“We were heartbroken."
“We just figured it wasn't going to happen for us."
“We spent everything — all of our savings — over nine years."
“We took one look at the price tag and figured it wasn't within reach."
These are the statements of two couples — Jay and Victor, and Daniel and Ricardo — who, at one point or another, came close to giving up on their hopes to become fathers.
It's frustrations like these, which are unfortunately all too commonly heard from would-be gay fathers, that prompted a group of gay men to form Men Having Babies (MHB), a resource organization to help prospective gay dads navigate the often-troubled waters of surrogacy.
The organization started back in 2005 as a “peer support network for biological gay fathers and fathers-to-be," according to their website. Originally, they operated as a small program out of New York City's LGBT Community Center. In 2012, however, MHB morphed into a standalone non-profit organization, and has since expanded to offer workshops and seminars for gay men interested in becoming biological fathers in multiple cities across the U.S. and elsewhere, including San Francisco, Chicago New York, Tel Aviv and Brussels. (For details, check out their events schedule.)
While many other resource organizations exist to help LGBT parents, MHB is, to their knowledge, the only one focused on easing the considerable financial burden of surrogacy for prospective gay fathers, the average cost of which is roughly $120,000.
“There are a dozen or so foundations that provide financial assistance to infertile people," said Ron Poole-Dayan, the executive director and founding member of MHB. “But none offer to help gay men, even though many gay men need substantial third-party assistance in order to become parents."
Ron pointed out that as a category, gay men can face more obstacles in their quests to become parents than others. “These include biological, legal, and social constraints, as well as significantly higher financial costs."
One of the main aspects of the organization's mission, then, is to promote the affordability of surrogacy. It's a cause close to the hearts of all those involved with MHB. According to AJ Edge, the director of operation and finance for MHB, all of the organization's board members have previously gone through their own surrogacy processes.
“They know that surrogacy is not something that's open to just anyone," AJ said. “And that it can be overwhelming and daunting — so that's why GPAP was born."
MHB created GPAP, the Gay Parenting Assistance Program, to assist prospective gay parents who cannot afford the full cost of becoming biological parents on their own. The program is split into two “stages." Those approved for Stage I become eligible for substantial discounts off the cost of surrogacy services from dozens of leading service providers. Stage II assistance, though more selective, is even more comprehensive — those accepted are provided with direct cash grants and free services to cover a considerable portion of the cost of surrogacy.
“In the last two years, more than 300 couples became eligible for substantial discounts off the cost of surrogacy services," said Ron Poole-Dayan. “And more than 40 couples have received direct financial assistance, including grants and free services. Ten babies have already been born to Stage II couples, and many more are on their way."
Without this type of assistance, the cost of surrogacy can be prohibitively expensive for many gay dads, or at least those who don't happen to have an extra $120,000 hiding under their mattresses.
This sticker price was enough to deter Jay Todd and Victor Gonzalez, a couple of 17 years, when they took their first steps towards becoming fathers five years ago.
“We thought you needed to be like Elton John to have kids through surrogacy," Jay joked. “It just seemed out of reach for most families — like such a fantasy."
So the couple decided to try adoption instead, a process that proved to be more emotionally fraught and expensive than they had expected. “We spent thousands of dollars," Jay said, “It was a very emotionally difficult time for everyone involved." The men came close to completing an adoption a few times — first with a child in Indiana, and a second time with a sibling group in Colombia — but neither worked out in the end.
The couple stresses that they have no regrets, and wish nothing but the best for the birth parents and their children. Still, the experience left them emotionally exhausted, and they decided to sideline their dream of becoming fathers. “We had to give up," Jay admitted. “We just figured it wasn't going to happen for us."
Then, the couple learned about GPAP, and were approved for Stage I assistance. “We got substantial discounts from Simply Surrogacy and CT Fertility," Jay said. “It probably saved us around $10,000."
MHB refers to the assistance they are able to provide through Stage I as their “journey booster"; it likely won't be enough to make or break your ability to afford surrogacy, but it's enough to make a significant difference in the lives of new dads.
This was certainly true for Jay and Victor, particularly when they discovered their surrogate was pregnant with their now 7-month-old twins, Elizabeth and Kainoa. “Having the extra bit of change lying around when the babies were born has been a lifesaver," Jay said. “We just have so much gratitude for everyone who was part of this journey."
Victor (left) and Jay
You hear the word “journey" a lot from gay fathers when they reference the process of starting their families with the help of a surrogate. This is not, unfortunately, hyperbole — the experience can be packed with as many twists and unexpected turns as a M. Night Shyamalan movie. That was certainly the case for Daniel and Ricardo Santiago, when they decided to start their family nearly nine years ago.
“We both wanted to be biological fathers," Daniel explained. “So we reached out to a surrogacy agency to ask for a brochure." They excitedly pored over the information when it arrived in the mail — that is, until they saw the price.
