I grew up dreaming of having a family and caring for my own children. Like many other hard working individuals I climbed the corporate ladder and hoped to create a family. As a single man at the age of 40, I finally felt confident that I would be able to provide for and raise a child on my own. My initial desire was to adopt or foster a child to help someone in need. Quickly I realized that none of the agencies were willing to help me, a single man.
Due to this, I decided to have a child via surrogacy and egg donation. My journey took me internationally as well as within the United States; independently as well as with an agency. I was initially quoted USD $100,000 for the process. After three years, three surrogates, two agencies, three egg donors, six attorneys, four insurance companies, three escrow companies and more than USD $250,000 in expenses, I decided to take things into my own hands. I came up with the money to do one last cycle. I was able to maximize my chances by selecting the right egg donor and surrogate.
My surrogate became pregnant during this last transfer and my life was forever changed with my beautiful baby Mason, who was born on January 11, 2016.
I did not want to see anyone else go through what I went through. So, I created Baby Mason Surrogacy & Egg Donation to help others achieve their dreams of having a family.
Gays With Kids: What challenges do you face as a single gay dad?
Sometimes it is difficult to do anything else but parenting as a single dad. Errands, appointments and basic life functions need to be choreographed with the baby. Emotionally it is also challenging as I don't have a partner to share the joy, fears, challenges and excitements with. On the other hand, it is a bit nice not to have to compromise on how to raise him!
Gays With Kids: Are you dating at the moment?
I am open to dating and go on dates here and there. I live in Chicago at the moment. It is very interesting dating as a single dad. It seems like most of the single men in our community aren't ready to give up their dancing shoes. Since I had my son, I have changed a lot as a person. As I date, I can't help but to look for someone that I would feel completely safe bringing into Mason's life one day. This makes it a lot more serious and challenging to date and get to know someone.
Gays With Kids: Do you have help, a nanny, babysitter or relative?
Steven: I do not. My roommate and best friend who is also a single gay father helps me watch him from time to time. Otherwise, I'm a stay-at-home dad at the moment.
Gays With Kids: How do you make time for your son?
Steven: My entire schedule is focused on his routines. Whenever he takes naps, I get to work and stay productive.
Gays With Kids: How do you make time for yourself?
It's difficult, but I'm doing OK. Since I can't really go to the gym anymore, I work out to my “Insanity" DVD at my home office. It helps keep me in shape.
Gays With Kids: Describe the perfect day with Mason.
Perfect feedings followed by peaceful naps. Fun story reading and belly time. Hopefully a stroll in the park to people-watch.
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Steven wrote a moving and detailed history of his attempts to become a father. We've reprinted his story below, with minor changes:
I grew up in Orange County, California with the American dream of having a family and a white picket fence. As I grew up and discovered I was gay, I maneuvered through superficial stereotypes and societal prejudices. As a gay man growing up in the 70s and 80s, I couldn't imagine having children was a reality. Discouraged by anti-gay-marriage laws and horrified by the monster known as AIDS, my dream of having a family gradually faded into a surreal fantasy.
Attempt at Marriage: In 2006, while living in Hawaii, I met the man of my dreams. We began a perfect, beautiful relationship in paradise. We dreamed of having children and debated “how and when." Nevertheless, the idea of having children without being married seemed wrong. Knowing that gay marriage was legal in Washington DC, we moved 6,000 miles and finally got married legally. But the challenges of moving across the country, coupled with the stress of new jobs and dramatic changes to our lives took a heavy toll on our relationship: We separated in 2011.
Decision to be a Single Father: Being alone and single again at the age of 40 was devastating. My dream of having children and a family now seemed unimaginable. In 2013 I met a friend called Mark* who had adopted his friend's son right after birth and had been a single gay father for three years. I started spending time with them and even babysat his son Godric from time to time. As I experienced my first parental role, I felt unexplainable hormonal changes. For the first time in my life I realized what I had been missing was a child. Mark's strength and success as a single father gave me the courage to consider having a child alone. I felt I had a lot of love and support to give to a child and wanted to do so while I had energy. Although I was hoping to get married again, I didn't want to rush into a relationship just to have a child. After a lot of soul searching, meditation and advise from my buddy, I decided to have a child by myself.
