Archive for September, 2003

The Age – "Fathers and son" by Annmaree Bellman

September 25, 2003 Leave a comment

A new film follows two Melbourne men’s quest to become gaydads . By Annmaree Bellman.

AFTER three years of IVF, a Melbourne couple are counting the days to the arrival of their first child: decorating the nursery, buying up big at Babyco. They’re ready for the dash to the hospital – in Iowa.

Tony Wood and Lee Matthews are gay. Prohibitive Australian legislation about same-sex parenting has led them into an expensive overseas surrogacy deal. They’re flying to America not just to meet their baby, but its birth mother. Filmed at claustrophobically close quarters, their pursuit of parenthood makes for one heck of a road movie.

The story’s complexities intrigued director Emma Crimmings when she learned of their plan three years ago. Tony worked at the same law firm as her partner and had even appeared in one of her earlier films, but he and Lee refused an initial request to document this experience. “It was too confronting,” says Crimmings, who studied documentary-making in the University of Melbourne’s VCA program. “It wasn’t until they got pregnant that we talked about it seriously, about what would be involved and whether they would be willing to take that leap.”

The leap was considerable. Crimmings was a friend but the film is no glowing tribute to surrogacy, nor a glib treatise on gay parenting. The couple’s desire to be parents collides constantly with the bald realities of buying a baby. Empathy with their predicament and connection with these humorous, committed, anxious dads-to-be takes flight, for instance, with the news that the Iowan mother-of-two having their baby might not breastfeed. Negotiations loom. “We have always wanted to be able to access our surrogate’s colostrum,” says Tony. It exemplifies the unflinching nature of a film that simultaneously delights and discomforts.

“When they first saw the film, there were lots of things in it that were deeply confronting,” says Crimmings. “There’s not a lot of people who could deal with having that mirror thrown at them, particularly in such an intimate context. We negotiated some things but overall they permitted me to make the film I wanted.” They participated not least because it highlighted the situation of gay couples wanting children in what Crimmings describes as “1950s Howard Australia”.

“They have an agenda – they’re political about this issue and the only way change is going to be invoked is through awareness and, as Tony said, it’s like the best-quality home video; a legacy for (their son) Alexander.”

Crimmings began shooting in July 2002, her job as curator of projects at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image shoehorning the film into weekends until it came time to board the plane last December. It is a starkly intimate film, Crimmings trapping faces in close-up, capturing quips, spats, frustration. The emotional tension accelerates when we meet Junoa, the surrogate mother whose outward serenity belies evident conflict. Her participation, which adds immeasurable power to the film, almost didn’t happen. “I had a chat to the guys and said `Look, I think it will benefit the story and provide all of the aspects of this journey if she speaks. And it would soften it, frankly.’ The guys were understandably protective of her but after the birth Junoa gave us all a bit of a gift and agreed to be part of the project. I think she was actually thankful for the ability to externalise it.”

Junoa’s inner turmoil is largely unspoken, voiced instead by a midwife whose perspective, alongside that of the head of the LA surrogacy agency who brokered the deal, is one of the film’s strengths. Their views, and the responses of other players along the way, answer the questions both the situation and audience demand. “This has got nothing to do with my politics or anyone else’s,’ says Crimmings. “It’s about revealing the story. As a viewer you search your own morals and ethics about what’s happening and you need all the information to do that. There is a commercial reality to this and an emotional reality (for Junoa). You don’t have to judge, but you have to ask questions.”

Condensing 50 hours of footage into 50 minutes became a feat of sensitivity. The result is a finely shaded portrayal with unexpected twists. Tony and Lee didn’t envisage Junoa playing a role in Alexander’s life after the birth but, as their relationship evolved, all three had to adapt to human rather than contractual imperatives. Junoa plans to visit the new family later this year. “There’s the complexity,” concludes Crimmings. “They entered into a commercial arrangement but it carries the comet tail of emotion. I think that even surprised the guys. They have a marvellous relationship with Junoa now, a real friendship, and she will play an important role, even if a distant one, in Alexander’s life.”

Two Men and a Baby screens on Tuesday at 7.30pm on SBS.


The Age – "Gay dads want baby to be straight" by Larry Schwartz

September 13, 2003 Leave a comment

Lee Matthews wants the best for his infant son, Alexander. Among other things, he hopes the boy will grow up to be “straight”.

