Today’s Surrogacy Article in the New York Times

Jerry Mahoney, Mommy Man

Thanks, surrogacy!

The New York Times ran a feature story on surrogacy on today’s front page, and I’m left wondering, as I often do when this topic makes news, what most people are taking away from the story. The article reminds us repeatedly that “commercial surrogacy” (the term for a pregnancy in which a surrogate is compensated, as opposed to “altruistic surrogacy”, in which she is not) is illegal in most of the world. The writer also references some horrifying stories about intended parents abandoning their surrogates and their offspring or contracting multiple surrogates simultaneously with the intention of giving some of the babies produced up for adoption or aborting whichever fetuses don’t meet their exacting standards. They’re mostly unverified anecdotes, the kind of thing that makes most of us who had wonderful experiences with surrogacy shudder and then think, “Hmmm… really?” But I won’t deny that there are some legitimate horror stories out there.

MommyManCoverThe problem, in my opinion, isn’t surrogacy itself. Everyone in my situation — my husband and me, our egg donor Susie, our surrogate Tiffany and our kids themselves — benefitted from the experience. No one was exploited and no one has any regrets. (This seems like a good spot for the obligatory shameless plug of my book, “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad”, which tells my story in full.) Stories like mine are pretty common. The other parents I know who’ve grown their families through surrogacy all have similar experiences to relate.

That doesn’t mean we should ignore the potential for things to go wrong. Surrogacy remains largely unregulated, and as such, it’s conducted on kind of an honor system, the only true regulator being the consciences of those engaged in it. The honor system works because most people are honorable. Most college students know that cheating is wrong, and most people have enough respect for life and women’s bodies to treat surrogacy with the care and moral reverence it deserves.

The big difference between a college honor system and the one around surrogacy comes in the stakes. When college students break the honor system, the fallout is minimal. Now and then a cheater gets an A, but that barely cheapens the hard work of the majority who earned their grades legitimately. The stakes with a pregnancy, though, are much higher. No one wants to see even one woman exploited or one baby abandoned.

It’s time for the honor system surrounding surrogacy to end. The U.S. should be proud of the fact that we’re the destination of choice for people seeking surrogates from overseas, and we should lead the rest of the world by example by showing them how surrogacy should be conducted. There needs to be greater regulation of what’s become a big industry, in order to protect the rights and lay out the responsibilities of intended parents, surrogates, clinics and surrogacy agencies alike.

Just a few thoughts…

Surrogates and egg donors need to be fully informed of the medical and psychological risks they’ll be undertaking. Surrogacy isn’t for everyone, and no one should feel like they’ve been coaxed into it against their will. Likewise, all potential surrogates and egg donors should be screened medically and psychologically to make sure that they’re fit for what the procedures entail.

There should be limits placed on embryo transfers. Intended parents should accept that surrogate pregnancies, like any other, carry certain risks. Just because you’re not carrying a baby yourself, you don’t get off easy when it comes to the big ethical issues that pregnancy sometimes raises.

Surrogates and intended parents should have detailed, enforceable contracts. Before they ever enter into an agreement together, surrogates and intended parents should discuss every potential issue that may arise during pregnancy and make sure they would agree on how to handle it. One of the more common horror stories you hear about surrogacy arises when the fetus develops a birth defect and the intended parents want to terminate the pregnancy, but the surrogate doesn’t. In those cases, the surrogate and the parents should never have gone forward together. This is one of the reasons I highly recommend anyone pursuing surrogacy go through a legitimate agency. In my book, I complain a lot about the agency my husband and I used, but one thing they did right was to make sure our surrogate was a good match for us.

There are people arguing that surrogacy should be made illegal, and that breaks my heart, because I owe my family to the process and to all the people who helped us through it. So many wonderful families are created through surrogacy, and so many women have had their lives enriched by becoming surrogates.

We all know there are unethical people out there on every side of this phenomenon — intended parents, clinics, surrogacy agencies and even surrogates themselves. Exploitation does occur, some stories don’t have happy endings, and it’s only a matter of time before a major horror story leaves us all shaking our heads. Let’s not let that happen.

This is an important issue. Let’s keep talking about it, and let’s acknowledge that if surrogacy is kept safe, legal and regulated, there will be a lot more stories like mine, a lot less cause for concern and a lot less fearmongering, legitimate or otherwise.

Video

My First Video: What to Expect When You’re Expecting… And Gay!

I was very honored to be asked to contribute to a recent surrogacy conference in Australia, held by the group Families Through Surrogacy, who also invited me to their San Francisco conference back in March. I’ll be speaking again at their upcoming event in Alexandria, Virginia on September 13, 2014, so if that’s in your neighborhood, come on down!

If you don’t live near any of those places, you’re still in luck, because I’m posting a video of my presentation here for you. This is my first attempt at producing a YouTube video, so don’t expect any technical wizardry, but if you’re looking for information on surrogacy or becoming a gay dad or just a glimpse of yours truly yakking away, then this is for you!

My 5 Biggest Fears About Surrogacy — and How I Overcame Them

Note: To ramp up for my appearance this weekend at the Families Through Surrogacy conference in San Francisco, I’m posting another informational/opinion piece (infopinion?) on gestational surrogacy, the route my partner and I took to have kids. It’s not right for everyone, but if you’re thinking about it, you’re welcome to read all my previous posts on the subject by clicking here.

When my partner Drew and I decided to have a baby, we had so many reservations about surrogacy, we initially didn’t even consider it. As we investigated other routes to parenthood for same-sex couples, we learned that every method involves its own pitfalls, heartbreaks and great expense, so there was no easy road to choose. Most foreign countries with a surplus of adoptable children don’t allow gays to adopt. Domestic adoption is complicated, too. Some birth mothers reconsider their decision to give up their baby, leaving would-be parents crushed. Foster children can be reunited with their own families. Even when you’re raising a kid who’s been with you since birth, legal struggles can tie up your parental rights for years.

