The journey to parenthood looks different for every family. Whatever winding path of emotions you take, it can be comforting knowing that other families are lighting the path ahead of you. For five years, Ryan and Ray have been headed along that undulating road; first exploring adoption, and now surrogacy. After three devastating pregnancy losses, they’re excited to share the wonderful news that they’re expecting! Ryan and Ray recount their inspirational journey to parenthood through international surrogacy, and their tips for others treading the path behind them.
We’d love to hear a little about your career journeys and current roles.
Ryan: We both started from a pretty humble place; both of us are from small Australian country towns. Funnily enough, both of us had our first jobs at the local supermarket, and we both moved to the city in our late teens and held a raft of various call center jobs where we learned some pretty serious negotiation skills – but also how to solve problems and how to influence.
Ray’s first career job was for AXA (now AMP) in a Financial Adviser Support role, but he fancied himself being able to one day become an accountant. Working full time, Ray began to study a Bachelor of Accounting while also volunteering in AXA’s accounting department, and eventually landed a full-time accounting gig.
Ray has since taken a slight career change, and now works as a full-time project manager, leading organizational transformation projects at a medium-sized accounting practice, while he studies full time to complete a Bachelor of Information System with a major in data analytics – lucky Ray loves early mornings and late nights! He is clearly the hard worker in our relationship.
I got an entry-level gig at National Australia Bank in another contact center, and eventually worked my way into the corporate communications team. Since then I’ve spent almost seven years working in various roles covering media relations, internal communications, social media, and now into my current role responsible for the adoption and success of our enterprise social networking platform, Yammer.
For over five years you’ve been on a journey to parenthood, first exploring adoption and now through surrogacy. Can you take us back to when you first decided to become parents, how you started to gather information about possible routes, and how you landed on surrogacy?
Ryan: We didn’t have an ‘aha’ moment where we both suddenly realized we wanted to be parents. When we first got together, neither of us wanted children.
Ray felt more and more like he wanted to have children as our relationship developed, and the conversation started about two years in. I wasn’t 100% sure at the time – the desire to have children grew for me later down the track. But I knew I loved Ray and wanted to support him in finding out more about what it would entail for us.
At that point we hadn’t even considered surrogacy at all – we immediately went down the adoption route and attended an information night to find out more about permanent care and adoption. We learned a lot about the process and the many pitfalls of the adoption system in Australia but found the information sessions very useful to understand how the process would work from end to end. So, we started an application hopeful, at 25, that by the time it came around we’d be in our early 30s and could still be young dads. Although we started before we were 100% ready, we didn’t want to leave it too late and be left feeling frustrated or disappointed.
Over the next two years, we were blessed with three new nephews and one new niece between us which helped solidify my desire to become a dad – and reminded me how awesome siblings are! We knew at that point we wanted to have at least two kids.
Surrogacy became an option for us more than two years after our initial adoption application was submitted. I guess we got a little bit impatient waiting, and we also realized that our chances of being able to have two children through adoption in Australia were slim. Twin adoption is rare, and with an unofficial cut-off age of 35 for adoptive parents in Australia, realistically we wouldn’t be able to go through the adoption process twice. We decided to find out more about surrogacy, with the understanding that we could become parents within two short years.
When we first started looking for information about surrogacy it was tough. We explored what it would be like to pursue surrogacy in Australia, the US, Thailand, India, Cambodia, Mexico, Canada, Cyprus, and probably a few other countries I can’t remember right now. In the end, we chose Cyprus.
Because the process and legal system in all these locations are completely different, there isn’t a central source of truth when it comes to getting information about surrogacy.
We found the best way to approach things was to look for surrogacy seminars and conferences happening around Australia. This way we could hear representatives from different agencies and various locations talk through their programs, as well as hear from legal experts and other advocacy groups. We also met with surrogacy agencies in different countries – we found most, if not all, of these agencies, and even some independent surrogacy coordinators, are more than generous with their time. We spent hours and hours at all times of the morning and night asking question after question after question and building up a picture of how the process would work in each country. Most agencies have a legal team and an IVF clinic or specialist – who we bombarded with questions, too!
