Surrogacy case-study - a real family's exerience - Family Law Partners

Surrogacy case-study – a real life family shares their experience

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Ross Gibson is a former British gymnast, born and raised in Blackpool. Since 2004 he has been performing as the principle character ‘Red Bird’ in Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas show Myst’re. He is married to Ben, a champion synchronised swimmer from France who is also a performer in the Las Vegas show ‘Le Reve’.

Ross has kindly shared with Family Law Partners’ specialist surrogacy team, his and Ben’s journey to parenthood through Surrogacy.

Our story

Ross says “Ben and I met in Las Vegas in 2004. We knew pretty early on that our relationship would be a long term one but starting a family wasn’t really on our radar until our godson Leo came into our lives in 2009. Ben and I were very involved in Leo’s life and along with his parents were his principle care givers. From that point, we realised that we wanted a family of our own and we started to look at ways to make that a reality.

We thought about adoption but for us, we wanted a child that was biologically related to one of us and therefore surrogacy seemed like the most viable option. We decided that if possible, we wanted to proceed using the eggs of someone we knew but a separate gestational carrier so that our child would be able to identify with his or her biological mother and have a connection with her.

We felt that this was important for our child from a psychological perspective. At that point, a friend of ours had already volunteered to donate her own eggs but we had yet to find a surrogate.

Choosing our surrogate

The next step was going to a fertility clinic to discuss with a doctor how to proceed. The doctor advised us that our donor would need to undergo various medical tests to ensure that she was both physically and psychologically healthy and understood all the implications. Unfortunately, despite passing all the assessments, our friend started to have second thoughts about a week into taking the medications. I think the reality set in that at the end of it all, she would have a biological child out there which she would not be involved in caring for. For her, this was something she ultimately found too difficult. Obviously, we were disappointed but there were no hard feelings. We understood that what we were asking of her was a huge deal and would have repercussions for the rest of her life. We wanted her to feel entirely comfortable and confident about her decision. From our perspective, having a donor who was unsure about her decision carried risks of legal complications if, after the baby was born, she then changed her mind about her level of involvement in the baby’s life. In a sense we were grateful that our friend was honest with us about her feelings before the process went any further.

We had no shortage of other female friends offering to act as our donor, but unfortunately, the process fell through again. The second time round, exactly the same thing happened; our friend started the medications but then changed her mind and told us that she could not go through with it.

After two failed attempts at going with a donor who was familiar to us, Ben and I felt that the decision had been made for us and that anonymous donor eggs were now the only option. Ultimately, we decided that although our child would not have a connection with his or her biological mother, there would be less risks and complications if the donor did not have a genetic link with the baby. Ben and I returned to the fertility clinic to discuss using anonymous donor eggs from their clinic.”

“It was a surreal experience” says Ross “We were given a catalogue containing the profiles of various donors which included their photographs, vital statistics, family history and health records. The fee was $5,000 (paid to the clinic) regardless of which donor we decided to use and regardless of how many eggs were retrieved. We decided on this particular donor because she seemed to have the closest combination of all our physical attributes, blonde hair, blue eyes, athletic build and her life interests and hobbies also fell in line with ours. I suppose you could say if we were to have chosen a female life partner out of the choices we had, it would have been her, kind of like a surrogacy dating website!”

We had no contact with the donor, nor were we given her name. Everything remained very anonymous and she was not given any information about us either, just that she had been chosen to donate her eggs. Donors at the clinic sign that if a child is born from her eggs, that child will never be able to find out who their biological mother is. It is purely an anonymous egg donation.

Next we were tasked with finding a willing surrogate to carry the child. Initially, another friend volunteered but she failed the psychological examination that all surrogates are required to undertake with fertility clinics in the US. Obviously, we were disappointed but in another way we were grateful that the issues had been highlighted early on and that we had not proceeded with someone who was not able to cope with such an emotionally challenging process.

After that, we were worried about whether we would be able to find another willing surrogate but not long after, our friends Matt and Alison called to say that they had a proposal for us. They said that they had discussed everything at length and that Alison wanted to offer to act as our gestational surrogate. For us, Alison was the ideal person. She had previously performed with me in Myst’re and Ben and I were close friends with her and Matt so we knew them well and trusted them wholeheartedly. Alison and Matt already had a family and were clear that they did not want any more children of their own. We also knew that Alison and Matt’s relationship was stable and that Matt was fully supportive of the process. “We were extremely grateful and excited and readily accepted their offer. We agreed a modest fee with Alison which basically covered her reasonable expenses including the fact that she would be unable to work during the pregnancy.”

Conception and pregnancy

From then on everything ran smoothly. The donor produced 33 eggs, which was record for the clinic. The eggs were divided and half were fertilized using Ben’s gametes and half with mine. Incredibly, we had 100% fertilization rate so we were left with 33 embryos to choose from.

Alison was also given drugs to prepare her body for the embryo transfer, which she had to take for four weeks prior to the transfer. Although the doctor had advised us that (within reason) it was up to us how many embryos to transfer, Alison was understandably worried about the risks of a multiple birth and so the decision was taken to transfer only one. Ben and I told the doctor to choose whichever embryo he thought looked most viable and to never tell us which of our gametes had been used. To this day, we still do not know the answer. The remaining embryos were frozen and stored.

