love affair that I’m having with Marian through my phone. Simon was asked if he had any advice for the husband of surrogates that are just starting the process. He didn’t verbalise this but he did tell me he was going to say ‘you do lose your drinking buddy for a while. Instead of carrying her up the stairs cause she’s black our drunk, you’re carrying her up the stairs because she physically can’t walk up them anymore’. I think if he did say that I would have had to add to my already modified name tag ‘not a slut but had lots of kids…but is an alcoholic’. This was the last session I watched for the day because I was beat! What an exhausting day. A lot of the attendees all went out to dinner but I was far too tired, so went home to get some decent sleep.
Day two seemed to fly by! A session I quiet enjoyed in the morning was ‘Assessing Embryo Quality’ as embryology fascinates me. Who knew that we all started out as two cells being mooshed together?!? This session was followed by surrogate screening processes which covered American, Canadian, Greek and Australian screening processes. The most surprising thing I got from this session was that in Amercia, IP’s aren’t required to undergo any counselling at all. This concerned me as often IP’s have to process the fact they can’t physically carry their own baby and grieve their own infertility before trusting someone else to carry their child. Whereas surrogates in the US undergo extensive psychometric testing to rule out them being psychopaths. The Greek representative seemed very vague about their screening processes and I got the idea that his responses were what he thought the audience wanted to hear. This session was followed by a panel of IP’s and their surrogacy journey’s. This went for over an hour and was absolutely fascinating to hear so many people’s different experiences in creating their families. I loved this panel and could have happily listened to them all talk for the rest of the day. Alas there were other sessions including one by counsellor Michael Condon discussing disputes in surrogacy arrangements – basically if a child is a commodity to you, get a dog. There was more to his presentation than that but that was my favourite line. After lunch I hosted a panel on what to consider when thinking of carrying with three beautiful surrogates on my panel. A massive thank you to Shannon, Amelia and Rhee for navigating my questions. Shameless plug – Shannon has a book about her experience coming out on July first 🙂 . I was then a panelist on the next session called ‘after birth emotions’ which consisted of Renee, myself and Rhee discussing those first few weeks post birth and how we all coped. In short – we didn’t go crazy…for long 😛 .
The last session was a bit of a surprise. It was a session just for surrogates run by a Canadian agency called ‘Sacred Surrogacy’ and was an intimate session where we were all encouraged to share our feelings about where we’re at and share our positive experiences as well as our fears. This is something that I’ve never really been into. While I am a believer in positive affirmations and promoting positive energy into the world, that extends only so far. I’m not one to sit in a circle and sing Kumbaya. Safe to say there was no signing but there was plenty of crying! I won’t share too much but I will share some of my own fears that have been quietly creeping up on me in recent weeks.
Three weeks ago I had an appointment with a physician who is monitoring my blood pressure throughout the pregnancy. He pointed out all the risks etc and mentioned that because this is a donor embryo I am at increased risk of pre-eclampsia. This of course was something I was already aware of because I’ve now had 6 children to four different fathers and every time you introduce new genetics i.e – sperm; you are at an increased risk of pre-eclampsia, and during the appointment I just nodded my head and said – yep I know the risks. Of course then I went home and it played on my mind and I realised that this is the first time the baby I’m carrying is not from my own egg and what if that is enough to tip me over into full blown pre-eclampsia? That night I dreamt that I was waking from a general anesthetic after an emergency caesarean section and the doctor told me the baby had died “I’m sorry but it was too late”. The dream was so real I was on the verge of tears all day. To top it off the doctor I saw during my appointment suggested I come off my medication because my BP has been good sitting at 120/70 and in the second trimester BP naturally drops and I was on such a low dose anyway it was negligible. I was dubious because I’ve stopped my BP meds in the past when it has stablised and I experienced rebound hypertension as a result. I was worried that would happen again. I put my trust in him though and stopped taking my medication. Three days later I did my BP and it was 168/98. Needless to say I went straight back on my meds and started monitoring my BP closely as I had a suspected placental abruption with the twins and I know pre-eclampsia and high BP can cause it to happen. My BP after that wouldn’t stablise and I continued to have high readings so after a week I doubled my medication and it finally came back down (no self medicating at home peeps…I consulted a Dr at work before doing so). Of course now the fear of pre-eclampsia is ever present in my mind, even though I’ve had high BP since I was 22 years old and it’s never affected any of my pregnancies.
Another thing that has been worrying me is the placenta is anterior and lying on the front of my uterus which means I feel next to no baby movements. This has been extremely hard for a midwife who promotes that an active baby is a happy baby! I’m just starting to feel a few movements at night when I get into bed and I only feel them on the upper right side of my belly. Damn it Bear – why did you have to implant there?!? So you can imagine this has added to my anxiety a little. I’m hoping that as the uterus grows the placenta will shift a little more to the left so I can feel more movements. For now I satisfy myself with the use of a home doppler to make sure there’s still a heart beat in there and the monthly scans we’re having for the rest of the pregnancy. So here are the fears that have been the root of my recent bout of anxiety – that I won’t carry a healthy baby to term and that I am faced with my own mortality and the risk that this pregnancy places on it and my family. The last thing I want is for my children to lose their mother and although I know the risk is minuscule, it really has been playing on my mind lately. Just last month I helped a couple welcome their second child into this world, however that child never took it’s first breath. It had died for no apparent reason at 22 weeks in a pregnancy that had been completely uncomplicated until then. When I look at my own obstetric history I wonder when will the penny drop and the powers that be say – you’ve had it too easy, it’s time for some hardship. Realistically I know this isn’t how the world works, but my increasing anxiety is trying to convince me it’s true. I’ve never experienced pregnancy related anxiety before so this has definitely thrown me for a six. Luckily I am supported by some amazing people who I share my fears with and will be gentle and loving with their responses. At the moment I feel like it’s just something I need to verbalise and get out there to help my own brain process what’s going on in there, when I feel like my brain needs troubleshooting I know who to turn to and they will be there for me no questions asked. I feel I need to thank these people for being a huge support for me and I know there is no way I can ever put into words how much they mean to me. To Marian and David who have been on the same page as me from the beginning and do all in their power to show their support. To Renee for being my surro sister from another mister and just getting how I feel and always seeming to know when I need the virtual hug. To Emma my middie friend listening to me complain about how fat I’m getting and knowing exactly what to say to cheer my up. To Britt my gorgeous daughter who is way too worldly for a 17 year old and is always willing to listen to me or just cheer us on and of course Simon who is my silent warrior standing beside me through everything. Just looking at him calms all the thoughts overcrowding my brain and makes me feel at peace. I could never have survived the last 14 years without him. And mention must be made to Lily who has sat with me through writing this blog but not always in a helpful way….pic attached