We eventually realized that, no matter which path we chose, the road ahead would be bumpy. That’s when we gave surrogacy a more serious look, and we found that the main fears that scared us away from it were all unfounded.  Here’s what we were afraid of — and what we learned.

1. FEAR: The surrogate will want to keep the baby.

BabyMminiseries1988In 1986, there was a very famous court case centered around a child known as “Baby M”. The details were as follows: a New Jersey couple named William and Elizabeth Stern contracted a woman named Mary Beth Whitehead to be their surrogate. Whitehead was inseminated with William’s sperm and became pregnant with a fetus conceived from his sperm and her own egg.

After the baby, called Baby M to protect her privacy, was born, Whitehead refused to relinquish her parental rights and insisted on keeping the little girl. The Sterns took her to court, and after an agonizing legal struggle which was tabloid fodder for years, the surrogacy contract was ruled invalid. Whitehead was recognized as the legal mother, and although the Sterns retained primary custody, Whitehead was permitted visitation rights.

In short, it was a mess, and it scared a generation of people away from the idea of surrogacy.

Here’s the upside of the Baby M hullabaloo: it forced would-be surrogates, intended parents and the legal system to take surrogacy more seriously. Some states outlawed surrogacy altogether, but others passed laws laying out the terms under which surrogacy contracts would be enforceable. It became far, far less likely that parental rights would remain up in the air after a baby was born.

You could also say that Baby M led indirectly to the rise of gestational surrogacy. As in vitro technology improved, people increasingly used surrogates who were not expected to provide their own eggs. The thinking went that, if a surrogate wasn’t biologically connected to the child, she wouldn’t consider it her baby. It also made it clearer to the courts that she was not intended to have parental rights.

These days, the ideal candidate for gestational surrogacy has already had children of her own and feels her family is complete. She’s more likely to fear that the intended parents will walk away and leave her with an infant she doesn’t want to keep.

Situations like Baby M are pretty much unheard of today, at least in the United States. If you have a baby with the help of a gestational surrogate, you can rest assured that the infant will go home from the hospital with you, not her.

2. FEAR: Surrogacy exploits women.

I consider myself a feminist, but some feminists want to kick me out of the club for having a child with a surrogate. Before I truly investigated surrogacy, I worried that they were right. A part of my conscience told me surrogacy was equivalent to renting a womb, that it was a case of a wealthier person buying something from a less-well-off person that they really shouldn’t be selling. It felt icky.

On the one hand, that’s an incredibly paternalistic argument. No one’s forced into surrogacy against her will. (At least in the U.S. If you’re pursuing surrogacy internationally, you need to be sure to use reputable agencies.) A surrogacy contract is an agreement between consenting adults, all of sound mind, and most states make it fairly clear whether they will recognize the contract or not. If I rejected the idea of surrogacy in order to “protect” women, that would be more sexist than respecting the surrogate’s right to make that decision for herself.

Put another way, I believe a surrogate has the right to choose what to do with her own body. By having a baby with a surrogate, I’m not dictating how women should use their wombs, but laws that tell women they can’t be surrogates are restricting their rights.

As for the money, yes, a surrogate gets paid. Yes, a lot of surrogates use the cash to supplement their income. But no one’s getting rich as a surrogate. And the money that these women do make, they earn. The payment can be an incentive for many, but there has to be a deeper reason as well, a desire to help infertile couples.

When we met with our surrogate, we were stunned to see that she drove a nicer car than we did. She had a full-time job and a big heart, and when she told us she was going to say yes to moving forward with us, the tears in her eyes were happy tears.

There are people who will never accept this argument, who will always insist that surrogacy exploits women and shouldn’t be legal. If it nags you that seriously, then surrogacy isn’t right for you. As for me, I have no regrets, and neither do my partner or our surrogate. We’re all extremely proud of the way we created our kids. In fact, our surrogate later gave birth for another couple as well.

3. FEAR: Surrogacy reduces the miracle of life to a series of business transactions.

Every kid is eventually going to ask how she or he came into the world. Most parents can explain it pretty easily: “Well, Mommy and Daddy love each other very much, so we made a baby together. We’ll give you more details in a few years.”

Parents of adopted children also get to say something very sweet. “Well, your birth parent(s) couldn’t take care of you the way they thought you deserved, but they knew that we could, so they chose us to love you and raise you, and that’s how we became a family.”

I feared that, as a dad through gestational surrogacy, I’d have to say something like this to my kids: “Daddy and Daddy found a couple of women who needed some cash, we hired lawyers, signed some paperwork and bam, there you were!”

That was before I actually went through the surrogacy process. Now, I’d say something like this: “Daddy and I wanted very much to have a baby, but it takes a woman’s help to have one. Your Aunt Susie saw how much love we had to give, and because she loves us so much, she donated her eggs to help create you. Then we met Aunt Tiffany, who saw what good daddies we’d be, and she carried you inside her for nine months so that we could have a family. You were so loved before you were even born that four people came together to help make you.”

That sounds a lot nicer, doesn’t it?

4. FEAR: We can’t afford it.

This probably should be #1.  When we started looking into surrogacy, my partner and I both made decent salaries, but we were hardly wealthy. We didn’t have trust funds or rich parents willing to write us six-figure checks. Whatever money we had in the bank was supposed to help us buy a house and to retire.

Ultimately, we decided that having a family was our top priority. It mattered more to us than owning a big house, taking fancy vacations or being able to live comfortably. If it meant we could have a baby, we would sacrifice everything else.

Our surrogacy agency required a $7,500 downpayment, and they told us that we’d be on the waiting list for a surrogate for about a year before we’d have to pay the balance. I admit that when we gave them the deposit, we weren’t totally sure we’d have enough money when the time came. But we started saving like mad and searching for funds under every financial couch cushion, and somehow, we made it.

