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.

*****

My book’s release date (5/8/14) is less than two months away. Have you preordered your copy yet? Yes? OK, I’ll shut up then. Wait, did some of you say no? REALLY?!? Don’t you know you can find a bookseller to preorder from by clicking here? It’s that simple! Then you get to read a book full of all-new, all-funny, all-heartwarming goodness before most or all of the people you know. That’s right. If you don’t preorder soon, other people you know might read it first. Don’t let that happen. Preorder now! Why are you reading this sentence? Don’t you know what “now” means? Click on that link! Or this one! Or the next one. Which one? This one here, that’s which one. Now! (Thanks.)

The Big Book Update

mommymanpostcardsIt’s hard to believe my book will be released in just over two months. It was picked up by the publisher early last year, but due to the editing and promotion schedules, the actual books are still a few weeks away from being printed. (That picture above is a box of promotional postcards that came in the mail.)

It’s been a long wait, and I couldn’t be more excited for it to come out so everyone can finally read it. Anyone who enjoys this blog will appreciate the humor and will get to hear a lot more about me and how my family came to be.

As the release date approaches, I expect to be increasingly insufferable with my promotion efforts, both here on the blog and, hopefully, live at a bookstore near you as well. I’ll keep the blog updated with any appearances, and if you do get a chance to come see me, I’d love to meet you. Yes, you!

Next week, I’ll be traveling to San Francisco to speak at the Families Through Surrogacy conference. I’m very honored to have been invited, and I’ll be doing a talk that’s a bit of The 5 People You Meet as a Gay Dad, a bit of What to Expect When You’re Expecting (and Gay), a bunch of new stuff and mostly, lots of cute pictures of my kids, because I know how to shamelessly pander to a crowd.

The entire lineup is great, and it should be very fun and informative for anyone considering surrogacy. If you’re interested, you can register to attend here.

I’m also very excited to announce a reading/signing at one of my absolute favorite book stores in the universe, Book Soup in Los Angeles, on Monday, June 9. If you’re on GoodReads, you can RSVP for the event here.

Thanks again to everyone who twerked their preorder with me, and if you haven’t ordered yet, you can find information and links here. If you prefer to patronize a brick-and-mortar store (and if so, good on ya!), then now’s a great time to check in with your favorite one and make sure they’re ordering it and will have a fresh, shiny new copy waiting for you on release day.

Keep checking back for updates. Or better yet, subscribe, Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, yadda yadda.

3 Days And Counting… Amazon Chart Twerk update!


amazonrank

Great news! My book has cracked the top 674,000 on Amazon! I actually noticed it go as high as the top 176,000 shortly after I announced the presale, but clearly most of you have been holding out for the official chart twerk, which takes place this Friday, October 4, at 12pm EDT (or as close to that as you can manage to be near a device running Amazon.com). I’m hoping then that I’ll see a much higher ranking, which of course, will give my publisher a big boost of confidence and hopefully convince more booksellers to stock it.

I’ve been so touched by all of you who’ve said you’re going to participate. I’m happy you want to read the book and grateful that you’re willing to help me out with my crazy little plan. (Admittedly, the one thing that’s likely to get a bigger boost than my book’s ranking is my own ego.)

For the rest of you, I’ve realized that maybe you need some more convincing. Maybe just some more information about this book I’m asking you to shell out your preorder money for. So, if you’re curious what’s contained in these 264 pages, here goes:

This memoir began as kind of an expanded version of a Modern Love column I wrote for the New York Times. You can read that original column here. That piece mostly centered on the amazing gift my partner and I received from my sister-in-law Susie, who selflessly donated her eggs to help us have children. The hardest thing about writing that column was fitting the whole thing into such a limited space. There was so much more to our story. So many more amazing people who deserved to be included, so many more unbelievable anecdotes I was dying to share. Writing the short version convinced me that I wanted to write about all of it. For my own sake, for my kids’ sake and, hopefully, for a bunch of people who might be moved by or just get a kick out of our story.

What I didn’t want to write was some deep, ponderous, self-important memoir like so many of the others out there. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’re familiar with my writing voice – snarky, jokey and then, when you least expect, ridiculously sentimental, because that’s just the kind of guy I am. That’s exactly what you’ll get from the book, too.

If I do say so myself, it’s also just a great story. Here’s the synopsis I put together for the publisher, which you can also find on the book’s Amazon page.

As a teenager growing up in the 1980s, all Jerry Mahoney wanted was a nice, normal sham marriage. 2.5 kids and a frustrated, dissatisfied wife living in denial of her husband’s sexuality. Hey, why not? It seemed much more attainable and fulfilling than the alternative—coming out of the closet and making peace with the fact that he’d never have a family at all.

