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November 26, 2018

Thanks to science and goodwill there are many options open to same-sex couples who want to start a family. We talk to two sets of new mums and dads about their experience...

Words Jai Breitnauer 

Anna and George 

Anna and Rebecca Magdalinos – George to her friends – met in 2011 and were married in 2016. They have a daughter, Abbi, one.

“When we met, we were already on the older side for fertility,” says Anna. “We were realists, and knew what we wanted. We began talking about having children within a year.”

“I knew I was going to marry Anna after the first date,” says George. “I also knew the fertility journey was long so there was no point in wasting time. Although I was keen to be a mum, I wasn’t that keen on carrying the baby, so no discussion about that was needed.”

“At first, we opted to go on the donor insemination waiting list,” says Anna. “We wanted to get pregnant as naturally as possible, and IVF is expensive. But we were on the waiting list for a year and didn’t move past number 100.”

“We went on the waiting list for IVF, which opens up more available donor sperm as their swimming quality doesn’t matter,” says Anna. “We had to pay for two rounds of IVF and when that failed we were able to be funded through the public system on the grounds of infertility.”

“When you go public you go into a draw for a clinic, so we were referred to the Auckland ADHB clinic Fertility Plus,” says George. “Unfortunately, Fertility Plus didn’t have as many sperm donors – they don’t have the same marketing budget as the private clinics. There was no donor available and at this point it was suggested we find our own, but we didn’t want to be a three-parent family.”

“Luckily, a donor came up and while we were waiting for the IVF funding we had one round of donor sperm insemination. Amazingly, we fell pregnant,” says Anna. “When the clinic called to tell me I kept asking ‘are you sure?’ because I was so used to being told otherwise!”

“At that point you transfer from clinic care to a midwife, but there is a time delay,” says George. “We were seven weeks pregnant and had to be 12 weeks to see a midwife, which was hard for Anna.”

“I drove George mad, convinced I’d lost the baby on a daily basis, especially as I had no morning sickness. But the baby and the pregnancy were fine,” says Anna.

“All the rules I set myself for supporting Anna during the delivery went out the window the minute she started to push,” says George. “I said I wouldn’t look at the action end, that I wouldn’t cut the cord… but in the moment things change. Anna was a legend, and the nervousness I felt about not being able to bond with a baby that had none of my genetics was instantly vaporised when our daughter Abbi arrived. In that moment we became an instant family.”

“At one point I looked over and saw George in a chair with Abbi asleep on her chest,” says Anna. “That was an amazing moment I will always remember. We suddenly had this little creature that needed us both.”

“We make a great team,” says George. “Back home Anna expressed milk and I took the night shift with feeding so I was intimately involved from the start. Anna took six months parental leave and I took three.” 

Anna was relieved that George was able to look after Abigail for three months before she went to Porse. “That was great for me. I felt some stress and anxiety going back to work, but knowing she was at home with her other mum made it a lot easier and it was very important for George to have that time to bond with her.”

“I’ve never felt left out,” says George. “We are both legally Abbi’s parents. When we filled out the birth certificate I just filled out the ‘dad’s’ section and asked for it to be changed to read parent/parent.”

“This first year has been insane, and I’d recommend anyone going through fertility to make good use of the counselling on offer at the start. The fertility clinic was so supportive, and the more you talk about the process the more you normalise it. Protect yourself – don’t pin all your hopes on the first try.”

“Would we go for number two? Well that’s a million-dollar question,” says Anna. “We’re both 40 now, and the process is gruelling and expensive. There are no happy accidents in a same-sex relationship. We just want to focus on Abbi and give her all of the time we can.

Richard and Richard

Christchurch based Richard Rawstorn (right, in the photo) and husband, also Richard (left) met 12 years ago and were the first male gay couple to be married in New Zealand in 2013. They have a son, Riley, born July 2017. Richard Rawstorn tells us his story.

“We had been together for four years when starting a family came up. Our options were to use a surrogate or to adopt. In New Zealand there are only about 20 babies a year available for adoption, and since New Zealand changed the law on gay marriage it has been much harder to adopt from overseas, so we decided to go down the surrogacy road.

There are two types of surrogate; gestational, where a donor egg and sperm are implanted, and traditional, where you donate sperm and the surrogate uses her own egg. In both cases it’s illegal for the surrogate to charge, but you are obliged to cover their reasonable expenses. 

