When Shaun Resnik found himself single at 40, with a lot of love to give and deep yearning for a child of his own, he had an epiphany.
He could fall victim to not having met ‘Mr Right’ and relinquish his lifelong dream of becoming a dad, or he could take matters into his own hands and embark on fatherhood alone.
Shaun Resnik and his surrogate Carla Pincombe.Credit:Scott McNaughton
Mr Resnik chose the latter. Earlier this year, he is understood to have become the first single man in Victoria to be given official approval by the state government to have a biological child on his own under the state’s surrogacy laws. His baby boy is due in mid-April.
“You have all these hopes and aspirations of how your life is going to look, but one day, you wake up and you’re in your 40s with a great career, but no partner to have a child with,” the 44-year-old Melbourne naturopath and mindset coach said.
“All I have ever wanted to do was nurture and guide a child in the world. I didn’t want to give up on that dream because I’ve got so much love to give.”
Under strict Victorian surrogacy laws, an altruistic surrogate’s eggs cannot be used to conceive the child, meaning aspiring parents must either use their own eggs, or like Mr Resnik, find another woman willing to donate their egg.
This can prove extremely challenging, with an estimated one surrogate for roughly every 100 aspiring parents in Australia.
Victorian fertility providers are required by law to ensure that the surrogacy arrangement has been approved by the Department of Health’s patient review expert panel.
As the first single man to be given official approval to embark on surrogacy in Victoria, Mr Resnik was grilled for several hours by the expert panel, an experience he describes as “very confronting, yet necessary”.
“Their sole purpose is to make sure that the surrogate, her existing children and the future surrogate child are well-supported,” he said. ”Nothing was off the table. They can ask you anything, and they do; from your social network to your financial situation.“
While Mr Resnik’s case remains rare, Melbourne surrogacy lawyer Sarah Jefford has observed a slight increase in single men seeking legal advice on how to navigate Victoria’s complex surrogacy laws in the last two years.
She attributed this to marriage equality laws being passed, the coronavirus pandemic and greater societal acceptance of people embarking on the path of parenthood alone.
On Sunday, The Sunday Age revealed there had been a steep annual increase in thousands of women undergoing fertility treatment has been linked to the COVID pandemic and shifts in societal attitudes, as people bring forward their baby plans, reassess what’s important to them and tackle parenthood solo.
Hundreds more single women have sought to have a child without a partner in the past year, while thousands have had their eggs frozen, in an attempt to better their odds of having a child in the future after close to two years of disrupted and distanced dating.
To Ms Jefford’s knowledge, Mr Resnik is the first single man in Victoria to be given approval for surrogacy.
Another man in NSW was given approval for surrogacy last year. His baby was born recently, and he is believed to be the first single man in Australia to become a solo father via local surrogacy.
“As more single women opt to have a baby on their own, it is becoming much more accepted to be a solo parent, so there are more single men thinking ‘well, how long do I wait to find somebody to do this with’?” Ms Jefford, who has been a surrogate and egg donor herself, said.
”But for singles, one of the hardest parts is having to navigate the system on their own.“
There were devastating blows for Mr Resnik along the way. Three potential surrogate mothers, for varying personal circumstances, had to pull out of the process.
“It was very, very emotionally challenging,” Mr Resnik said. “But I knew I had to keep going, despite the setbacks.”
Mr Resnik attended a breakfast event for Victoria’s surrogacy community several years ago and met Melbourne woman Carla Pincombe and the two struck up a friendship.
Ms Pincombe was pregnant with a surrogate child for a same-sex couple when they met, but after watching Mr Resnik’s “surrogacy rollercoaster ride”, Ms Pincombe offered to carry his child.
“She’s one of the kindest, most selfless people I’ve ever met,” he said. “For her to then help me is just phenomenal.”
His egg donor Bree has also become a close friend.
“The reason I wanted to do surrogacy in Australia was because I wanted my future child to have a relationship with the surrogate and the egg donor and essentially create a village around the child,” he said.
“I am the sole parent, but I want my child to know where they come from.”
”It’s very important for the child’s psychological development to know who helped create them and to have a connection with them.“
Surrogate mothers, egg donors, and intending parents must also undergo extensive counselling and psychological assessments before being granted approval.
Pre-pandemic it was estimated about 70 babies are born in Australia each year through surrogacy, compared with about 300 babies born to foreign surrogates.
Commercial surrogacy remains illegal in Australia and surrogate mothers face up to two years’ jail if caught accepting money.
Mr Resnik estimates he will have spent more than $50,000 by the time the baby is born- the bulk of which has been to pay for hospital bills, medical appointments, as well as in vitro fertilisation.
Melbourne fertility specialist Lynn Burmeister, who has helped bring more than 10,000 babies into the world, said Mr Resnik was the first single man who had ever come to her clinic wanting to be a solo father. She believes his case will be a landmark one.
“I think Shaun’s case is significant because it will open people’s eyes to the possibility that you can start a family as a single dad,” she said.
Mr Resnik’s hope is his story will inspire other single men, who long to be parents, to consider surrogacy. He is already planning for a sibling for his unborn child and has not given up hope on meeting Mr Right.
“I’ve come to the realisation life is messy,” he said.
“Sometimes people think they have to have all their ducks lined up in a row to have a family. But sometimes there are no ducks, or the ducks are all over the shop, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams.
“I also am surrounded by an incredible family and such amazing human beings and this baby is going to be so loved.”
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