The two looked at their finances and realized they would need to save for five to 10 years before starting the process. “Waiting that long sounds awful when you so desperately want to begin your family right away like all your straight friends," Daniel said.
After attending a MHB Seminar in New York in 2013, however, they realized surrogacy might be closer within reach than they had realized. “We learned that some agencies were cheaper than we had thought, so we were like, screw it, let's take out a loan and do our best."
The couple took out $60,000 in loans, and applied $40,000 in savings as well to invest in their surrogacy journey. They didn't think twice about the considerable sums of money they were investing into the process. “We were just so excited when we signed up with an agency. We were like, 'We're going to have a baby in 9 months!'" Daniel said before adding, sarcastically, “Ha, right."
“It's funny, I remember listening to this guy at one of the MHB workshops talk about all of the bumps in the road he had hit in his surrogacy journey," Ricardo said, for his part. “I remember thinking, Oh that won't happen to us. But it did — we basically hit every bump imaginable."
Their first surrogate, for instance, discovered she had a cyst the size of a tennis ball. A second surrogate, after working with her for half a year, decided over six months into the process that she no longer wanted to proceed. Later on in their surrogacy journey, their egg donor tested positive for drugs.
Daniel and Ricardo had already applied and received Stage I assistance from GPAP (which they estimate saved them roughly $5,000) but were originally denied Stage II assistance. In retrospect, after multiple years and thousands of dollars spent trying to start their family, they say they now understand why.
“We were like, Oh, we really shouldn't have been eligible for Stage II back then,'" Daniel said. “We were able to make it happen on our own up to that point."
But now, the couple had blown through their savings and the loans they had taken out to finance their journey. “It got to the point where we would have been bankrupt had we continued without help," Ricardo said.
Throughout their complicated surrogacy process, the couple stayed in regular contact with the staff and board members of MHB. “They knew everything we had been through," Daniel explained, “and encouraged us to apply for Stage II again." This time, the family was accepted.
MHB has a comprehensive process for determining who among applicants is awarded Stage II assistance, AJ explained. “Our grant committee includes people from the adoption world, gay fathers, the financial world, a social worker, and others that we pull together to review redacted versions of profiles we create for each applicant," he said of their method. “And we absolutely take journey hardships into consideration."
The assistance granted to those approved for Stage II assistance can be considerable — funding up to 60-70% of a surrogacy journey. To finance these grants, MHB developed a unique, self-funding model. The organization sponsors six conferences annually – currently in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Brussels, and Tel Aviv – that provide prospective gay fathers with an abundance of information on the process of surrogacy. The money fundraised from these conferences — which are sponsored by fertility clinics and agencies — comprise the grants that MHB is able to provide as part of GPAP Stage II.
“We're taking money from the industry and putting it back into the industry," AJ said of this model, “all towards the goal of helping gay men on their surrogacy journeys."
The couple, for example, received pro bono assistance from their clinic, Fertility Specialists of Texas, which included the IVF procedure. The assistance the couple received, however, was much more than financial.
“They basically just helped us do it the way it should have been done from the beginning," Daniel said. “MHB worked with the clinic to come up with an exact figure and budget and we all stuck to it to a T."
Ricardo (left) and Daniel
Daniel and Ricardo, too, ended up with twins, Willow Leia and Grayson Luke, who were born on May 5 of this year. And though the two say they would likely have stopped at nothing in order to achieve their dream of starting their family, they wonder about the consequences had they not been approved for GPAP Stage II.
“Honestly, I don't think we would have children if we weren't approved," Daniel said. “I could have charged on credit cards, but who knows if it would have worked. We'd probably have ended up broke and divorced," he joked.
MHB, they say, had other plans for the couple. “And that plan was to stay with us until we had a baby in our hands."
“I still think it's not real."
“It just hasn't hit me yet."
“We're in heaven."
“It's everything we ever imagined, and more."
These, now, are the statements of four gay men who, with a little assistance, didn't have to give up on their dream of becoming fathers.
“We're still in such a daze," Ricardo said, of he and Daniel's finally being on the other end of a nine-year-long journey to become fathers. “But," he added with a laugh, “that also could be the lack of sleep."
Jay, for his part, says he is looking forward to Father's Day this year, something he and his husband Victor have looked forward to since they began their own process to become dads, five years ago. “We can't imagine not being fathers," he said. “And this will be our first Father's Day as dads! It's just…" he trailed off, at a loss for words. “It's perfect."
As for the future of MHB, AJ says he hopes to see the organization help many more gay men realize their dream of becoming biological fathers. But first, they are trying to get the word out about the GPAP program. “In some way it still feels like a secret," AJ said. “A lot of people don't know about GPAP."
He suspects that will change, though, as the idea of gay parents becomes more normalized, and more gay men decide to start families. “You know that saying, first comes love, then marriage, then the baby carriage," AJ said. “Well, we just got gay marriage! So now we just need to work on the baby part."