We tried gestational first, but it was hard to find a suitable surrogate as the criteria from the fertility clinics is quite narrow. Surrogates should be under 40 and mentally and physically fit and well to qualify. It’s also important to note that while IVF funding is open to some women in same sex relationships, there is no funding route applicable to gay men. 

After a few years of searching for a surrogate we joined the Eden IVF Surrogacy and Donor Facebook group. On that page we met Sam* who had a wife and two children and lived in the Central North Island. She was keen to help. 

I’m a nurse, so we decided to go down the ‘DIY’ route. I donated my sperm as I’m the oldest. I wanted my parents to be grandparents sooner rather than later. I gave Sam my donation and a syringe and she self-inseminated. 

It’s important to make sure that you can communicate openly. Sam said to us that as she was 38, did we want her to have an amniocentesis test? We said yes, but retrospectively that could have gone pear-shaped. That test carries a risk of miscarriage, plus if the result hadn’t been good there would have been some difficult questions to consider. You should know your surrogate’s views on things like abortion before you start. Another area we discussed was breastfeeding. We all agreed Sam wouldn’t breast feed but would express at the start. 

Our son Riley was born on July 11th 2017. Sam wanted a C-section as she had a history of difficult birth and we respected that. It’s her body, and her health. It was also an emotional decision – she was going into hospital for an operation rather than to have a baby. We waited outside the theatre, and they brought our son Riley to me first. I was surprised as I’d expected him to be blonde like me but he had a thick head of dark brown hair! It was so amazing to see him and hold him after five years of battling to become dads. 

In New Zealand the law states the birth mother is the legal parent, so we had to file an interim adoption order before we could leave with Riley. That took 12 days and we had to stay in Rotorua for that time. We were also assigned a social worker and had to have visits every two months until the final adoption order is filed after six months. 

Bringing Riley back home to Rolleston was amazing. It made financial sense for me to take parental leave so I’ve taken a year, although I’m studying for a masters and have taken some casual shifts at the hospital. I’ve definitely had baby brain. The first shift I did I struggled to remember medical names and stumbled over my words! My experience working shifts was definitely a benefit for those sleepless nights. Like any other parent, you stumble through and make it work. 

We’ve kept in touch with our surrogate and send her pictures. She will come and see Riley at some stage. We did ask her if she would do it a second time, but she politely said no. She wants to focus on her own family which is fair enough. We would like a second though, so we are on the hunt for another surrogate. My advice to any couple starting out is to start now – this process takes a long time. Take all the help and advice you can get, and make sure you chose a surrogate you really get along with because you are sharing something pretty special. 

Advice from the experts 

Female couples:

Treatment options at Fertility Associates usually include either IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) or IUI (intrauterine) with donor sperm. There are two types of sperm donors: personal (from a friend or family member) or clinic recruited. The waiting time for a recruited donor is between 20 and 28 months, so we recommend you talk to us as soon as possible for the best chance. All clinic sperm donors need to exceed normal World Health Organisation values for their sperm at the time of freezing. We then check to see how well the sperm thaws. Some sperm thaws better than others, and this helps us to work out whether it is best suited for IVF or IUI.

Simply put, we can give sperm a little assistance during an IVF cycle, so we only need an average swimmer and we don’t need many of them. Whereas IUI requires lots of sperm that swim fast and are robust enough to navigate and survive the journey to the egg. We always need sperm donors, so if you know anyone who might like to donate, please share this story with them.

Male couples: 

Surrogacy is the main treatment option for male couples who want to start a family. It firstly involves finding a surrogate to carry a baby; this woman can also donate her eggs, or an egg donor can also be involved, in which case you would need both a surrogate and an egg donor. Finding a surrogate can be challenging. Couples generally appeal to a friend or whanau and lately we have seen a rise in social media being used to reach a wider community. In New Zealand no money can change hands for surrogacy and this is largely in place to encourage altruistic donors or surrogates. Counselling is also a mandatory requirement for surrogacy, and egg donors, as well as making an Application to ECART for Ethics Approval. Legal advice is also required. 

If you are a couple, decide if one partner is going to provide all the sperm, or if you are going to divide the eggs and have half fertilized by each partner. We recommend considering an egg donor and a surrogate, as it can make it easier emotionally for the surrogate to carry a donated egg, rather than her own. The baby must also be adopted by the intending parents as part of surrogacy. Speaking to a Fertility Associates Counsellor is a great place to start the discussion and to make a plan.

For more information, click here to visit the Fertility Associates website

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