Australia’s first surrogate child, Alice Clarke and her family talk about their experience, 32 years on

Alice Clarke is 32 and Australia’s first surrogate child. She was born in 1988 to mother, Maggie and father, Sev. This was all possible thanks to Maggie’s sister, Linda, who agreed to be a surrogate for the couple

Here she talks to ABC’s Weekend podcast, hosted by Libbi Gorr and tells the story, along with Maggie and Linda on her remarkable journey into the world and beyond.

Maggie, who works as a senior research fellow in Women’s Health at Monash University, had a hysterectomy at the age of 30 due to fibroids and had spent a long time coming to terms with the fact she would probably never have children.

Soon afterwards she met her future husband Sev, who had also recently discovered he did not produce sperm. The pair realised they were the perfect couple and after going on four dates, married six weeks later.

That could have been the end of the story, the couple had both accepted their fate in life and could live happily together – just the two of them.

But not long after they married, Sev said he’d thought of a way they could have a baby

Maggie said: “I’d spent almost ten years getting used to the idea that I was going to be child free. But Sev said if IVF was possible why can’t we transfer an embryo into another woman.

“I immediately thought of my sister, Linda as she was a transgressive and liked to shock people, but also very generous and kind.”

The couple decided to ask Linda and see what her thoughts were. But Linda got in there first.

Linda: said: “It was astonishing how things came together. I used to read Age magazine regularly and it said sisters had been having babies for each other for many years. It was a piece about traditional surrogacy in the Pacific Islands population. I knew Maggie wanted a baby.

“I thought ‘I could do that’. I didn’t know about Sev’s infertility at that stage.

“I only thought about using my egg and Sev’s sperm, but I knew I couldn’t give up a child that looked back at me with my own brown eyes.”

Linda and her husband, Jim, went for dinner with Maggie and Sev where she raised her concern.

Linda said: “We were having dinner and I got in first and I said ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t have a child for you’, Maggie said she was just going to ask me and started explaining about IVF, using Maggie’s egg and donor sperm due to Sev’s infertility. I didn’t particularly like being pregnant, but I wanted the experience of giving birth again. And the idea started from there.”

Linda had already had two children in 1982 and 1984 so didn’t want anymore children of her own. The couples spent a long time discussing every possible outcome of the arrangement.

Their father was especially concerned that Linda was looked after and not coerced into it in anyway.

Maggie said: “We talked and talked and talked. We are both fairly reflective people. We just worked through all the possible outcomes and imagine every conceivable outcome and how we would manage it.

Asked how they chose the sperm donor, Maggie said it was Sev’s decision

She said: “No, Sev chose the seed and it was important to him to do that. It someone who wanted to remain anonymous. It was a little complicated, but we knew who he was, but he didn’t want anyone else to know.”

Is that person still around?

Alice, who works as a freelance journalist, said: “My mum sat me down and told me that she didn’t have a nest and dad didn’t have any seeds, so a nice young man helped us.

“I guessed when I was 12 who it was. In hindsight it was blindingly obvious. Mum would not tell me, I had to guess correctly. I wasn’t really that interested, Dad’s great, mum’s great and funnily enough, I’ve never discussed it at all with the donor. He knows I know and has known for 19 years. He gave this amazing gift and the cost of that gift is that we don’t talk to it.”

Maggie said: “We talked about it briefly with him, but I wouldn’t call it a conversation, it was just an announcement and we moved on.”

What about the conception? Was that a real family affair?

“It was before gestational carrier surrogacy was something many people did.

“In 1987 when we enquired about it, we sought the Solicitor General’s opinion was that what we were doing was not illegal.

“IVF was legal and the law is very clear there, non-gestational surrogacy was not legal but particularly if payment was involved, no one had thought of legislatively combining IVF and surrogacy.

“But we were told by the highest source that what we were doing was not illegal and so we decided to go ahead.

“I do remember Alice as an embryo in a dish, which was extraordinary.”

Linda said: “The embryologist was checking out the blastocysts, I could feel Maggie bonding with those eggs at that early stage.”

Alice: “People often think about building the baby and not the actual raising of the baby afterwards. And that is the more difficult part, I think.”

The story got leaked and they were in hospital and we were listening to the radio and people were talking about our story, which was agitating.

Maggie said: “The reason she was presented like the Lion King was we were told the story was going live after we brought Alice home, and we were told we had to agree to a press conference and it was quite an aggressive crowd of journalists to begin with but when they realised we were going to answer all their questions. I just remember everything relaxing and it was quite friendly from then on.”

As a parting comment, all were asked how they felt about the journey:

Linda, who works as a sexologist, said it was an ‘amazing adventure’.

Maggie concluded: “I feel the luckiest woman in the world.”

Alice said: “’You can’t’ does not ever mean it is impossible.”

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