Sister-in-law's gift: "I’ll carry your baby for you"
REBECCA Robinson would love to start a family.
The 26-year-old married her soul mate Will in a romantic ceremony in Airlie Beach in September last year and said now they both dream of becoming parents.
But the Brisbane resident has a rare congenital heart condition and has been advised she shouldn't carry the baby herself.
"I was born with transposition of the great arteries, a hole between the aortas, a single ventricle and leaking valve.
"I had corrective surgery for the transposition of the great arteries and a valve replacement but I will always have a single ventricle.
"I also have a leaking valve which they check on at my yearly clinic visits to Prince Charles Hospital with Dr Dorothy Radford, who's been my cardiologist since I was a baby."
Rebecca has had four open heart surgeries, the first one when she was just two weeks old.
"I had my all of my surgeries before I was three."
She said her heart condition stops her from doing a lot.
"There are a lot of things I'm not allowed to do. I can't get my ears pierced, I can't go on roller coasters and I have to go on medication before going to the dentist because the risk of infection."
She also can't carry a baby.
"When I last saw my cardiologist we spoke about pregnancy and she advised me it would be very high risk. She said she didn't want to tell me not to do it but gave me a lot of scenarios," Rebecca said.
Rebecca's cardiologist Dr Dorothy Radford said pregnancy puts an increased work load on the heart.
"Increased blood volume, increased cardiac output, increased heart rate - makes an increased work load on the heart - as well as the increased chance of clotting."
She said in general, women with common heart defects can carry pregnancies.
"If surgical repairs have been done and generally the pregnancy is tolerated, but each patient is assessed carefully and monitored appropriately during the pregnancy," she said.
But Rebecca's heart defect isn't common.
"She has only one ventricle and has had complex cardiac surgery," Dorothy said.
Rebecca said: "Other people who have surgeries similar to mine have had premature children or miscarriages.
"My cardiologist said she wouldn't suggest I carry a baby but she didn't want to say not to do it.
"So we made the decision not to.
"There are just too many risks for me and the baby. Blood clotting is one of them, I take blood thinning medication every day."
After visiting the cardiologist, the couple were updating their family when her sister-in-law Melanie Woodford generously offered to be their surrogate.
"We were telling her about the situation and she said to my husband she would love to carry for us.
"She just offered, we didn't ask her, it was so kind," Rebecca said.
Melanie, who already has two sons with husband Adam, said she didn't need to think twice before offering.
"When they told me I just said: 'I'll carry your baby for you'. I didn't even discuss it with my husband!
"I have since discussed it with my husband though and he has agreed to give it a go.
"It would be wonderful if we could help them out," Melanie said.
Rebecca said she feels incredibly lucky.
Finding an altruistic surrogate is the first battle for many of Australian couples.
Altruistic surrogacy is the only type of surrogacy legal in Australia. It is when a surrogate receives no financial gain for carrying a child. The intended parents can only pay the out of pocket expenses such as medical costs, time off work and legal fees.
Surrogacy Australia president Robert Reith said there is no known number of how many people in Australia are looking for surrogates but recent stats show a low number of surrogacy births.
"The latest birthing figures from 2014 show 10 or 20 surrogacy births per year. Which is low because most people were going overseas until Thailand and India stopped allowing it."
In February 2015, Thailand banned international surrogacy following the case of baby Gammy.
Baby Gammy was born with Down Syndrome to a Thai surrogate. His intended Australian parents took his sister but left Gammy with his surrogate.
Robert said it is also hard to know how many Aussies are looking for surrogates because it is illegal to advertise.
"While altruistic surrogacy is legal in Australia it is illegal for couples looking for a surrogate to advertise wanting one and for surrogates to advertise being one.
"No one has been brought before a court to test this but not being able to advertise limits people's ability to ask for a surrogate. You need to know someone who knows your story and offer to be one."
A quick search found 75 ads from people seeking a surrogate in the Brisbane area on a website called surrogacyfinder.com.au.
"I wouldn't vouch for its authenticity," Robert said.
He also said a Parliamentary review reported in April, advising against commercial surrogacy, flagged some changes about being able to advertise.
While the Robinsons have a surrogate they said they are now looking at more than $50,000 in surrogacy fees.
"We have to pay IVF, hospital costs, lawyers, counselling, doctors and for Melanie being off work.
"For one attempt without any extra court costs, psychologists, extra doctors appointments we are looking at close to $60,000. Mel is having C-section as she can't birth naturally so there will be more costs for doctors, anaesthetist and hospital on top of this fee.
"Medicare and private health don't cover anything for costs associated with surrogacy. Which is crazy, they cover IVF but not IVF for surrogacy," Rebecca said.
Robert from Surrogacy Australia said this is because surrogacy in Australia used to be illegal.
Altruistic surrogacy was first legalised in the ACT in 2004. Today, Australia's surrogacy laws are regulated on a state-by-state basis with the legislation varying in each state but current Medicare policy forbids Medicare rebates for IVF use for surrogacy.
"If you need IVF for surrogacy you can't get Medicare rebates because surrogacy was illegal not that many years ago and they said why should we reimburse people for something that is illegal? But this will change."
Surrogacy Australia is currently lobbying for a Medicare reform for people who need access to IVF for surrogacy purposes.
"We have had meetings with Susan Ley, who is the Federal Health Minister. The law will change, it's just going to take a while," Robert said.
Robert said the out of pocket costs for IVF for surrogacy purposes is significantly more expensive than the out of pocket costs for non-surrogacy purposes.
"First they [the Robinsons] will need to create embryos through IVF treatment. This can cost anywhere between $6000 and $20 000 per IVF cycle," Robert said.
Rebecca said she and Will have contacted a few IVF clinics and received their brochures but doesn't know what their out of pocket costs will be.
"We've been given some costing for IVF but no specific price. We need to go in and do a full consultation first."
Robert said each state is different but in Victoria, after the IVF there is a six month waiting period where paper work is checked.
"During this time there is a panel application process when they review all the documentation, psychological tests, look for any issues that may come up during the pregnancy and all those what ifs."
There are also the standard police and working with children checks and the surrogate has to go through counselling.
"The embryo transfer can take place after all these checks. Then it's just a regular pregnancy. At the end you have to transfer the parentage through court," Robert said.
Unbeknown to Rebecca, her mum Katrina Gifford Studd started a Go Fund Me account to try and help raise some of the money the young couple need to make their dream of having a family come true.
"They are a beautiful couple who deserve to have this happen for them. Beck has missed out on a lot in her life and I would really love for this to become a reality not just a dream for her," Katrina said.
It's only been a few days but already donations have been pouring in.
And while they still have a long way to go, Rebecca said she is grateful for every little bit they receive.
"We're saving as well. Every donation is amazing but even if people can't donate, just sharing our story is enough."
If you would like to donate you can do so here.
Alexia Purcell is APN Australian Regional Media's social media editor.