Mark and I decided to move in together so that we could assist each other with our kids. We moved from our condos into a much larger home to accommodate all of us and a future live-in nanny.
Adoption Attempt: Initially I wanted to adopt a child. But every single adoption agency that I contacted told me that they would not be able to place a child with a single man. Their responses were very frustrating and disheartening. I couldn't believe that with all the children in need of families, I wouldn't be able to help a child. The agencies told me “as much as we would like to take $20-30k from you and have you wait two to three years, people are just not ready to accept single men as parents". They insinuated that people associate single male intended fathers with pedophiles. So, the millions of single fathers in the US are not qualified to parent their children? The ignorance was incomprehensible and shocking. My research found that in 2013 less than 3 percent of all adoptions in the United States were by single men.
So I researched international adoption options. I was introduced to “The Hague Convention," an international agreement to establish safeguards to ensure that inter-country adoptions take place in the best interests of the child. But, unfortunately, Hague also made adoption by legitimate intended parents more difficult. Russia, having been the No. 1 country for international adoption, stopped adopting to American parents. All other countries prioritized heterosexual couples, gay couples and single females above single men. Every international agency that I spoke with told me that I should realistically anticipate receiving a child with a terminal disease after a five-year wait.
Surrogacy Research: Since adoption was out of the question, I started researching surrogacy via in-vitro fertilization. This is a process in which the intended parent utilizes a donor's egg to create an embryo. Then the embryo is implanted in a surrogate's uterus. I also decided to do a Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening. This procedure allows doctors to test for 10-20 genetic diseases.
My research showed that the estimate for this process would be $100,000-150,000 in the United States, $40,000 in India, $50,000 in Mexico and $60,000 in Thailand. Wow! The international options required the child to be conceived, carried and born in a foreign country. Then I would have to prove my paternity, get the child a passport and citizenship, fly on a 22-hour flight with a newborn and come home… Yikes!
A month after I started my research, the government of India made it illegal for single intended parents or gay couples to use an Indian surrogate.
Start of Surrogacy: The financial costs of the journey were alarming. My savings were limited and I had enjoyed more than a decade of living debt-free. In order to minimize risks, I decided to choose the American option and eliminated the surrogacy agency. Then I read a book about surrogacy written by a gay father. I contacted him and asked him for a referral to the best IVF clinic in the United States. Surprisingly, his recommendation was a clinic in my then-hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, just one mile from my house! I met with infertility specialist Dr. Said Daneshmand and signed a contract with him.
The First Cycle: Then I selected egg donor #1 from a database. She had blue eyes, blonde hair and a very healthy family background. At this point the only missing piece of the puzzle was finding my surrogate.
I joined every single Facebook surrogacy group and advertised in online classifieds. After months of search and communication online with dozens of surrogates, I selected surrogate #1 who lived in my hometown. I met her family and gradually we became friends. Without an agency the compensation discussions were very difficult, awkward and emotional. But eventually we agreed on the basic terms of the agreement and moved forward.
Medical Insurance: Most insurance companies have exclusions for surrogacy. Fortunately, in 2014 Obamacare went into effect and made it more difficult for insurance companies to exclude surrogacy. Due to March 1 Obamacare deadlines, I had to rush to purchase surrogate #1 medical insurance in hopes of a pregnancy and began paying $300 monthly premiums.
My egg donor #1 and surrogate #1 began their medical and psychological examinations.
Roadblock 1: Unfortunately, my doctor did not approve egg donor #1. I had to start my search for an egg donor all over again.
After several weeks I selected egg donor #2; she had brown hair, blue eyes and two beautiful children. She cleared her psychological and medical exams. She began her cycle with hormone shots and medication.
Roadblock 2: Once Surrogate #1's medical test results came back, unfortunately my doctor did not approve her either. The clinic froze donor #2's eggs and I had to start my search for a surrogate all over again.
