Other paths to parenthood

Sunday 1 June, 2014

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On this page: Surrogacy | Adoption and fostering 

Giving birth yourself or having your female partner become pregnant aren’t the only ways to become a parent. There are other possible avenues to parenthood.

Some people decide that the options described in this section aren’t for them. You may continue to try for a pregnancy. You might have strong feelings about bearing your own offspring.

Other people may come to the decision not to pursue the goal of having children. See being child-free below.


Surrogacy is an option for women if they are unable or do not wish to carry a pregnancy. In Australia, a surrogate is a healthy female who receives embryos created from egg and sperm of the intended parents.

You will need to consider:

  • if it is legal to pay the surrogate for her services (at the time of publication, it is illegal to pay a surrogate in Australia, but paid surrogacy is permitted overseas)
  • who can be the surrogate
  • if the surrogate gives birth to your child, what the child will be told in the future.

Surrogacy is a complex process for everyone involved. The fertility clinic organising it must check that several conditions are fulfilled.

There may be counselling and psychiatric testing involved before you enter into a surrogacy arrangement. An ethics committee may also have to approve your case. This ensures that both parties are making a well-informed decision.

If surrogacy is an option, you will pay the medical costs incurred for the IVF process and any additional expenses.

This is general information about surrogacy. Laws vary from state to state and may change. You need to check with your local fertility clinic, and you may wish to consult a lawyer before entering into a surrogacy agreement.

Adoption and fostering

Adoption and fostering are also options for people who want to become parents:

Adoption – Taking legal parental status of a child that is not biologically yours.

Fostering (foster care) – Taking responsibility for a child without having legal parental status.

Types of fostering include respite, emergency, short-term and long-term care. In Australia, there are more opportunities to foster than to adopt.

Most adoption and fostering agencies say they do not rule out adoption or fostering for cancer survivors on the basis of their medical history. However, all applicants must declare their health status. The agency may also speak directly with your doctor and require you to have a medical examination. The intention is to determine the risk of your cancer returning and your capacity to raise a child.

Applicants also must be willing to fulfil other criteria. The agency from your state or territory may send a representative to assess your home, and you’ll have a criminal record (background) check.

The process depends on where you live and if the child is from Australia or overseas.

A letter from your oncologist stating you are a cancer survivor with a good prognosis may support an application to adopt or foster a child. It is best to check with the agency.

Challenges and rewards

No matter how you become a parent, it can be challenging at times. However, foster or adoptive parenting may present unique challenges. Some children waiting for placement come from multicultural backgrounds. A child could have behavioural issues.

However, adoption and fostering can also have unique, fulfilling rewards. You will receive counselling and support as you decide.

Sylvia’s story

"I was diagnosed with kidney cancer as a baby, about 50 years ago. At that time, the treatment was radiotherapy using a chemical called radium. They didn’t make a shield for my ovaries since I was so young, and my ovaries were damaged. Now, later in life, when I talk about it, I always think: ‘that was pretty damn careless of them’. But it was new technology in Australia, and I was lucky to survive.

"I grew up wanting children someday, but I was always aware that I might have fertility problems. I wondered about this when I was a teenager, waiting for periods to happen ... all my friends were having them and I wasn’t. I used to pretend I got them, and it made me feel a bit fraudulent, like a play actor.

"When I married years later, my husband and I tried to fall pregnant. I was placed on fertility drugs, but I didn’t have any viable pregnancies. It was devastating. I went through premature menopause, so I just accepted that I wasn’t going to fall pregnant. However, I still wanted to be a mother, so we applied for adoption. After a five-year wait, we received my daughter at seven weeks old. She was my baby from the minute I laid eyes on her.

"I would’ve liked more children through IVF or adoption, but it didn’t work out. I also divorced and remarried, and I wasn’t sure how this would be perceived if I applied for adoption again. I had an adult stepson, but he didn’t need mothering like my daughter.

"I never felt a desperate need for my child to be biologically mine, though I do feel sad that I could never experience pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, I feel grateful that I am a mother. I love my daughter.Now and then, someone reminds me that she’s adopted – it doesn’t occur to me otherwise, to be honest."

Tell your cancer story.

Reviewers: Prof Martha Hickey, Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Melbourne, VIC; Franca Agresta, Clinical Research Manager, Melbourne IVF, VIC; Alyssa White, National Publications Project Manager, Cancer Council NSW; and Georgia Mills, Cancer Survivor.
Updated: 01 Jun, 2014