5. FEAR: We could spend a fortune and still end up babyless.

I knew that, despite its high price tag, there were no guarantees to in vitro fertilization. We could make embryo after embryo but never get pregnant. In fact, just as we were starting our baby journey, the Los Angeles Times ran a series of articles about a gay couple who invested their life savings trying to have a baby through surrogacy. Their tale had a tragic ending, and I feared the same could happen to us.

The surrogacy agency we spoke to was much more confident about our odds. They said their gay male clients had a success rate, over their first 3 in vitro cycles, of 98%. How is that possible? Well, unlike with infertile straight couples who pursue IVF, no one involved in gay surrogacy has any prior history of infertility. Egg donors and surrogates are tested for their fitness for their respective tasks before they’re approved.

Furthermore, through a process called IntraCytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), even a man with a very low sperm count can create healthy embryos.

Most straight couples want to use a husband’s sperm and wife’s egg, and they’re dealing with low quality on one or both counts. But for same-sex couples, every participant can be replaced if things aren’t working. If their first IVF cycle is unsuccessful, they can find a new egg donor and/or a new surrogate. They can even switch out which of them is donating sperm.

There are still no guarantees, and as they Los Angeles Times articles show, even a successful IVF can end badly. But in many ways, the odds of having a baby with a surrogate are greater than with the other methods.

*****

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting… and Gay

deliveryroom-1So you’re going to be a gay parent? Congratulations! No doubt you’ve been through a lot to get to this point, whether you’ve traveled the path of adoption, IVF, artificial insemination, surrogacy, fostering or whatever. Now, you have a lot to do to get ready.

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be one of those typical posts that tells you to stock up on diapers and learn CPR. Most gay parents are overachievers on that front, I’d guess, since we’ve been planning our families for so long. I know I couldn’t wait to sign up for baby classes.

I wanted to write this post specifically for you, though, the expectant gay parent, because there’s a whole lot of important parenting stuff they’re not going to cover in those baby classes that applies directly to you. There are some special things you’re going to experience because you have a non-traditional family, and I’ve encountered them, so I wanted to give you my tips on how to deal with them.

1. Your kids will need perspective.

familybookNo matter where you live, it’s very likely that your kids will grow up feeling at least slightly out of the mainstream. They’ll see that most families have a mom and dad, and that their family is different.

In my opinion, the best way to handle this is to embrace it. Celebrate who you are from day one. Always talk about what makes your family special, and make sure you do it in positive terms. There are some great kids’ books about LGBT-parented families. (I call the books about gay dads “Papa-ganda”.) We love to read “The Family Book” by Todd Parr, and when we get to the page that says “Some families have two moms or two dads,” I ask the kids. “Who has two dads?”, and they cheer, “Me!!!”

When they meet other kids, they probably feel that their friends are the ones who are missing out on something special by not having a family like ours. Yes, my kids are still young (3 1/2 as of right now), so they haven’t asked a ton of uncomfortable questions, and the Mommy issue hasn’t come up too much. But when that time comes (and I know it will), I’ll be able to talk about our family structure as something wonderful that makes us who we are, because that’s what I’ve been saying all along.

Moms are great, too, but if we had one of those, we wouldn’t have two dads, and we wouldn’t be us.

2. You’ll constantly be outing yourself.

Unless you’re always walking around in your rainbow-striped Pride t-shirt (and good for you if you are), you’re probably passing for straight most of the time, whether you mean to or not. As a childless person, this is not a big deal. You’re going to the supermarket to pick up a loaf of bread, not to discuss your private life with strangers, right?

Well, once you have kids, people will be even more likely to assume you’re straight. A baby practically announces to the world, “I had intercourse with someone of the opposite sex!”

I can’t tell you how many times a stranger (usually a woman, presumably a mom herself) has seen me pushing my kids in the double stroller through the aisles of Target or changing a diaper in a family restroom and exclaimed, “Your wife sure is lucky!” (Side note: many straight women apparently have terrible husbands.)

Even when my whole family is out together — me, the kids and my very obviously male partner — people find ways to force us into their preconceived notions of family structure. Then, the typical comment we get is, “I guess it’s Mom’s day off!” The assumption here is that my boyfriend and I are platonic buddies whose wives are off on a spa date or something. Hey, I take the spa dates in my family, thank you very much.

Your natural inclination in these situations might be to play along, not out of any kind of self-loathing but just for social expediency. From most people, these comments are the equivalent of, “Hey, nice weather we’re having!” All they’re looking for is for me to respond, “Yup!” Or “Hey, it’s only fair. Mom works hard, right?”

But whenever I’m tempted to do that, I’ll remember two very good reasons I can’t… my kids. They love their dads very much, and I’ve been telling them constantly what an amazing and incredibly special family we have. What message would I be sending to them if I suddenly pretended our family was just like everyone else’s? That we need to lie about who we are? That they should lie? That I’m ashamed of being gay? That the opinion of some stranger in a supermarket is more important than the respect of my own children?

So I say it. Regardless of what the situation seems to call for, I out us. “There is no mom. There are two dads in our family.” Or “I don’t have a wife. I have a partner. A man.”

Then I brace myself, because my real fear is that this person will turn out to be a member of the Westboro Baptist Church or the Boy Scouts senior leadership, and they’ll go all psycho fire and brimstone on me in front of the kids. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet. Sure, some people are taken aback, because like I said, all they wanted was polite chit-chat and now they feel forced to say… well, something. Usually, what they say is “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed,” because they’re embarrassed. In that case, I just smile, because that person is probably very nice and will never make that mistake again.

Remember, your kids come before strangers. Don’t worry about what some lady at the supermarket thinks. And if you’re in a hurry to get someone to the potty or to pick Other Daddy up at the train station, just correct the lady at the Stop-n-Shop and keep on moving. She’ll figure it out eventually.

