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How Northwest Surrogacy Center Became a Top Choice for Gay Parents

Learn how John Chally and Sandra Hodgson turned Northwest Surrogacy Center into a leading choice for gay men pursuing surrogacy!

In 2001, Tabitha Koh was mid-interview for an office manager and bookkeeper position at Northwest Surrogacy Center (NWSC) when the agency's co-founders, John Chally and Sandra Hodgson, took a moment to get serious with her.

"They informed me that the agency works with a lot of diverse families, including a lot of gay ones," Tabitha recalled. So it would be extremely important, John and Sandra stressed, that Tabitha display a high level of comfort with and acceptance of LGBTQ families."I assured them it wouldn't be an issue," Tabitha laughed, who lives with her wife and two kids in Portland, and now works as the agency's Director of Legal Services.

It's a funny anecdote the trio now fondly laughs about today — but it also underscores how carefully NWSC has sought to earn its reputation as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly surrogacy agencies in the country.

"From the beginning, we've believed that it doesn't matter who you are, gay, straight or whatever, you should be able to build the family that you want," John said.


Matthias and Carlos worked with Northwest Surrogacy Center and are now the proud and doting dads to son Benjamin

As one of the longest-running surrogacy agency businesses in the country, NWSC has also proven that this focus on inclusivity is more than just a good moral guidepost — it's good business, too. Over the last quarter-century, the agency — which maintains offices in California, Oregon and Washington — has developed into one of the largest and most successful surrogacy agencies in the country. They are a top choice for queer parents, too — well over 50 percent of their clientele identify as LGBTQ.

So how (and why?) did John and Sandra, two straight lawyers with over 60 years combined experience in family law, create an agency that's become a leading choice of the LGBTQ community?

***

Sandra Hodgson and John Chally

Interestingly, the answers for both John and Sandra have roots in a completely different path to parenthood common for many LGBTQ people:adoption. Through each of their individual legal practices, John and Sandra, together and separately, came to develop a set of ethical standards that guided their adoption work — and which would later form the basis of their surrogacy agency as well.

John, who was been practicing adoption law since 1975, said he first became interested in the area of adoption thanks to his mother's work as a nurse. "She was engaged in issues around pregnancy, abortion and adoption, so I already understood and had an appreciation for these issues."

In 1985, after a decade of helping connect birth mothers with adoptive families as part of his private practice, John co-foundedOpen Adoption & Family Services (OA&FS).In the early days of its existence, OA&FS made waves for agreeing to happily work with LGBTQ parents — something many other agencies, even progressive, non-religious ones, refused to do at the time.

Johnvividly remembers the day when the first same-sex couple walked through the doors of OA&FS hoping to use their services to become parents. It was in the late 1980s, not long after the agency's founding, but many years before adoption by LGBTQ couples was commonplace and legal in every state across the United States.

"I'd honestly never considered the possibility of working with gay couples until that moment," he recalled. But once presented with the opportunity, he didn't think twice. "Well why wouldn't I?" John said simply. He recalled two gay friend she had had in college to help illustrate why he was so uncharacteristically accepting of LGBTQ parenthood at the time. "I watched them fall in love, saw it up close," he said. "I couldn't think of a single reason not to help people like my friends."

OA&FS's commitment to inclusivity was not universally accepted, however. As its base of parents became increasingly LGBTQ, "we lost a lot of clients when that information got out there," John admitted. But what the agency lost in narrow-minded clients, they gained in LGBTQ ones. Today, OA&FS's client base — which is roughly 40 percent LGBTQ — benefit from more domestic adoption placements than any other agency in the Pacific Northwest.

Sandra joined John's law practice in 1988 and started practicing adoption at that time. She had friends in high school and college who were gay and lesbian and felt that it was both natural and important to help members of the LGBTQ community become parents. In the early 1990's she started representing parties in surrogacy matters and understood that the legal, social, and family formation issues in surrogacy weren't that dissimilar from those involved in adoption.

"There wasn't much law governing surrogacy in 1994, and you still had to establish the rights of the parents," she said, explaining that a surrogate, just like a birth mother, still needed to consent to relinquishing her rights, and intended parents still needed to undergo a home study and adoption process. Fortunately, the legal process has changed and most intended parents now obtain parentage judgments before birth.

