Mother and son talk surrogacy
Karen and her son Matt speak about surrogacy at VARTA's Time to Tell Seminar. Surrogacy was not permitted years ago in Australia so Karen and her husband needed to travel to the US. Through a surrogacy agency they found a surrogate who remains a friend. Matt has grown up knowing her and the reasons why she carried him for his parents. He says, 'I'm glad it was never a sercret... everyone has a right to know who they are and where they come from.
KAREN (MOTHER): Ok I will start speaking first and then Matt is going to have a chat. Our journey started over 20 years ago and after seeing three specialist and being told to go home and find a hobby because we couldn’t have any children, we thought about surrogacy. We contacted one of the clinics here in Australia who we knew had been dabbling in it and they really were not that interested in talking to us even at that stage because we didn’t actually have our own surrogate mother. We saw a small add in the paper and we went along to a seminar in Sydney and that is where our surrogacy journey began. We worked with an overseas agency in the States and the interesting thing on the day we went to the seminar in Sydney there were actually 50 couples sitting in that room and that was 17 years ago; so surrogacy is certainly not a new topic. I know there has been a lot of discussion in the media about it lately but we have met a lot of Australian couples who have actually pursued their quest overseas. The agency we worked with in the States is one of the largest and have been in existence for 32 years, we were initially quite fearful about working with an organisation so far away but we did our own research through a few different areas and we found that they were an extremely reputable company and had over 1,000 babies already had already been born through the programme. We retained them about six months after we actually went to the seminar and then the process actually began in earnest. We were given a selection of surrogate mother profiles to have a look at. Their surrogate mothers; out of every 100 people, 100 women that apply in their programme they only actually take two. They have to go through very, very rigid selection processes. So by the time we actually got the profiles we were extremely comfortable with what we were looking at. We didn’t actually take the first surrogate that we had been offered and spoken to. You need to have a really, really good connection and it wasn’t until we actually spoke to our third one and it was almost like we had known here for many, many years. She displayed wonderful characteristics that fitted in to the values that we were looking for; someone who was empathetic, who was caring, for whom money was not the primary motivation because as everyone realises, in the States it is commercial surrogacy. We went to the States about four months later and we actually met with Jeanie and her husband. Jeanie lives in Denver, Colorado and she actually has a teenage daughter who now is 19 and in her first year of university. We spent two weeks there. We worked very closely with the counsellor who led us through the process of ensuring that it was a compatible match. And the surrogate mother in their programme actually has the final say which we were also very impressed with. It wasn’t like that we were just told this is who you are going to work with; so we felt really comfortable in that respect. Jeanie didn’t get pregnant on her first cycle and she was extremely disappointed. She couldn’t understand why we weren’t as disappointed. But I guess anyone who has gone through many, many years of disappointments; it was just another step in the process. But she did get pregnant on her second cycle and throughout the journey of her pregnancy she had fairly text book pregnancy. She was healthy. She kept working. We talked to her on a regular basis. And remember this is before emails and Skype and everything was in existence; so there was a lot of letter writing, a lot of faxes, a lot of telephone calls. We had planned to spend the last, well I had planned to spend the last month with Jeannie in the States. But we actually got a phone call late one night to say that Jeannie had actually gone into labour and we were still sitting in Southern NSW. So by the time we actually arrived in Denver, Mathew was 24 hours old. What they hadn’t told us was that Matthew was actually quite sick, and nothing prepares you for; to walk in after sitting on an 18 hour flight to walk to a baby that’s hooked up to 50 different monitors and things. But anyway, the next three weeks Matt stayed in hospital, we actually stayed with Jeannie for two weeks. She wouldn’t have it any other way. And that is not what normally happens, but we had discussed it with our agency and they felt that because our relationship was at the point that it was; that there was nothing that was of concern. We live in a very, very small country town so as you can imagine we knew that it was going to become very public, very quickly. We had a bit of a strategy. We pulled five of our very close friends together and we told them. And there was one particular person in there who, as much as we love her, she is a bit of a chatter box and we knew that by two days later the whole town would know! (Laughter) My biggest fear was that after Matt was born that I would walk into a supermarket with a baby and someone would