This article is about the Australian government’s refusal to speak about women’s needs. We currently have in all states except Victoria, a ”1950s view of surrogacy” (which is to say we DO NOT SPEAK OF SUCH THINGS).
The result? Tens of thousands of “frozen Australians” will never be born because, according to the law, women should be made to have their own children, even if it’s dangerous. And according to my OB/GYN surrogacy is “only for people like Nicole Kidman”. I have finally decided to write all this down.
I need help to raise awareness for what is currently an unfair, unkind list of options when woman with physical limitations are paying for frozen embryos in the hope that one day they might have a biological child. No matter how imperfect the situation. This is the government’s responsibility as they allowed me to get into this predicament in the first place.
My strange life journey. I had a wonderful boyfriend for seven years and sadly this relationship ended at age 27 after eight years. I went on to study Art History at Christie’s Education in New York. I worked in London in Public Relations. I helped my parents develop large industrial warehouses north of Brisbane. I purchased my own Art Deco house at West End in Brisbane. I dated a Welsh Chemical Engineer, an Austrian Tunnel Designer, a New York (m)Ad man, and a Scottish computer programmer living in Norway. I had friendships with lots of nice men my whole life. But I only had the one true love, the first guy, the one who should be here with me now (and I know he knows he should be, too). But anyway, there’s a life out there for me and I’m fairly sure it has New York written all over it. Either that or the English Countryside. Life’s mostly been easy for me, but age at 37 my life suddenly had a shadow cast over it.
At age 37 my life was interrupted.
I had gone, on the instructions of a General Practitioner, to a new-to-Brisbane Gynaecologist to follow up a bi-annual pap-smear that looked like it needed a second look, and which proved to be normal. Although, this chance encounter with a Gynaecologist who was as she said “about to enter the IVF world” allowed her to enquire about my marital status, and, as I dressed, she slipped me the daunting question: would I like to know how many eggs you have left?
If I had known then what I know now, which is to say enough to write a book (or three) on IVF and the Australian government’s system for encouraging single women over age 37 with low FSH levels to create embryos by using donor sperm, then I would have said no.
No because her answer to my first question: why can’t I just freeze my eggs? Was this: the unfreezing technology isn’t quite there yet, and so many times eggs don’t unfreeze well, whereas an embryo is much stronger.
Many a 37 Australian women are being told this depressing fact each day. Also, they are being told, the upside is that if we decide to create an embryo the government will subside this. But if you want to have your eggs extracted, there’s no rebate. Both are about $10,000 each for the egg collect process, the course of IVF injections, the monitoring of your follicles, and the sperm being injected into the egg and the nail biting wait to see if an embryo is created and makes it to day five. If this happens, you are in luck and the embryo is able to be frozen away until you are ready to use it. The doctors have started favouring freezing embyros over fresh transfers because then the woman’s body is able to relax for a while after the painful surgery and egg extraction, the dizzy amounts of hormone injections, and the stress and toll of all the appointments that you go to alone. This process alone can make women prone to deep depression. The psychologists who work for the IVF organisations are paid by them to be “pro-baby” not “pro-your-mental-health”. You need to find an objective psychologist. I found one, and she literally saved me and rebuilt a woman who was frayed at the edges from an over exposure to what she described to me as a “government agenda” via the media to “get Australian women to raise the population, to procreate” via baby bumps on every cover, through the very false glamorisation of motherhood. The reality is that women after their first baby realise how unequal it all is, that they are looked upon badly if they want to go back to work, and it ends up costing them economically down the track. I admire the stars who, like Taylor Swift, add sentences into her TV specials such as “my friend had a baby and she was just like, it’s constantly diaper change after diaper change, and that is it.”
But when you’re 37. You are at a really tender age, on the brink. When my I was told to “find sperm” I was advised to “look for someone under 30” in the pages of the book (of donors) because the science shows that older eggs and older sperm have a higher rate of producing autistic children or simply not making embryos. The goal is to create embryos that grow in a particular way under the microscope, that are then graded, and only those that make it to day five are able to be frozen. I remember the last egg retrieval surgery I went to, age 39, I was told by my anesthetiser: “you look too young to be doing this!”. I wasn’t too young, I was just very alone.
The most terrible part about the government’s 2008 law change allowing single women to access donor sperm to become single mothers is that creating a baby is supposed to be naturally the most joyful shared event. It’s so not fun to be forced to do it alone because you have left it too late. When I stopped to think about what sort of life this poor child would have without a dad… I wanted (well, I did) cry. I cried a lot.
I’m not a picture of health genetically even though I used to do modelling. I have daily migraine attacks, bunions, otosclerosis (a hereditary ear disease that made me slowly go deaf from age 19 to 24 and required two stapedectomies – microsurgery to insert a 5mm platinum piston where my stapes bone used to be) and tinnitus. The daily migraines require me to take 25mg of Topamax each morning, a drug classified as “dangerous” to pregnant women and their babies. This alone means I need to pay a surrogate. Yet it’s not even permitted to be discussed in the state of Queensland in Australia where I live.