Twenty years later, Jerry is living with his long-term boyfriend, Drew, and they’re ready to take the plunge into parenthood. But how? Adoption? Foster parenting? Kidnapping? What they want most of all is a great story to tell their future kid about where he or she came from.

Their search leads them to gestational surrogacy, a road less traveled where they’ll be borrowing a stranger’s ladyparts for nine months. Thus begins Jerry and Drew’s hilarious and unexpected journey to daddyhood. They meet a surrogate who’s perfect in every way… until she rejects them. They squabble over potential egg donors, discovering that they have very different notions of what makes the ideal woman. Then, Drew’s sister Susie makes a stunning offer that turns their entire journey on its head. If they’re interested, she’ll donate her eggs.

For the first time, Jerry and Drew imagine what it would be like to have a baby who’s a little bit of both of them. From then on, they’re in uncharted waters. They’re forced to face down homophobic baby store clerks, a hospital that doesn’t know what to do with them, even members of their own family who think what they’re doing is a little nutty. Along the way, Susie receives some devastating news that threatens to crush all their dreams of parenthood. One thing’s for sure. If this all works out, they’re going to have an incredible birth story to tell their kid.

With honesty, emotion, and laugh-out-loud humor, Jerry Mahoney ponders what it means to become a Mommy Man . . . and discovers that the answer is as varied and beautiful as the concept of family itself.

If you have any questions, post them here. I’d be happy to answer them. And if you need a reminder to place your order with the rest of us, just let me know and I’ll add you to my email list.

I have no idea how high a ranking this book can get, but I’m dying to find out. Maybe some day you can say you helped me crack the top 8,000!

[Remember: the Amazing Amazon Preorder Sales Twerk is this Friday, October 4, at 12pm EDT. You can place your orders here.]

Gay Dads Have All The Answers…

selfportrait

Her first self-portrait

“Daddy, when I’m an adult, I’m going to grow a baby in my belly.”

“That’s great, Honey, and if that’s what you decide, then yes, you can.”

“But Daddy…?”

“Yes?”

“How does it get in there?”

“How does what get in there?”

“The baby… how does it get in my belly?”

“Um… well…”

“How does it get in there, Daddy?”

“Well… um… actually, for Daddy and me… we had a doctor put you in.”

“Oh. OK.”

Giant sigh of relief.

 

Past Posts Revisited: How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, by a Gay Parent

therealthingnews-com-au

I’m always happy when someone reposts my piece How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, by a Gay Parent. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve posted here, and I tend to hear back some really amazing things as well as gain some super cool new followers every time it gets spread to some other corner of the internet.

Previously, the piece was featured on sites like the Today Show, Lifetime Moms and the Good Men Project. Just this week, two more very popular sites reblogged it, garnering it a bunch of fresh traffic. First, it ran on one of my favorite parenting blogs, Scary Mommy. If you don’t already know Scary Mommy, you should go there right now. It’s full of hilarity, top-notch writing and all kinds of wonderful things.

Scary Mommy has amazing readers, who’ve so far shared my post almost 10,000 times on Facebook(!) One person who read it over there works for the popular Australian news site News.com.au, and she asked if she could rerun it on that site as well.

They apparently put it on the front page, which brought it a lot of attention. If you read the comments on that site, you’ll see the response was not quite as positive as it’s been on other sites. I have no idea if News.com.au’s readership leans conservative or if this is representative of how most people Down Under view families like mine. Either way, I’m really grateful they ran my post because I’d rather this topic be discussed than ignored, and at least I put the subject in a few people’s minds.

My original piece wasn’t intended to defend my family or to convert homophobes. (For that, try this post instead.) It was aimed at sympathetic straight parents. However, to the detractors on news.com.au and elsewhere, I’ll say this:

Families with gay parents aren’t going away. You can say “Every child needs a mother and a father” all you want, but at some point, you’ll need to accept that you live in a world where not every child is going to have one. They might have none — or two. The only family you get to assemble is your own. Do with it what you will. You can either try to live peacefully with those who make different choices or remain cranky and increasingly isolated. You can tsk, tsk and say “Those poor kids,” but your pity and bigotry does more to harm my children than having two dads who think they’re the greatest kids in the world ever could.

I’ve read plenty of comments, on the other hand, that made valid criticisms. In the hopes that my piece will continue to be shared, I’ve decided to do a few minor revisions to take those into account.

The first is my mockery of the word “queer” in this line from the original piece:

You could also use the word “queer”, I guess, but then your kids and I will just think you’re a pretentious dweeb.

