For some people, the road to parenthood is not straightforward. They have to seek alternative ways to create families of their own if they are not able to conceive in the usual way. One option is surrogacy, but the process can be expensive, complicated and overwhelming.

Surrogacy is legal in New Zealand if it is performed altruistically, where the surrogate donates her services selflessly, without any compensation other than reimbursement of any expenses. Commercial surrogacy, where the surrogate is paid in addition to having her expenses covered, is not legal.

We talk with surrogate mum Aleisha Hart and dads Christian Newman and Mark Edwards about their surrogacy journey which culminated in the birth of little Francis in 2018.

Aleisha’s story

What made you consider surrogacy?

I had been contemplating egg donation for some time but was reluctant to get across the line. It was something I was interested in but I couldn’t quite get there. Then I saw the opportunity for surrogacy come up and it felt right, and I thought that this was actually something I could do. It felt positive and it felt right from the beginning. My main feeling was why not? I couldn’t think of a reason not to do this. I enjoy pregnancy and loved being pregnant, it allowed me to give a gift and I had no real responsibility after the baby was born. A win-win situation!

So how did the process actually work?

The process was very in-depth and robust. Psychologist appointments, counsellors, lawyers, forms to fill in, phone calls, medical testing – and that was just to get to ethics approval. Red tape and roadblocks are the norm. Here is the first LARGE message Christian sent me, and I think he said it’s at that point often that people are put off or realise they can’t do it or it’s not for them!

Hey Aleisha,

As promised, here is the info and things to think about that the counsellors will ask you.

As mentioned, the doctor has recommended, based on previous surrogates and also from what the Ethics Committee prefer, that we choose a surrogate that has had children before.

The reason for this is for the safety of the surrogate, as first pregnancies can be difficult and challenging the first time. They encourage surrogates to have understood and been through the process of childbirth before.

We would LOVE it if you would be our surrogate! We think you are an amazing woman and that we would get along really well. From our chat you come across as laid-back and personable which is really important for us.

If you’re still interested in helping us, we would need to arrange an appointment with Fertility Associates where you would have a medical check-up and also a counselling session.

Once the initial medical and counselling sessions are done, the reports are sent to ECART (Ethics committee) and they (hopefully) approve it. The next meeting of ECART is Sept (I think) so we’re hoping to get sign-off by then. Finally, when all ducks are lined up, we have the embryo implanted and hopefully you get cooking.

It is quite a complicated and drawn-out process, so before you make a decision, is there anything you want to know? Obviously, we will pay for everything including medicals and any expenses related to this whole journey.

The clinic will be able to advise around how many visits you need to have, what’s asked, how long the process is and how invasive it all is, but do you have any questions or hesitations with regard to if the first IVF fails or anything?

The one question we have, if you’re still keen to go ahead, is if the first round doesn’t take for some reason, would you be willing to try a few times? I’ve heard of a couple that went through the whole process and after the first round failed, the surrogate had had enough and didn’t want to go through a second round. I guess until you’re aware of the whole process this might be hard to say, but I guess we want to know in general how resilient you are.

What is the process?

  1. Parents (Mark & Christian) will meet with the doctors and counsellors at Fertility Associates (F.A.) to get all the tests and make sure we’re of sound mind etc.
  2. The surrogate will need to meet with F.A. doctors & counsellors and have tests etc as well. They will ask lots of questions and check your medical history and family history etc.
  3. If everything is all good, F.A. will write up our report and submit it to ECART for approval. If ECART approves our application then the IVF process starts.

Then the egg and sperm will create an embryo in the lab and will grow for five days before they freeze it. Then when the surrogate is ready and the stars are aligned, F.A. will implant the embryo, and, hopefully, start growing the baby.

If the baby takes and you are able to give birth, then you would be the legal parent and you would have to sign over your rights via adoption. You can’t do this until 12 days after the birth, however the courts can allow the parents to take the baby on day one.

Things to consider if you want to be a surrogate:

  1. How much do you want to be involved in future with our child (if any)?
  2. Are there any significant things happening in your life now or in the future that mean you wouldn’t have support from your partner (are they away a lot for work etc)?
  3. Are you happy to have as many treatments (of IVF to get the fertilised egg in) until it’s successful?
  4. Is there any history of mental illness or medical issues in the family etc?
  5. If there is an abnormality with the child would you be ok to terminate?

