Every day we're inspired to hear about the surrogacy journeys that Australian families embark and were keen to learn more about the process. So we spoke to expert Sarah Jefford, a surrogacy lawyer and author who advocates for positive, empowered, best practice altruistic surrogacy in Australia, and provides support and education to help intended parents make informed decisions when pursuing overseas surrogacy. Sarah promotes the best interests of the child and the bodily autonomy of the surrogate, and supports intended parents and surrogates to build a relationship that lasts. She is the only lawyer practising exclusively in surrogacy and donor conception (family creation law) in Australia. So we had to ask...
What is the history of surrogacy in Australia?
While surrogacy itself is not a new concept, altruistic surrogacy has only been legal in Australia in the past 10-20 years. Before that, there were some laws that made all forms of surrogacy illegal, and in some States there were no laws at all. Around 2008-2010 most of the States implemented surrogacy laws that allowed altruistic surrogacy arrangements
Where do laws currently stand?
Each State and the ACT have their own surrogacy legislation, which provides a framework for altruistic surrogacy and for the transfer of parentage from the birth parents to the intended parents after the birth. The laws are similar in each State, and generally the process is similar. Intended parents must qualify for surrogacy – that is they need a medical or a social need to have a surrogate carry a baby for them. In most cases, the surrogate must be over 25 years old, and often must have had her own child before.
The intended parents and the surrogate and her partner must complete pre-surrogacy counselling and everyone must obtain legal advice. In most cases, they must all sign a Surrogacy Agreement before conception. The arrangement can be traditional surrogacy, which is where the surrogate conceives with her own egg, or gestational surrogacy, where the intended mother or an egg donor provides the egg for conception.
Why might someone need a surrogate?
There must be a medical reason, or a social reason, for needing a surrogate. Most States now allow same sex male couples and single men to enter a surrogacy arrangement – the exception is Western Australia which needs to do some law reform to allow that to happen. Medical reasons might include an intended mother who has had a hysterectomy due to cancer treatment, or perhaps she was born without a uterus. Some women have suffered infertility that cannot be treated, or perhaps she has suffered with pregnancy losses that cannot be helped. In those cases, a doctor needs to sign-off to say that she is eligible to pursue surrogacy.
Why might someone need a surrogacy lawyer?
Surrogacy is a legal process, although it is also an emotional one and a physically demanding one! Everyone must get legal advice before entering a surrogacy arrangement, as the law requires lawyers to provide legal advice. Without lawyers, it does not qualify as surrogacy and the intended parents will not be able to apply for a Parentage Order after the birth.
What advice would you give to those looking to undertake surrogacy?
If you are an intended parent, my advice is to do lots of research, join the surrogacy community and your local surrogacy group, and meet lots of people. Build a support network of other intended parents and surrogates. If you are not sure if you qualify for surrogacy, then speak to your doctor about it. Listen to the Australian Surrogacy Podcast to hear other stories from surrogates and intended parents to find out how it all works.
Why is the process so laborious?
Surrogacy is amazing, but it is also really complex. A woman is choosing to have a baby and give it to someone else, rather than raising it herself. Her rights need to be protected, and so too the child that is born. The process isn’t difficult, but it is meant to make sure the intended parents, surrogate and her partner have really considered the consequences of what they are doing. They need to make sure they are equipped to face the challenges of having a baby together. Ultimately we want the relationship to outlast the legal process, and we want the child to know that the adults involved really appreciated what they were doing to bring a baby into the world together.
Talk to us about the Fourth Trimester for surrogacy?
Much like the fourth trimester after any birth, it is hormone-fuelled and amazing, with occasional tears and big feelings. For a surrogate, it can be both exhilarating and exciting to see the intended parents with their baby, but it can also be confusing and overwhelming as your body and hormones catch up to the fact that the baby isn’t coming home with you. Most surrogates say that it is amazing, and there’s never any regret about handing over the baby, but our hormones don’t always get the memo! The fourth trimester is the time when we adjust to no longer being a surrogate, and bask in the joy of the amazing thing we’ve achieved. And we get to see the intended parents find their feet as parents of a newborn.
Tell us about the surrogacy community.
The Australian Surrogacy Community is one of the best, most supportive and lovely places on the internet. There are state-based groups as well, which organise local catch-ups and dinners, but a lot of the action is in the Facebook group. While it is primarily the place to go for information and to hopefully find a surrogate or intended parents, it is also the place where community is built and friendships are formed. Surrogacy is so complex and our experiences are unique, so having a community around you who understands surrogacy is really important.
Can you point our community to any initial resources?
The Australian Surrogacy Podcast shares stories from surrogates, intended parents and professionals, about surrogacy here in Australia and overseas. The Podcast is a powerful resource for anyone who is looking for more information and to hear real-life experiences of surrogacy.
There is also a free Surrogacy Handbook which can be downloaded from www.sarahjefford.com and explains the process and options.
I’ve also published a book, More Than Just a Baby: A Guide to Surrogacy for Intended Parents and Surrogates which can be purchased from the website too. I recommend joining the Australian Surrogacy Community on Facebook, which is the best place to get to know other surrogates and intended parents.
Anything else you'd like to share on your experience as a surrogate.
I carried a baby for two dads and gave birth almost three years ago. Surrogacy was, and still is, one of the very best things I have ever done – to grow her and welcome her into the world and watch her dads meet her and make their dreams come true. Handing her over to her dads felt incredible and I am constantly rewarded when I see them with her and how much joy she brings to their lives. If anyone is considering becoming a surrogate, and has questions burning about what the experience is like, I am always happy to talk about my experiences and provide support and answers along the way.