‘I want to leave my mark on the world just like every other parent and instil some good morals in someone who’s going to carry on that legacy. I’m someone who likes to help strangers. I see a person in need and just help them. I think we need more of that, and I’d love to leave someone else behind that’s going to do that, that’s going to be that same person. I guess that’s what every parent wants is to leave behind someone that’s going to leave the same mark on the world as them.’
Michael is the kind of person who you know must be a great parent. Talking to him feels like talking to a friend, one who cares and makes you smile. He’s funny, confident and outgoing. He lights up talking about his family.
And yet, for a while it looked like he wasn’t going to be able to become a dad. He and his partner would not be able to become parents because of WA’s laws surrounding surrogacy and inadequate foster care and adoption systems.
Only straight couples, lesbian couples and single women have access to surrogacy in WA. The only way gay male couples and single men can access surrogacy is if they move interstate or go overseas. WA is the only state in Australia where it is illegal for gay male couples to have children through domestic surrogacy.
Currently, there is a bill sitting in the upper house to change this. It was introduced to parliament over a year ago after a comprehensive review instigated by the McGowan government found the laws outdated and discriminatory. Political stalling has caused the bill to remain stuck there.
Michael and Brendon’s story
Michael met his partner, Brendon, nine years ago. They met at a BBQ through a mutual friend. Michael knew them through sport, while Brendon went to high school with them. Brendon wasn’t out yet, and they started off as just friends. Eventually Brendon came out as gay, and on the day Michael decided to leave a bad relationship, he and Brendon were in a serious car accident. Michael was in the passenger seat when a car T-boned his door in a seventy zone.
‘I thought I was going to die,’ he told me.
It took months for him to recover, and Brendon was the one who brought him home from the hospital and took care of him.
Michael has always wanted to be a dad, and when he and Brendon started seeing each other, the topic of children came up in conversation quickly. Brendon’s dad worked in the foster care system. Fostering was the first option Michael and Brendon turned to for having children, but the system was not good. They didn’t like their policies, particularly the fact that kids were getting bounced back and forth between places. Most of all, they couldn’t handle the idea that their child could be taken away from them at any moment. They had friends who this had happened to.
They then looked into adoption. There are only a few adoptions each year in WA. Michael and Brendon weren’t eligible to adopt overseas, and straight couples who were adopting overseas were waiting seven to ten years most of the time anyway.
Next they turned to surrogacy. They didn’t want to relocate, so their only option as WA residents was to do international surrogacy. They knew people who had gone to America, but they were quoting figures of over $300,000. Michael and Brendon couldn’t afford that.
Seemingly out of options, they decided to host exchange students.
‘Our first year was amazing,’ Michael said. ‘We loved it, and we loved being dads. So, we just thought, there’s got to be more to this. We decided to see if we could maybe budget and afford surrogacy.’
They signed up to a website with information on international surrogacy, and the next week there was a seminar in Perth.
‘It really felt like it was meant to be.’
It was at that seminar where Michael and Brendon found out about Canada. Surrogacy was less expensive there, and they could probably afford it. So the next day they started contacting agencies who were Skyped in to the seminar.
They didn’t have much in terms of savings, and it was going to take a fair amount of money to get started. Then they heard there were going to be changes in Canada that would cause an influx of people and put a strain on the system. If they didn’t get started quickly, they could be delayed.
Some of their friends and family suggested they do a GoFundMe, but Michael and Brendon didn’t want to ask people for money. So their friends and family forced it upon them. The response blew them away.
‘People who were only like small parts of my life donated because they’d recently become dads and they knew what it would mean to us,’ Michael explained. ‘I was in tears for weeks while people were donating and we were getting their messages. And the boy we were hosting at the time on the exchange program came to us and his parents donated quite a chunk of money to us to help us. I was bawling my eyes out. It was amazing how people wanted to help.’
The journey to childbirth
Towards the end of December in 2015, Michael and Brendon found a surrogate they liked. Ten minutes after midnight on New Year’s, they got a message from their agency saying that the surrogate wanted to work with them too. They then had two weeks to get to know each other before deciding whether or not to proceed.
‘In that time, I felt like something wasn’t right,’ Michael said. ‘She’d been a surrogate before, but I felt like something wasn’t right in her life. And I felt there was a problem.’
