We surveyed a group of dads who created their families through surrogacy to learn what advice they have to offer future dads. From our conversations, here are the top 6 tips that every prospective gay dad needs to know about surrogacy.
“I think the biggest decision I had to make was to mentally be prepared to commit to something other than myself. As a gay man, I never thought I would have the opportunity to have a family.” – John Riehs
When you create your family via adoption and, especially, via foster-adopt, you’re giving a child in need the gift of a family. People around you will admire you and call your child lucky. When you choose to pursue a family via surrogacy, you create a new child, a new life, a new person. As a result, the responsibility to make your parenting a success, to raise a happy, well-adjusted child, that heavy responsibility will rest on your shoulders alone. And don’t underestimate outside pressure: Often people will ask you why you chose surrogacy, and why you chose it over adoption – even though straight parents are rarely asked why they chose to create a baby! Be prepared to ask yourself – and answer! – a host of difficult-but-crucial questions: How important is a genetic link with your kids? How do you and your partner (if you have one) decide who’s going to be the bio dad? What are the criteria for your egg donor? Why do you want to bring a new child into an alternative family? The answers to these questions will likely help you through moments of doubt – about finances, about donor choice, even about the surrogacy decision itself.
John Riehs and his two kids
“Get an agency to manage the entire project instead of putting the pieces together yourself." – Salim Stephenson
Salim with his son Felix, born with the help of Salim's sister who was the gestational surrogate
Surrogacy for gay dads has as many moving parts as adoption—if not more. Our gay dads told us how critical the right surrogacy agency is when you begin the process. Then comes the fertility clinic, the donor (the woman who provides the egg), the gestational carrier (if different from the donor), the lawyers, the hospital, and the insurance company.
In several adoptions, even if it’s a newborn, the nitty-gritty of reproduction and pregnancy have already been taken care of. In surrogacy, you will be there from the start, and you’ll have a village of onlookers. Selecting the right agency, fertility clinic, donor and gestational carrier ensures your own health, the health of your pregnancy and the health of your carrier. Everybody has to do their job, including you. (If this all sounds complicated, watch our expert video for a detailed explanation on selecting the surrogacy agency and fertility clinic.)
A very important note to add: Be sure to think of your gestational carrier or surrogate as an invaluable person responsible for helping you fulfill your dreams of fatherhood, and treat her with the utmost respect. Ensure that she is not being exploited, that she has read the contract in her native language, that she knows you (or you and your husband/partner) are gay, and, if there is remuneration, that she is being paid what you were told.
“Our first choice of clinic ended up setting us back months since they were not well versed in laws affecting same-sex couples and assisted reproduction.” – Frank Emanuele
Norm (left) and Frank with their kids
Laws on surrogacy can be difficult to navigate from state to state, or from country to country.
While several states either don’t have laws on surrogacy or have courts that tend to rule favorably for surrogate families, a few outlaw surrogacy contracts or limit the access to surrogacy, particularly gestational, to straight couples. Parental presumption—determining who is listed on the child’s birth certificate—can also be a challenge. As in others areas of biology and technology, the law simply hasn’t caught up with today’s advances. This is why gay dads need to seek out an experienced lawyer in this field. But they have to do the research themselves.
“We took out a 5-year loan … Being financially mindful before, during, and after the birth of our twins was always on our minds. This is by no means a cheap or easy process.” – Gil and Derek
Gil (left) and Derek with their kids Luna and Leo
The medical costs of surrogacy often surprise aspiring gay dads. Before even getting into the costs of the actual pregnancy, you must plan for harvesting the egg, fertilizing with donated sperm, making an embryo, and storing the embryo until ready to be implanted. The process can be overwhelmingly expensive and clinical, and for many gay dads, they can get lost in both the bills and the technical details. That’s why gay dads need a forward-thinking yet organic budget that can handle the medical demands of a successful surrogacy.
Pregnancy has risks. The creation of a new life might challenge your beliefs in ways you can’t expect. If you use in vitro fertilization, how will you decide to reduce the number of embryos? If after a year of planning and you're anxious to bring home your son or daughter, there’s a miscarriage? If an early test proves positive for a birth defect or genetic illness, will you fight to keep the pregnancy? No one but you has the answers to these questions, and you need those answers now before you start looking into surrogacy. Challenge yourself and your beliefs so that if a decision needs to be made, you know you can better live with your choice.
"Our surrogate, Natasia, is incredible. Already close after she carried our son, but when my husband passed away when we were 11 weeks pregnant with twins, this bonded us forever. Natasia and her family (husband and now three children) are close. Wish we were closer, but we still remain in each other's lives. Thank goodness for social media!” – José Rolón
José Rolón with his son and twin daughters
Surrogacy agreements can work in much the same way as open or closed adoptions. Several gay dads told us that they kept some contact with donors or surrogates or both so that their children could understand where they came from, and not be misled at an early age about human reproduction. Sometimes the carrier is a close friend or family member, and carefully gauging the level of contact between the child and the carrier can lead to very fulfilling mix of two families. Sometimes, the donor becomes a valued female role model for the child. The more adult role models in a child’s life, the better, most gay dads who chose surrogacy agree.
Editor's note: For more information on surrogacy, check out Men Having Babies, a non-profit organization offering surrogacy advice and support, including conferences and other events as well as financial assistance grants, for gay men around the world.