Sandra's practice grew to include more and more surrogacy work, and she found herself doing both legal work and case management work. Sandra was familiar with surrogacy and adoption and not only was John an adoption attorney at the law firm, Bouneff Chally and Koh, but he also knew how to start an agency. It made sense to form Northwest Surrogacy Center, a surrogacy program focused on locating, screening, matching intended parents with surrogates, and facilitating their surrogacy process. The legal process and John and Sandra's experience of building families was well within their normal comfort zones.

And thus, in 1994, Northwest Surrogacy Center was born.

***

Dads of two sets of twins, Mark and Jeff, with their surrogate Kazzie and her husband, and co-founder Sandra

Inclusivity wasn't the only principle John and Sandra borrowed from their adoption experience when they first ventured into the surrogacy realm. Both stressed the importance of open adoptions in their practices, meaning there is some level of contact between the birth and adoptive parents.

Open adoptions were far more unusual in the 1980s, when many questioned the wisdom of maintaining contact between birth and adoptive families. But overtime, they've become standard practice, thanks in large part to recent research showing the beneficial outcomes between all parties.

It simply made sense, John and Sandra said, to apply the same level of openness and community building within their surrogacy business. "We're really focused on creating space for our clients to connect with one another and other surrogates," John said. One of the ways they do so is through events for current and prospective intended parents. Last year, John and Sandra attended a conference in Paris, France attended by 163 mostly gay past and current clients. "To look at the energy in the room, and the care and concern of these parents, was just a wonderful experience," John said.

NWSC stresses the importance of the relationship between intended parents and surrogates."I think it's because of our adoption experience that we really try to create a healthy relationship between intended parents and a surrogate and her family," John said.

To achieve that goal, the agency conducts a rigorous matching process that is rare among agencies. Some agencies ask intended parents to first choose a potential surrogate from among many listed on an online database prior to completing the full vetting process. While on the surface this provides intended parents with more choice, it also increases the likelihood that a match will fall through. NWSC, in contrast, invests considerable time and resources matching individual surrogates with intended parents in an effort to establish the best possible fit.

According to independent reviews of surrogacy agencies on Men Having Babies, a non-profit dedicated to helping gay men pursue surrogacy, the thoroughness of NWSC's matching-process is among its most valued features. One reviewer referred to Sandra as a "gifted matcher." Another intended parent credited the agency for matching them with "one of the finest people we've ever met."

***

Dads Bobby, Grey, Josh and Jason celebrating at NWSC's 25th anniversary party, September 2019

Since Tabitha has joined the organization, she has worked with John and Sandra to continue growing the organization and its support for LGBTQ people. Perhaps the biggest change, she said, has been in their work with international LGBTQ clients. "There are lots of places where surrogacy isn't really available to anyone," she said. "And even if it is, it's often not available to gay couples and individuals."

As a result, NWSC has steadily increased the services they provide to overseas couples. While a majority of their domestic clients are LGBTQ, nearly all of their new international clients are gay men or couples. "It's been an interesting process working with people from around the world," Tabitha said. With surrogacy law still in its infancy in most other countries, "it's a bit of a window into how far we've come in this country in terms of the law."

Since 1994, NWSC has seen a lot change — with respect to the law, medicine and societal acceptance — that has made it easier than ever for LGBTQ people to become parents via surrogacy. The agency has often been at the vanguard of these efforts. But for the professionals at NWSC, change hasn't come quickly enough — and it still hasn't reached enough corners of the world.

"It would be great to see a day when none of this is special," John said. He noted a recent instance, while working with a gay couple from France who said the best part of the experience was traveling to NWSC's Portland office and being treated like just any other family. "That's our clients' overwhelming experience when they come to our offices," John said. "And that's great, but I want to see the day when gay intended parents can experience that same feeling everywhere."

At least while we wait (and fight) for that version of the world to take hold, NWSC will still be there — its work guided by deeply-rooted principles of inclusivity, openness and community building, etched into the fabric of the business over its 25-year history.

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"We're Dads, the Greatest Thing We've Ever Been": Congrats to Gay Men Whose Families Recently Grew!

Wishing all of these gay dads whose families expanded a lifetime of happiness! Congrats to everyone in our community on their recent births and adoptions!

Gay men go through a lot of ups and downs on the path to parenthood. It can be one of the most emotionally draining times in our lives. But as each of these families who are celebrating births and adoptions this month agree: it's worth every hardship.

Congrats to the dads whose families grew this month!