Oh, and be prepared to do this with little kids, too. We sometimes get the question, “Where’s their Mommy?” and have to reply, “They don’t have one. They have two dads.” It usually ends there… for us, at least. If the questions get any trickier, we can always fall back on, “Go ask your parents.” Not my kids, not my problem.

3. You will now be an activist for non-traditional families.

As a childless LGBT person, it’s entirely possible to live your life in a supportive bubble. Move to San Francisco or LA. Work for GLAAD. Join a gay softball league. Surround yourself with people who know you and accept you. I’d guess many of us spent the years after coming out doing just that. Well, if you’re going to have kids, you’re going to have to venture outside your gay-friendly bubble. Constantly.

Your kids will be going to school and playing Little League primarily with kids from mom-and-dad-headed families, and you’ll be interacting with people who won’t always be 100% on board with the whole gay thing. Even going to IHOP on Family Night can feel like you’re Making a Statement, because some people will figure out immediately exactly what your family is all about.

Hi, welcome to the cause. What’s that? You’re not a political person? Well, good, because this isn’t about politics. It’s about your family, and being a good parent means doing what’s best for your kids. You want them to grow up in a better world than you did? Great, then get ready to fight for them.

horsefamilypic-1

“Thanks for the carriage ride. Would you mind taking a picture of our family?”

The good news is that most of the time, you can do this by pushing back gently. When I filled out my kids’ preschool applications last year, the forms had spaces for “Mother’s Name” and “Father’s Name”. I could’ve just written our names in those spaces. I guess I also could’ve called up and complained or raised a stink. Instead, I simply crossed out “Mother” and wrote “Father #2″, then submitted the forms as normal. Why assume that the school was homophobic? It was far more likely that they just hadn’t had any gay parents there before (or any who cared about the forms), so the forms had never been an issue.

You know what? When I filled out their applications the next year, the forms had been updated. There were now two lines labeled “Parent Name”. A subtle change other parents are unlikely to notice, but that meant a lot to me. Best of all, I didn’t have to be someone’s pain in the neck to accomplish it.

But you can’t be silent. You don’t want your kids to get to school and have the teacher asking them about their “Mommy” or “Daddy” (or whichever parent your family doesn’t include). You never know when a clueless teacher might insist, “Oh no, you have to have a Mommy. Everyone does!” So don’t make your kids do the hard work.

To be honest, though, once you get past your initial anxiety, being an activist is kind of fun. It can be very empowering to apply for a family membership at the children’s museum, to hand a tourist my iPhone and say, “Excuse me, can you take a picture of my family?” or to call in an order to the pharmacist and then add, “But I’m going to have her other dad pick it up.”

4. People will generally be very nice to you (at least to your face, and that’s all that matters).

Before I had kids, I assumed I’d meet a lot of resistance from the anti-gay crowd as a dad. I worried that preschools might turn us away, that other parents would refuse to set up playdates with my kids, that we’d get sneered at or harangued in public. What can I say? I was stung pretty hard when Prop 8 passed, and I took it very personally. I may even have had a tiny bit of a chip on my shoulder.

But here’s the good news. While I’m sure some of that ugly homophobia is out there, I have yet to face it head-on. I wrote a piece for this blog a while back called “The 5 People You Meet as a Gay Dad“, wherein I discussed the reactions I’ve received from people who’ve met my family. And I admitted at the end that the worst thing I’ve dealt with is polite discomfort. That piece generated a ton of comments, and almost all the other LGBT parents who wrote in had similar experiences. Even those who lived in much more conservative areas had been pleasantly surprised at the support they’d received.

feeding-1So you can feel good about your decision to have a family in this world at this time. I’m constantly touched and encouraged by how accepting and friendly most people are towards us. They want to learn our story, or to tell me about other gay parents they know. I constantly hear things like, “My sister and her wife are trying to have a baby. I’m so excited for them!” Sometimes they treat us like celebrities, like the nurse when my son was in the hospital. She told us she’d always wanted to meet gay dads, and she jogged around the kid’s hospital bed to give us hugs.

So my ultimate advice is the same thing you probably figured out when you first started coming out: be yourself and be proud. Assume the best of people, and very often, that’s what you’ll get.

Now go read those other parenting books and learn about feeding, diapering, swaddling, bathing and all that. Being a parent, gay or straight, is the most amazing, rewarding and totally freaking difficult thing you’ll ever do.

You’ve got a lot to learn.

*****

I wrote this post in honor of Blogging for LGBT Families Day over at Mombian. If you’re looking for other blogs for LGBT parents, that’s a great place to check. And if this post helped you out, entertained you or you know some prospective gay parents who might enjoy it, please consider sharing it using the buttons below. If you’re new here, welcome, and I hope you’ll consider subscribing by entering your email at the upper right of this page (no spam, just an email whenever I update), and/or  following me on Twitter, liking me on Facebook or just leaving a comment below. Thanks!

9 Incredibly Uncomfortable Yet Absolutely Essential Questions to Ask Potential Surrogates

Cover of "Vacancy"

This is the latest in a series of informational posts I’ve been doing on the gestational surrogacy process. This is for those of you who might be where I was about 5 years ago, weighing the options you have for becoming a parent… or for those who are merely curious about the process. This time, I’m sharing my advice on what questions you need to ask your surrogate before deciding if you’re a good match.

To the rest of you, I apologize. More peepee poopoo jokes next time, I promise.

Meeting with a potential surrogate is like the most awkward first date imaginable. You’re face-to-face with a woman you barely know, and both of you spend most of the time talking about making a baby together. Talk about rushing things.

There are probably a million things you want — and need — to know. I’ve seen some websites that suggest you approach your surrogate with a massive checklist of questions, many of which are not exactly subtle, like:

“Do you smoke?”

“Are you sexually active?”

“What were the results of your last pap smear?”

Sure, those are great things to ask… if you want the surrogate to throw a drink in your face and slap an instant “No Vacancy” sign on her womb.

Remember, this isn’t a job interview. She can reject you, too, and if you treat her like an employee or a menial laborer, she probably should.

