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Desperate Families Turn To 'Surrogacy-Tinder' Amid Confusing, Restrictive Aussie Laws

Commercial surrogacy -- where you pay a friend or stranger a fee to carry your baby in addition to medical costs -- is illegal in Australia, however, there is a growing conversation about another route.

You may have heard of altruistic surrogacy. It's when someone volunteers to carry another individual's baby without any financial incentive other than covering medical and other basic costs. It's legal in all states, with requirements and laws varying from state-to-state.

There's now a push for a lesser-known alternative called compensated surrogacy. It would allow the mother to be "compensated" for her efforts in a structured and capped way.

READ MORE: 'One In Every Classroom': IVF Births At Record High

“To offer to be surrogate for someone is one for the most beautiful things someone can do," fertility specialist Dr Bronwyn Devine told 10 daily.

Devine who works at Monash IVF said it's time legislation changed.

"But we should be aiming for compensated surrogacy it’s a big commitment you give away nine months of your life to carry a baby for someone else."

 How Compensated Surrogacy Would Work

Annie McKie, who runs a newly-launched national support service for surrogates and families said there are often conversations about compensated surrogacy.

"Could we cap it at about $5000 or $10,000 payment perhaps? So the surrogate can go on a holiday with her family the family that she has missed out spending time with her kids because she has been sick," Mckie told 10 daily.

McKie runs Surrogacy Australia and connects strangers interested in surrogacy via a Tinder-style arrangement.

Surrogacy in Australia is largely a D-I-Y process. IMAGE: supplied.

"It's a tricky area - is compensated surrogacy a forced payment is it a voluntary payment? What about if the surrogate and intended parents are friends or relatives, do they still pay?" she said.

A 2016 Australian study published in the Medical Journal of Australia recommended that compensated surrogacy be taken seriously by lawmakers.

"It is time to openly debate how Australia should balance the desire for childbearing through surrogacy with the limited domestic availability of women willing to act as surrogates."

The paper did raise concerns about exploitation, commodification and welfare of compensated surrogacy in Australia and abroad but said it required a nationally coordinated approach to surrogacy to monitor it.

Unless laws change to allow for a regulated compensation scheme, surrogacy remains largely a D-I-Y process around the country and McKie’s not-for-profit organisation is trying to provide a clearer process.

Matching surrogates with intended parents is illegal in Australia, so Surrogacy Australia "make introductions" between couples and the 160 Australian surrogates registered with them.

"It's not quite Tinder, but there are elements where we try and introduce people to each other who have similar expectations," she said.

The Quiet Surrogacy Boom

According to fertility professionals and advocacy groups, surrogacy is experiencing a quiet boom in Australia.

“I certainly am seeing an increase in demand for surrogacy. When I started it was very much just women who lost a uterus through cancer or were born without a uterus,” Devine said.

She now routinely sees many other scenarios including couples who have had several miscarriages, women with endometriosis and men in same-sex relationships.

READ MORE: What Does Using A Surrogate In Australia Involve?

It's estimated that around 300 babies are born to surrogates in Australia each year.

While the number of births to domestic surrogates has more than tripled in just eight years, for many the dream of creating a family remains expensive and laws are disjointed.

"You ask most people in Australia and they don't want commercial surrogacy because it confuses the motivation for the surrogate," McKie said.

READ MORE: Woman Gives Birth To Own Granddaughter For Her Married Gay Son

The local spike comes after neighbouring countries like India and Cambodia recently banned commercial surrogacy. These destinations were popular among desperate Australian couples wanting children.

She acknowledged that some couples who feel they have run out of options in Australia still turn to overseas surrogates, irrespective of the law.

In places like the U.S., most states allow surrogates to have their costs covered and receive payment of around $70,000 for their service. There are several agencies that coordinate this process.

Kim Kardashian had two children she carried herself, her third and fourth babies came with the help of a surrogate who was paid for her service.

Kim Kardashian has confirmed she is expecting her fourth child this year via a surrogate. IMAGE: supplied.

Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman, Tyra Banks, Jimmy Fallon, Ellen Pompeo, Elizabeth Banks and Lucy Liu are among other Hollywood stars to go down this route.

“People think about Hollywood stars for whom appearance is terribly important but that’s not something ever I’ve come across here, there are some serious medical reasons why some women cannot fall pregnant,” Devine said.

A Surrogate's Journey

Rachell Steen, 38, has two teenage children and recently gave birth to her life-long friend's child. She said she would never want to profit for what she did.

"I really wanted to help them have a family," she told 10 daily.

"I mentally prepared myself that she wasn't my child and I didn't actually want any more children which actually helped."

Image: Supplied

But altruistic surrogacy did not go as smoothly as Steen had hoped. Having a child in her 30s wasn't without its complications -- she had high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, bad nausea, a breach baby requiring a c-section, and needed to finish work a month earlier than had been planned.

"So they covered those four weeks that I was off work ... and they topped up my pay when I was off work," the Adelaide-based woman said.

These sorts of costs are not covered under South Australian or Victorian altruistic surrogacy legal agreements.

"At the very least we need laws in every state to cover loss of wages as a 'cost' because currently not all of them cover that," McKie said.

Image: Supplied

Devine said Australia urgently needs a national approach to surrogacy to recognise these nuances, as well as financial support from Medicare.

"Medicare rebates should be allowed like people undergoing IVF, for them a cycle costs about $5000 out of pocket but for someone going via surrogacy it's about $35,000"

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au