James McDonald and his partner, Iain, used an American egg donor and an Indian surrogate to help them achieve their dream of becoming same-sex parents. James charts their surrogacy journey across three continents, facing rapidly-changing surrogacy laws, limited communication and mountains of paperwork.
Delivering on a dream: A gay dad's surrogacy journey
When I was a kid I always wanted to be a dad. When I first came out as gay, part of the heartache was that my dream of being one seemed to disappear. I simply accepted I would never be a father.
Years later, I began dating a man named Iain. On a walk one night he asked me whether I wanted a family. Missing the obvious clue, I spoke generally and confessed to him that I did.
Iain mentioned he was planning a holiday to Delhi. I had heard that day on Melbourne's gay radio station, JOY 94.9, that India was a popular spot for surrogacy, so I told him he should check it out while he was there. Iain looked at me with a shocked expression and said, “well, actually, that’s kind of the reason I am going”.
Iain’s plans to become a dad were well advanced when we met - he had signed the contract approximately three months earlier.
We opted to source our own egg donor and not use those available through our clinic. We wanted our kids to have a donor who wanted to help us, so we started our search in the USA.
Choosing an egg donor is a lot like online dating. We browsed through pages of potential donors, looked at photos, read profiles and reviewed extensive familial medical history. Once we found someone we liked, we applied for their egg.
Using an American egg donor and an Indian clinic was not usual - in fact, it was a logistical nightmare. Getting pregnant is about timing, so you can imagine the difficulties trying to coordinate the US and India from Australia.
Once in India, we met our amazing surrogate. I kept thinking that it was quite unique that Iain was lucky enough to be in the room the moment his children were ‘conceived’, but I guess that isn’t all that odd, really.
I had to excuse myself from an important meeting without explanation to take the call where I found out we were pregnant. It raised eyebrows.
What followed were three incredibly nerve-wracking months. And, like most expecting parents, we kept everything a secret at first. I had to excuse myself from an important meeting without explanation to take the call where I found out we were pregnant. It raised eyebrows.
Once three months were up we told our close family and friends, including one friend from Delhi who we asked to visit our surrogate at her home to make sure she was comfortable.
As our due date approached, we identified one weekend for a final date. We finished it off with an amazing dinner - I have a photo of Iain sticking his satisfied belly out like he was pregnant himself.
Little did we know that at almost the exact moment the photo was taken, our surrogate was giving birth.
When Iain got around to checking his email that day, he found one with the subject ‘baby one’ and ‘baby two’. A beautiful boy and girl, born at 32 weeks and five days (seven weeks and two days early).
I called everyone I could think of: Mum and Dad, my sister, my amazing travel agent, and sent cryptic messages cancelling my weekend plans.
Within four hours, we were packed and on our way to the airport. We rearranged flights, booked hotels, bought travel insurance and registered on smart traveller as my mum drove us to the airport.
We arrived at the hospital with no idea where to go and were whisked from room-to-room.
It was 5am when we arrived at our hotel in Delhi, but we were straight on the phone asking to see our kids. Of course, we were told that we would have to wait.
We arrived at the hospital with no idea where to go and were whisked from room-to-room. We were introduced to several people on the same journey as us - all heterosexual couples - and after scrubbing up, finally met our children.
Our daughter Poppy, a flower name as a tribute to the surrogate whose name meant flower, weighed only 2.11kgs, but was the stronger of the two. Oscar had breathing difficulties and weighed 2.26 kgs.
When visiting hours ended we were taken downstairs and I experienced the most humbling moment of my life - we met our surrogate.
What do you say to someone you owe absolutely everything to? I couldn't say "thank you" enough and we left her with a gift as a token of our appreciation.
We developed a pretty strong routine over the days that followed: breakfast, a trip to the hospital, hotel for lunch when we were kicked out, back to the hospital and then home for dinner and a dessert of paperwork.
Our hotel room was covered in piles of paper. One pile was for the DNA doctor, another for the Australian Immigration Department to assess citizenship, another for Foreign Affairs which would decide whether to issue passports, and finally a pile for the Indian government to apply for exit visas to leave the country.
We were particularly anxious about the exit visa as India had changed its surrogacy laws while we were pregnant. We had heard rumours of secret lists, refusals and changes that would mean we would need to seek approval from courts to leave the country. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that and was sorted with one visit to a government office.
Poppy came home first and during our first solo nappy change we discovered that girls can wee up walls.
Oscar stayed in hospital a little longer and there we learnt how much of parenthood seems to be worrying. I had to return to Australia and it wasn’t until my last day in India that Oscar was off the breathing machine long enough for me to hold him. It's a moment I will treasure forever.
The joy soon switched to heartache as I said goodbye to them both and flew home.
The day after I left, my mother-in-law arrived in India to help look after the kids and get through all the paperwork. When I returned to Australia I was busy arranging car seats, building cots, booking vaccinations and paediatrician visits.
Three weeks later, my family were on their way home. I can vividly remember the moment I was able to hold my babies again and introduce my parents to their grandkids. They fell in love with them instantly.
After two-and-a-half-years I can still remember the whole experience like it was yesterday - and not only because I have only had one decent night’s sleep since.
Parenthood has been everything I hoped for and more, but not without plenty of anxiety and self-doubt.
More than anything, though, it has been full of love, so much laughter and reflection on how lucky I am that my dreams came true.
In 2013, India banned foreign gay couples and single people from using surrogate mothers to become parents. In October this year, the Indian government indicated it would tell the country's highest court that it will ban commercial surrogacy and will not permit couples from foreign countries to have children through surrogacy in India. The government said it will take some time to introduce the law. "[It is] in the process of bringing a comprehensive legal framework for not only protecting the rights of surrogate mother but also for prohibiting and penalising commercial surrogacy," the affidavit presented to the court by Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar read.