Anyway, lots of questions and lots to think about, so please let us know when you’re ready what you think and if you’re still keen.

Have a great week. Chat soon.
Christian xx

How did you decide that Christian and Mark would be the couple you felt confident to partner with?

Again, it was an initial gut reaction. I also hadn’t actively looked for anyone – it was the fact I came across them by accident that led to my interest. It went smoothly and we got along, there was no hesitation.

How did you feel when Francis was born?

I had a very traumatic long labour. It was difficult not having my own support person present, but the guys were great. I was privileged to have a private obstetrician and the service was second to none. I definitely had mixed emotions at birth. I was obviously trying to enjoy the time and take it all in but also watch from a distance. It was very overwhelming, all the responses and messages from people. Christian and Mark stayed with me in the room though which was nice, and after the birth I expressed colostrum for Francis.

There were highs and some lows, but it was mostly very positive and a time in my life I will never forget. I loved Francis at first sight just like my other children, but there was never a time I thought he should be mine to take home.

It was interesting working through the logistics – for example, it was complicated getting permission for a man to stay in the labour ward to look after his new baby. We also had to seek permission so Christian and Mark were able to take custody immediately, which we thought was best for everyone!

We could definitely write a book about it all, but there were no insurmountable difficulties for me. I understand the legal process is quite convoluted… how did this affect you and the dads?

I think the legal process was more stressful for them as they had to prove themselves and have prior adoption consent. This took a lot of time and was costly. The delay meant I was the legal guardian of Francis while I was pregnant and for nine months post birth. This did not really safeguard any of us and was also simply wrong. We felt the ethics approval and the reality of me having an embryo implanted which wasn’t my biological yet WAS biological of one of the Dads should void the process of adoption.

Would you do it again? Would you encourage others to become surrogates?

I have other goals and priorities now, but I would recommend the process. It is a large chunk of your life which can have a big impact on many people around you. It’s not just like volunteering to do the sausage sizzle at school!

What was the most fulfilling part of your surrogacy journey?

It has been fulfilling throughout the whole journey and wonderful to hear the nice words people say. Also, to now look at Francis and see the joy he brings – I think he is here because I made a decision to do something. So many people say they wish they had done something or “I thought about doing that”. I didn’t want to have those regrets – surrogacy is something I have done, something I’m part of! A legacy if you like …

Christian and Mark’s story

What led you to consider surrogacy?

Unfortunately, we aren’t able to have children ourselves, so that leaves the adoption route or surrogacy. Adoption in New Zealand is very limited and there is no guarantee that we would actually get to adopt. So, we had a better chance with surrogacy, and we had more control over this, to ensure we could start a family.

How did the process work – were there barriers?

There were so many barriers.

  1. Finding a surrogate
  2. Finding an egg donor
  3. Going through ethics committee to get approval
  4. Getting pregnant
  5. Adopting our own child
  6. Cost constraints, red tape, timing, unknowns etc…

How did you decide that Aleisha would be the best woman to carry your child?

Aleisha ticked all the boxes. She was young, fit, had finished her family, lived in Auckland, was an amazing woman who spent a lot of time giving back and she was doing it all for the right reasons.

Did you both feel included in the pregnancy and birth process?

Yes, we were fully involved from start to finish. It was amazing and Aleisha was so open and easy, which made everything perfect.

I understand the legal process affect you as parents…

Yes, when our child was born, we were not legally his fathers. We had to adopt Frankie from his ‘birth’ mother even though she was not related to him at all.

What advice would you give to others who wish to have a baby with a surrogate mother?

It is a long and expensive process. Be ready to roll with the punches as there are a lot of them. But there is nothing better than having your own child in your arms and being a parent.

What was the most difficult part of your journey to parenthood?

Not having the control of the process. Everyone else had to decide whether or not we could be parents. It was absolutely ridiculous!

What was the most fulfilling part of your journey to parenthood?

Having a whole new family – Aleisha’s family are so amazing and we are pretty close now, which is a really fabulous bonus!

Christian Newman and Mark Edwards


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