Hayley, Sophie, Max & Lucy

Melbourne, Victoria

Personal items of the family: baby octopus and turtle soft toys, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (novel), pet bowls, Dyson vacuum cleaner, stethoscope, balance bike, world globe, grass trimmer, Apple earpods, apple peeling machine, Jerusalem cookbook, helmet, toddler scooter, coffee handle filter, wheelie-toy, outdoor sandpit, soccer ball, toddler ride-on toy car Medium: Watercolor on Paper

Summer 2019

The summer morning was filled with dark clouds preparing for a downpour. I was excited to drive through one of Melbourne’s most eclectic and diverse suburbs on my way to meet with Hayley, Sophie, Max and Lucy. The melting pot of people and culture has drawn many to call Melbourne home, to assimilate, live and let live. No doubt, it had influenced this young family’s decision to make their first family home here. Their modest residence included a shaded outdoor decking as well as a big backyard that undoubtedly had the children’s early years in mind. The corner block almost hugged the Kororoit Creek, allowing for easy access to beautiful trails and multiple playgrounds in the vicinity. Surrounding nature was so inviting that one would not need much persuasion about hopping, skipping or jumping out to explore.

Kororoit Creek Medium: Acrylics on Canvas

Hayley & Sophie

Max (2 ½ years) & Lucy (10 months)

Pet Dog: Monte (4 years)

Hayley and Sophie were born and bred in New Zealand. As avid travellers with a thirst for adventure, they travelled a lot around the world before deciding to settle and start a family in Melbourne, Australia. The globetrotters moved to Melbourne in 2009 and by then had been together for about 3 to 4 years. They connected with the laid-back, cosmopolitan nature of the city with its beautiful local and regional parklands while being only a short flight across the Tasman from their motherland.

Conversations about having children began even before the Kiwis became a couple. “We always knew that we wanted to have kids. We talked about all the different ways of having kids, but never thought that we would have a known donor until we got serious. We felt it was important for our kids to know their ancestry and biology. We started with the prospects of a known donor, but one who was not a friend,” Hayley offered as background to their family journey.

Accordingly, Hayley and Sophie bonded with a potential sperm donor whom they met through the internet. The trio became acquainted over a couple of years and committed to a contractual agreement. Even though the donor was never going to be “dad,” he would be involved in the children’s lives and the kids would grow up knowing him. Unfortunately, the in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) process identified that the intended donor had a genetic condition unbeknown to him. Due to the significant risk of transmission to his offsprings, IVF was inappropriate in the circumstances. The news came as a massive shock to all of them. They considered other avenues that could produce the family that they had been planning but to no avail. “It was upsetting at that time since we had come so far in the process. Some of our friends were a bit cavalier and said, “Just get another donor!” However, we had come to know our donor so well, and he would have had a relationship with the children growing up. “He was not just a donor.” Hayley asserted. Indeed, it is quite common amongst many rainbow families where donors, surrogates, friends and significant others become family members. Although recognising such individuals as part of families is unconventional, these special people play a huge role in some rainbow families and form an important part of their children's family identities.

Despite their heartbreaking setback, the episode reinforced Hayley and Sophie’s desire to have their sperm donor involved in their children’s lives. Instead of searching for another stranger, they sought to find a donor within their circle of friends, which also extended to their friend’s social network. Through a good mate, Ritesh*, whom the couple had known from early on when they settled in Melbourne, they found a donor in his younger brother, Yud*.

Yud was a gay man living in Mauritius. During their travels, the New Zealanders had already met him when they stayed with his parents. That was even before Hayley and Sophie began their journey to parenthood. After contemplating this new possibility, they consulted with Ritesh before asking his brother. With Ritesh’s support, Hayley and Sophie were able to reach out to Yud, but with much discretion given his parent’s traditional family values and the conservative culture of the country where homosexuality is still unacceptable. No one else in the family other than Ritesh, knows of Yud’s unique connection to this Australia-based family.

Even though there were other prospective donors, Yud was chosen for several reasons. Being a gay man and living in Mauritius, he was unlikely to be having children anytime soon. Yud was also planning to come and live in Australia, providing an ideal opportunity for him to be actively involved with Max and Lucy.

With Yud on-board, Hayley and Sophie were a step closer to achieving parenthood. The geographical distance presented some logistical challenges initially, delaying the process more so than if Yud had been in Australia. About nine months onwards, Yud came to Australia after having conducted pre-donation screening tests along with video counselling sessions, from his home country. Following his arrival, a joint meeting of the trio with the IVF counsellor led to the commencement of the IVF process.