go,’ Where did that come from?’, so it was really important to make sure that we got that message right. We were overwhelmed by the positive comments that came from our friends and family; even right through to the people I worked with. My husband is (who unfortunately couldn’t be here today), he is a very, very private person, and in his eyes he just wanted to say,’ We don’t need to tell anyone. We will just deal with it’. But I knew that that was not the case. In all the time, well Matt is now 15, I have only ever had one negative comment. And that was from a lady in a supermarket whom I had never ever met before. She was talking to another lady who was overjoyed at seeing Matt for the very first time. And she came over to me later and she said I think what you have done is absolutely disgusting and you should be prosecuted etc. The extremely funny thing is now her grandson is the same age as Matt and plays in the same hockey team. We have never talked about it since and I have no intention. The counsellor we worked with suggested to us that it is best to actually tell your child right from the start. So we practised our story. So it was never anything unusual in our house and I know Matt is going to touch on that briefly. The important part in the story was the relationship with our surrogate mother. We always wanted her to be part of our life. Not that we were going to see her every day, but we still keep in contact with her. But our life has actually moved on from just Matthew. We talk about different things that are happening; her daughter is in university. We do correspond with Christmas cards we always send her flowers on Matt’s birthday which is a bit unusual. So that is our life in a nutshell so now I am going to hand over to the most important person in our family who I am not sure if he is going to read his notes or if he is just going to wing it. (Laughter) MATT: I don’t know what else to say. Mum you seem to have finished it for me. (Laughter) Well as mum told you, I am Matt and I am 15 and I grew up in a small country town in Southern NSW. I am in year 9 at a school in Albury and I was born through surrogacy. Well, mum and dad told me, as mum said, every since I was in a cot. And it is ever since I could understand; I did understand and any questions that I asked; mum and dad answered as best they could. I have heard the ‘broken tummy’ story many a time. It often started with the need of a surrogate mother and bits and pieces about how they met and how I was born… and I am grateful that they did come together and have me. I don’t think my birth was really that unique, I am not really that special or different from any other kids in my class. My surrogate mother is Jeannie, who lives in Denver USA, with her husband, Dave, and daughter, Taylor. As mum pointed out, since I was born, we have visited them once and we stayed there for a week. Taylor and I got on really well and we are now Facebook friends and we talk every now and then. But it is not like a sort of brother/sister relationship; it is more of a friend relationship. We hope to go back to visit them sometime in the near future. The topic of surrogacy does not really come up in my day to day life anymore. I don’t really think about it. I am just too busy with school, sporting, hockey, (especially), and girlfriends. (Laughter) KAREN (MOTHER): That’s a new one. MATT: Thanks Mum! KAREN (MOTHER): I didn’t know about that one! (Laughter) MATT: I have had one negative experience with a kid that I went to school with and he told me that my mum didn’t want me so she got rid of me. And I came home and talked to my parents about it and they explained it to me and that is probably when I got the full story and we really sat down and had a bit conversation. So the kid was a bit of a bully, so I just kind of left him alone. For me it is really important that I know who my surrogate mother is and the reasons why she carried me for my mum and dad. It takes a special person for that to happen and I am forever grateful for that. I know that as I would have got older I would have wanted to find answers about who my surrogate mother was and the reasons why I was born. I am kind of glad that it was never a secret; that it always came out. Everyone has a right to know who they are and where they came from. I told my friends at school (like the Year 6 day) and if anyone asks I will just tell them. And it is not really that important to me… like I don’t really care if anyone knows. It is just who I am. Other then that it is not… I don’t really tell anyone. At the conference though I did get asked a question, ‘Has surrogacy changed your life?’ (Laughter) The answer I gave was; ‘Surrogacy hasn’t changed my life; it gave my life! Other than that; no surrogacy is just how I was born. The path my life is, will take; will be determined by a lot of things like parents, my family, sports, friends and yes a girlfriend! (Laughter) and when I mature as I get older… and at the moment I am just trying to concentrate on the important things in life like having fun, doing well at school, playing sport that I love and just living life as it is. I just think that mum has told me many times that if you have a dream you have to follow it and if you find road blocks on the way you have to try get around them, so I am glad it is just a commitment not bravery. And so that is really my story of how I was born. (Applause)