Congratulations to dads Ryan and Sebastian on the birth of their son, Máximo!!

Ryan and Sebastian's path to fatherhood was through surrogacy and their journey took nearly five years from start to finish. "There were many ups and downs and we almost gave up — but are so glad we didn't!"

"Holding Máximo for the first time was something we will never forget," shared Ryan. "He was looking up at us and we were just overcome with love and joy."

This new family of three live in Long Island City, New York.

Congratulations to dads Andy and Mike on their birth of their son Bennett!

In July this year, Andy and Mike became first time dads through surrogacy when they welcomed their son Bennett.

"We are absolutely in love with our baby Bennett! He's doing awesome and his Daddy and Papa have been rewarded with a lot of big smiles! He sleeps a lot and is generally relaxed as he learns about the world around him. He's made us happier than we knew possible and we feel incredibly blessed that he is the culmination of our wonderful surrogacy journey."

Even though their son is only 3 months old, they're already starting to think about and plan for his sibling! Congrats dads!

Congratulations to dads Bryan and Zachary on the birth of your son Spencer!

Three years ago, husbands Bryan and Zachary moved from New York City to Dallas, Texas to start a family.

"Like for most, our journey had many uncertainties with ups and downs along the way," said Bryan. "When you stop and really think about everything that goes into the process and has to take place, it's a true miracle and we feel blessed."

On August 26 this year, their son Spencer was born through surrogacy. "Patience, hope, support and remembering what's eventually to come helped my husband and I during the most stressful times. Now that Gates is here, it's hard to even look back."

"Holding Gates for the first was a true miracle - my husband and I finally took a breath. At that moment, the three of us created our new family and everything was exactly how it was supposed to be."

Congratulations to dads John and Ryan on finalizing the adoption of their son Connor!

When John and Ryan in 2004, they both knew they wanted to be parents. They were married in 2005 and started their journey as foster parents in 2009. They first became dads when their son Cody, then an infant, came to live with them. His adoption was finalized in 2013.

"After Cody's adoption, we 'closed' our home and actually moved a few times before joining the foster parent community again in 2018. When we decided to look to foster and adopt again, Cody was fully on board and that was a big part of our discussions about timing."

Their son Conner was placed with them as an infant in May 2018. Connor's adoption was finalized on October 16, and he was 19 months old at the time.

"Adoption day was a whirlwind," shared John. "We were first on the docket for the judge and he made quick work of finalizing his placement and formally making Connor a member of the family!"

The forever family of four live in San Antonio, Texas and would love to connect with other families like theirs.

Congratulations to dads Matt and Ian on the birth of their son Rocco!

Denver couple Matt and Ian had been dreaming of the day when they'd become dads. The husbands have been together going on 8 years, married for 5, and had picked out their son's name even before they were married.

"The journey to fatherhood has been a long and emotional one," shared Matt. "After our first fertility clinic placed roadblocks in front of us for almost two years, we changed to a new once and suddenly found ourselves on a pace far quicker towards fatherhood. We engaged a surrogacy agency to find our gestational carrier after two attempts to do it ourselves, and ended up with someone who was so far and beyond what we ever could have imagined, we cannot imagine the journey without her. We call her our angel not just because of her selfless act but for her guidance along the way as a mother herself."

From their first 13 embryos, one little one tried to hang on but didn't quite make it to the end. After several years of trying up, they decided to give it one more go and were able to produce 6 eggs, one of which resulted very quickly into a multiplying, healthy and genetically viable embryo - the last of 19 attempts. "The day we found out that our little bundle of cells had matured, we unexpectedly lost my Grandfather on the same day – a stark reminder of the cycle that is life. We gave our son the middle name of Keen as it was one of my late grandfather's signature words to use. 'Oh, that's so keen...' is a phrase I can still hear him saying to me as a child."

On July 26, the dads welcomed their son Rocco! "We are blessed now with a sleeping, funny, expressive and engaged little spirit in our lives. The process was tough, emotional and downright exhausting. The moment he showed up though, let out a scream then looked at his with his funny little furled brow, every single appointment, lost night's sleep, worry and tear was collectively worth it. We are Dads … and that is simply the greatest thing we have ever been."

Congratulations to Travis and Jay on finalizing the adoption of their son Kathan!