The Kiwi couple had wanted to be pregnant, deliver their babies and experience newborn parenthood together. They each had embryos created from Yud’s sperm donation. However, their best-laid plans did not go as expected. Sophie struggled with significant side effects from medications. “The medicines made her feel miserable and gave her intense migraines,” Hayley volunteered. “I could barely talk properly through meetings, and I was forgetful. I even forgot our dog Monte’s name!” Sophie added. Although Sophie persevered through her first and only IVF cycle, her embryo transfer was unsuccessful.

Monte, the family’s pet dog (Hayley, Sophie, Max & Lucy) Medium: Pastels on Paper

Conversely, Hayley tolerated IVF much better. Her first embryo transfer led to a successful pregnancy, so she was optimistic about the prospect of carrying one of Sophie’s embryos subsequently. “I loved every moment of being pregnant, so I did not have second thoughts when we were contemplating our second child,” Hayley said excitedly.

The couple was fortunate to have the same midwives care for both their pregnancies, from the first trimester through to delivery, which made it so much easier and comforting. Hayley elucidated, “We only had to explain donor, conception and embryos once through it all.” When Max was about to be born, these midwives supported Hayley to deliver him at home. However, Hayley lost so much amniotic fluid in the process that her unborn child’s heart rate also started to rise, indicating fetal distress and resulting in an emergency caesarean section (C-section). Thereafter, Hayley knew that home birth was not an option for her second pregnancy as it was deemed too risky. However, she still hoped for a natural delivery in the hospital.

“Thinking back to the time of Lucy’s birth was such a haze,” Hayley recalled. “Although more than a day after my waters broke, I was still not in labour” she continued. While under clinical observation, Hayley started to feel increasingly unwell with symptoms suggestive of chorioamnionitis, an infection of the lining of the sac that protects the fetus. When the monitor began to beep in response to a rise in the fetal heart rate, Hayley was not surprised that she would be having another C-section.

Although delivered surgically, Lucy entered the world healthy and placed with her delighted parents almost immediately. Sophie was prepared to undertake the home duties after the birth whilst Hayley took time off to nurse Max previously. Consequently, Sophie had induced breastfeeding, and they were fortunate to have a ward to accommodate both parents. “Although that was never guaranteed, it was so great that we had a room together. Our midwives truly advocated for us. The care we received was the most considerate and attentive. It was nothing short of amazing through one of the most precious times in our lives” Hayley said.

After a short stay with her parents, little Lucy transferred to the special care nursery for strict observation and intravenous antibiotics. “She looked just fine, not like a sick baby at all!” Hayley remembered how upset she was when she found out that Lucy had suspected meningitis. After all, Hayley had seen her share of sick babies in her work as an emergency nurse. Nevertheless, it was for the better and Lucy remained well throughout the ordeal.

The biggest challenge then was attending to Max’s care. At 18 months old, he was not thrilled with the adjustments to his routine following Lucy’s birth. “We needed much help from our network of family and friends,” Hayley revealed. “Although he visited the hospital daily, I was upset to be away from him because I still breastfed him. Thankfully, he was more attached to Sophie at that time, and she could pop out at night from the ward to put him to bed,” Hayley continued.

Once Lucy was cleared for discharge, the family of “five” have not looked back. Monte, their labra-doodle, was keen as a fox to share in the joy and has been a guardian to both kids. Irrespective of their cuddly four-legged playmate, Max and Lucy would not have become bored for their home is truly a wondrous playground. Their beautiful backyard was filled with numerous wheelie toys (Max loves them!), swings on a tree and a sandpit.

Backyard Swings on a Tree (Hayley, Sophie, Max & Lucy) Medium: Graphite Pencils on Paper

Regular visits from Hayley’s mum (grandma) and sister (aunt), along with Uncle Ritesh every couple of months are treasured by the kids. Back in New Zealand is Sophie’s family, where a short flight across the Tasman is regularly featured in the family’s schedule so that the kids can reacquaint with their six cousins there. Yud has since moved to live in the United Kingdom and has met both kids via video-conference. Regardless of their biology and colour, the children are well accepted and loved by all in the family.

Despite all the welcomed affection from family and friends, the family encounter frustrations that resonate with many rainbow families. “Like not recognising ours as a family; people would rather think that we are a couple of friends with kids and they will say “oh, where’s dad?” Hayley informed. Even their friends continue to refer to Yud as the father. For this family, there is not a father. The children have two mums and a donor. As parents, Hayley and Sophie are insightful into how they want to raise their children. They will facilitate their social environments to address misconceptions and build resilience in their children to be proud of their family. Fortunately, there are also active rainbow family groups in their area that provide community support, events and activities so that the children can gain a sense of belonging within our society.

*Yud and Ritesh: pseudonyms used