Surviving Surrogacy

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Arthur Tam speaks with author and gay father Richard Westoby ahead of his upcoming Hong Kong talk that aims to guide wannabe parents along the long and complicated road to surrogacy

When it comes to having children, advances in medical science have given prospective parents who can’t follow the traditional method of childbirth new and alternative ways of achieving their dreams. For couples who can’t bear offspring, there are now a range of non-traditional paths they can walk down – and this has been a godsend, in particular, to many in the LGBT community. One of these pathways is surrogacy, where a third party carries a pregnancy for the intended parents. However, the whole process can be suprisingly daunting and disheartening. The exorbitant costs compounded with legal complications cause issues that might have been avoided if couples were given the right kind of information in the first place to prepare them for their long journey.

So, in walks Richard Westoby, a man who’s been dubbed the ‘surrogacy concierge’. And he’s heading to Hong Kong this fortnight to lay down the comprehensive surrogacy process during his Alternative Routes to Building Your Family talk, taking place at The Space in Sheung Wan on May 19. Westoby, who plans to talk about his own journey through surrogacy, which took place two years ago in the USA, is joined by a panel consisting of a Hong Kong obstetrician-gynaecologist, a family lawyer and a few representatives of an American in-vitro fertalisation clinic.

Westoby, a former banker and author of Our Journey: One Couple’s Guide to US Surrogacy, is gay, has a husband and is father to two adorable twins – but he admits he still remembers the dread he felt when he tried to find a surrogacy agency. “The whole process was so opaque,” says the 38-year-old. “Incumbent professionals in the surrogacy world don’t like people to know what’s going on so they can charge more money. Originally we were told that we would be spending around US$110,000 – but we ended up actually spending just about US$200,000.”

 According to Westoby, many couples fall into financial troubles under the misconception of the original costs. What the agency doesn’t factor in are the IVF costs, the travelling expenses incurred by the surrogate, the health insurance and the legal costs, he claims. On top of all that, Westoby says that if he knew what he knows now, he would have actually cut his costs by up to US$50,000. He claims he could have saved US$40,000 alone by not paying an agency to find an egg donor as IVF clinics do that anyway. And he reckons he would have found a surrogate closer to is IVF clinic to save on high travelling costs.

Costs are just part of the issue for Hongkongers, though. Picking where to have the child born is also a big decision. Since it’s illegal in our city to go through surrogacy unless you’re married and heterosexual, many in the LGBT community opt for the US, India or Thailand to go through the process. Westoby warns about passport issues, though. India is a cheaper option – but it takes about four months before a newborn out of surrogacy can receive a passport. The USA is a far more expensive option but a newborn is granted rights to a passport immediately. “This is the information people need to know before they start the journey,” says Westoby.

For gay male Hongkongers, there’s another obstacle too. “These days, the west coast in the USA has been seeing many gay parents from Hong Kong and the Mainland going for IVF,” says Westoby. “When they return to their country, immigration usually becomes suspicious because it’s two men with a child. I know people who have been confronted by the police. It’s discriminatory­­­.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous issues that can arise through surrogacy that might make you have second thoughts. What seems like a wonderful chance to have children can end up being a crushing wave of problems. Thankfully, with Westoby and his team, you can have the knowledge to better prepare. And that isn’t just for gay people, either. “I’m not just trying to reach out to the LGBT community with my talk,” he says. “I’m reaching out to everyone who is looking for a non-traditional way to become a parent.”

Alternative Routes to Building Your Family Mon May 19, 6.30pm-9pm, The Space, 210 Hollywood Rd, Central, 9180 7716; guidetosurrogacy.com. Free.

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