Inquiries for embryos, eggs and sperm to be shipped to New Zealand have increased as Kiwis are no longer able to travel for fertility treatments overseas because of Covid-19.
But getting the precious cargo into the country in an attempt to create a baby has become a whole lot harder.
Finding a surrogate or egg or sperm donor in New Zealand can be difficult, partly because payment to them is illegal here. Most surrogates are someone the intended parents know, but there is an increasing trend of people turning online to find someone.
Before Covid, many would-be parents travelled to specialised clinics overseas where commercial surrogacy is legal and where an embryo transfer would take place.
Dr Mary Birdsall, group director of Fertility Associates, says intended parents are having to rethink the process.
"We're seeing many, many more requests of all different types of fertility treatments involving offshore clinics. So people wanting to ship eggs, sperm, embryos all over the world... and into New Zealand. I think Covid has made that a more challenging landscape."
The specialised companies that usually have a staffer accompany the goods on a plane are unable to provide that service, creating an element of risk.
"The options for moving embryos around the world have become much more limited and more expensive.
"What used to happen before Covid is you were essentially paying for a courier to personally carry your embryo in a little portable freezing device. You can't do that at the moment, unless they're prepared to quarantine."
It's also likely the carrier wouldn't receive an exemption by the New Zealand Government to be allowed into the country.
Some companies did offer an unaccompanied transport service, Birdsall says, but she warns: "When they are such a precious thing, it just adds an element of risk."
Fertility Associates carries out 80 per cent of surrogacy applications to New Zealand's Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology, the body that considers and approves them for fertility clinics.
A spokeswoman for Ecart said they were still tallying the number of surrogacies approved in 2020 but there were 15 in the year to June 2016 and 14 in the year to June 2019.
Fertility Associates said the company filed 25 applications to Ecart for surrogacy last year. All were approved, and one was deferred.
Barrister Margaret Casey QC, who has acted for intended parents involving the births of more than 100 children born through surrogacy in the past few years, domestically and internationally, said the US had been popular among Kiwis to find a surrogate and for embryo transfer. Most states were termed "surrogacy friend states".
"This means that it is regulated in that state, usually resulting in the intended parents being on the first US birth certificate. There are still a few states in the US however where parentage transfers via adoption. Canada, Ukraine and Georgia are also countries where New Zealand parents are looking. If New Zealanders have a cultural connection with a country where surrogacy is approved, I am also seeing surrogacy cases in those countries. For example, South Africa, Namibia, and Vietnam. In those countries there are clear processes to follow for surrogacy to take place legitimately."
Many countries do not recognise surrogacy. In some, like New Zealand, parents must adopt the child born through surrogacy, even if it is their biological child.
But she said it was difficult to discern trends in surrogacy over the past year because of Covid.
"It is obviously difficult to travel to another country to create an embryo with your genetic material during these Covid times. It is difficult for a surrogate to travel to a clinic for a transfer because of internal travel restrictions and it is a really stressful time to be trying to manage a pregnancy at a distance."
Generating birth certificates and passports in countries that have been shut down by Covid was also "extraordinarily stressful".
"The irony is that because of Covid surrogacy is more attractive in some of the overseas countries just because pace of life has slowed and it is a good time perhaps to be pregnant if it is something you had been considering."
She is calling for changes around reimbursing a woman who agrees to act as surrogate for the costs of being pregnant.
"That is not commercialising the pregnancy – it is just preventing someone from going backwards financially because of their contribution. It is too difficult to meet those costs under the present rules and that should change."