Most people, even those who self-identify as “queer” seem to have taken it as the harmless joke it was meant to be. Others took serious offense, and that’s something I never intended. The theme of the piece is tolerance and inclusiveness, and if anyone felt slighted by that line, I apologize. I admit my impression of the word “queer” as being pretentious dweebery is probably 20 years out of date. People self-identify as “queer” for a variety of very valid personal reasons, and I don’t want to make light of that.

I’ve removed that joke from the post. The Brainy Smurf joke is a better closer anyway.

Second, a few people have taken issue with me saying, “Every child ends up with the right parents for them” when we know how many kids in this world are abused, neglected or otherwise mistreated by their parents. It’s a fair point, so I’ve changed that statement to “It’s love that makes a family”. That way you can help explain nontraditional families without also validating abusive ones.

Lastly, I made a few minor tweaks just to make the piece more evergreen and universal. I never expected people on other continents would read my blog, and not all of them know what Grand Central Station is.

If you want to reblog the post from this point on, I ask that you use the newer version. Just to restate my reblogging policy:

Anyone is welcome to repost anything on this site anywhere, provided they credit me and link back to the original post on my domain. (Something along the lines of this would be great: “This piece, by Jerry Mahoney, originally appeared on his blog “Mommy Man: Adventures of a Gay Superdad“. I request that you use the “Contact Me” page to let me know when you’re going to reblog something. I love to check out my work on other people’s sites, however big or small their audience, and I may even be able to send some traffic your way by sharing your link.

To share any of my posts on your social networks, just click the corresponding button (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) at the bottom of the post and it does everything necessary for you.

If you quote excerpts, please link back to the full piece.

If you link me without reposting the entire piece and say, “Hey, go read this guy’s site! It’s great!”, then you’re awesome and I like you.

Aw, shucks. I like all of you! And I still can’t wait to visit Australia someday.

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.”

We Were On “The Today Show”

I never planned to put my kids on camera.  I mean, my cameras, sure.  I have about 10 bajillion hours of video of them doing completely mundane things like drooling or singing that new Taylor Swift song, which in my son’s interpretation, goes like this:

“We are never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, NEVER EVER EVER, NEVER EVER EVER… WE ARE NEVER EVER EVER…”

That’s it, over and over.  It never ends.  Never ever ever.

You can see why I keep these things to myself.

On the other hand, I feel a kind of parental duty to educate people about my family, to make the world a better, more understanding place for my kids, and of course, other kids in nontraditional families.

So when my friend Robin Sindler, who’s smart and talented and amazing and just happens to be a producer for The Today Show, came to me and asked if she could shoot a segment on our family, I thought about it for a bit and then said yes.

Then Drew said no.

Then, Robin said she would fly Susie down for an interview, meaning we’d get to spend a few days with her and her daughter, Grace.

We talked about it a lot, and eventually Drew agreed that if we were ever going to do something like this, we’d want to do it with someone we trust, on a show we respect, so our lives don’t get Jerry Springer-ized or used as a jumping-off point for some loudmouthed debate.

The Susie visit was a bonus, and of course, no story about my family would be complete unless it adequately praised Susie for her gift to us.

A few days later, Robin arrived with a small (and terrific) crew, and Drew and I slogged through what was probably our worst day of parenting ever.  We said things like, “Careful with Daddy’s mic pack!”  “Stay on the swing and keep smiling!”  And, “If you can just make it through one more bit of b-roll, we’ll have McDonald’s for lunch.”  We made the kids sit in the basement watching Beauty & The Beast while we shot our interview.  When Grace started crying, we asked Susie to take her for a walk so it wouldn’t ruin our audio.

We filmed at our swim class.  Usually, Drew’s at work for swim class, and I’m forced to sit with the other parents in a galley area so I don’t distract the kids.  For the camera crew, they let us sit at the edge of the pool, with our feet in the water.  The kids got to swim up to us and show us their moves, while a camera pushed in on their dripping wet faces.  They felt like movie stars.

It reminded me of all the reasons I never wanted our kids to be child actors.  “This is just for one day,” I kept reminding Drew.

I knew it had made an impression a couple of weeks later when we were reading one of my kids’ books.  (I think it was a Curious George book, but I can’t seem to find it now.)  There was a picture of a camera crew, including a woman who was standing in the back, taking notes on a small pad.  Sutton pointed at her and said, “That’s the producer!”

We had no idea how the piece would turn out or how many months would elapse before it would air.  It turned out it was only about three weeks.

I was terrified to watch it.  I didn’t want the kids to see it.  Drew had it on in his office, and he promised to call me afterward with his assessment.