After several weeks of trying to find a new surrogate, I finally gave in and signed up with a surrogacy agency in LA to assist me ($15,000). A few weeks later we found surrogate #2 in Dallas, Texas. She passed her psychological and medical exams. I quickly purchased her medical insurance in Texas and began paying surrogate #2's $300 in monthly medical insurance premiums. She began her cycle with hormone shots and medication.
Roadblock 3: Egg donor #2 produced 23 eggs, of which 13 were fertilized. But unfortunately, there was only one B-grade embryo blastocyst. This was devastating. (Most parents end up with five to seven embryos to work with.) So, this left me with one chance and a 50 percent success rate.
Roadblock 4: On May 22, 2014 (on my birthday) we transferred my only viable embryo to surrogate #2. Within seven days, I was informed that the results were negative.
The Second Cycle: At this point I had already spent $65,000 and there was no hope for a child. After a few weeks of soul searching, I was able to motivate myself to continue the journey. I spoke to agencies in Mexico, Thailand and Eastern Europe. After weeks of cost and risk analysis I decided to do a second cycle in the United States by paying another $45,000 with the same clinic and surrogate #2.
This time in order to maximize success rates, I had to find a proven egg donor with a successful track record of egg donation. This process took months since such donors were in extremely high demand and very expensive. Finally I was able to confirm egg donor #3. She was beautiful, 20 years old, with blue eyes and brown hair. Since she was booked for two other cycles, she was scheduled to start my cycle September 1, 2014 and a transfer in the first week of October, 2014.
I was offered a new amazing job in Chicago and moved from Las Vegas to Chicago in November 2015. My friend Mark and his son Godric also moved to Chicago with me. We found a large enough home to accommodate the three of us, my future child and a live-in nanny.
Roadblock 5: Two days prior to the transfer in October 2014, my surrogate showed a lot fluid in her uterus due to the medications. After careful examination, my doctor felt that the fluid build up would jeopardize the transfer and recommended to cancel the transfer and find a new surrogate. I felt defeated.
Defeat: I had spent approximately $137,000 and was back at square one. My credit score had dropped dramatically and I felt financially and emotionally depleted. So, I threw in the flag and gave up on my dream.
Final Shot: During a visit to my family, my aunt and parents urged me to give the process one last try. Their support and confidence re-ignited new hope and I quietly began a last cycle. I searched for an experienced surrogate and was introduced to Monica via my agency. During our first telephone conversation, I knew she was the right person. We quickly proceeded to cycle and transferred two months later. On my birthday (May 22, 2015) Monica took the blood test: She was pregnant!
Being Pregnant: Monica and I have a wonderful friendship that has developed over the past 7 months. My family and I have met her and her beautiful children several times. It's taken me months of emotional adjustment to get myself to believe that it's actually happening. During a family gathering in June, I announced to my family; in September I informed my job. I have been following the baby's daily development on the Baby Center “My Pregnancy" app. I've been posting weekly updates on Facebook and driving my friends and family crazy. I gather a list of 100 baby names and my current top choice is “Mason Hart".
Career and baby: As the reality of fatherhood set in, I began feel a tremendous amount of anxiety around the work/baby balance. As a hospitality executive, working 12 hour days and a full travel schedule would require a lot of separation from the baby. After careful consideration, I decide to leave my corporate job to focus on the baby and enjoy the miracle.
Baby's Birth: Mason Hart was born on January 11, 2016, at 11:42 a.m. He weighed 8.2 pounds and was 20.5 inches tall. He was born with a full head of curly light-brown hair, and piercing blue eyes.
Residence: I live in Chicago, Illinois, while my surrogate and family live in California. Once Mason was born, I spent the first six weeks in California until the baby is old enough to fly. Then I flew the baby home to Chicago. By the time Mason was born I had spent $250,000. I am currently undecided on whether if I will continue to reside in Chicago or if I will move to California to be closer to family.
New Endeavors: Since Mason is born I have decided to dedicate my life to helping the LGBT and other intended parents create families. I have started a surrogacy agency called “Baby Mason Surrogacy." I'm also writing two books about my journey of becoming a single father and about surrogacy for intended parents. TLC/Discovery is currently filming a docu-series about my journey. The show is called “Extraordinary Pregnancies" and will air in September 2016.
*Name changed for privacy reasons.