Monday, 17 April 2017

I'm going to Hong Kong and Beijing: are you coming too?

On 11 and 12 May I will be in Hong Kong, speaking at the first Asia-Pacific Rainbow Families Forum. Amongst other duties, I will be speaking at the showing of the Australian film Gayby Baby at the Australian consulate- and later speaking with surrogacy advocate Richard Westoby, who will be hooked in via the web.

I encourage anyone in the region to attend- and by all means say hello in Hong Kong- or let me know in advance if you are thinking of attending.

Hopefully the event will bring a much needed focus in the region that rainbow families exist, aren't going away anytime soon, and ought to be recognised.

The simple fact is that many of us want to be parents- and the internet and modern medicine have enabled that to occur. While governments might want to put the genie back in the bottle- that simply won't happen.

As Sir David Attenborough put it so eloquently: "If you watch animals objectively for any length of time, you're driven to the conclusion that their main aim in life is to pass on their genes to the next generation. Most do so directly, by breeding. In the few examples that don't do so by design, they do it indirectly, by helping a relative with whom they share a great number of their genes. And in as much as the legacy that human beings pass on to the next generation is not only genetic but to a unique degree cultural, we do the same. So animals and ourselves, to continue the line, will endure all kinds of hardship, overcome all kinds of difficulties, and eventually the next generation appears."

Before I get to Hong Kong, I aim to get to Beijing -  and hope, as a good friend and colleague of mine has said to me- to be engaged in Asia!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The termite's guide to surrogacy

TERMITES”!  This is the one word, aside from fire that will send a shiver up the spine of any homeowner.  For a couple of years or so I was a member of a business network, Action Network, along with Ben MacCotter and his father Jackson of MacCotter Pest Control. (I'm still a member, but regrettably they've left.) Each week Ben or Jackson would tell some story of death or devastation that would send a shiver up the spines of all the members present.  Sometimes we would hear about mound ants or cockroaches, rats or bird lice or even creepily of all – bed bugs, but the stories of devastation to ordinary homes caused by termites were the most traumatic and scary.
Whenever Ben wanted to scare everyone present, he would start out with that word: "TERMITES!" Instantly he would have everyone's attention.
One great story was about the home buyer who got a building and pest inspection report from a builder. It might be stating the obvious- but a builder isn't a pest inspector. He reported that the house was in great condition, "solid" and that there was no evidence of termites. Three weeks after purchase, the buyer was bathing her children and noticed termites in the bathroom door frame. On the MacCotter's checking the home and the report, they saw that the builder had taken photos of current termite activity- but not knowing what he was looking at declared that everything was OK.  He hadn't seen what a trained eye saw easily.
What have termites got to do with surrogacy?  Everyone says that buying a home is the most important financial transaction that occurs in your life and therefore the most important decision.  Buying a home is extremely important, but I wouldn’t consider it the most important.  The most important decision in someone’s life is whether or not to have a family.  For many people, the option of last resort (and in some cases, first resort) – that of surrogacy – is the only one open to them.
When buying a home, as with undertaking surrogacy, especially international surrogacy, prevention is better than cure.  You don’t have to have a building and pest inspection undertaken when buying a home.  With luck, you can save the money and buy a house and live in the house for the next 30 years without any drama.
However, not having a good building and pest inspection increases your risk.  It could be that the house you thought you bought was not the house you thought it was, it was merely a house of cardboard.  You still owe the debt to the bank, but you don’t have anything to show for it- except devastation and cost.
You could decide to get someone dodgy to do your building and pest inspection report.  Filled with self-delusion, you might satisfy yourself that you’ve done something – even if that something were entirely inadequate and you still have in fact a house that is made of cardboard, not solid at all.  
Or you could in buying a house go to a reputable pest controller, like MacCotter Pest Control, get a thorough report done, understand what your risks are and decide based on openness and transparency as to whether or not to proceed.
Quite simply, the same is for international surrogacy – the most complex way known to humanity about how to conceive a child.  
Not to get good quality legal advice from an Australian lawyer experienced in international surrogacy – before you go overseas is quite simply dangerous.  You might be committing a criminal offence that you didn’t know existed.  You might go to a dodgy agency.  You might pay far too much.
There is a lot of information out on the internet.  Much of it is inaccurate and may not apply in your circumstances.  
If you wouldn’t take the risk when you buy a home, why would you take a similar risk when spending a large amount of money, putting your heart on the line and having a baby through international surrogacy?

