No two journeys to parenthood are the same, but particularly so when you’re a same sex couple, navigating the paperwork-heavy oceans of adoption, egg donation and surrogacy. For Melbourne-based Justin and Leigh, they came to the process as most people would, not knowing much about the systems, but with the hope they’d find their way through and come out the other side with a baby of their own. Recognising how little information is commonly known about same-sex couples having a child in Australia, Justin and Leigh setup an Instagram account to document their experience, share the lessons they learn, and hopefully, one day, show it to their children. “They’ll be able to look back and see how they came to be in this crazy world,” says Justin.
Here Justin shares insight into surrogacy in Australia, what their own journey has been like and gives some heartfelt advice for other couples going through similar processes.
Let’s start with your love story, how did you and Leigh meet?
“It was eight-years ago, when we were both attending a performing arts academy in South Melbourne. We were both in a dance class on a Saturday morning, and I was the new kid, having started the course halfway through a semester. We soon became friends, he showed me around the academy and we started hanging out after classes. But it wasn’t love at first sight, and there definitely wasn’t any chemistry because Leigh had no idea I was gay! In the beginning it was friends and nothing more, but after a few short months, we started officially dating and have been together ever since.”
Did you always know you wanted to be parents?
“Leigh has always longed to raise a family. He’s known as the clucky one in his family and to close friends. Unbeknownst to me, he bought a bigger car two years ago for the primary purpose of accommodating our “growing family”. I just thought he wanted something bigger! I, on the other hand, have always wanted a family but it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I was raised to focus on my career first, which I guess was driven by the fact that I’m from a traditional Asian family where our careers are seen as our number one priority. Three years ago, after Leigh and I discussed the prospect of raising a family, we got two dogs instead. Then we could practice the sleepless nights, toilet training and responsibility — we know it’s not the same as having a human baby, but we wanted to check we wouldn’t try and kill each other raising our fur ones. Lucky for them, and us, they are still alive and well! We absolutely adore them.”
So, what were your options for starting a family?
“As a same sex couple in Australia, there are different options to start a family, whether that be adoption, co-parenting or going through surrogacy, either overseas or here in Australia. We seriously researched our options, attended seminars, spoke with other same sex families, and looked at all the pros and cons of each path. We really recommend this for other couples too. Take the time to do your own research, reflect on your own values, be open, honest and vulnerable in the decision making, and trust your own instinct. You know what feels right for you.”
You landed on surrogacy, how did that happen and what has the process been like?
“We came to the decision to go through surrogacy here in Australia because we wanted to raise a family that shares our genetics, was “home grown” so to speak, and to be able to share the experience with our beautiful egg donor and surrogate. For us, starting a family is a huge undertaking that doesn’t just involve us, but those who helped us create our family, and we wanted to be close by so we could support them through the process. We also have friends going through IVF and surrogacy journeys themselves and this led us to looking into surrogacy and how it all works. The process has been a whirlwind of emotions, with highs and lows, but overall it’s been an awesome experience for all of us, and has really strengthened our relationships. In Australia, surrogacy and egg donor arrangements don’t follow a national legislation, instead each state and territory has their own legal and ethical laws to abide by. But in saying that, Australia has an ‘altruistic’ principle nationally, meaning that no surrogate or donor are paid for their selfless act in helping others start a family. For us in Victoria, there have been numerous counselling sessions, clinic appointments and psychological assessments, as well as legal documentation that is required and collated, with all participants involved, and then submitted to the Patient Review Panel (PRP). They then grant us the go ahead with our surrogacy arrangement.
Has the process been altered much by COVID?
“Our experience has been a unique one, especially with our surrogate being based interstate. We were lucky enough to have our embryo creation with our egg donor in June, all prior to stage 4 lockdown here in Melbourne. For the last six months, we have utilised FaceTime and the phone as our primary way of communication with our surrogate and her beautiful family — prior to lockdown we were fortunate enough to be able to fly her down to spend a weekend together. We have managed to do all our appointments online via Zoom, which we are so grateful for. We are fortunate that our clinic have accommodated for the pandemic, as usually all consults would be in person during the application processes.”
What has the response to your Instagram account been like, anything that’s surprised you?
“The biggest surprise has been the vast amount of same sex families that are out there, particularly in Australia. We’ve loved being able to reach out to a wider community of people, regardless of their sexual preference or background, who might be going through IVF, egg donor ship or surrogacy journeys. We’ve received such an overwhelming amount of love and support that we didn’t know was possible in the world of instagram. As well as the amount of friends and support networks we have developed over time. We love seeing everyday people living their best lives and being able to live out family dreams that they may not have known was possible.”
What have you found hardest so far?
Patience! Patience! And more patience! We started our journey three years ago, and overtime, you realise the process isn’t easy, but that’s ok! We’ve found the best way to get through it is to celebrate the small wins, reflect on the losses, continue to support one another and never lose hope. We both feel we’ve become stronger in our relationship, our communication and as individuals, from the process. It’s so raw and personal. It’s thrown challenges at us in ways we did not anticipate or expect, but this has made us grow and overcome them for the better. It’s important to never lose sight of the end goal, and allow yourself to indulge in pick-me-ups, like creating your nursery super early, like us, to give you that faith it will happen one day.”
What other ways have you started preparing?
“We have been a bit excited and got a lot of the basics! The major thing for us was completing our nursery, even far from being pregnant. It has been a huge motivator for us. We have also been reading blogs and books about pregnancy, birth and parenthood to educate ourselves. Especially as we will not experience the pregnancy ourselves, we want to be able to understand and empathise with our surrogate and what she will be going through. We want to give her all the support she will need to make the pregnancy as safe and smooth as possible. This year we’ve also been blessed with two beautiful nieces, and have been talking openly with our siblings about their experiences. We’ve asked lots of questions about new parenthood and how they’ve navigated everything baby related.
What are your next steps with the surrogacy?
“Now we’re at the pointy end, thank goodness! We’ve finalised all our paperwork, created three embryos, and our application forms are under review with the Patient Review Panel. We are anxiously awaiting a hearing date which will give us approval to move ahead with the surrogacy arrangement. Soon after that, we will begin our “transfer” process with our surrogate. Fingers, toes and eyes all crossed that we fall pregnant on the first round!”
What are you most looking forward to about being parents?
“Absolutely everything! We cannot wait to meet our future child/children and to love them unconditionally. We were both fortunate enough to have wonderful childhoods and upbringings, and we can’t wait to give our little ones the best life we can and to see them grow. We are just so thankful and excited to be this far in our journey, to even possibly think about being parents at this stage, and what that would look like.”
How will you celebrate Father's Day this year?
“Given COVID-19 and restrictions in Victoria, we will be celebrating our own dads over FaceTime. We have sent surprise gifts to each of them to show love where we can for this special day of appreciation. With any luck, next year could be our first Father’s Day as fathers ourselves!”