Two gay couples who attended their first surrogacy conference in 2016 share their journeys to becoming parents just 18 months later.
Mark Davidson and Damien Buckley began their surrogacy journey in June 2016. Ben Warner and Terry Crouch did the same.
Both couples weren’t sure how to create their longed for families, but were ready to explore their options. Mark says the Families Through Surrogacy conference was “an eye opening experience, not just because of the information at hand but realising how many straight couples required surrogacy”.
Each took a separate path. For Mark, the altruistic Canadian model looked great at first. But once they had registered and begun working on a match, they found the attention to detail and availability of well-screened surrogates left much to be desired.
He and his partner ultimately chose US surrogacy while Ben and Terry located an Australian surrogate in order to organise the entire process domestically.
“We went with an agency rather than independently, because international surrogacy is not easy and you do need extra support,” Mark says. “The first step was finding an agency that we felt comfortable with. It’s a very personal journey and you don’t want to just feel like another number.”
So what advice would Mark give to other couples considering the journey?
“Do your homework – talk to parents that have been through surrogacy,” he says.
“Talk to intended parents. Surrogates have lots of support groups. Intended parents tend to tough it out without sharing. Stick to what is important to you. Take your time in selecting your fertility team. There’s no need to rush.”
Mark and his partner met a range of surrogacy providers at the first conference they attended. So how did they choose who to engage with?
“Go with your gut feeling – don’t be fooled by pretty brochures,” he says.
“Skype with agencies. Take your time to get to know them. Try getting your IVF clinic and surrogate location close. Once your legal and IVF providers, your agency, and your surrogate are put together, things can move fast.”
Eleven weeks after their conference introduction, the couple signed with an LA agency Same Love Surrogacy and San Diego Fertility Center.
“We reviewed profiles of surrogates, selected Jessica*, Skyped with her, and hit it off immediately,” Mark says.
“Our egg donor selection was not as smooth. Zika virus had hit Mexico. San Diego is close to Mexico and many locals cross the border.”
Donors were thin on the ground given a trip to Mexico in the last six months ruled them out.
Fast forward to February 2017 and Mark and Damien’s first embryo transfer. After the longest ten day wait, they received amazing news. Jessica was pregnant.
But it wasn’t until Mother’s Day in May that Mark told his Mum she was going to be a grandmother. Flights were booked, and they planned on being in the US at 38-weeks gestation.
“On week 29 we get a call from our surrogate,” Mark says.
“She had been rushed to hospital due to a premature membrane rupture. We had never heard of it. A work colleague was able to explain – we were told to prepare for a birth within a week.”
Jessica remained in hospital on bed rest. But the weeks progressed without an emergency delivery. For Mark and Damien there were many sleepless nights, feelings of helplessness knowing Jessica couldn’t care for her own family while in hospital.
Doctors planned an induced delivery at 34 weeks.
“Hospital staff told us to be prepared for a tiny baby and six to eight weeks in Neonatal Intensive Care,” Mark says.
But when Isabel Rose Buckley-Davidson arrived six weeks premature, to everyone’s relief she was far bigger and healthier than anyone expected.
“We cut the cord,” Mark smiles. “It’s like what you see in the movies – tears from us, our surrogate, and her birthing buddy.”
Isabel was discharged in just nine days.
Ben Warner and Terry Crouch were determined to locate an Australian surrogate, so the most useful sessions at their first surrogacy conference were those involving surrogates.
“When you see living, breathing surrogates and you hear them talk about families they’ve helped create, it gives you hope,” Ben says.
They started talking to a number of possible surrogates on the Australian Surrogacy Community Facebook group, but experienced a few lets downs and a few ‘red flags’ before they met Kath Wood after about four months.
Kath Wood had been an egg donor five times before, so knew a bit about altruism. Despite living in Brisbane, many hours away from their home in Geelong, Victoria, the distance challenges didn’t deter them.
“We made it work,” Ben says.
“We flew down for pretty much every appointment, we had Kath up for a number of visits, and supplemented that with weekly Skype sessions.”
Without a surrogacy agency to guide them, what advice would Ben give those considering Australia?
“Financial considerations are a must – plan for the unexpected – lots of unplanned expenses come up and you need to budget for this,” he says.
“It’s not a bad idea to set your surrogate up with a debit card as surrogates can be reluctant to ask for things.
“Altruistic surrogacy can work, but because it’s like nothing you would have done before, you need to make sure your team (surrogate, her partner and family, you and your partner) are all on the same page.”
Ben, Terry, and Kath worked with Life Fertility in Brisbane, which specialises in surrogacy-related IVF and were lucky to have success on their first embryo transfer. They are now proud dads to little Ivy, born on January 3 this year.
These guys are just a few of the gay dads who will share their journeys at the not-for-profit Families Through Surrogacy conference on June 2 and 3, 2018. With over 200 attendees, the conference assists with crucial decisions around countries, agencies, IVF decisions, and surrogate-parent relationships. Full details at www.familiesthrusurrogacy.com/australia.