Monday, 10 April 2017

Designer Baby

I was privileged to attend the launch just over a week ago in Sydney of a book- Designer Baby- by Aaron Elias Brunsdon. It tells the intimate story of Aaron and fashion designer Jayson Brunsdon and how they went to Thailand for surrogacy, and then got caught up in the hysteria following the Baby Gammy saga.

Aaron said that he invited me because when they got stuck in Thailand, my blog helped keep them sane - and was the light at the end of the tunnel. My blog inspired them.

The book is a great read. Here is an extract of the book, published by Impact Press, and available outside Australia through Simon and Schuster:

More couples are given hell at Bangkok Airport and forbidden from taking surrogate babies from the country without the damn court order. It is frightening.

One couple flatly refuse a demand to sign a letter at the airport. The letter contains an admission that their baby wasn't the result of any surrogacy arrangement, when in fact it was. Not signing means a return trip to the hotel until they can find a new exit strategy. But they are smart not to have signed the letter, which could have led to a conviction for human trafficking.

Another couple escape to Singapore, where they spend a few days before returning home. They are missed at the busy airport because they part ways at check in. Smart move! It is a close call, though. Cases keep pouring in, receiving night-time coverage on Today-Tonight, with other current affairs shows and TV documentaries also showing struggling couples on the wire. We watch the couples' attempts to leave Thailand, sadness and grief overshadowing the supposedly joyous time as they battle with Thai authorities.

One such Australian couple brings me to tears. The couple and their newborn twins aren't allowed through the airport security checkpoint because the customs officials are waiting for the surrogate to arrive so she can verify the exit permit was bona fide. The surrogate is running late, stuck in Bangkok traffic. The flight gets closer and closer to taking off. Finally the biological mother is allowed past customs' watchful eyes but she witnesses in anguish her husband and their crying twins waiting on the other side for the surrogate. Not knowing what to do while her children cried inconsolably for her settling arms. Her poor husband haggles with the customs officials, showing them all the relevant paperwork. They disregard the screaming babies.

I dread the thought of our exit out of Bangkok. I personally wouldn't know what to do if I was on one side of customs like the poor mother while Jayson and my baby got stuck on the other end, so I try not to think  about it. Let's not jinx it.

There are also shows like SBS's Insight, the Australian equivalent to BBC's Hardtalk. A panel consisting of parents with babies born through surrogacy in Thailand and India, industry experts and advocates debate the topic of surrogacy.

One woman voices rather strong opinions, saying surrogacy goes against women's fundamental rights. "It's reproductive prostitution where basically women are turned into breeders when children are bought and sold."

Another panellist, lawyer and surrogacy campaigner Stephen Page (my favourite blogger), who has helped many parents with surrogacy issues, says that although the law in some Australian states restrains people from engaging in commercial surrogacy, it is clear that hundreds are going down this road and no one is being prosecuted or penalised for their actions. "Why is the law in place then?" He presumes it is to prevent exploitation of women overseas. "But if you're not serious about prosecution, why not get rid of it completely? It's just crazy wanting to turn people who want to be parents into criminals, " he chastises.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Brisbane LGBTIQ intended parents information session

There will be a free information session in Brisbane to help LGBTIQ intended parents, would be donors and surrogates.

When LGBTIQ people want to be parents, they face many potential trips and traps that lie in wait for the unwary and the unprepared. Hear from three experts who can make the journey a much more joyous one!

Dr Andrew Davidson is the medical director of Rainbow Fertility, Australia’s only dedicated LGBTIQ focused IVF clinic. Dr Davidson divides his time between patients in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. He will talk about medical issues to do with IVF, egg and sperm donation and surrogacy, including screening regimes, the use of egg banks, and the differences between known donors and clinic recruited donors.

Narelle Dickinson is a psychologist in private practice in Brisbane. Narelle has been a fertility counsellor for many years, and is a member of the Australia and New Zealand Infertility Counsellors Association. Narelle will talk about the psychological and emotional impacts of undertaking assisted reproductive treatment, including IVF, egg and sperm donation and surrogacy; and how the parents’ decisions during the process to have children can have huge impacts on their children’s lives.

The third speaker will be me! I will talk about the legal minefield that intended parents (and donors and surrogates) have to navigate when they want to be parents- whether through egg and sperm donation or surrogacy; and how to do so with minimal risk and maximum joy! I have helped clients throughout Australia and 25 countries with their fertility law issues.

There is a welcome drink on arrival and nibbles. Come along and ask lots of questions!

Date: Thursday 4 May 2017

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Where: Brunswick Hotel, 569 Brunswick Street, New Farm

Cost: FREE

Tickets: These will be available on Eventbrite. I will update this post when they become available.