“Being gay in today’s society still has its challenges,” he says. Being straight, he hopes, will give the boy “one less hurdle to jump”.

The 34-year-old St Kilda business consultant knows what it is to jump hurdles. After years of failed attempts to gain access to IVF and commercial surrogacy in Australia, Mr Matthews and his partner, Tony Wood, 40, travelled to the US late last year to watch a surrogate mother give birth to their baby.

Interviewed yesterday at the Mount Buller ski resort, the couple, who have been together for 14 years, recalled their frustrations with legislation preventing adoption or access to commercial surrogacy in Victoria.

Weighing in at 2.8 kilograms, Alexander was born to surrogate mother Junoa after three years of frustration involving three surrogates, three egg donors and six IVF transfers.

Now, says Mr Wood, “we have the perfect child. Every parent probably says that. He’s an absolute delight, just amazing and he’s got the most wonderful nature.”

The couple declined to discuss the expense. “For us to talk about costs cheapens the process,” Mr Wood says.

They say they are mindful of the inevitable attention that will follow the screening on SBS later this month of a documentary on their experience. They agreed to do the film because they trusted film-maker Emma Crimmings, who was now a close friend, and in the hope that it would help educate those with reservations about a child raised in such circumstances.

Man-Made: The Story of Two Men and A Baby will continue a controversy highlighted by Prime Minister John Howard’s recent comment that “if the same status is given in our society to gay unions as are given to traditional marriage we will weaken that bedrock institution”.
‘We believe our family is entitled to the same recognition as other families.’

Mr Matthews and Mr Wood found that even gay acquaintances raised objections when told of their plans. But the “unusual acceptance” from family friends and neighbours in recent months had been enlightening and enriching, Mr Wood said.

The issues of gay parenting and commercial surrogacy have polarised the community.

“There are a number of things that we are worried about,” says Bill Muehlenberg, national vice-president of the Australian Family Association. “One is simply the commodification of children, the idea of baby-buying and all that goes with it.”

Mr Muehlenberg said research showed that the best environment for a child was with a biological mother and father. “We may be placating the whims and fancies of adults, but too often the very real interests of children are being overlooked in the debate,” he said.

But Dr Justin Oakley, director of the Monash Centre for Human Bioethics, said: “I don’t see there’s any particular problem with it and I think it’s a shame that they (Mr Matthews and Mr Wood) have had to resort to such means in order to become parents.”

“We believe we became parents for all the right reasons,” Mr Matthews said. “Because we thought we could offer a nurturing, protective and supportive environment.”

The couple said they had not ruled out having more children.

State and federal laws on surrogacy vary in Australia. State Attorney-General Rob Hulls has asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to look into altruistic surrogacy as part of a broader inquiry.

Mr Matthews was surprised when his partner first suggested that they have a child and “just got clucky”. Mr Wood says he proceeded only once it was clear they could afford the surrogacy program.

The couple yesterday said they were not necessarily advocating surrogacy, and that for many gay couples the costs would be prohibitive.

In the documentary, William Halms, of the Los Angeles surrogacy agency Growing Generations, says that costs are so high he calls his own three children born in the program “$75,000 babies”. He says a first-time surrogate mother is paid $US20,000 ($A30,000). Egg donors receive about $5000.

The St Kilda couple have kept in regular contact with Junoa, who will visit Australia for Alexander’s first birthday.

They said they were aware whose sperm had been used, but it was inappropriate to reveal this. They would try to ensure that Alexander came to understand the circumstances of his birth and that he had two fathers, but no mother.

A mother-of-two when she gave birth to Alexander, Junoa says in the documentary that she told her children, Joshua and Elise that “the baby in my tummy was Tony and Lee’s”.

Her husband, also Tony, had been concerned but she had reassured him that she “wanted to give somebody who really wanted children a chance to be a parent, because I think there’s nothing better than parenting”.

Man Made: The Story of Two Men and A Baby will be screened on SBS at 7.30pm on Tuesday, September 30.

The film-makers will be on hand to answer questions after a special screening at the Cinema Nova, in Carlton at 1pm on Sunday, September 28. The season begins at the Nova on October 16.

[Link: Original Article]