Other paths to parenthood

Sunday 1 May, 2016

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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. This section talks about other paths to parenthood.

Some people decide that the options described in this chapter aren’t for them. You may continue to try for a pregnancy – using the same or a different method – because you might feel strongly about bearing your own offspring.

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


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 carries a donated embryo to term. The embryo can be created from the egg and sperm of either the intended parents or a donor. The embryos are implanted into the surrogate’s uterus through IVF.

Surrogacy is a complex process for everyone involved. The fertility clinic organising it ensures that both the donor and surrogate go through several steps first, such as counselling and psychiatric testing. An ethics committee may also have to approve your case. This ensures that all parties make a well-informed decision.

If surrogacy is an option, you will need to pay the medical costs of the IVF process and any additional expenses.

How to find a surrogate

In Australia, it is illegal to pay a surrogate for her services. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as altruistic surrogacy. It’s common for people to ask someone they know to be the surrogate. Paid surrogacy is permitted in some countries overseas. The fertility clinic will have a list of conditions the surrogate will need to meet.

This is general information about surrogacy. Laws vary around Australia and may change. Check with your local fertility clinic for the current legislation in your state or territory. It’s best to consult a lawyer before entering into a surrogacy agreement.

Adoption and fostering

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


This involves taking legal parental status of a child who is not biologically yours and looking after them permanently. You may be able to adopt a child within Australia or from an overseas country.

"I was treated for kidney cancer about 50 years ago and the radiotherapy damaged my ovaries. After I married, I tried fertility drugs but didn’t have a viable pregnancy. 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." – Sylvia

For more information about adoption, visit the family and community service government website in your state or territory. For a guide to overseas adoption, visit the Australian Government’s intercountry adoption website or call 1800 197 760.

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 adoption agency.

Fostering (foster care)

This means 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 must also be willing to meet other criteria. The agency from your state or territory may send a representative to assess your home, and you will have a criminal record (background) check. The process depends on where you live and if the child is from Australia or overseas.

Reviewers: Prof Roger Hart, Medical Director of Fertility Specialists of Western Australia and Professor of Reproductive Medicine, School of Women’s and Infant Health, University of Western Australia, WA; Dr Antoinette Anazodo, Paediatric and Adolescent Oncologist, Sydney Children’s and Prince of Wales Hospitals, Director of the Sydney Youth Cancer Service, NSW; Brenda Kirkwood, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Dr Michael McEvoy, Director of Clinical Services, Flinders Fertility, SA; Eden Robertson, Research Officer, Behavioural Sciences Unit, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Kayla Schmidt, Consumer; A/Prof Kate Stern, Head of Fertility Preservation Service, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Melbourne IVF, Head Endocrine and Metabolic Service, Royal Women’s Hospital and Clinical Director, Melbourne IVF, VIC; and Prof Jane Ussher, Centre for Health Research, Western Sydney University, NSW.

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