“Go turn it on now,” he demanded.  “Sit and watch it with the kids.  It’s beautiful.”

So we did.  I backed up my Tivo and sat with the kids on the couch.

They were most excited to see their cousin Grace.  “Oh, she’s so cute!” they squealed.  I think they’re so used to seeing videos of themselves that they didn’t see this as anything special.  When it was over, Sutton asked, “Now can we watch another show about us?”

I’ve heard from lots of people since this piece aired — friends who loved hearing the story for what was probably the millionth time, strangers who enjoyed hearing it for the first time.  Now that we’ve seen it, we have no regrets.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy it, too.  It may be the last time you see us on TV for a while.

Until I can figure out how to embed, you can click here to watch the segment.

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.

Happy Other’s Day!

There are work-arounds to not having a mother in your family.  Our kids drank formula rather than breast milk.  We make adjustments to forms when necessary.  And when our twins are overly cranky, we tell them “Save the drama for President Obama!”  But I’ll admit, Mother’s Day is a tough one.

What are my kids going to do when their classes are making macaroni and glitter cards and milk carton bird feeders every mid-May?  Sit in the corner and do long division because they have no one to give theirs to?  I don’t want them to feel left out, and I would never want a school to cancel Mother’s Day for their benefit.  It’s a great holiday.  I even have a mother myself.

Actually, my problem with Mother’s Day started before the kids were even born.  Three years ago, around this time, our surrogate, Tiffany, was pregnant with the blobs who would eventually become Bennett and Sutton.  She did everything a pregnant woman is supposed to do – ate well, got regular check-ups, stayed off crack.  For her diligence, she was rewarded with non-stop morning sickness, a fetus who kicked the crap out of her uterus, Braxton Hicks contractions and eventually, 24-hour bed rest, all for the sake of someone else’s kids.

For that alone, I’d say she earned a bouquet of flowers once a year, but it doesn’t make her, you know, an m-word.

Then there was Drew’s sister, Susie, who’d gone through the hassle and discomfort of egg donation, who’d injected herself with needles on a daily basis, flown across country about five times – at the risk of losing her job – and forked over her DNA to make a couple of kids who would always call her “Aunt”.  What would Mother’s Day represent for her?  Just another Sunday?  An annual unacknowledged reminder of her sacrifice?

It didn’t seem right.  But using Mother’s Day to honor Tiffany and Susie didn’t seem appropriate either, because we were very clear about our family structure and who was in charge.  Fear not, Right Wing.  I have no desire to redefine motherhood.

After thinking it over for a while, we invented our own holiday, Surrogate and Egg Donor’s Day, which we celebrate on the Saturday before Mother’s Day every year.

The timing is significant, because it keeps our kids from feeling left out of Mother’s Day weekend, and it allows our surrogate and egg donor, both of whom now have kids of their own, to celebrate Mother’s Day with their own families, while still being honored for their contribution to ours.  Because they’re such amazing people, they get a whole weekend of love.

We’re not the only non-traditional family who can use this extra holiday.  Plenty of special women fall outside the definition of the word “mother” but still deserve recognition for their contributions to families.  It could be:

  • Your adopted kid’s birth mother
  • The woman who raised you in your mother’s absence
  • A stepmother
  • Your family’s long-time nanny
  • A trans parent who’s not sure where they fit in on Mother’s/Father’s Day
  • A co-parent
  • A mean green mother from outer space

Mommy?

Or whoever you think deserves a special day to honor her for her role in your family.

The same goes for special men, who you might want to celebrate the day before Father’s Day, rather than, you know, not at all.

In writing this piece, I realized I’m not the first one to use the term “Other’s Day”Some people are even offended by it, which is fair enough.  But the distinction is totally up to you and your family to make.  If someone’s special to you, you can celebrate them on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Other’s Day.  If Other’s Day sounds off-putting to you, call it Special Women’s Day or Special Men’s Day or even something clumsier, like Surrogate & Egg Donor’s Day.  Every family’s different, so we can all celebrate in different ways, too.

My kids are still a little young to understand the meaning of our special holiday, but I look forward to getting them involved in it as they get older, doing art projects, Skyping, or sending flowers.  It’ll be a great excuse to retell the incredible story of how they were born and to acknowledge what makes our family special.  Maybe it’ll also be a reminder of how corny their dads are, but I’m fine with that, too.

Again, I’m not trying to redefine anything, but I think it’s only fair that non-traditional families have a way to honor the people who matter to them.  I know, the last thing we need is one more holiday on the calendar, but if Hallmark wants to put out a special card with some schmaltzy sentiment aimed at surrogates or egg donors, they’ve got their first customer right here.