The information is out there – the tricky part is finding it, piecing it all together, and working out which sources of information are trustworthy.
Looking back, what conversations do you wish, or are you glad, you had as a couple before you began your journey?
Ryan: We made a promise to one another at the start of this process that no matter how difficult things got, and no matter how much we felt the cards were stacked against us at times, we would keep our perspective.
Adoption, IVF, and surrogacy are incredible opportunities that give families of all shapes and sizes the ability to grow. We’re lucky we live in a world where this is available to us – and even though we’ve had a tough time with this so far, we’ve been lucky to experience the joy of expecting a child four times now.
Many couples and individuals have stories like ours, and our experience means we can understand and support others going through the same thing.
Although you made the call not to continue down the adoption route after experiencing various challenges and roadblocks, what did you learn along the way that might help others?
Ryan: Learning about the adoption process taught us a lot about the emotional and developmental needs of a child who has been adopted, which we feel equally applies to a child who’s been born via a surrogate and an egg donor.
Research has shown the devastating effect a lack of connection with one’s biological family can have on a person’s identity and wellbeing. As they grow up, keeping an open dialogue with children about who they are and where they come from is incredibly important to us. It’s the reason we’ve done things like selecting an egg donor who was happy to meet with us and share information about herself, including her hopes for our child, so that in the future we can share this with them. Meeting the surrogate is not part of the usual process in Cyprus, but it was a non-negotiable for us.
After deciding to pursue international surrogacy, you created a ‘wish list’ for your journey to help you find the right agency to meet your needs. Can you talk us through what was on your list?
Ryan: At the top of our wish list was that the team (i.e. the agency, coordinators, IVF specialists, etc.) needed to be made up of good people. People that we could spend time getting to know and that felt like the kind of people we’d personally want to be around. It’s an incredibly emotional and challenging journey – and I don’t think the journey ends once the baby is born – we wanted to make sure the right people surrounded us.
Secondly, that it is safe and ethical. Are the surrogates and donors in it for the right reasons? Are the right standards and processes in place to protect them? Are the medical standards up to scratch? etc.
Financial considerations are important too. It’s often not just the upfront cost that you need to consider for surrogacy, but the cost to continue if things don’t go right the first time. For example, in Cyprus, they use what’s known as a ‘guarantee program’ that includes additional egg retrievals and transfers. For us this has proven to be one of the most important things – we’ve experienced three emotionally devastating miscarriages – but if we had chosen to pursue surrogacy via the U.S.A. we’d be out of the game by now; we just wouldn’t have the funds available to continue our journey.
Then comes the legal process, the level of risk involved, and the complexity of things like insurance.
We can’t imagine the ups and downs you’ve experienced on your journey. We’re extremely sorry to hear you’ve experienced three miscarriages. How are you coping with the emotional rollercoaster?
Ryan: Some of the things that have helped us have been trying to focus on the positive things, making sure we always keep our support network close and talking it out. It’s difficult to talk about it, but letting people know what you’re going through and talking about it openly and proudly is probably the best thing you can do. There’s just something about doing this that helps you cope, but it helps other people who might have been in a similar situation feel more confident talking about it too.
One of the really beautiful things we’ve experienced as a result of being so open, is we’ve had a lot of other people open up to us well. We’ve heard so many stories from people who, before hearing our story, felt that miscarriage, IVF, surrogacy, or fertility wasn’t something they could, or should, talk about openly. To know that we can help other people just by sharing our story is everything.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself, and probably about people in general, throughout this process, it is that you have absolutely no idea about how much you can get through in life until it happens. If someone had asked me at the start of our journey whether I’d try again if there was a miscarriage, I would have said no. But now, we’re expecting a child and in the second trimester after three miscarriages – just taking it one day at a time. It really is incredible what you can face.
