I spoke with two gay couples to find out more about their journey to have children.
Jay and Jeremey, and Shona and Janine, opened up about what they've been through, the challenges they've faced, and what life is like for their families now.
When you decided to have kids, what options did you look at?
Shona and Janine - We decided in 2011 that we would like to start a family- we knew that Albury (NSW) was our nearest option due to Donor Sperm Insemination (DI) being illegal in Victoria; (unless you were deemed medically infertile). So we called Albury and asked about the process- we were then put on the wait list. We were informed we would be the last couple they were taking, and were and number 19 in line! A law had just changed so people could not anonymously donate: we think this was a good change, but it also meant there was a decrease in males donating.
Time went by and after multiple months of not hearing anything, we looked afield to other clinics around Australia. This process was overwhelming. Every state was different, yet Victoria was the only state that DI was still illegal. We scrolled through many information packs and processes.
We then contacted Tas IVF (Tasmania IVF Clinic) and asked of their DI process- we immediately felt at ease when the phone conversation was short and sweet and ended in a one page application being posted via snail mail. After waiting 3-5 days for the envelope to arrive in the mail, we returned the application with haste- and for us, we were from then going to be parents.
Jeremy and Jay - When we decided to have kids, it wasn't so much of what avenue would we go down, as we knew that the only option available to us at that point in time was surrogacy using a family member by going under the radar, or commercial surrogacy abroad. The choice to pursue commercial surrogacy was a no-brainer for us, as we did not want to involve family as we know the goal posts can move so often in personal relationships.
How did you make sure you were both involved in the process?
S&J -Shona always wanted children but didn’t want to carry them (why would you if you have the choice!), Janine always wanted to have children and carry them, the decision for us was pretty simple.
We were both sort of prepared for the length of time it may take and gave ourselves five years or up to 10 rounds for our dream to come true. Our back up plan was to move overseas for two years.
The choice of donors wasn’t huge. But we decided to find a donor through the clinic that had similar features to Shona’s: lucky for us we found a guy who had a similar heritage, eye and hair colour. Knowing Janine’s amazing brown eyes would be the dominate colour, we chose a donor with blue eyes the same as Shona. Other than choosing similarities in looks with the donor, we also liked that he had donated sperm to help other families conceive as his wife had been in a car accident and relied on donor eggs for their family dream to come true. He was also willing to meet with us and our children if we chose- this process is supported by the psychologist at the clinic and is available at any time.
Shona also took three months off work when both Makai and Lexon were born, this gave everyone to the opportunity to bond and create a special time with each other as our family grew.
J&J - The week before we booked our trip to India to take a tour of the hospital, the facilities and to meet with lawyers, we had coffee with a local gay couple that had used the exact same process and clinic in India and had four children via commercial surrogacy. To see another gay couple with children, and witness the family dynamic that they had, inspired us to take the next step. It's strange really, although I have had a lot to do with hetro couples that have young children and babies, it's not until you see a couple with such similarities that you can really place yourself in the picture of having family. Before we went to India we had sort of come to the decision of who would be the biological father, there is nothing to take into consideration like medical history, fertility and even who has the strongest paternal instinct. We decided to leave that up to fate, and whoever had the highest highest rates of fertility was going to be the biological father of our children.
Where there any political hurdles you had to overcome?
S&J -Given the DI process was illegal when we started out, this was the first hurdle. Although throughout the process, and after the cooling off period of three months, we went to Tassie to meet Dr Bill (IVF specialist) we sat in his office very nervously. We watched every male coming in and out of his office thinking to ourselves he looks alright- I wonder if he has just done a drop off!!
Anyway we sat in the office and the first thing Dr Bill said was, ‘where are you staying and where have you been out for dinner since being in Hobart?’ We both felt a sigh of relief as he continued to say “this is not rocket science- you seem fit and healthy”… Janine wasn’t too sure! Dr Bill also informed us that the law had just changed in Victoria and we could access Ballarat IVF. We were then in a quandary but, decided to stick with Tassie for three goes...
Forms are constantly a battle...The boys have both our names on their birth certificates, but many other forms and legal documents still say Mother/ Father of Mother/ Guardian.
Applying for passports was another hurdle given the government documents don’t match up, and we had to cross out the word father on the application in order for it to replicate the birth certificate, stating Shona was the parent.
We were encouraged by Dr Bill to register our relationship with birth deaths and marriages- so one balmy day in March 2012, in our lunch break, we submitted the forms that we were officially in a de facto relationship- no beers, no whites dresses, not even a kiss: back to work we went!
J&J-From a political and legal standpoint ,we were well informed throughout the whole process with local lawyers and international lawyers who were employed to represent us and keep us in the loop if any changes were about to happen. I was driving in my car listening to the radio when a news broadcast announced that hundreds of couples were left stranded overseas as the laws have changed regarding commercial surrogacy. It was absolute rubbish. The amount of false press on the topic of commercial surrogacy is astounding, manipulative journalism to sell stories at its finest. From a legal standpoint, we had all our I's dotted and our t's crossed and it was a very smooth process from start to finish (we did choose the best clinic in the world for a reason).
What costs were involved, both financial and emotional?
S&J - At times the process was overwhelming but equally exciting. Based on age alone, Janine’s chances were 33% to conceive and Shona’s was at 6%. We knew it could be a long road ahead, hence the five year path.
