The Dad via Surrogacy
A couple of decades ago, surrogacy was more or less synonymous with the case of Baby M, who was born via traditional surrogacy in 1986. In the case, a woman, Mary Beth Whitehead, had agreed to carry a child for a wealthy married couple, William and Elizabeth Stern using William's sperm for $10,000. After the birth of the child, however, Whitehead changed her mind, gave up the $10,000 and decided to keep the baby girl.
The resulting court battle that ensued captivated the nation, and prompted several states to pass laws limiting surrogacy in some form. Many other countries across the globe, moreover, banned the practice outright. And locally, where no official federal policy exists, anyone seeking to become a parent via surrogacy needs to contend with the patchwork of state laws and regulations on the practice. Some states ban surrogacy outright, while others merely place restrictions on the practice. In New York and Oregon for instance, surrogacy is legal, but compensating a surrogate for the practice is illegal.
As for GBT individuals who become dads via surrogacy? By now, you should be able to say it with me: Very little research exists. And most research on surrogacy has focused on its use within heterosexual relationships. But, in some of the limited research that has been done on gay and bisexual men who became fathers through surrogacy, no significant differences were noted when compared with straight couples. And when differences were noted, they pointed to advantages for same-sex couples, such as providing “superior quality of parenting, greater warmth and emotional involvement" to their children.
Anyone considering a route to fatherhood through surrogacy will need to decide which type of surrogacy is best for his family. There are two different types: The first is referred to as traditional surrogacy, where the surrogate is impregnated with the sperm of one of the male partners through insemination. The other type, known as gestational surrogacy, occurs when another woman donates an egg to be fertilized by a male partners' sperm, and the resulting embryo is transferred to the surrogate's womb to carry. In practical terms, this means that a traditional surrogate is biologically related to the child she carries, while a gestational surrogate is not.
“I come from a small family," Jason Howe told me, who is a fellow writer for Gays With Kids, and has written about his experiences with gestational surrogacy. “And in the beginning, I really wanted my own biological children." His husband, for his part, liked the fact that surrogacy, especially one done through an overseas agency, meant that there was no other parent in the picture. Though both are happy with their decision to use a surrogate, “once we had our girls in our arms," Jason said, “I realized that I would have loved any child that was mine just as much, biological or not."
So what advice would Jason give to others considering surrogacy?
“Be sure to do your due diligence," Jason told me. “Paying someone who's not your partner to carry your baby can be a harrowing experience. You have to trust that the surrogate is doing what you expect her to do to ensure a healthy pregnancy, so you'll want to be as comfortable as possible with the process as you head into it." This is doubly true, he said, for international surrogacy, where contact with the surrogate may be minimal, and it's easier to obscure things like their living conditions or their health regimen. “Don't be afraid to come off as a suspicious ass****," Jason joked. “Ask plenty of questions."
Jason, who used an international agency, says he has no regrets about his path to parenthood apart from one thing: He wishes he had met his surrogate. “We never got that chance," Jim said. “We had heard stories about young surrogates, usually from rural villages, sitting silent and uncomfortable at meetings with Western parents, or worse, visibly horrified if they discovered the parents were gay." So when Jason's clinic asked if they wanted to meet their surrogate, they responded, “only if she wanted to meet us." Later, the couple changed their mind, and decided to personally check on the surrogate's welfare, and provide some gifts, but she'd already gone back to her village. “We never learned whether or not that was true and we never got to meet her in person. It's the only part of the story of my daughters' origin that I won't enjoy telling them."
Captain Chris Armijo, who Gays With Kids readers first met in an article this past March, also chose gestational surrogacy as his path to parenthood. But, unlike Jason's, his surrogate and egg donor are very much involved in the lives of his twin daughters. It's a reality that requires planning. “Do some homework, do the research, put in the time and effort," Chris said. “Don't skip steps to speed up the process. There are so many factors involved in the decision to become a parent [via gestational surrogacy]."
Part of Chris' advice comes from personal experience. “It was rocky at first," Chris said. “We did not identify clear roles and responsibilities and expectations. We had to overcome that internally."
What would he have done differently, then?
“Keep a bottle of liquor nearby," he joked, before offering this more serious piece of advice: Contact an expert who is well versed in the process of surrogacy. “Get someone in the room who you can work with to come up with a clear, articulated picture of what roles should be. Then put it in writing."
Still, according to Chris, it's important to be flexible, and understand that relationships can change. “Once the baby gets there, everything goes out the door," Chris said. “Let things evolve if you're open to it. Have to know what your level of acceptance of their involvement will be. Boundaries will be crossed."
“How I envisioned [our relationship] is totally different than today," Chris admitted. Chris' egg donor, for instance, has been a friend of his for 17 years. “She evolved from being Auntie Jessica to Mommy Jessica. She comes to visit four or five times a year, and the girls are getting to know her family." Now, Chris says, Jessica is starting to become more inline with a mother figure. It's a complicated situation, Chris said, “but it works for us."
So for any dads-to-be out there considering surrogacy, you've heard it straight from our experts: Be an ass**** and keep a bottle of liquor nearby as you go about the process. If you need some additional help, though, check out online resources such as Men Having Babies and It's Conceivable Now. And, once again, be sure to check out all the excellent Gays with Kids articles on the subject!