Don’t worry, if there are any red flags, they’ll turn up in her medical and psychological exams, and you’ll be made aware of them by a professional, neutral third party.

When you sit down face-to-face with a potential gestational carrier, try to empathize with what she’s going through. After a huge amount of deliberation and soul searching, she’s decided to do something incredibly generous, terrifically inconvenient, and more than a tiny bit risky, for a virtual stranger. She’s nervous to meet that stranger, but also a bit thrilled.

Then you come in and ask about her pap smears.

So what should you discuss in your first meeting? First and foremost, it’s time to take the mystery out of your relationship and just get to know each other. If things go well, you’ll be creating a life together.

That being said, it’s not exactly a first date. You need to check your compatibility on some pretty weighty matters.

If you’re working with an agency, much of this subject matter will be covered by them, but if not, these are the questions you need to ask, in increasing order of unpleasantness.

1. What made you want to be a surrogate?

No one’s going to reply, “I need the money,” and if they do, you should probably run away as fast as you can. Sure, the money is a nice perk, but with all a surrogate goes through, she’s going to earn that cash, and it is a limited sum. No one’s getting rich as a gestational surrogate, so it’s a safe bet she has bigger motives.

Our surrogate heard a report about gestational surrogacy on the radio when she was 19, and it made her cry. She turned to her mother and said, “Someday, I’m going to do that for someone.” Once she’d completed her own family, she googled surrogacy agencies, and that’s how she was eventually paired with us. It was such a sweet story, and it told us so much about who she was as a person.

Raising this basic topic is a great way to get to know your surrogate and to show her that you appreciate the sacrifice she’d be making on your behalf.

2. What were your other pregnancies like?

Again, the medical exam will clue you in to any relevant technical info, so try to keep this as light as possible. How bad did her babies kick? Did she get morning sickness? You may not know very much about the surrogate at this point, but you know she’s been pregnant before (at least in most cases, since most gestational carriers have a proven history of successful pregnancies).

You, on the other hand, in all likelihood have never been and never will be pregnant. Show some curiosity and empathy by asking her to describe exactly what she’d be going through for your benefit. This is also a great way to show you appreciate the sacrifice she’ll be making on your behalf.

And if you find out pregnancy makes her crave pickles and ice cream, file that away. Someday, when she’s carrying your child, you’ll know just what to put in her care package.

3. How do your friends and family feel about you being a surrogate?

Surrogacy is physically and emotionally demanding, and no one can do it alone. Make sure she has a good support system, people who care about her who appreciate what an amazing thing she’s doing. If she’s religious, it’s very helpful if her spiritual leader is on her side as well.

This is especially important for gay intended parents. If your surrogate has a homophobic husband or goes to a gay-unfriendly church, you’re not off to a good start. Someday soon, she might find herself at the Wal-Mart in her tiny town when a woman comes up, points at her belly and says, “Aww, lucky you!” She’ll have to reply, “Oh, he’s not mine. I’m having this baby for George and Steven.” Is she ready for whatever may come next?

Let her know what kind of homophobia you’ve faced and how you’ve persevered. It can be very difficult for a (most likely) straight woman to willingly expose herself to homophobia, but that’s what she’ll be doing by having a baby for a gay couple.

One surrogate my partner and I met with had previously carried a baby for a gay couple, and she hadn’t encountered any resistance, so we knew she’d be fine this time around as well.

4. Are you comfortable with me/us being in doctor’s appointments and the delivery room?

Sorry, guys, when you came out of the closet, you probably thought you were exempt from discussing (and possibly seeing) ladyparts. Not any more. Obviously, let the surrogate know that you’ll respect her privacy as much as possible. But one of the main benefits of having a baby with a surrogate is being able to participate in all the exciting prenatal moments, like finding out the baby’s sex or seeing him or her for the first time on a sonogram monitor.

Most surrogates will fully anticipate and welcome your participation in the process, but raising the issue in a polite and respectful manner will set the right tone for when those intimate moments inevitably arise.

5. What kind of communication would you like to maintain after the birth?

There’s no correct answer to this. Some surrogates and intended parents want to stay in close touch. Others might want to be your Facebook friend so they can see pictures of your kids growing up. Still others may be content merely to get a holiday card every December. As long as both parties are on the same page, anything can work.

My advice is to offer up a safe but minimal amount of contact. If you and your surrogate hit it off (as we did with ours), you can always have more contact than you planned.

It’s important to reiterate that your surrogate will have no legal rights to your child. Once your baby is born, you are well within your rights to cut off all contact with the surrogate and never see her again. I’d imagine that kind of clean break only really happens in extreme circumstances. Most people and their surrogates form a bond through the process and want to stay in touch afterward.

Once your child is old enough to understand how he or she came into the world, they’ll likely be curious about who their surrogate was, so it helps if you’ve kept up the relationship.

6. How many fetuses are you willing to carry?

My partner and I were very lucky to have twins with our surrogate, but it made the pregnancy considerably harder on her. She was confined to bed rest for most of the third trimester and there were a few scares where we thought she might be miscarrying one or both of the fetuses, which meant some late-night trips to the emergency room.

Thankfully, everything worked out okay for us, but the more fetuses involved in your pregnancy, the higher the risks. A woman carrying triplets is almost always put on bed rest. It’s not surprising then that many surrogates limit the number of babies they’re willing to carry to one or two.

If you were hoping for octuplets, in other words, you’re out of luck.

7. Would you be willing to undergo a selective reduction?

Here’s where the questions start to get really dicey.

Even if your surrogate only wants to carry one baby and you only want to have one kid, you may still want to transfer multiple embryos to increase the odds that one of them attaches.

So what happens if your surrogate becomes pregnant with two or three embryos? In that case, she may undergo a selective reduction, where excess embryos are removed from her uterus at a very early stage, leaving only the number of babies you’re willing to have.

