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Family-building Learnings from 2019

As 2019 comes to a close, it is worth looking back over the year at some of the trends as well as learnings in regard to surrogacy and or egg donation globally.

Over the year, we ran 10 seminars in Australia, 8 in Europe, 1 in New Zealand, our National Australian conference and for the first time an Asia event in Hong Kong, which despite being postponed due to the political unrest was, according to sponsors and attendees alike, a resounding success. Our first Asia event, as well as our first in Berlin, Germany only served to strengthen our international reach and connections with professionals and intended parents globally.

In late June, we represented intended parents globally at the International Surrogacy Forum, hosted by the University of Cambridge, the International Academy of Family Lawyers and the American Bar Association. In the same month I was included in two workshops organised by the UN Special Rapporteur with the object of refining draft recommendations in respect to commercial surrogacy arrangements. 

We rebranded as Growing Families on 1 July 2019, to better reflect the work we do in education through-out all aspects of the family-building landscape.

In late August 2019 complaints were aired in the Australian media by two Australian parents about their Ukraine agency’s lack of support for them and their newborns post birth. While one of those couples was able to return home in record time, the other endured months with their children in NICU, with less than ideal communication from hospital staff.

Their awful experience led me to reflect on our own terrifying NICU journey through July and August 2010 in India. Our surrogate also gave birth to very premature twins. Zac was still-born. Ben struggled for seven weeks before passing. Unfortunately pregnancy and birth complications can and do occur in every country providing surrogacy globally. Though the financial costs vary substantially, the emotional costs for vulnerable parents can be prolonged.

While our surrogate, my partner & I eventually picked ourselves up and had later success, I realised there was no support for those engaging in this route to parenthood. So I channelled my grief at losing our boys into founding Surrogacy Australia and later Growing Families. Both organisations continue to educate about the risks of multiple embryo transfer and the long-term effects this can have on surrogate, parents and babies.

In November this year, in St Petersburg I met Russian surrogates and professionals to understand the latest developments in their programs.

While intended parent education is vital, surrogate & egg donor screening and support are two of the most important elements in successful ‘third party reproduction’. Like it or not, there are differences in how well this can be done, dependent on supply. Those few jurisdictions (some US States, Ukraine, Georgia, Russia) which provide a legal framework for compensated surrogacy and egg donation to foreigners are successfully meeting a growing need. They are able to compensate surrogates for the enormous work involved in carrying a child. It means they can better screen out women who do not meet strict medical and psychological criteria.

Canada recently failed to reform its laws to allow commercial surrogacy, and given Canada allows foreigners means that demand for surrogates and donors continues to far outstrip supply. While Australia and the UK allow their own citizens only to engage, the problems are similar.

In response, organisations in countries with ‘make-do’ laws allowing altruistic surrogacy (Greece, Colombia) or no laws at all (Kenya, Philippines, Cyprus, Mexico, Laos, Czech Republic) have emerged to capture this pent-up demand from foreigners for surrogacy.

Our 2020 education program will focus on regulated family building options in the US, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Australia and eastern Europe. 2020 will also focus on why gay men are now engaging in Russia, hear directly from Ukranian surrogates and spotlight less regulated destinations, to understand the outcomes for parents and surrogates alike. https://www.growingfamilies.org/2020-conference-and-event-schedule/