Travis and his husband Jay began their path to fatherhood a little over three years ago when they began the certification process to adoption through the foster care system. "After a little over a year and a half in the making we got the call on June 3rd 2018 at 11:30am. That day changed our lives in so many beautiful ways," said Travis.

At just 4 days old, the dads brought their son Kathan home, and 16 months later, they celebrated his adoption being finalized. "It felt like we had been set free as a family for the first time."

Kathan's adoption day was incredibly personal for the dads so they spent it with close family and took Kathan out for celebratory brunch.

Congrats to this Orange County forever family of three.

Congratulations to dad Derek and Zack on the birth of their daughter Georgia!

On October 18, 2019, dads Derek and Zack, and big brother Hank, welcomed Georgia to the family. The family is over the moon!

"Zack and I were lucky to be able to work with the same surrogate that helped us with our son Hank," said Derek. Their family journey experienced a significant setback when one of their fertility clinic's embryo storage tanks malfunctioned, and they lost all their genetic material - 11 fertilized embryos - that Derek's sister and Zack had donated to create their family. Luckily, Derek's sister was incredible and happily flew out to donate her beautiful genes again.

"Our family is truly the living embodiment of the love of our extended family and our carrier Raelene (and her family) have for us and our dream to meet our children. Meeting Georgia, for me, was the realization of all those feelings of love and hope we felt throughout our journey."

Congrats to this San Francisco family of four!

Congratulations to dads Rob and Scott on the birth of their daughter Sierra!

Rob and Scotty's journey to fatherhood started in December 2014, and they became first time dads eighteen months later when their son Ryder was born through surrogacy. In early October this year, they welcomed their daughter, Sierra, also through surrogacy.

"Holding her for the first time was amazing and warmed our hearts completely," shared Scotty. "Our son loves his baby sister and is very protective of her!!"

Huge congrats to this Sacramento family!

Congratulations to dads Brian and John on the birth of their son Weston!

Brian Wall and his fiancé John Agricola live in Toronto, Canada, and they recently welcomed their son Weston into the world on November 13.

"Our path to fatherhood was made a little simpler because my first cousin offered to be our surrogate," said Brian. "It took about a year total from picking an egg donor and our first successful embryo transfer on March 13."

When the dads first held their son they both agreed it was the most emotional experience they've ever had. "So grateful to our surrogate and he is a healthy boy!!"

Congrats to this new family of three, and can't wait to see wedding photos from your upcoming nuptials!

Congratulations to Ricky and Jeff on finalizing the adoption of their daughter Kylie!

Ricky and Jeff finalized the adoption of their youngest on November 8, the biological sister to their son Kadyn.

"Her birth mom knew that she couldn't take care of her and wanted us to have her," shared Ricky. "We went through the county again and we were able to adopt Kylie 6 months after her birth. The extra cool experience this time around was the fact that we were invited to be there to be part of the birth."

To be finalize Kylie's adoption was "amazing" said the dads. "It means that nothing and no one can do or say anything that would effect her being with us, which almost happened about a month before the adoption day."

Congratulations to this Californian forever family of four!

News

United Nations Calls on Cambodia to End Criminalization of Surrogates

Cambodia's 2016 law criminalizes surrogacy — and requires women who work as surrogate to raise the children they conceived for intended parents as their own.

Last Friday, the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) reiterated its support to end the harassment and criminalization of surrogates in Cambodia, according to Voice of America.

The report issued by CEDAW recognized growing international criticism of the unregulated practice of surrogacy around the world, which often leads to the exploitation of women who work as surrogates. However, since surrogacy became illegal in Cambodia, over 60 women working as surrogates — the very people put in danger of exploitation — have been arrested and subjected to criminal proceedings. The women were only released according to VOA, under the condition of raising the surrogate children until they are 18.

"The Committee is particularly concerned that such an obligation creates an additional financial and emotional burden on women who are in precarious situations, which led them to act as surrogates in the first place," the report reads, "and that they face discrimination and stigma from their families and communities for having acted as surrogates."

CEDAW called on the Cambodian government to repeal the October 2016 law — particularly the requirement of raising the children they conceived for other intended parents as their own. This punishment is particularly onerous given that many of these women entered surrogacy arrangement against their will, said Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, speaking to VOA.

"Surrogate women in Cambodia are likely to be at the sharp end of various economic and political hardships that caused them to make the decision to become a surrogate," she told VOA in an email. "We have seen, over the past year, women surrogates raided, charged with human trafficking, and detained, with no transparency from the authorities as to their wellbeing or that of the children they have given birth to."