We interviewed a surrogate who had undergone this procedure with a previous pregnancy and, for various reasons, didn’t want to go through it again. She was asking that we not transfer more than two embryos, so she could be mostly assured she wouldn’t have to carry more than twins.

Some IPs plan to transfer as many embryos as they can, then reduce down to just one or two if too many of them take. That’s fine if the surrogate agrees to it, but not everyone will be comfortable with that.

This is obviously a very tricky ethical situation, so for everyone’s benefit, it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page.

8. If we were to decide, due to complications with the fetus, to terminate the pregnancy, would you be willing to do so?

You and the surrogate are both entering into this agreement with the same goal: to make a baby. Neither of you wants to think about terminating a pregnancy, because that goes against the very reason you’ve come together.

However, everyone knows that things do sometimes go wrong, and the baby will be yours, not hers, so if there are complications and you become concerned with what your child’s quality of life would be, it should be your call to make.

There are people — surrogates and intended parents alike — who would never terminate a pregnancy under any circumstances. That’s fine, of course, but if you feel that way, it’s good to have a surrogate who would defer to your judgment in the case that your feelings change.

Again, no one wants to think about the worst case scenario. You both want a healthy baby. So bring this up now, and then forget about it. Hopefully, it won’t end up being an issue.

9. What concerns do you have about us or this process?

You never know what your surrogate may be thinking or how you may come across to her. She might have a special request that’s very important to her or a fear she’s working to get over.

Our surrogate had two requests: One, she wanted an epidural, because she went without one when her son was born and didn’t want to do that again. And two, she wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t be handed the baby in the delivery room. When doctors first handed her her son, that’s when she bonded with him. To make sure to establish the right boundaries, she didn’t want to see the baby until later on, when she was in the recovery room.

Let her know that her concerns are important to you, and in case she does have a vastly different idea of how the birth should go, it’s better to find out now rather than a trimester or two into the pregnancy.

 

Hopefully, you’ll find plenty of common ground with your surrogate on these topics, because once you’ve discussed them and agreed about the important things, you’ve earned the right to never discuss them again. In all likelihood, you won’t have to, and now that you’ve gotten past the tough stuff, you can talk about things that don’t really matter: what her favorite sports teams or TV shows are, what kind of sense of humor she has and what she thinks of the baby names you’ve picked out.

Then, finally, you’ll know for sure if you’ve found “The One.”

8 Surprising Facts About Egg Donors

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), typical ...

One of the more neglected purposes of this blog is to share information (and dispel myths) about makin’ gaybies.  I want to educate people about my family – and at the same time help prospective parents, gay or straight, who might be exploring their own fertility options.

A while back, I posted about some common misperceptions of surrogacy and why Drew and I chose that path, and now I want to share some information about the other part of the equation: the egg donor.

Admittedly, our situation is somewhat unique.  Our egg donor was my partner’s sister, Susie.  (Yes, I contributed the sperm.)  But before Susie made her offer, we were planning to use an anonymous egg donor, which is what most gay dads pursuing gestational surrogacy do – and understandably so.  Not everyone has as wonderful a sister-in-law as Susie, and for various reasons, not everyone wants to have such close ties to their egg donor (ahem, Modern Family characters).

If your fertility plans involve an egg donor or if you’re just curious about the process, here are a few facts I learned while Drew and I were exploring our options:

1. Egg donors are young.

The ideal donor is in her late teens to mid-20s.  Yes, late teens.  (OK, very late teens – I never saw anyone younger than 19.)  It came as a bit of a shock to me and Drew that our child could be getting half of his or her DNA from Gossip Girl.  When we saw their pictures, it reminded us just how young 19 actually is.  They had acne and awkward grins, wore baggy college sweatshirts and put their hair in pigtails.  Susie was 28 when she donated.  Compared to the women in the database, she was practically over the hill.

2. Your children will most likely never meet their egg donor.

If you’re adopting a child, you have the option of an “open” adoption, where the birth mother maintains some form of mutually agreed-upon contact with the child throughout his or her life.  Dan Savage recounts his open adoption wonderfully in his book The Kid, a must-read for all prospective gay dads or anyone considering adoption.

I loved the idea of open adoption.  There’s no shame, no secrecy and the kid never has to go through that pain of feeling like they don’t know where they really came from.  When we started to lean toward surrogacy, I was hoping we could do some kind of “open” surrogacy.

We learned pretty quickly that there’s no such thing.  When we asked our agency if we could stay in touch with the egg donor, they seemed startled.  It wasn’t something anyone – intended parents or egg donors – ever requested, and they were pretty sure no donor would agree to it.

These were young women, after all, most of whom wanted to have their own kids someday.  They didn’t want someone else’s kids tracking them down and calling them “Mommy”.  In fact, just to become egg donors they had to divorce themselves of any feeling of kinship with their eggs.  It was like donating blood.  You’re happy to know it went to good use, but you don’t need details from the people who received it.

3. Unlike sperm, eggs are only donated “on demand”.

Sperm donors make their deposits (and get paid) not knowing if anyone will ever use their sperm.  That’s because sperm is plentiful, easy to produce (fun, too!), and cheap to store.  Eggs are none of those things.  If you become an egg donor, you go through testing (both medical and psychological) to make sure you’re equipped to donate.  Then… you wait.  Your name, photo and vital info goes into a database, and someday, if someone picks you, you get a call that it’s go time.

You could sign up to donate eggs and never actually get picked by any prospective parents (which means you never get paid).  Anonymous egg donation is definitely not for anyone who’s afraid of rejection.

4. Egg donation is a big time commitment.

A sperm donor can start and finish his job in pretty much the amount of time it takes him to open a Victoria’s Secret catalogue or press “PLAY” on a DVD.  But egg donors don’t have dozens of eggs on hand at any given time that they can just drop off at a fertility clinic on a whim.  They need to prepare themselves physically. That means about six weeks of medication.