I have to say, honestly, sometimes taking the time to cry helps too. After the first miscarriage, Ray and I lay in bed holding each other for what felt like three days. Sometimes you just need to take the time to heal. And I think everyone processes that differently.
What are your top tips for those whose loved ones are on the journey to parenthood through surrogacy or IVF on how they can offer support?
Ryan: For someone not going through it, or who doesn’t fully understand what’s involved, it can probably sound a bit confronting and like we’ve often got some pretty intense stuff going on. But don’t worry if you’re not sure what to say or do – all we need you to do is listen, tell us it’s going to be okay, and that you’ll back us 100%, no matter what happens or what we decide to do.
How have you managed work and communicating with your co-workers during your journey to parenthood, in particular during the surrogacy process and miscarriages? Do you have any tips for others?
Ryan: I think it’s different for everyone and I can completely understand why a lot of people wouldn’t want to talk about it with their colleagues – and I think that’s fine. I would, however, recommend at least talking to your direct manager, or someone senior enough that you trust.
Starting the conversation with our employers has really worked for us. I’ve probably had three managers during our experience so far, and I’ve taken the time to sit down with each of them to explain the process we’re going through and what it means for us. Whether expecting or not, I think it’s really important. I can then say things to my manager like, “Hey, if I’m a bit grumpy or not as productive today, it’s because our 12-week scan is due and I’m feeling absolutely terrified”, and they can then give me space if I need it. And when the worst has happened, which it has for us three times now, it’s made it really simple for me to let my manager know that I need to take some time off, and also get the support from work I need.
Our approach with our other co-workers is just to approach it on a case-by-case basis and improvise. We’re both happy to answer questions openly and honestly and share our experience with anyone who’s interested.
That said, we’ve chosen to openly share our journey on social media – mainly because we want to help others going through the same thing know that it’s okay, and help people looking for information.
How can workplaces best support employees on the IVF/surrogate journey, and those who have sadly experienced a miscarriage?
Ryan: At an organizational level, it’s having inclusive processes and policies in place so that an employee’s direct manager has enough discretion to just give you the time you need, when, and if you need it. Ideally any employee, in any situation, should be able to look at an organization’s parental leave policy and see where they fit into it.
For example, going through a miscarriage and being able to know that I can take the time I need without multiple people having to approve it, or having to explain it to someone in a human resources team or equivalent, has helped immensely. I probably take this for granted working for a large, well-established organization, but I think it’s really important for organizations to deliberately make sure they aren’t creating any unnecessary barriers that might stop people from prioritizing their own health and wellbeing. I think the other thing is for organizations to always think about the skills their leaders need to have to ensure they are equipped to have these conversations within teams.
For leaders, it just comes down to having good listening skills and showing empathy. Leaders don’t need to be able to solve your problems, they just need to listen and support you as best they can.
What have you learned that could practically help others who are considering IVF or surrogacy? What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your journey?
Ryan: The best advice we could give is to take it one step at a time, especially in the beginning. When we first started to explore surrogacy, it was completely overwhelming trying to wrap our heads around the process from end-to-end – there were just so many ‘what ifs’ we wanted to have answered.
Gather one piece of information at a time and keep an open mind. Try not to approach things with a fixed idea about exactly how you’d imagine it should all work – because your ideas will be challenged. You’ll need to be patient and you’ll need to put a whole lot of trust in other people to make it happen.
I’m inspired by…
Ryan – people who don’t take life too seriously.
Ray – making people happy.
I recharge by…
Ryan – daytime napping with Rupert (the German Shorthaired Pointer).
Ray – hiking.
Ryan – I’m obsessed with singing: at home, at the shops, in the shower.
Ray – Can do Cossack dancing (dancefloor quality).
Follow Ryan and Ray’s surrogacy journey @thebabyplan.