Read more about this story here.

Gay Dad Family Stories

One Single Gay Dad's Trailblazing Path to Parenthood Via Surrogacy

20 years ago, Gene became the first single gay man to work with Circle Surrogacy in order to become a dad — trailblazing a path for many others since.

This article is part of our family feature series with Circle Surrogacy, a surrogacy agency that has been helping LGBTQ+ singles and couples realize their dream of parenthood for the past 20 years.

"I think I was pretty naïve, I guess," chuckled Gene, one of the first single gay dads to work with Circle Surrogacy over 19 years ago. "I just had made a decision and went out and did it, and wasn't really thinking about how difficult it might be or what other people thought, being first at doing something."

So how did Gene hear about surrogacy as an option for single gay men? Well, it began with Gene flipping through a bar magazine. He recalls seeing an ad about a woman providing a service to connect gay men with lesbians in platonic co-parenting relationships. While he started down that path, working with the founder, Jennifer, he remembers thinking, "What if I meet someone? What if I want to move? It would create all these complications."

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Gay Dad Life

Karamo Brown Co-Writes Children's Book with Son, Jason

The 'Queer Eye' star and his son named the story on a family mantra: You are Perfectly Designed

When his sons, Jason and Chris, were young, "Queer Eye" Star Karamo Brown repeated the same saying to them: "You are perfectly designed."

That mantra is now a Children's Book, cowritten by Karamo and his 22-year-old son, Jason, who used to come how and "say things like, 'I don't want to be me, I wish I was someone else, I wish I had a different life." As a parent, that "broke my heart," Karamo told Yahoo! Lifestyle. "I would say to him, 'You are blessed and you are perfect just the way you are,' as a reminder that you have been given so much and you should be appreciative and know that you're enough — I know that the world will try to tear you down, but if you can say to yourself, 'I am perfectly designed,' maybe it can quiet out some of those negative messages."

The illustrations, by Anoosha Syed, also make a point of displaying families of a variety of races and sexual orientations throughout the book.

Read more about Karamo's fascinating path to becoming a gay dad here, and then check out the video below that delves deeper into the inspiration behind "You Are Perfectly Designed," available on Amazon.



Change the World

"Dadvocates" Gather in D.C. to Demand Paid Family Leave for ALL Parents

"Dadvocate" and new gay dad Rudy Segovia joined others in D.C. recently to educate lawmakers on the need for paid family leave for ALL parents

On Tuesday October 22, Dove Men+Care and PL+US (Paid Leave for the United States) led the Dads' Day of Action on Capitol Hill. A group of over 40 dads and "dadvocates" from across the states lobbied key member of Congress on the issue of paid paternity leave for *ALL* dads. They shared stories of their struggles to take time off when welcoming new family members and the challenges dads face with no paid paternity leave.

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Gay Dad Photo Essays

Falling for Fall: 33 Photos of Gay Dads and Kids at the Pumpkin Patch

Oh my gourd, it's fall! To celebrate, we rounded up 33 pics (and whole lot of pun-kins) in our annual fall photo essay!

Don your checked shirt, grab them apples, and shine those smiles while perched on pumpkins — it's the annual fall family photo op! A trip to the pumpkin patch and / or apple orchard is a staple family fall outing, and we're here for it. 🎃🍎🍂👨👨👧👦

Thanks to these dads who shared their pics with us! Share your own to dads@gayswithkids.com and we'll add them to this post!

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Gay Dad Family Stories

David and Ben Met on the Dance Floor — and Are Now Grooving Their Way Through Fatherhood

David and Ben, who became fathers with the help of Northwest Surrogacy Center, live in Melbourne with their daughter, Maia.

In 2003, while both studying at Reading University in the UK, Ben Suter and David Cocks met after locking eyes on the dance floor and then being introduced by a mutual friend. Ben, a meteorologist and Operations Manager, and David, an Assistant Principal, have been together ever since. They moved to Australia together in 2010, seeking a different life, and an overall better work-life balance. The chose Cairns in Queensland as their new home, between the Great Barrier Reef and the tropical rainforest, "taking life a bit easier," said David. The couple were also married in June 2016, back home in England.

While David always wanted kids, Ben took a little convincing. So they started their parenting journey with a dog, Titan, who quickly became like their first born. From there, Ben came around rather quickly.

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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