He asked the agency to check on her. They insisted everything was fine, but then another week went by and Michael was sure something was wrong. So he asked them again. It turned out he was completely right. A lot had changed in her life since the last time she was a surrogate, and she wasn’t in the proper headspace.
‘That was heart-breaking for us because you really want to get going with this.’ Michael came away from the experience with some good advice, though. ‘If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Trust your gut.’ He says the same thing to surrogates.
‘It has to just be right, and that way things work out.’
After that experience, Michael and Brendon wanted to meet their egg donor as they weren’t doing it anonymously. She wanted to get to know them too. They ended up talking every day on Messenger and became really good friends. She was also a big support as they continued to look for a surrogate.
It wasn’t until April that Michael and Brendon met who would eventually become their surrogate, but it was worth the wait. ‘As much as it hurt, those months really hurt and were a big strain on us,’ Michael said, ‘it was so worth the wait because it was a perfect match. We had our perfect team.’
Not meeting new people, but catching up with old friends
Michael and Brendon were fortunate to have saved enough money to go over to Canada for the twenty-week scan and meet everyone in person.
‘We arrived close to midnight, and our surrogate actually picked us up from the airport,’ Michael told me. ‘It was the first time we met in person. We had talked every day. We’d Skyped. We’d done all that. But it was the first time we were able to give each other a hug and say hello.’
The next morning their egg donor’s mum messaged them and asked what they were doing for the day. They were going shopping, so she said she’d pick them up and take them.
‘We asked her could she take us to her daughter, our egg donor’s workplace so we could go and surprise her. She knew we were in town, but she wasn’t expecting us to rock up at her work. So we rocked up at her work, and we were all talking, and we were sort of saying how weird it was that it didn’t feel like we were meeting a new person, we were just catching up with an old friend, even though we’d never met in person. It was just the most amazing experience. The whole week was just totally surreal and one of the best weeks of my life.’
Baby Logan is welcomed to the world
Logan was born a week and a half early.
‘The contractions actually started on my birthday,’ Michael said, ‘and then he made it until after midnight, so he got his own birthday.’
Michael and Brendon were in the paternity ward at 2:30am, Logan was born at 4:30, and then they went back to their house with him at 6:30. Their surrogate brought her kids around later that day to meet the baby. Michael, Brendon and Logan were in Canada for a few more weeks after that. Brendon’s parents flew over to help.
When they flew back to Perth, all of Michael and Brendon’s family and friends were there to welcome them home at the airport.
‘It was just so exciting.’
Parents in the eyes of everyone, except the law
The court system in WA doesn’t recognise Michael and Brendon as Logan’s parents, even though Logan has a Canadian birth certificate with both Michael and Brendon’s names on it.
Michael and Brendon have to take extra measures with their wills, because Logan wouldn’t automatically receive their inheritance as their son since he’s not by WA law.
Their surrogate had to sign paperwork for Logan to get an Australian passport because the passport office sees her as the mother, instead of Michael and Brendon as the fathers. This is risky as it sets a precedent that she’s considered the mother. And she has to continue to sign forms each time Logan’s passport is renewed.
Every child needs a family; it doesn’t have to be nuclear
What makes a loving family and who may raise a child should not be dictated by gender, sexuality or relationship status. There are many ways to form a family. The concept of family has changed throughout history, as has society’s perception of gender roles.
It has been proven that children raised by same-sex parents do as well as their peers. The real threat to these children is discrimination, such as that perpetuated by WA’s existing surrogacy laws and some political figures’ responses to the amendment of these laws.
There are men in WA who want to start a family but can’t because of WA’s laws, and the longer the amendment is stalled, the less time these men have to realise their dream of becoming a dad, if they are able to realise it at all.
‘I want it to happen quickly,’ Michael said of the amendment, ‘because I have friends that are waiting for it because they can’t afford to go and do it in Canada, and they’ve got people that will help them here in WA. So for them I feel badly.’
The people in parliament preventing this bill from being passed need to realise just how great an impact their actions are having on Western Australians. Gender has no effect on a person’s ability to parent. The law should be a reflection of this, not an avenue for discrimination.