First, there’s birth control to synch her cycle up to the surrogate’s.  The only way a pregnancy can occur is if the surrogate’s body is prepared to take over right where the egg donor’s left off.

Next, the egg donor is required to take hormones to stimulate egg development.  These need to be self-injected.  To someone as squeamish as me, that sounds excruciating, but our fertility doctor assured us that he’d never had a donor drop out because of the medication.  The side effects are usually mild – bloating, moodiness, that sort of thing.

Then, there’s the actual procedure, which you do in a doctor’s office and which takes about 10-15 minutes.  It’s not anything too horrible, but it’s not like retrieving sperm, for sure.

5. There’s generally less anonymity for egg donors than sperm donors.  

Once eggs are donated, they’re fertilized immediately (extras are frozen for later attempts) and transferred to a surrogate 3-5 days later.  Most sperm donors never encounter their intended parents first-hand, but egg donors don’t have that luxury.  You’ll probably be bumping into each other at the fertility clinic anyway, so many agencies will let you meet and interview prospective egg donors before making your decision.

Even if you don’t meet them in person, the database tends to give you their first name, an extensive bio, pictures and a video of them talking, all of which you can later pass on to your kids if you choose.

6. The standard rate for egg donors is $8,000. 

Egg donors earn a lot more than sperm donors, because of all the extra trouble they have to go through.  Their standard rate is $8,000 per “harvest”.  (The cost to the intended parents is greater, because they’re also paying for all the medical fees and medication.)

Still, $8,000 isn’t a fortune, and unlike sperm donors, egg donors are limited in how often they can donate.  The whole process can take six months, which means you’d be lucky to donate twice a year.  People don’t donate eggs to get rich.  They usually do it to pay for a couple of credits at college and to help infertile couples in the process.

7. The world of egg donors is the Wild West of the fertility landscape.

Well, OK, maybe a few women are making big bucks on their eggs.  That’s because egg donation is not currently regulated by the government.  The $8,000 fee, although fairly standard, is only a suggested retail price.  Individual agencies and donors are free to mark up as they see fit.  One agency I found online advertised “premium” egg donors – ones with Ivy League degrees, high IQs, athletic awards, etc.  A couple of them had donated their eggs more than ten times.  They also charged premium rates – some as much as $30,000 per harvest.

This represents a very small minority of egg donors, but it happens.

8. The pool is limited. 

Anyone who thinks the process of egg donation is akin to genetic engineering or eugenics is vastly overestimating the amount of choice available.  It’s more like trying to find your future wife in a bar and having only the patrons of that particular bar at that time available to you.

Given the commitment required of donors, it’s no surprise that relatively few women volunteer.   Our agency’s database had about 40-70 donors at any given time.  Not a ton – and even worse if you’re looking for a certain race or ethnicity.  Our agency had 1-2 African-Americans, 1-2 Asians.  Sure, there are dozens of other agencies you can locate with a quick Google search, but once you find someone you like, you have to make sure she’s available.  She could be “on hold” for another couple or in the process of donating to someone else.  That could lock her up for six months or longer.

Meanwhile, your surrogate may not be very patient while you wait for your dream donor to appear.  In fact, Drew and I were turned down by a potential surrogate who was uncomfortable with how long it was taking us to find a donor.  (This was part of what ultimately led us to Susie, so it ended up being a good thing.)

If you’re interested in helping infertile couples and non-traditional families like mine, egg donation is a wonderful gift you can give someone.

You’ll need to be interested in more than just making money, though.  The cash you do make, you really have to earn.  It won’t be enough to change your life, because part of the reward is knowing how much you’ve changed someone else’s.

6 Reasons (Besides the Biological One) to Consider Surrogacy

One of the reasons I wanted to write this blog is to assist other gay couples who want to have kids.  It’s not easy and it’s not cheap, but with a little knowledge and a lot of perseverance, there are any number of ways it can be done.

So at times, I’ll put up an informational post about Makin’ Gaybies.  This one’s about some reasons you might want to consider surrogacy, which is how my boyfriend and I had our kids.

Our Extended Family

I’m by no means an advocate for surrogacy.  Everyone needs to do what works for them, and everyone’s situation is different.  But surrogacy is probably the most misunderstood way to have kids, and being that it worked so well for us, I felt an obligation to show the positives.

Yes, surrogacy is expensive.  All in, it cost us about $150,000.  I’ll give you a moment to take that in.  It’s a big number.  It’s a terrifying number.  And you have to have all that money up front, in cash, before you can even get started.

Still, it’s cheaper than buying a house in LA.  So we chose to have kids first and to buy a house… someday, maybe, hopefully.  That’s why there are now four of us crammed into a two-bedroom condo.  But we couldn’t be happier with our choice.  (Besides, adoption isn’t cheap either.)

And the benefits of having our kids through surrogacy were enormous:

1. The fetus is legally yours from the start.

This is huge, and no other means of having a child can promise you this.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about birth mothers who change their mind in the delivery room and decide to keep their baby.  Then, the would-be adoptive parents are forced to go home empty-handed and cry in a beautifully decorated nursery which might never get used.

Well, that doesn’t happen with surrogacy — because it’s your baby, not hers.

I should be clear that I’m talking about gestational surrogacy.  In that arrangement, the surrogate is not using her own eggs.  There’s a separate egg donor.  So the surrogate has no biological connection to the child and thus feels less of a bond to him or her (or in our case, them).

Tiffany holding Bennett in the hospital

She also signs a mountain of paperwork stating that she doesn’t want — and can’t have — your child.  When the twins were born, Drew and I were listed as their parents on the birth certificates.  Neither of us had to go through any adoption procedure, and our surrogate, Tiffany, didn’t have an opportunity to keep the kids.  She was sent to a recovery room with her husband, and the babies came to another room in the delivery ward, where Drew and I took care of them.  We all got to enjoy the moment for what it was, because legally, everything was already settled.