I had to go off the Topamax so the Gynaecologist could extract my eggs as part of the IVF process. I swapped to Maxalt, which are less effective and much more expensive. “I wouldn’t even take an egg while you were on Topamax” the Gynaecologist had said.
I had no results after three rounds of $10,000 IVF (I was getting $8,000) back on Medicare because I was a single woman over 37 with a low FSH level. The doctor said “You will need to buy an egg”. I said I am not going to buy an egg.
I decided to take it as a sign and felt as though a massive burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I finally decided to let it go, and felt content. I thought now I can go back to my life!
For those women who are “lucky” enough to get dozens of embryos created and have no trial to rethink the very road they are travelling down, I feel that they’ve been sold a difficult life. The child would not know it’s dad, and for me, my relationship with my dad gives me a true sense of who and what I am. I cannot fathom denying my kid that, and I’d understand if they grew up to be royally pissed off about the fact that my narcissism led to their life being led without a dad. The IVF group’s motto towards this was “you’ll meet Mr Right later”. It doesn’t consider the child being fatherless.
The real bone I have to pick with the Australian government and the way they present this process as a “Single Mothers By Choice” movement, steeped in being socially progressive and yet, they refuse to look seriously at what comes next and the hardest part: the process of pregnancy and giving birth.
I’m not going to go into details, but I ended up with five frozen embryos. Biologically they are mine. I found that by taking a holiday (to New York City in my case where I walked about 10 miles everyday – so I increased my fitness level) and by applying progesterone cream that was compounded with a script given to me by the doctor I’ve had since I was three years old. He knew even when I was age 33 that my hormones were depleted because he had given my the progesterone then, and I had no idea why. I was too thin at the time and I think my body was maybe just depleted of everything from being too thin and perhaps the pollution levels as I was living in New York.
I said to my Gynaecologist “I know that I need a surrogate”. I explained, I could not go off these migraine tablets, which were not suitable during a pregnancy. Also, I did not want to risk the pregnancy hormones affected my hearing as the hormones in “the pill” had triggered the original disease of otosclerosis out of dormancy, and, as my audiologist told me at age 19 have children before the operations are done on each ear because she had seen women coming back after the birth of children, and the disease had decalcified the fragile otosclerotic inner ear, and they had become deaf once again.
Her heart breaking response was “Surrogacy is only for people like Nicole Kidman”. I did not believe her. So my embryos are still frozen and waiting and it’s been five years. I do admit that this time has given me the chance to gather information and have important conversations with people who care about me. One of my male friends in New York said “you need to find a guy who wants to be a dad.” These simple truths are being overlooked by women who have been on one too many failed internet dating apps and been exposed to ten baby bump headlines within the space of one morning. Every day, the media silently attack women with these false messages, which they know most women will unfairly measure themselves against. If you don’t have high self-esteem, or the vocabulary or understanding to know what forces are at play, you’re just walking straight into a spiders web. There’s the media in bed with the government, playing out an agenda for society and women need to read books about women’s rights, instead of “baby-fever”, “desperate housewives” and the “infertility epidemic”, which can drive fear into the hearts and minds of even the smartest of us. Read: Susan Faludi’s Pulitzer Prize winning book of explanatory journalism in “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.”
That was when I realised the Gynaecologist really didn’t care about me as a person. I was a customer, yes. A client, yes. But a friend? No. And the Australian Government is the same. The Prime Minister himself, Hon. Scott Morrison has been open about having two IVF girls with his wife Jenny. I just wondered if Jenny could put herself in my position for a moment, and explain to her husband that it is not just women with broken uteruses and husbands who are in the market for a surrogate, and yet because of their laws there are now droves of Australian women over 37 with frozen embryos, some of whom are in the same boat as me, and the only way I can legally access a surrogate is through a friend doing it altruistically. I asked my IVF clinic in Brisbane about it and they’re not even allowed to talk about it, because commercial surrogacy is illegal in every state of Australia except Victoria.
There is no point in being progressive enough to say “can you get some sperm?”, and yet not be able to follow it up with “would you like to talk about how we can send your embryos to one of our partner surrogacy agencies in the US”. So at the moment, the Australian government is not willing to have this very real and important discussion. I know that for the women who have the straightforward excuse of a “broken tummy” / unusable uterus (like my dentist who I will never name but I know because she has said to me that she would send the embryos she is still paying for (even after 9 years and a divorce) a surrogate to give her daughter a sibling. There is a market. It is ludicrous to think that only Nicole Kidman would do anything to have a baby. I’m a highly traditional woman, and reading the above is mind boggling to me, and I have no idea how I will explain the lack of a father to my unborn son or daughter but the fact is I have gone as far as to do all this and just when I need your help – Australian Government with all your modern choices and subsidies to make sure we don’t miss out on bringing up a new generation – you hold out on giving us the ability to birth these frozen embryos. It’s unfair, it’s traumatic, and we do not need a female Prime Minister for Women in Australia (who has been condemned by 2020 Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, as aiding in the protection and laughing along with the maths teacher who groomed her).
I’m having to deal with a complete lack of transparency when it comes to knowing what to do with frozen embryos. It is a highly emotional situation. It deserves immediate action by the federal government. Why is Victoria the only state that allows access to international commercial surrogacy?