Emotionally we had to navigate the best way to include our families and friends. For our families ,the news was not received with complete open arms-this mercilessly changed when our beautiful children came into the world!!
Financially for us it was about 2.5k (up front) a round! There was also travel time and cost, which also had an emotional toll. Navigating taking time off work at the last minute, due to Janine’s cycle, was also a challenge. For us we were very lucky and were successful second time round with each boy.. SO LUCKY!
J&J - The decision to have children both on a financial and emotional level were huge decisions. We had think long and hard about the future of our surrogate and what impact that would make on her life and family. Also, bringing a child into a family with 2 dads and how that journey would be for them. It's never a decision that is made lightly in any family, however the things that we had to consider were huge life changing events that don't just affect us.
The whole process was VERY detailed, some things personal and some things very business like. Our experience was smooth and almost faultless from all angles. We engaged the best clinic in the world at that time, not just for fertility results but for the medical, emotional and financial care of our surrogate and donor. This cost us a premium, which we were very happy to pay.
We didn't get change out of $80,000, and from that our donor got $5000, and our surrogate received around $30k, enough to set her and her family up for life and put their children through private school and university.
Life changing for all of us!
During the pregnancy we were kept in the loop all throughout with emails and phone calls every week! Every week our surrogate mother had doctors appointments and scans so that we could track her progress and so we felt a part of the process. The emails always came through in the middle of the night so when my phone would go off I would wake up and not be able to go back to sleep.
What are the most ridiculous comments you’ve heard about your kids having gay parents?
S&J - We have been asked, “Will one of us be called Dad?”and “who will be the male dominate role model?”.
People asking what male role models will be in the boy’s life and "are you getting them circumcised?"
Recently, whilst travelling around Australia, one knob asked us after a couple of days of camping next to us (and after an afternoon on the beers) said, "I was just wondering where is their dad??” !!
Whilst travelling some grey nomads would often refer to Shona as the boy’s grandmother, in which she would respond with: “I know I am a silver vixen but I am the boys mum, they have two”.
Unfortunately for us, it is our family that have made the most ridiculous, callous and unthoughtful comments, yet they are the ones we have to pretend never happened. They are the most hurtful, and we would not want our children to feel that pain ever.
J&J - So many!! Because it is new territory for so many people, they don't know what is appropriate to ask. Any new parent gets asked awful probing questions by complete strangers, unfortunately that is the norm in our society. We found that people were prepared to ask very personal questions about the nitty gritty's that they would never ask any new expectant parent. My typical response was "that's for us to know".
The public need to be educated on where to draw the line - surrogacy, adoption, IVF and natural conception is a no go zone if you ask me. If you think you shouldn't ask you are probably right!
The most offensive question to me is "so who is the mum and who is the dad in your relationship?" It still surprises me to this day, and my response is always the same, they have 2 dads so neither of us are the mum.
What’s life like for you now?
S&J - AWESOME- Busy, full of love and joy and hectic all at the same time - but life is getting better every day, Makai is 4 ½ and Lexon is 2, they are just beautiful, gorgeous kids.
We love and respect and enjoy each other for who we are and what we bring to our family. Recently Shona asked Janine what our family culture is: Janine said FUN and that it is.
We just spent six months travelling Australia in an old caravan and had the best experience anyone could have. We would never have had this experience if we didn’t have each other, and for that we are grateful.
J&J - Life is great! I don't have anything else to compare it by. Maybe people expect our family life to be vastly different from that to a hetro couple - trust me it's the same old juggling act of career, running a household and constantly cleaning up gigantic amounts of MESS! We still keep the twins up by letting them watch paw patrol on our iphones so we can go out for dinner with them, we still think travel is a great idea until we get on the plane, we still find the twins eating old Mcdonalds chips from their cars seats and rock them to sleep when they are sick. Life for us as parents is just the same as anyone elses. *remove one mother insert extra dad*
And, just because it’s a hot topic, do you find it ridiculous that you are allowed to have children together, but not legally get married? (Of course you do! But let’s just go with it!).
S&J - Well I suppose if we took permission out of the equation we wouldn’t be having this conversation… right?!
We constantly need to reflect, oblige and consider the impact of our decisions with not only our immediate family but the community as a whole: this becomes emotionally exhausting to think we are not as equal in our community or country.
It’s just very hurtful the whole postal survey, imagine if every stranger in your street, community, town, country could have a say as to whether they think you should marry your partner.
This last few weeks there have been days where I have just cried. Cried at the thought of what is happening. I feel for all the older children (who can understand) with gay parents, or young people who are LGBTIQ+ and the impact this may be having on them. I worry if the survey is in favour of NO.....then what...what's the message that sends to all?
J&J - Marriage equality. ARRGGGGHHHH!! You will know my stance before even reading this. I respect everyone's model of the world I truly do. I feel pressure to be more proactive on the topic considering our situation, however I know it is a matter of time before marriage becomes legal for everyone in our community. We have come along way in human rights issues in the last 10 years and I have always felt very blessed to have the support and community that so many of us have in Australia have. We have been together for 13 years now, we have a house, mortgages, cars and businesses together. We are both legally the parents of the twins and regardless of the what the Australian government decides for us, we know what we have and that can't be broken.