2. You can go to all the appointments. 

Our first ultrasound

I’ll never forget the day the doctor told us about the fluid in Tiffany’s uterus and how much danger it posed.  We were six weeks along, and he put the odds of Tiffany carrying the pregnancy to term at 50/50.

He also told us, at that same appointment, that we were having twins.

Being pregnant is rough, and it’s full of moments like these, ups and downs, thrills and panic, a million little bumps and big bumps along the way.  And Drew and I lived through it all.

We crammed into every ultrasound room, we watched the fetuses grow week by week, we were the first ones to hear that we were having a boy and a girl.  We were at our surrogate’s side – and our kids’ – for every important moment, from before conception all the way through delivery.

When our kids caught their first glimpses of the world, we were there.

Right before the big moment

And we never felt like intruders.  We were welcome everywhere we went.  Our surrogate was thrilled to share these moments with us, because they reminded her constantly of why she was doing this amazing thing.  Our joy was her joy, and we formed a very special bond with her throughout the process.

3.  It’s perfect for control freaks.

No matter how you make your gayby, you can’t grow him or her in your own uterus, because you don’t have one.  This is another way surrogacy works in your favor.

I remember a friend telling us that his son’s birth mother chain smoked all through her pregnancy.  She didn’t even try to hide it.  She didn’t have to.  It was her fetus.  There was nothing he could do to stop her.  In an adoption arrangement, the birth mother is in no way accountable to you, because it’s her child until she declares otherwise, usually following a waiting period after delivery.  (And let me say, I’m a big supporter of waiting periods, for the birth mother’s sake.)

A surrogate could never get away with that.  She’s tested regularly for drugs, alcohol and nicotine.  She has an obligation to take good care of your fetus.  She agrees to it up front.

Ultimately, you’re still at her mercy to some extent, but until you can grow a uterus of your own, this is the next best thing.

4.  Your relationship with the surrogate can be as open as you want it to be. 

Most surrogates, from what I’ve heard, would like to be on your Christmas card list.  They enjoy getting an annual reminder of the family they helped create, and they love seeing how the little ones have grown.

Other than that, it’s all up to you — and to a lesser extent, her — to decide.

We knew we wanted someone who would always stay a part of our lives, because it’s important to us that the kids understand where they came from.  So when we first met with Tiffany, we made sure she was on board with being a special aunt.

Other people don’t want an aunt, and they’d rather keep things as casual as possible afterwards.  There are plenty of surrogates who are looking for that arrangement, too.

One thing’s for sure.  The surrogate won’t have any visitation rights with the kids.  It’s entirely the parents’ prerogative how much contact you maintain with the surrogate after the birth.  Even our surrogate, whom we love like family, doesn’t have any legal rights to see our kids.

5.  The odds are good.

When we signed up with our surrogacy agency, we were told that 98% of couples pursuing gestational surrogacy had a baby within the first three in vitro attempts.  We were astounded by that figure, and I still think it may be slightly inflated.  But when you think about it, gestational surrogacy is bound to have a high success rate.

The surrogate is tested extensively before she’s matched with an intended parent couple.  In most cases, she’s already carried at least one baby of her own to term, if not several.  So her fertility is never in doubt.

The egg donor is also tested beforehand.  She’s young and healthy, and she may even have donated eggs for other couples in the past.

Plus, you have two potential sperm donors.  Even if one of the men is infertile, which is unlikely, then there’s a good chance the other can step in.

That goes for the women, too.  If your first in vitro fails, you can replace the surrogate and/or the egg donor for your next try.

In vitro can be an uphill battle for a straight couple who have already had trouble conceiving on their own.  But for two men, fertility is rarely a problem.

6.  You’re not as altruistic as you think you are.

Here’s the one I’m going to get some flack for.  Let me say that I think adoption is a beautiful way to make a family, one Drew and I considered ourselves, and which, in different circumstances, we would’ve been thrilled to pursue.

But occasionally the adoption advocates will imply that they’re better than us, that we’re selfish or greedy or that we’re letting parentless children suffer while we go off and make our designer fetuses.  Well, before those people get to you, let me tell you that they’re misguided at best.

Yes, there are plenty of babies ready to be placed with loving families, but there are also plenty of loving families looking to adopt.

The ones who are getting left out of all of this happiness are special needs kids.  They’re the ones stuck in the foster system, the ones most desperate for families to take them in.  No one ever tells straight couples that they should adopt a special needs kid rather than selfishly reproduce from their own genes, and the argument could just as easily apply to them.

Infertility isn’t a curse or a sign from God that you need to dedicate your life to helping sick children.  Not everyone is made for that, and that’s OK.

If you feel a calling to open your home to a special needs child, then I commend you, you are a saint, and I’ll admit it: you’re better than me.  But if you’re foregoing surrogacy so you can put yourself on a waiting list for a healthy Caucasian newborn from the Midwest, then I don’t think what we’re doing is all that different.

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Another birthday picture

You’ve probably noticed that I left biology off my list.  Yes, if you conceive a child through surrogacy, then either you or your partner can donate the sperm.  You get to do that fun thing where you say, “Oh, look, she has my eyebrows!”  You might even be so lucky as to have your sister donate eggs, like we did, so your kids can be biologically related to you both.  (I need to state the following every time so people don’t get confused: I was the sperm donor.  Drew’s sister was the egg donor.  She and I are of no biological relation.  There was no test tube incest going on, nor would any reputable fertility doctor allow that.)

Ultimately, though, I don’t think the biological argument should sway you one way or the other, because the kid you have is your kid, regardless of how they came into your family.  You’re going to spend a lot more time diapering them, playing with them, teaching them, learning from them and loving them than you are pondering their genetics.

Let me reiterate that I’m not endorsing surrogacy or saying that it’s right for everyone, but these are a few of the reasons it worked for me and Drew.

Once you’re a parent, it won’t matter where your gayby came from, but getting there isn’t easy, and hopefully this helped someone along the way.