Ben and I were with Alison on the day of the transfer, which was 18 December 2013. We held her hands whilst the embryo was placed into her uterus using a catheter. The three of us watched a monitor and saw a tiny white blob dispensed into her uterus, which was the liquid containing our embryo. After that it was a case of crossing our fingers and just praying the embryo would ‘stick’. We told all of our friends to send us lots of ‘sticky thoughts’! A week later on Christmas Day, Alison and Matt sent us a photograph of a positive pregnancy test. We were over the moon, it was the literally the best Christmas present ever.

The pregnancy progressed well, without a hitch. Alison was amazing and kept us fully involved with the pregnancy. We attended all of the medical appointments with her and she provided us with very regular updates on how she was feeling. Whenever she visited she bought a food related to the size of the baby, so one week it would be a seed, the next a grape, then a lemon, an avocado and so forth. That was lots of fun!

Legal issues

It was only during the pregnancy that Ben and I realised that we would need to take legal steps to formalise our position as Siella’s parents. This only came to light when the hospital informed us that if we didn’t have the correct legal papers in place, we might not be able to leave the hospital with our baby. Ben and I therefore went to see a lawyer who told us that we would have to enter into a contract with Alison before the birth which would transfer legal parentage to us from the moment of birth and be legally binding – allowing both Ben and I to be registered as the parents on the baby’s birth certificate.

There were some complications because we could not say which one of us was the biological father, but somehow the lawyer got around this. Alison also had to attend the lawyer’s office to give her written consent. The whole process was approved by the court without any of us having to attend a hearing.

This process is very different to the legal position in the UK. Here surrogacy agreements are not legally binding, which means that everyone relies on each other to honour the agreement. The only way to transfer legal parentage to the intended parents is to apply for a Parental Order, which cannot be done until the child is at least 6 weeks old. Before then, the surrogate and her husband are the child’s legal parents, and the child is effectively left in a state of legal limbo.

The birth

Regarding the birth, Ross says “Siella was born two weeks early on 21 August 2015 at Centennial Hills hospital in Las Vegas. Matt, Ben and I were with Alison throughout. It was a very long labour lasting over 24 hours and, in the end, due to a drop in the baby’s heart rate the doctors decided to perform an emergency C-section. Initially the doctors told us only one of us could be in the room to witness the birth. It was an impossible decision so Ben and I actually played ‘paper, scissors, stones’ to decide! Ben won but then said it didn’t feel right for only him to be there, so we decided that Matt should be there with Alison instead and that we would both wait outside. Fortunately, at the last minute, the nurse came running out of the operating theatre to say that the hospital had agreed to change its policy for us and that we would both be allowed in. Ben and I quickly gowned up and went into the operating room where Alison was already prepped.

My memory of Siella being born was seeing her being held up by the doctor over the screen. Ben and I were then invited over to cut the cord and hold her. The upmost feeling of elation overcame us, as finally we saw and met the one person we had tried, tested and wanted for so many years, before our very eyes. The following day, we left the hospital with Siella and Alison and Matt also returned home. Alison recovered well from the C-section and soon came over with Matt and her children for cuddles.

Our family today

Siella is now nearly four years old and is a healthy, amazing little girl. She still sees Alison and Matt and their children regularly. One day we will tell her the story of how she came into the world. People often ask us how we will explain it all to her and Ben and I have obviously talked about it a lot. We believe that it is important to tell her the truth, obviously in a way that she can understand, as soon as she starts to ask questions. We anticipate that this will come soon, probably once she starts school. Ben and I have agreed that we will tell her as much as she is capable of understanding. We anticipate that the question will come very soon, ‘Why don’t I have a Mommy?’ and we will be prepared with a simple answer, ‘Well sweetheart, sometimes, people have a Mommy and Daddy, sometimes people have two Mommies, and sometimes people have two Daddies, just like you. But you are very lucky because there are other children who don’t have any Mommies or Daddies, and you have two parents who love you more than the World! When she starts to ask more complex questions, we will cross that bridge but baby steps for now!”

Since Siella was born 4 years ago, Ross and Ben have attempted two more rounds of surrogacy with Alison, using the embryos left over from the first round. Unfortunately, both rounds were unsuccessful. Ross says “Those failed rounds were difficult for Ben and I, and obviously for Alison. After the second attempt we decided to call it a day. Apart from the emotional (and for Alison, the physical) impact, the financial costs were also a factor in our decision to try again. The process of having Siella cost us around $65,000 dollars including medical fees, the egg donor fee, legal fees and Alison’s expenses including the two attempts that failed. Ultimately, we felt that we could not reasonably afford the cost of further treatment. We felt that we were blessed enough to have Siella and that the universe was somehow sending us a subliminal message that one was good enough!

My advice for any others considering using a surrogate or who are already in the process is not to give up. It’s a roller-coaster ride of emotions with big highs and big lows. There will be hurdles that you knock and some you clear but hopefully at the end of it all, there will be a finishing line you will cross, with a baby in your arms.

Alison gave us the gift of a lifetime, she gave us the gift of a life, we cherish her almost as much as we cherish our daughter and will never forgive the sacrifice she selflessly put herself through before, during and after the entire process.”

Alison says “It was our honour to help out our friends and an amazing experience full of happiness and tears. They are great dads and we are so proud of their happy little family”

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